How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

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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. 

Portion Control
A typical American size portion of dessert

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.

Portion Control
A typical French size portion of dessert

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!

Portion Control - Bread

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. 

Portion Control - Wine

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. 

16 thoughts on “How to Have Your Cake and Eat It Too”

  1. This is a great post Beeta, and I agree! Portion control is a sure fire method for any regime, as is having more of your plate as salad or vegetables than protein or carbs. Since coming to live in France four years ago I’ve found portion control much easier, for the reasons mentioned above, and seeing it practised. However, the one glass of wine still presents a challenge 🙂
    I made your pot au feu this week, such a simple, seasonal classic and so nutritious this time of year.

    Reply
    • Hi Fran! Thanks so much for the kind comment. I’m with you on the wine! It’s especially challenging when dining out with friends to stick to just one glass. I’m so glad you gave the pot au feu a try – thanks for sharing that with me. <3

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  2. Portion control can be such a struggle. Trying to balance baby meals and husband meals is really a challenge,, as are eating healthy and maintaining some control when we eat a lot. I’m all ears for any and all menu suggestions! Your site is so great -inspiring and calming

    Reply
    • Thank you so much, Kimberley! It can definitely be a struggle, especially when you need to cater to different needs and different size humans! haha! I will definitely incorporate some more helpful information here on the blog regarding this topic as it’s something I’m really passionate about too! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Jess! Exactly – moderation allows you to enjoy indulgent treats, but at a pace that’s still okay for your health and figure. 🙂 xo

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  3. i agree on portion control, and my husband and I have adapted to a much lighter menu as well. I love French cooking, and am well versed in Indian cooling as well. the variety helps in the choices we make. I would also love to get your menu, I currently am a subscriber, and take your baking class. 😉

    Reply
    • Hi Kathleen! That is so great for you guys – adapting to a lighter menu is truly wonderful for the body. So happy to have you as a subscriber and student! I’ve just emailed out the sample menu, so please check your inbox (including your spam/promotions folder) for that. If you did not receive it for any reason, then please just send me an email to contact@monpetitfour.com and I will email it back to you directly. 🙂

      Reply
  4. Portion control is absolutely the key to healthy eating with virtually no limitations on foods. Americans do overindulge to give the appearance of getting “your dollar’s worth”, to eat each meal as if it was our last, but the secret to supersizing foods is to serve an overabundance of cheap foods like breads, rice, pastas, potatoes and soft drinks. Starches are inexpensive and easy to prep in a restaurant. Eating in Europe was eye opening! Food was served as stated in the article: tasty, attractive and properly sized.

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    • Hi Peter, I agree. It’s all about getting “a lot” and getting it for “cheap” here. I really had my eyes opened in Europe as well when dining – a very good experience. It’s great to hear you had a similar experience. Thanks for the comment! 🙂

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  5. You hit the nail on the head! PORTION. That is how Europe has eaten for centuries. Sweets themselves tend to be more in the form of fruit or a simple cookie. But if people would consider this: you can feel free to have a piece of delicious chocolate cake laden with rich frosting IF you have a small portion. It might be hard at first but with time, and the realization that your weight has maintained, and your clothes are actually fitting better, the word PORTION becomes the best gift you can give yourself.

    Reply
    • 100% Toni! It can be challenging at first to cut down on portion size, but once you do, it becomes a natural habit and your body adjusts. Plus it’s a small sacrifice to make when you know you can eat delicious cake anytime you want and still fit into your clothes! 🙂 Thanks so much for the feedback! xx

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  6. I have spent 2017 working on portion control. I now use smaller plates and ramekins to remind me what I am eating. At first it was difficult, but getting easier as time goes by.

    I wanted to tell you I have adapted your lemon ricotta cake into an almond cake. My family is just crazy about it because it is not too sweet and of course it is a small cake forcing portion control. 🙂

    Can I get your menu? I already subscribe to your posts.

    Reply
    • Hi Madonna,

      That is amazing! The plates and ramekins totally make a difference. I will be sharing an article soon that I’ve written on plating and setting a table, and the difference that makes in our approach to eating.

      I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying the cake. It’s great that you’ve had success turning it into an almond cake – I bet it’s even lighter! 🙂

      You should have the sample menu emailed to you by now (check your inbox and spam folders). Sorry for the delay – my email service was acting wonky. Please email me at contact@monpetitfour.com if you for any reason did not receive the menu. I’ll be happy to email it to you directly!

      Best wishes xx

      Reply

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