Fact or fiction: French women don't get fat

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It's a claim that's been bandied about for years, but do French women just have more willpower or do they have a secret to share with the rest of the world? handbag.com investigates...

Fact or fiction: French women don't get fat
By Andrea WrenFor French femmes, eating is apparently a way of life, not a diet. No calorie counting or extreme fat restrictions, and they're happy to indulge their senses in the odd glass of full-bodied red over dinner. They'll eat late at a leisurely pace, and enjoy the occasional éclair for dessert. But can they really do all this and still stay slim? If you think not, it's time to take a lesson from the French woman, while noting that an obsession with spinning classes is the last thing on her mind. Pardon? Dubbed the 'French paradox', the diet at first glance seems an impossible way to stay in shape - yet levels of obesity in France are comparatively low, according to Michel Montignac, author of the Montignac Method, an eating plan that has been followed by celebrities such as Kylie.

Common sense?While the rest of the world is cutting down on calories, fat and carbohydrates, combined with excessive exercise, we are led to believe the French enjoy their food and wine, use oils, eat bread, and have meals after 8pm. But the 'secrets' are really just common sense, and not that hard to adapt. In her book 'French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret Of Eating For Pleasure', Mireille Guiliano says that French women "never let themselves be hungry" and "never let themselves feel stuffed". It's the simple process of being in tune with their bodies, which we Brits often ignore. She claims that French women don't eat 'fat-free' or 'sugar-free' foods, or anything else with artificial ingredients; instead they go for "the real thing in moderation" and they take their exercise by being altogether more active, walking instead of getting in the car, taking the stairs instead of the lift, and spending time outdoors. Though Montignac's programme is based on the principles of a low glycaemic index (GI) diet, he proposes similar values; a focus on unprocessed foods and the re-establishment of positive eating habits. Montignac argues that: "It is not the excess calories which cause weight gain, but rather the overproduction of insulin."

Supersize me!

Like America, the UK is heading towards fast-food overload and producing unrealistic dietary impositions as we fear obesity, a disaster zone for weight control (we're still getting fat!). The traditional French way seems to be an ingrained, but sensible approach, equalling smaller portions, increased variety, less reliance on refined food, more pleasure in eating unprocessed foods and importantly, no self-deprivation. Meals containing lots of vegetables, fruit, nuts, wholegrains, fish, chicken, eggs and other natural, unrefined foods, are the order of the day. A typical daily menu for a French woman, according to Guiliano, includes fresh fruit with natural yogurt and wholemeal bread for breakfast, asparagus flan with green salad followed by strawberries for lunch, with pea soup, lamb chops, cauliflower gratin and red wine for dinner. However, thanks to globalisation, the French are starting to eat, and look, more like us: according to an article in 'The Times', the traditional French meal is eaten by only 20% of the population. Instead, they increasingly favour the abbreviated, snack-type meals of Americans. The national rate of obesity is rising fast. While only 6% of the population was obese in 1990, today the proportion is 11.3%. Ultimately, the secret is not to eat 'on the go', so you avoid snacking on unhealthy and processed meals, but this is something that even the French are finding hard in this increasingly time-poor world. It's a lesson to all of us that something is going to give (most probably our waistbands, if the obesity trend continues), if we don't slow down and find some kind of balance.

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