Reine de Saba (Julia Child's Chocolate and Almond Cake). Rich, simple, and perfectly chocolate-y! Recipe via

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.

tiramisu square
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.



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  1. Hi Beeta,
    I just wanted to leave a quick note in praise of your croissant class. I worked through the classes starting on Monday and was able host an amazing afternoon croissant/coffee party this afternoon. I have to say I was very nervous. But they turned out perfectly. I decided to bake all 16 and we ate all but 2!! The were gorgeous as well as delicious. Thank you so much for your excellent tutorial!!! I enjoyed the beautiful French music as well.
    Thanks again, Beeta. I am thrilled with the result.

    1. Thank you so much, Nancy, for the kind feedback! I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. I’m so glad you enjoyed the class and had great success! <3

  2. This is beautifully observed Beeta! The other side to being able to stay slim while having your cake and eating it too is that Parisians walk everywhere. When we lived in Paris, we walked, caught the metro, walked some more.

    For Parisians, exercise is not ‘an hour at the gym’ but everyday how you get to the park, the supermarket (weights workout carrying your shopping home!), the cafe…

    1. Yes, and what I’ve concluded too is that their walking is spread out throughout the day. I think the constant movement really helps keep your metabolism going and energy up vs. in the States, where we often visit the gym for an hour and then sit all day at our desks.

  3. This is so enlightening. As I have gotten older eating large amounts of food in one sitting is really not something I can do anymore. Of course a maturing figure requires moderation in food intake anyway, so this idea of enjoying food without fear is great. Food should be about joy and not something to do between day-to-day tasks. Thank you for this insight. Cheers

    1. Hi Angela! So glad you enjoyed this article! And yes, every decade we age, it becomes just a little bit harder to maintain our figure!

  4. Yes, going to France and seeing another way to live was eye opening. I’ve been doing portion and macro control for two years and have lost 35 lbs. I have more energy than I’ve ever had and am starting to do skills in the gym that I’ve never been able to do before. As my coach says, “You can eat anything you want, just not as much as you want.” 😊

    1. Also Parisians walk a lot in ballet flats. Not drive cars everywhere. The ingredients are different less milk sugar in savoury meals. A sweet pastry for breakfast in some parts of France.

      1. Hi Magalie! Yes definitely! The quality of food is very different, and I think that’s even more important than the walking. I walk a lot in California too because I make a point of it, but I could not get away with eating some of the foods I did in France with the frequency I did had I been in the U.S.

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