What we all can learn from French to enjoy food more, eat healthier and stay leaner.
I’ve just finished this book, “French kids eat everything”.
Some people ask me, what does it have to do with your nutrition/health coaching career? How does it help you to coach adults better? To help adults to change their eating and lifestyle habits?
The more I work with people and reflect on my own journey of health transformation the more I’m not surprised to discover how we are still just grown-up kids, especially when it comes to food.
As adults most of us:
We get used to the same foods and meals, that seem to be inescapable like the laws of gravity — can be overcome but will take some serious outside force to make it happen.
We don’t want to change our eating habits, foods we are used to, foods we learned to love, foods that make us feel comfortable, comforted, very often making up stories that these foods work the best for us.
We don’t want to try “weird” foods, new foods, especially if it’s something with different textures, flavors and smells — we might want to try something new but not too new. Like trying a different flavor of our favorite chip or ice-cream, maybe a different sauce for our favorite fish or pasta, or chicken, or a different kind of yogurt maybe, Greek or Skyr? But definitely not some traditional Chinese dish that we can’t even identify — what animal/plant does it come from?
We look at our food choices as a part of who we are, and don’t you dare tell me what to eat, how to eat it and what I should like or try! Keep your shoulds, health advice and politics out of my plate, please!
We have our established eating habits and routines and we tend to stick with them, considering the rest eating traditions and other people’s eating habits weird. Usually we form most of our eating habits very early in life, growing up, as kids.
In a sense, most of us never grow up when it comes to food — we get used to eating a certain way and we stick with it, defending it with every fiber of our logical and emotional selves.
I figured, if I learn how kids learn to eat, how kids change their eating habits — I’ll get much better at helping adults to change what and how we eat — a major stumbling block for many on the way to more health, better fitness and thinner waistlines for life.
This book helped me a lot.
We’ll keep food psychology lessons for another blog, right now focusing on something even more fascinating and useful.
“Rules” of traditional French way of eating, that helps French to:
Be one of the healthiest non-diet nations, eating seemingly everything we aren’t supposed to be eating to stay healthy — all the fatty stuff like butter, myriads of pates, fatty meats and all the desserts and croissants.
Be one of the best-looking obesity-proof eating cultures, not having any national diet policies.
Enjoy the food more than any other culture? Even declared “World Intangible Heritage” by UNESCO?
*All the new dietary guidelines that were developed quite recently change a lot about this heritage, that kept French eating, being and looking well.
These were made for kids but as adults here’s something we all can learn from French, something very similar to what I developed on my own, maintaining the best shape of my life, enjoying my VERY substantial meals more than ever before.
- Eat real food.
- No snacks — Eat meals. (Fresh and made from real food ingredients of the best quality.)
- Eat your veggies. (Preferably first.)
- Variety. (Don’t eat the same meal twice a week.)
- Eat together. Eat slowly. Enjoy!
*And maybe let someone else with better eating habits be in charge of your “meal program” till you learn a better way?
Eat real food.
What’s not real?
Many traditionally raised French would not think of anything prepackaged, with a long ingredient list, fortified and “upgraded”, conveniently made into some sort of indulgent or functional snack to be real food.
Real foods are plants and animal that we evolved cooking and eating. Real foods are the ones we don’t need to ask what they are made of. Although sometimes we might wonder what kind of animal or plant that is. Real foods are the ones we buy to cook home-made meals. Real food is also usually as fresh as possible, not some frozen pizza that can sit in the freezer indefinitely. Or bread that can sit on the shelves of a supermarket for months. There’s no hard definition but most of us intuitively know the difference between fresh and real, and products designed for convenience and a longer shelf-life.
The more real we get with our foods — the better we feel, look and do. It’s even being seriously considered to judge the healthiness of any food based on its realness.
No snacks — Eat meals.
(Fresh and made from real food ingredients of the best quality.)
Besides the fact that most snacks eaten these days aren’t real foods or smaller versions of real food meals.
Snacks make our healthy eating habits worse in a couple of ways, that French figured out from experience apparently.
Snacks make us eat less nutrient-dense foods at meal times.
A client of mine recently had a revelation — when she didn’t go for, as she would usually do, a cookie at 12PM, she was much hungrier for her lunch at 1PM, when she tends to eat much better things — vegetables, fish and meat, beans and whole grains. So she ended up eating less sugar and junk and more essential vitamins and minerals, feeling fuller and more satisfied with her meals than ever!
