10 Ways to Make the French Diet Work for You

How to fit French diet strategies into an American lifestyle

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Americans seem to be fascinated lately by all things French. There isn't just one book from a French perspective professing to help Americans lose weight -- there are handfuls!

We even have "his" and "hers" French diet books now. There's the best-selling French Women Don't Get Fat, written from the female perspective of Mireille Guiliano. And now we have a French man's point of view in the book, The French Diet: Why French Women Don't Get Fat by Michel Montignac.

So what are all these French people telling us to do? And how can we work this information into an American lifestyle?

A member of the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic editorial team who has spent much time in France recently read French Women Don't Get Fat from cover to cover. She came away with 10 gems of French wisdom. Here they are, along with some tips on how to Americanize each one.

1. Variety, Variety, Variety. Strive for eating a variety of foods at each meal, and during each day and week.

How to Americanize this suggestion: Venture out of your food comfort zone. Select healthy foods you haven't tried yet or recently, and keep an open mind. Don't just go to the same fast-food restaurants -- try new restaurants (you know, the ones that serve healthy options). And fill your (smaller-sized) plate with an assortment of food items, not just a big helping of the entree. Enjoy a small portion of the main dish along with an assortment of fruits and vegetables.

2. Quality Counts. Eat three solid meals a day of good-quality foods. Be selective about where you eat and where you buy your food. Enjoy quality breads, meats, cheeses, yogurts, fresh fruits and vegetables, wine, and champagne.

How to Americanize this suggestion: Perhaps out of financial necessity, many of us have gotten into the mind-set that more is better when it comes to food, Don't buy into the idea that quantity is more important than quality. Switch to high-quality foods that are a joy to eat, and that come with a nice supply of nutrients, too. Walk away from junky foods and make every bite count. If it doesn't taste great, don't waste your time (and calories).

3. Pay Attention to Portions. The key to eating a variety of foods at each meal and enjoying three squares a day while keeping a healthy weight is monitoring portion sizes. Try not to overeat any single item or during any one meal.

How to Americanize this suggestion: The "bigger is better" mentality in America translates into bigger portion sizes (and the more food that is in front of you, the more you will eat). So when you see the words "all you can eat," "supersize," "double," or "jumbo" -- run away! Instead, look for the words, "petite," "individual," "appetizer," "small," or "junior" when dining out or food shopping.

4. Slow Down. Enjoy several small dishes over several courses, allowing your body to let you know when you've had enough.

How to Americanize this suggestion: You don't win when you're the first to finish your meal -- you lose. If you eat fast, you're more likely to eat more than your body needs. Junk food and fast food is everywhere you turn in America, and there's something about this kind of food that makes us eat it fast, too. Think of your meals not as something to get through quickly, but something to take your time with and enjoy. Try breaking your dinner into several courses. Serve salad or soup first, then follow with a small portion of the main dish, then perhaps a serving of fresh fruit. See how that changes how much you eat and how much you enjoy the meal. You can also slow down by paying attention to chewing each bite, by taking sips of a beverage between bites, and by having great conversation or company at mealtime. And try using a fork and knife for foods you normally eat with your hands (such as pizza, chicken strips, or tacos).

5. Joie De Vivre. That's French for having a joy of life. Enjoy what you eat. Take your time with your meals, eat only while sitting down, and focus on enjoying what you are eating. Lose any feelings of guilt about good food and good wine.

How to Americanize this suggestion: Don't be distracted during mealtime by the television, books/newspaper, or your computer. Eating should be a pleasurable experience. Go out of your way to make each meal or snack enjoyable. Find what works for you: maybe playing classical music, eating outside on your deck, lighting candles, using your best china and silver?

6. Sensible Pleasures. If you love chocolate, regularly treat yourself to small amounts of high-quality chocolate. Deprivation can lead to overindulgence.

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