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August 9, 2023

The French Paradox 

The Secret to Eating Well and Balancing Your Health and Weight

Maybe you’ve heard of the French Paradox. It’s an age-old question, “How can the French routinely eat bread, cheese, butter, cream, and croissants and stay thin?” Since many people believe these foods cause weight gain, how the French can consume these foods and stay thin is a mystery for many.  

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Staying thin while enjoying a diet that includes delectable desserts, butter, croissants, cheese, and bread isn’t true for every French adult, but I can assure you, after living in France and being married to a Frenchman, it is the norm.

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I’ve been observing French culture and eating habits for over 30 years, but it only took me a few months to discover the surprisingly simple secrets to the French Paradox. Since this discovery over 30 years ago, I have experienced the proof every day- you can eat well and manage your weight and health. Although the lifestyle is second nature to me now, I continue to be amazed by the French food culture and how the French relate to food each year when we return to France.  

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What’s the secret? How can the French eat croissants, dessert, butter and cream, and bread and stay thin? It’s not that French adults have magic metabolisms or special DNA. The secret is in how they eat and their lifestyle around food. In this post, I will give you the simple and logical foundations of eating well and maintaining good health and weight.  

Here is the foundation of the lifestyle and a simple routine to follow.  

Eat while seated at a table. Eat slowly, and chew well.

  • You will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the rest and digest state, the optimal state for digestion and absorption of nutrients.
  • It is easier to eat slower and therefore manage proper portion control.  
  • It is more mentally satisfying, which prevents the desire to snack after a meal.

Eat a variety of wholesome foods and eat in courses. 

  • Variety offers a balance of foods and nutrients.
  • It creates satiation and satisfaction, which prevents the craving for snacks after meals. . 
  • Eating in courses slows the pace of the meal, which gives the body time to register its full, thus helping with portion control.

Avoid additives, preservatives, and citric acid in your food.

  • Your body is not designed to digest these ingredients; they are stored as fat.
  • They create an addictive response in the brain, which leads to overeating.
  • They lead to long-term health problems such as hypertension and diabetes. 

Eat what you want, if it’s quality. And eat in moderation. 

  • It supports good health by consuming nutritious foods.  
  • This helps with weight management.  
  • Quality food free from chemical preservatives is more satisfying, and the more satisfied you are the less likely you are to overeat.

Cook from scratch with fresh, high-quality ingredients.  

  • This supports good nutrition and understanding of what is in your food. 
  • You will avoid additives, preservatives, and unwanted salt, and sugar, reducing calorie intake. 
  • You will avoid mediocre quality ingredients often found in prepared foods.  
  • It provides ingredients (leftovers) that you can use to make easy meals. 
  • It saves money.  
  • You burn calories when you cook. 

Skip snacks except for the children’s afternoon snack, midway between lunch and dinner.  

  • This saves calories for adults.  
  • This assures that children have an appetite, so they eat better meals at mealtime. 
  • It supports good digestion- snacking only a few hours after a meal infringes on the digestion of the prior meal. When digestion is interrupted, the body stores the calories as fat instead of using them for body functions such as fuel and cell renewal.  

Be really hungry when you eat.

  • Enjoy your meal, then wait.
  • Give your body the time and opportunity to burn the calories, and then enjoy another delicious.  
A bowl of roasted tomateo soup with basil being served
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If you follow these simple rules of thumb, you will immediately notice a difference in how you feel and your family’s relationship with food. New routines can take time to create, and I have many tips on how to incorporate these foundations into your daily routine and create a new lifestyle around food. We will get to all of them, including how to eat, when to cook, and how to shop for food. For now, get started today by taking this challenge.  

Your Challenge

Each day for one week, write down what you and your family eat, and at the end of the week, answer the following questions.