Snacks make us eat more sugar and junk.
Let’s be honest, as a group, we people tend to consume things with questionable health properties during snack times. Most people aren’t snacking on veggie sticks with hummus or fruit with plain yogurt.
Eat your veggies.
Veggies have lots of things going for them.
The most nutrient-dense calorie-poor food group — per calorie they provide the most vitamins and minerals.
Lots of fiber, lots of water, lots of volume and few calories. They occupy a lot of space in our stomachs, they help to move food stuff through our digestive system, they slow down digestion and nutrient absorption, keeping us fuller for longer with fewer calories!
And, as I and apparently traditional French advise, eat your veggies first! Simply put, you’ll be much less hungrier for less nutritious stuff once you eat a load of veggies first!
I eat at least 700–800g of veggies per day and veggies (with protein) always come first when I eat. Maybe that’s why I never get to deserts? I’m just so full when I finish all the veggies and protein!
Maybe that’s why also French are so great at eating tiny desserts instead of buckets of ice-cream?
(Don’t eat the same meal twice a week.)
French actually practice it for every food group — fruit, vegetables, fish and meat. If you ate apples today you shouldn’t be eating apples tomorrow and till the next week.
Why is variety so important and healthy?
With a variety of whole foods we get different nutrients — fats, proteins, fibers, vitamins and minerals. The more variety we have — kale, Brussels sprouts, spinach, Jerusalem artichokes and all colors of sweet potatoes, mackerel, salmon and herring, duck, turkey, poultry and quail, livers and tongues, brains and bones of many animals, black, red and white beans, green and orange lentils — the richer nutritionally our diets are!
The more variety we eat, the more variety of nutrients we receive and the fewer chances we have to run into deficiencies, leading to diseases and other health imbalances.
I love this variety rule — never eat the same thing twice a week — for its simplicity helping us to eat the most nutritious diet without knowing all the nutrients we need and all the nutrients in all the foods!
Also please remember, the more foods we eliminate — like going on a vegan or keto/carnivore diet — the more nutrients we eliminate and the more chances we have to develop nutrient deficiencies and health problems. Elimination of real foods is not the best way to optimal nutrition and optimal long-term health.
Eat together. Eat slowly. Enjoy!
I can’t say much about how exactly eating together improves our eating habits and healthiness of our foods. (To be honest not everyone in our environment helps us to develop better eating habits.)
But what I can tell you is that slowing down, chewing our food properly, paying attention to our food while eating instead of Netflix or emails and social media, that helps us to digest our food and absorb nutrients better. Digestion starts with chewing, we need to do it properly, and when we pay more attention to our food being in a relaxed state, instead of worrying about this email from our boss, we create optimal environment for appropriate digestion to take place. Anything that puts us in a stressed distracted state affects how our digestive happens, what digestive juices and enzymes are released, how well and timely they are released and how well our microbiome does the work with final absorption of nutrients. And, of course, when we eat slowly we are much more aware of how full we are, how well our nutrition needs are satisfied, what we need more or less of — all that helps us to eat optimal amounts and kinds of foods without overstuffing ourselves or eating foods that leave us malnourished and dissatisfied in the long-rung.
As you can see some eating traditions (I’m sure not just French ones) have much more to teach us about healthy eating and healthy lifestyle than many nutrition and diet theories we are developing. For many of these traditions we are yet to discover scientific explanations, as I firmly believe we eventually will, because more often than not, that what endures for generations has a very practical and scientifically sound reasons to exist.
Since I started consistently practicing these habits not aware that I was gradually adopting a French way of eating — I don’t see the need to count calories, carbs or being very precise about the nutrients I eat every day and supplements I take. French way of eating, these simple “rules”/habits take care of healthiness and nutrient-density of my diet. As a result I simply get to enjoy health, beauty and well-being.
This French way of eating might not be perfect and/or be the only one. But it’s certainly a great way for many of us to enjoy food, eat well and stay well, physically, mentally and emotionally for many years to come.
Let’s maybe all become a bit more French? (Not so much with croissants but the traditions)
Tune in FOOD SCHOOL Smarter Stronger Leaner podcast — on a mission to inspire a world where food makes us better!
🙂THANK YOU FOR READING!
Sign up for all the updates and my free 10-day email course: Health. Foundation Series.