798France is a country known for good food and culinary masterpieces, where boulangeries and cafes line up on street corners and people take the time to sit down and enjoy wine, cheese, bread and pastries.

Despite regularly eating rich food and wine, the French enjoy a remarkably low obesity rate. Women continue to have a wonderful relationship with their meals, and yet a lot of them are still slim. All the while, the rest of us struggle by cutting down on “bad” food like carbs and soda – and still remain flabby and chubby. They call this the French Paradox. How exactly do they do it?

First, let us be objective and put this on the table – the French are not all thin. However, the percentage of overweight people are not as high as that in the United States. So, with that out of the way, let us go back to business: how do they stay slim when they are surrounded by so much richness and goodness?

Café Society: Eating is Social

One of the main reasons for the low obesity rate in France is that they regard eating as a leisurely experience. Instead of wolfing down meals in record time (as we usually do) while in the car or in front of the computer, they usually take the time to sit down and eat. Eating is a pleasurable experience, which entails the use of all the senses.

No Restrictions

We tend to go on no-carb diets – no pasta, no bread, no pizza, no pastries. Then after a day or two, we feel frustrated and wolf down two burgers or a couple of slices of moist chocolate cake. French women, however, have no restrictions on carbs. In fact, everyone seems to tote around a freshly baked baguette on the way home. This brings us to the third lesson.

Size Matters

Although they have their fair share of carbs, everything boils down to portion control. A little bread and pasta here and there never hurt anybody’s diet. You need to eat a lot before they translate to extra inches on your thighs and hips.

Portion control and sizes are very important matters to consider. A ham sandwich in France may consist of a baguette with a thin slice of ham and some tomatoes. Order a ham sandwich in America and you will find a foot-long deli sandwich with a serving of large fries.

The same goes with pastries and other foods – most adults would rather enjoy a piece of decadent profiterole than wolf down a whole slice of sugar-free pastry that tastes nowhere as good.

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Wine with Meals

Alcohol is a staple, but French women do not usually guzzle two glasses of super sweet mixtures during happy hour. They drink a (partially filled) glass of wine, slowly with their meals instead. That said, wine is usually used as an accent to meals and not as a thirst-quenching drink.

Cook More

Frozen sections inside American groceries are considerably larger than frozen sections in France. This is simply because the market for prepared (or TV dinners) are not as big in France. Fast foods chains are present, but why have a burger when you can have salad, fresh bread, cheese, and some Basque chicken stew? The French tend to put more time in making their meals, using fresh ingredients rather than eating foods that come out of a box.

Less Soda, More Water

While wine is a staple drink, sodas, smoothies and store bought juices are not. The French enjoy their mineral water very much, so it is rare to find them having lunch with a glass of soda on a given day.

No Guilt

French women eat a lot of tasty and rich food from time to time. Overindulgence is common, but since there are no restrictions, they do not wallow in guilt but simply return to eating a balanced meal the following day.

If you want to enjoy the foods that you love, yet still look great in that bandage dress, try adopting these eating habits from French women:

  • Always eat fresh. You don’t have to eat raw food all the time, but it’s good to delight in meals prepared with fresh ingredients.
  • Eat only in the dining table, when you are seated and using proper cutlery. Avoid eating from a box, with your hands, in front of the TV or on your way to work.
  • Take small bites and chew your food slowly. Enjoy the tastes and sensations.
  • Load up on protein and include variety in your meals.
  • Use vinaigrette instead of commercial salad dressing.
  • Do not deprive yourself. Indulge on good food but cut back on portions.
  • Keep your drinks calorie free, so water and the occasional wine is the way to go.

To stay thin (or lean), you do not have to run away from food. Dining is not just about satisfying hunger in one go, it is about relaxing, savoring and enjoying what you eat, and eating right. Remember these things the next time you are in the dining room.