How is it that French women can eat their chocolate croissants and buttered bread while still looking as fantastic as they do? It’s a question many tourists are left with after spending a week in France, watching French women enjoy themselves at bistros, bakeries, and brasseries.
The answer is simple. It’s almost so simple that we often times overlook this key practice that the French vehemently adhere to. I’m talking about moderation and portion control, of course.
Many people are baffled by the idea of being able to eat pastries, or even crazier, a three-course meal and maintain a slim figure. When they visit France, however, they find that these sort of prix fixe meals and indulgences are the norm there.
I don’t blame them for being so surprised. If you go to many American restaurants and order an appetizer, main course, and a dessert, you are looking at a LOT of food. Too much food, really.
In France, portions are much smaller than they are in the States. Don’t be surprised to order a plate of poulet frites (chicken and fries), only to find a quarter of your plate filled with salad, one small chicken thigh and just a small handful of French fries. Even with these smaller portions, French women make it a point not to finish every last fry or delve into more than once slice of bread from the bread basket.
The French way of eating encourages eating everything, but all in moderation and smaller amounts. Enjoy a slice of bread, just don’t eat the whole baguette. This idea of portion control encourages the use of willpower.
And believe it or not, you have willpower. It may seem like the French only have this extraordinary skill, but trust me, you have amazing willpower inside you too, as well. Like any skill, it just takes some practicing and honing to perfect. And it’s actually a lot easier to do when you are enjoying a two or three-course meal.
For instance, I am a big fan of bread. When I walk by a bakery, I’m pretty sure my face turns into the heart-eyes emoji. I just adore a good baguette and could sit there tearing off piece after piece if I really wanted to.
But when I’ve prepared a multi-course meal, it’s a lot easier to say no to a second slice of baguette when I know a delicious entrée will be enjoyed shortly. And when that entrée comes, I’m not disappointed to find a smaller piece of meat on my plate rather than something larger and restaurant-sized because I know dessert will be on its way soon too!
The idea of controlling your portions and pacing yourself doesn’t feel like a hindrance when you know you’re just leaving room for more yummy things to come on the way. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have a skinny slice of rich chocolate cake any night of the week than reserve it for a “cheat” day or, worse, completely eliminate it from my diet.
The idea of feeling only pleasure and joy around food rather than any negative emotions like guilt or longing is something the French really believe in, and it’s key to how to they effectively carry out portion control in a way that feels easy and exciting rather than stressful and disappointing.
The French don’t just practice portion control when they’re eating out. Eating their foods in small portions and in moderation are practices they carry out at home as well. In the morning, you’ll find them eating buttered toast, but don’t expect to find thick slabs of butter over a huge piece of bread.
The same goes for their wine consumption. A glass of wine with their meal is standard. The key word here, though, is that it’s just a glass. Not half the bottle.
Eating like the French is really about learning to revel in your favorite foods without losing your inhibitions and sense of control. It’s about learning how to subtly and effortlessly control how much of those foods you’re eating while remaining in the present moment and taking satisfaction in each and every single bite.