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Eat to Stay Slim
How French Women Stay Slim (Without Starving)

By Monica Ciociola
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We Americans love to eat. We love our fast food, greasy diners, food courts, all-you-can eat buffets, and just about anything out-of-the box or on-the-go. Yesterday my coworker and I needed a little pick-me-up, so we headed across the street to the our local specialty coffee shop for a delectable treat: an ice-blended mocha with ground chocolate-covered espresso beans, an extra shot of espresso, and topped off with whipped cream—yum!

But the gratification that comes from being able to get exactly what we want exactly when we want it does have its drawbacks. Consider these facts:

  • We're getting fatter. Over 64 percent of U.S. adults are either overweight or obese, up from 48% in 1980.

  • We're not exercising. Over 60% of U.S. adults are not regularly active and 25% are not active at all.

  • We're dieting like crazy. About 50 million U.S. adults go on diets each year for weight loss.

The guilt (not to mention brain freeze) I felt after slurping down that 600-calorie drink before I even got back to my desk is something I'm sure many people can identify with. But it doesn't have to be this way.

In her best-selling new book, French Women Don't Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano examines the French "traditional" approach to eating and provides us with useful tips for rethinking our very American "all or nothing" approach. We're either loading up on super-sized portions or trying to cut out entire food groups (remember Atkins?).

While Guiliano's account is highly romanticized (the French may have an edge, but their overweight and obesity rates have also doubled since the 1980s), there are some things we can learn from the French and from people in other parts of the world, especially the Mediterranean and Asia, where obesity rates have been historically low. In these areas, good, healthy eating and fitness have traditionally been integrated with their lifestyle. Here are a few specific practices we Americans would do well to follow:

  1. Start with soup or saladStart with soup or salad. The Japanese tradition of starting with soup is a great weight loss trick. Less-calorie-dense foods like soups and salads are also the most healthful way to fill up so you eat less during your meal.

  2. Select the highest quality ingredients. The French wouldn't dream of eating processed "diet foods" not found in nature. Instead they feel it is their God-given right to select only the highest-quality produce, fish, meat, and dairy. And by only buying what's in season, they add seasonal excitement to their dishes and maintain a diverse and varied diet all year long. You'll find that the more fresh and flavorful your food is, the less you'll need to eat to feel completely sated.

  3. Don't multitask mealsDon't multitask meals. In most of Europe, you can't take your food to go. For instance, Italians can get delicious panini sandwiches right at the gas station, but would never deign to eat and drive at the same time. Instead, they sit down right at the station and chat with other diners, and the same goes for how they consume their little cup of morning espresso. By taking the time to focus on what you're eating, you'll enjoy it more, and more quickly register when you're full.

  4. Splurge if you want toSplurge if you want to. The French aren't known to deny themselves dessert and will insist that it be the richest, most divine ambrosia. Did you know that rich, dark chocolate actually contains heart-healthy antioxidants, making it a deliciously healthy (well, somewhat) and satisfying way to cap off your meal? If you go for it, make it a reasonable size, slowly savor each bite, and don't let yourself feel guilty about it.

From my own experience, I agree that Americans can learn from other countries' approaches to eating. Growing up overweight, I found that the easiest weight I ever lost was during a summer I spent with relatives on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Each morning, we'd ride our bikes to the market for fresh bread. Then we'd play at the beach for a few hours before our two-hour lunch that always began with soup. Finally, we'd have a light dinner before going out at night. I lost a ton of weight without even trying or noticing.

Unfortunately, playing at the beach all day and lingering over two-hour meals isn't really an option for most working Americans. Yet, there are things we can do. While it might be impossible to visit an open-air market on a daily basis, it is possible to select the highest-quality, nonprocessed ingredients during your weekly visits. While it might be difficult to weave fitness into our daily lives, it is possible to find at least 20 minutes during your day to pop in a video and Press Play. I'll do the Turbo Jam 20 Minute Workout when I'm short on time, and I find that getting my heart pumpingeven if it's only for 20 minutesdoes wonders for my overall health and well-being. And the next time I need a late afternoon pick-me-up, I'll think about what the French woman from Guiliano's book might order, and opt for a delightful cappuccino instead.

Monica Ciociola is the Director of Marketing for Beachbody.

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