Karen's Blogs

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Learn to Eat Like the French do

A number of years ago, the book FRENCH WOMEN DON’T GET FAT by Mireille Guiliano was all the rage. Although I read some time after its publication that, in fact, French women were getting fatter, the book has merit, laying out how French women view and consume food in a way that contrasts sharply with the attitudes and behaviors of American women. Recently I ran across a more analytical take on the subject.

In a Newsweek article entitled “Divided We Eat” (11/20/10), Lisa Miller examines American attitudes about food and eating. She cites the views of Claude Fischler, a French sociologist, who maintains that Americans can fight weight gain and food insecurity by thinking more like the French do about food: “Americans take an approach to food and eating that is unlike any other people in history, regarding food primarily as (good or bad) nutrition. When asked, ‘What is eating well?’ Americans generally answer in the language of daily allowances: they talk about calories and carbs, fats, and sugars. They don’t see eating as a social activity, and they don’t see food—as it has been seen for millennia—as a shared resource, like a loaf of bread passed around the table.” He explains that the French view food in terms of “conviviality: togetherness, intimacy, and good tastes.” Can you see how developing a different mindset will help you create a better relationship with food?

Fischler goes on to say that Americans view food decisions as a matter of personal freedom, one of our inalienable rights, and take affront at people—experts included—who dare to tell them what to eat—even for their own good. We want to eat what we want to eat when we want to eat it! In contrast, the French eat together at a scheduled time every day and share the same foods. In part, our rugged individualism which has made this country prosper is also what gets us into trouble with food when we dig in our heels and insist on “having it our way.” Doing so, we become more focused on engaging in free choice than on enjoying a meal and eating what is healthy for us.

To learn more about the French way of eating, read FRENCH WOMEN DON’T GET FAT. Although I don’t agree with everything that Guiliano has to say, the book is a refreshing take on our relationship with food. Because we tend to look at our eating problems as individual deficiencies, it’s important to step back and assess how American culture affects our view of food and our eating habits. The French really do enjoy food more and eat less of it. Read my next blog to find out about a new book that explains how the French do it and learn how you can too.

Book Review: Losing It In France
Book Review: Lost and Found

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