Despite eating whole-fat products, drinking wine and consuming copious amounts of cheese and bread, an expat learns why the French are still much healthier than their American counterparts.
There’s this thought that goes around called the ‘French Paradox’ – it’s this concept that although the French eat higher amounts of cheese, wine, bread and whole fat milk products, they are much healthier than those in the US. I’ve been living in Lyon for over a year now, and can I honestly relate to this paradox? Yes I can.
When I first moved to Lyon I was about 64 kgs, or 141 lbs. I steadily gained weight since first meeting my partner Bri, and from visiting Lyon in the wintertime and not really focusing on getting in shape. The tipping point was a trip to Spain, after which I gained another kilo (two lbs). I was frustrated and I felt unhappy at being a size 8 to 10 – so I decided to live the French way and hope for the best.
French diet versus US diet
The biggest changes to my lifestyle happened in regards to movement. In the US I would constantly drive everywhere – to the gym, to the store, etc. – I would never walk. In September 2010 I moved into my new apartment in Lyon, on the 4ème étage ‘sans ascensor‘. That meant every day I climbed down, I had to climb back up 102 stairs. Often I would go out maybe two to three times a day – that’s like 306 stairs every day!
Going grocery shopping meant walking half a mile to the store, buying what’s needed, hauling it back half a mile and then back up the stairs. But that’s not the only factor.
The French Paradox relies on several factors that aren’t practiced in the US.
On the move:
- We walk everywhere, and elevators are rarely used.
- We have a Velo’V system that allows us to bike all over the city. For example, I use this rental bike system to go to work and back every day, one and a half miles each way, so I bike three miles a day.
Eating whole foods:
- The recipes we eat requires us to purchase more fruits/vegetables, which we eat regularly.
- Our bread is usually whole grain and made freshly with no preservatives.
- We eat only whole-fat, non-sugar-added dairy products.
- Most of French food is non-preservative laden.
- Products rarely have corn syrup.
- We don’t eat with salad dressing, only vinaigrette, so we get our whole fats in our food as well as a daily dosage of vinegar.
The French lifestyle:
- Often we drink one glass of wine a day.
- Our meals are often a few courses of smaller plates that aids in digestion.
- We rarely eat takeaway.
Now, sometimes I splurge and I’ll do patisserie items, or enjoy a lovely Sunday fat-rich meal. But I rarely eat fast food, plus restaurants don’t do take out and we eat several small meals a day.
Is there proof of the paradox?
I see the difference, definitely. I’m now 56 kg, or about 124 lbs and a size 4–6 (for my height, 54kg is appropriate). I lost more than 15 lbs in a year, but without starving myself and no intensive workouts – just simply a change of eating in the French Paradox way. The largest change I saw was in my waist – I went from 29 inches to 25.5 inches. I never lost weight to that point in the States – crazy! I know the last few kilos will now come off as they want to.
Now Americans should try out the French paradox.