  • How many times did your family eat out or purchase prepared foods this week? 
  • How many of these foods were processed? 
  • How many times did you sit down to eat as a family? 
  • Where did your family members eat this week? Always at the table? Or sometimes in the car, standing at the kitchen counter, or on the couch?  
  • Did you and your family members eat at regular mealtimes at about the same time each day? Breakfast in the am, lunch mid-day, and dinner in the evening. Or were mealtimes whenever people were hungry? 
  • Did you feed your children before you ate dinner or eat with them at the same time?  
  • How often did your children eat the same food as you this week? How often did they eat a different meal, such as chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, or buttered noodles? 
  • How many dishes did you cook from scratch, and did you repurpose any of the leftovers into a new dish? 
  • How often did you feel as though you were denying yourself something you wanted to eat out of fear of gaining weight? If this occurred, what were the foods, and when did this occur?  
  • How often did you or your children snack through the days, apart from an afternoon snack for the children midway between lunch and dinner?  
  • How many dinners were you able to prepare that your whole family enjoyed? How many times was it necessary to cook separate meals for different family members?  
  • Was there anything else you noticed that you would like to change? 

This exercise will bring awareness to what you can improve and help you identify the pitfalls that are preventing you from making the changes you desire.  

For example, if you would like to reduce the number of times you eat out each week or the amount of prepared and processed foods you buy, it is likely the result of not having time to prepare a meal. The answer is not simply to commit to cooking more. To be successful, you need to figure out how to cook with the time you have or how to carve out time to cook—even just 10 minutes. You can cook a lot in 10 minutes, like roasting pork.

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Roast Pork Butt

It takes 5 minutes to prepare, and then the oven does all the work. You can roast meat when you are home on the weekend and serve it for Sunday dinner. Then use the leftovers throughout the week for tacos, pasta, crepes, and bruschetta.  

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Tacos with leftover Roast Pork, freshly grated Cheddar Cheese, and homemade Guacamole
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Crêpe with Leftover Roast Pork and Cheese

You can use this simple cooking technique of roasting pork with a variety of meats and vegetables and have plenty of ingredients on hand to prepare a homemade meal in minutes. Since it takes less than 10 minutes to prepare ingredients to roast, the question is not about finding a large block of time to cook more; it is about having the idea, the ingredients, and the ten minutes to execute your plan.  

Roasting bell peppers

Once you have the plan, it’s easy to find ten minutes. Something as simple as requesting free package pick up at home from the post office for your store returns can save you 10 minutes or more by avoiding standing in line at the post office.  

When you analyze your family routines, you can identify how to remove the barriers that are in your way of creating delicious meals and healthy eating habits for your family. For example, if you struggle to figure out one meal to prepare that everyone loves, the answer is not to spend an hour searching for new recipes, it is to serve in courses.

a bowl of ratatouille and pasta with basil. Along with raspberries bread and cheese and chocolate for dessert
Menu-Ratatouille and Pasta, Cheese and Bread for Dessert, Raspberries and a Piece of Chocolate

Serving several small courses provides variety, balance and can please everyone, provide a balanced meal, and offer something for everyone to enjoy. I will teach you how to prepare courses that require little or no cooking so that serving in courses becomes easy. You can read more about serving in courses here.  

Caterina and her family at the dinner table outside in the garden
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If you want help finding solutions to the habits you want to change for your family, write to me here and share the results of your challenge or send me a picture of your list. I will post ideas to help you.  

When it comes to solving the problems around healthy eating habits and family dinners, it’s not difficult. It just takes a different way of thinking about the solutions and some creativity. The first step is awareness. The next is to have a plan. You don't need a meal plan. You need a strategic plan.  

This post is just the beginning of creating a lifestyle around how you eat to allow you to enjoy scrumptious food and maintain good health and weight. To continue to learn more, subscribe to my free monthly newsletter here, and you will also get notified when my books are published. In this book, I will walk you through how to create this lifestyle step by step.  If you are not a subscriber to my email list, subscribe here. I will send you a newsletter each month with simple gourmet recipes and healthy eating tips.

You can write to me anytime here. Ciao for now. Caterina  

Caterina serving melon and prosciutto in the garden
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