Stephanie Rink, MS, RD, LDN is a registered dietitian and health coach based in France
Living in Paris can feel a bit like living in a lifestyle blog. All around you are beautiful places, beautiful foods, and beautiful people. There is a stereotype around the “classic” Parisian woman, which many times is proven true: stylish clothes, natural make-up, hair perfectly undone. And always thin. There is a halo around the Parisienne – whatever she is doing must be right, because she looks like she is so effortlessly perfect.
As a dietitian who trained in the USA and has lived in France for over five years, I am here to offer a different perspective.
The classic Parisienne approach to food and eating is, in fact, detrimental to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, optimizing energy, and supporting a healthy body.
While it seems to work for women walking down the street, the Parisienne approach can actually interfere with health.
Allow me to take you step-by-step through the specific habits Parisian women practice that should send you running… and what to do instead.
Skip or Eat a Minimalist Breakfast
It’s easy to imagine: a slender woman with a chignon atop her head, sitting at a bistro table on a balcony overlooking the Tour Eiffel, drinking an espresso, nibbling on a toasted baguette with jam or a croissant. It IS romantic, but it is NOT the way to support your energy, metabolism, or hormones.
I can’t say if it is the most important meal of the day, but breakfast plays a huge role in setting up our body’s systems for the day. Living off of coffee alone in the morning is a huge stress to your adrenal glands and blood sugar. Toast or croissants are simple carbohydrates that spike blood sugar and leave your metabolism unsupported. The Parisienne breakfast leaves you feeling shaky, tired, and hungry just an hour or two later.
Instead of taking the French approach, it is ideal to fill your breakfast plate with protein and fiber to increase satisfaction, support your metabolism, balance your hormones, and leave you feeling powered up. You don’t have to give up coffee or a croissant, but rather add high fiber and protein sources (think: fruit, nuts, eggs…) to build a balanced breakfast.
Goûter is only for kids
In French culture, snacking between meals is reserved for kids. Adults who snack are considered to be lacking self-control. However, I argue that avoiding snacks is what leads to the loss of self-control.
Snacks aren’t a one-size-fits-all strategy, but most people benefit from a planned snack to support their typical eating schedule. It is ideal to eat every 3-5 hours, and many of us have afternoon gaps that are much longer and would warrant eating something planned and nourishing to bridge that gap.
Skipping snacks in favor of “sticking it out” can leave you feeling unable to make a healthier choice at mealtime and opting for out-of-control portions. If you have long gaps between meals, plan a nourishing and satisfying snack that consists of some produce, protein, and ideally a healthy fat. Voilà! Mealtime control conquered!
Many Parisiennes partake in a long, leisurely lunch break, avoid afternoon snacks, and then use apéro as a dinner alternative. This often means dinner looks like half of a bottle of wine (or more), and maybe a few slices of charcuterie, cheese, or small bites. Many women prioritize drinking calories and compensate by keeping dinner to a few bites.
While a few glasses of wine are fun from time to time, more than 1-2 glasses of wine regularly are harmful to the cardiovascular system and increase cancer risk for women. Drinking without an adequately nourishing meal can make your blood sugar plummet, causing you to feel extra hungry and eat whatever is available. The better approach is to enjoy wine with a balanced meal containing healthy fats, protein, produce, and some carbs/whole grains. You’ll feel so much better throughout the evening and into the next day, I promise.
Trading the fork for a cigarette
We know that smoking is bad for us. Even so, the cigarette still somehow remains cool in Paris. Many Parisian women continue to smoke regularly and use cigarettes to curb their hunger. I hope it is no surprise to hear that this is a diet strategy that can only lead to increased health risks and an unhealthy relationship with food.
Instead, the better and obvious approach is to avoid smoking altogether and build in regular, balanced, nourishing meals and snacks throughout the day. Looking to curb your hunger? Try ensuring your meals contain healthy fats, protein and produce, eat enough calories to last you until your next meal or snack, and drink lots of water throughout the day. It’s basic, and it works.
Exercise is for the boys
The Parisienne lifestyle doesn’t lack movement. There is generally a lot of walking and biking as a means of transportation, and these are excellent forms of moderate exercise to build into your lifestyle.
Where the Parisian women get it wrong is in the avoidance of other intentional physical activity, particularly when it comes to strength training. Some regular strength training can boost your lean body mass which boosts metabolism and supports healthy body weight. Including regular strength-building activities like Pilates, swimming, and toning by using weights can help surpass a weight loss plateau and keep your metabolism humming.
Figure over food
Many will say that the French have a healthy relationship with food. They allow dessert, wine, nice meals or pastries regularly for pure enjoyment and without any associated guilt, and some of the time I agree. The French know how to enjoy life and enjoy food! However, often the Parisienne is so wrapped up in the expectation to be skinny in order to be chic that the figure is prioritized over food. This approach is a ticking time bomb; restriction and avoidance when it comes to food only increase its perceived value and therefore make it irresistible over time. It decreases one’s ability to enjoy it regularly without guilt.
A much healthier approach is to focus on addition rather than elimination, considering whether your plate has what you need to feel nourished, energized, and satisfied. When you align your priorities with nourishing yourself, you will realize that it allows you to fully experience and enjoy what it means to be Parisienne.