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French women (and men, and children) do get fat

You’ve all heard it: French women don’t get fat. It’s the famous “French paradox” that gives us just another reason to hate and envy the French. Here’s a brief report on it from 60 minutes:

So, if we drink wine and eat cheese, but don’t drink milk we’ll be skinny like French people? Not likely.

Well, what then? What are the French hiding from us, and how can we turn it into a pill that we can swallow when drinking our next Double Big Gulp?

According to the smug and somewhat condescendingly titled post “10 Eating Rules French Children Know (But Most Americans Don’t)“, French kids eat real food, don’t snack (except for a traditional 4 o’clock after school snack), don’t guzzle soda, sit down for real meals, and appreciate their food. Their school lunch menus read like the daily special at a whole foods café: first course: lentil salad, followed by roasted chicken and haricots verts, then a cheese course, and finally some fresh fruit for dessert.

I don’t know why we do this, but we “Anglo-Saxons” love to beat ourselves up with tales of French superiority. What we’re forgetting is that Americans didn’t used to be so fat either. We just radically altered our food system with sugar-laden highly processed foods compounded by stupid nutritional misinformation such as the low-fat craze that helped to inject even more sugar (because, hey!, sugar is fat-free!) into our diets. The “eating rules” of the French were once common sense in America. The French aren’t ahead of us in a secret race to the ultimate diet plan, they are a couple of decades behind us in a race to become the humans of Wall-E.

wall-e-human

But they’re catching up.

Sure, the French love to attack McDonald’s (or “Mac-Do” if you want to say it the French way), but not as much as they love eating there. The “McDonaldization” of France is helping teach French kids the secrets that every American child knows: food should not resemble any living plant or animal; it should be deep-fried and accompanied by soda and a toy. And for breakfast? Bowls of sugar!!!

FrenchCereals

Among the most popular cereals in France are sugary gobs of a Nutella-like substance wrapped in a sugary crunchy shell. The French are slowly losing their bragging rights for paradoxical thinness, but they might make up for it in most sugar-laden cereal.

An article in Le Monde in 2012 tries to maintain the French sense of superiority by saying that although obesity is a problem in France, the French are “resisting” better than the Brits and the Germans.

OECD

 

via OECD

According to data from the OECD’s website, France is doing better than most, but the projections don’t look pretty. The BBC recently did a story on “The perils of being fat, female, and French,” which suggests that French women might simply have more pressure to be skinny. The “tyranny of the silhouette.” French women have the lowest BMI in Europe, but they are also second highest in anorexia, according to a 2012 study.

The recent Sundance documentary, “Fed Up” which claims to “blow the lid off everything we thought we knew about food and weight loss,” while interesting enough, basically boils it down to something that should be painfully obvious: eat too much sugar and you’ll gain weight. Duh. The problem for people buying processed foods is that added sugar seems to be inescapable. Look at the shelves of your local supermarket, read the box labels, and you will see sugar in nearly everything.

Part of the secret of paradoxically thin French women is the textbook cliché of going chez le…[insert speciality food shop of your choice]. But who’s got time for that when a massive supermarket with a lot of frozen foods is just down the street?

So to conclude, French people do indeed get fat. So start looking for other ways to mystify and envy the French, because unlike that box of choco-treasures cereal, this French paradox thing is going to have a short shelf life.

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