Why French Women Really Don't Get Fat

Do you remember the book "Why French Women Don't Get Fat?" It's one of my favorites! But during my recent trip to France, I discovered another reason that was left out of the book. It's all about experiencing the joy of eating. 

Years ago, while on Spring Break with friends in Florida (I promise, this story isn't going anywhere crazy), one of my friends was reading this "non-diet" book she couldn't stop raving about. It was called French Women Don't Get Fat. As a lover of all things French, I was intrigued, and asked to borrow it.

I devoured the book like a wheel of camembert. The message was completely different from everything I thought I knew about how to eat. Instead of focusing on quantity, the book promoted quality. Real butter, triple creme cheeses and crusty white bread were no longer off limits. Bland diet food wasn't the solution. It was rich, flavorful and delicious food paired with plenty of beautifully prepared, seasonal produce. Savor each bite, and you'll eat less and enjoy more.

Dried mushrooms from French market

In hindsight, it was the first time I started to think about mindful eating and the importance of real, whole foods. I wish I could say it transformed my diet, which was more fat-free-cheese-and-ramen-noodle-based than plant-and-whole-food-based, but it was at least another 5 years before I figured things out. Still, the seed was planted.

Every time we went out to eat in France, I thought about the book. I knew cheese and white bread and fatty cuts of meat would be plentiful, but I also expected portion sizes to be small and for vegetables to play a staring role.
Boy, was I wrong.

I normally splurge on food a bit when I'm on vacation - experiencing new foods and savoring local specialties is a worth it to me. But with three course meals with foie gras garnishing every dish and nary a vegetarian choice in sight, there got to be a point where all I wanted was a giant salad and a green smoothie, stat.
Every time we went out to eat, I thought back to that book. As I looked around at the dinner tables around us, I couldn't help but notice an aspect of the "French diet" that wasn't mentioned in the book.
Everyone looked really and truly joyful.
People were laughing and exuberantly conversing with their company. Everyone had a giant smile on their face. I even noticed one woman who closed her eyes, took a deep breath and smiled with each bite of food.
Research has shown your attitude while working out can influence whether or not you lose weight. Basically, if your force yourself on the treadmill with a goal of burning calories, you may not lose as much weight as someone who exercises for pleasure.
I think the same goes for what you think about the food you eat. Although the area of research is in it's infancy, there have been a few fascinating studies showing how you think about food can affect your bodies response after eating it.
In America, mealtime is a stressful event for many, if not most, people. Stress about whether a food is healthy or not. Stress over catering to the families picky tastes. Stress about having enough time to eat.
The average American spends an hour and a half eating each day. It's well established stress leads to weight gain, digestive issues, heart disease, depression and cognitive issues. Can you imagine the cumulative effect of those 90 minutes of stressful eating each day?
Life is short. Put as much consideration into eating joyfully as you do eating healthfully. Mindful and intuitive eating is part of it. So is eating with awesome people, maybe even your family (they're usually pretty cool, right?). Choosing nourishing foods that make you feel amazing is a huge part of eating joyfully...but so is savoring a chocolate croissant, guilt free!
So, now that I've babbled on about how French people eat, I think it's an appropriate time for a little food porn. Here's a look at my favorite dishes from the trip!

Crepe Galette

After exploring the town of Carcassonne, we stumbled across a creperie with a gorgeous patio overlooking the valley. The waiter/chef created savory buckwheat crepes, folded galette style, a technique I think I might steal. Mine was stuffed with mushrooms, bacon and cream. Scott's had local rocamadour cheese and a runny egg. Try it at home with this recipe for basic buckwheat crepes. 

 

Buckwheat galette crepe with mushrooms bacon and cream

Pizza with Brie, Mushrooms, Olives, Walnuts and Duck Proscuitto

While waiting for our river cruise down the Dordogne to start, we grabbed a quick pizza in La Roque Gageac. Our main goal was quick, and I wasn't expecting much, but this was one of the best pizzas I've had in ages. I mean, it had duck proscuitto for goodness sake! Use my favorite no-knead pizza dough and create your own.
France pizza with duck proscuitto brie and mushrooms

Mushroom Fricasse

Cepes mushrooms were in season, and I'm fairly sure I ate them almost every day. Cepes have a meaty flavor, and exceptionally creamy texture. I was devastated when we left, thinking they were only found in France, until I googled and found out cepes are simply porcini mushrooms! Here, I had them in a simple saute, which was perfection. Check out these recipes for cepes from my favorite French food blog, Manger.
cepes or porcini fricasse

Restaurant Privilege du Perigord

One of my favorite meals of the trip was in the small bastide town of Monpazier. I started with a rich chestnut soup topped with a savory whipped cream, while Scott went with a classic, escargots with a garlic cream sauce. My entree was pot-au-feu, which is typically made with meats and vegetables, but this was made with perfectly cooked cod and vegetables in a saffron sauce.
Chestnut soup in France
Escargots with garlic cream sauce in France
Pot au feu with cod and saffron in France

Auberge des Gabares

One of my favorite memories of the trip was this awkward and confusing, yet totally hilarious and fun meal. Scott and I were off for the day on our own, when we wandered into the restaurant in Cahors. We had no clue it was a set menu, served family style, so you can imagine our confusion when the waiter plopped a giant tureen of potato-leek soup down in front of us with zero instruction. Plus, it didn't help that he spoke rapid-fire French and had a lazy eye, so we could never tell if he was talking to us or someone else. Pretty soon, we made buddies with the two other couples on the porch, who also got a kick out of his hilariously brusque demeanor. I was glad we came hungry because there was so much food! After the soup we were served a plate of sausage and pate. For our main course, we had a cod and potato casserole, beef bourguignon, an endive salad with a lemony mustard dressing that I will replicate, and fresh tagliatelle. We were stuffed, but out came a big cheese plate, chocolate mousse and flan. What's a girl to do? It was all washed down with local vin noir, a type of inky, red wine local to the region.
Vin noir in Cahors

Cabanoix & Chataigne

One of the best meals of our trip. In desperate need of some raw veggies, I started with a gazpacho, something I normally don't love, but theirs was incredibly flavorful with a nice, vinegar kick - exactly what I was craving. For an entree, I had a roasted duck breast with a berry glaze and a whipped goat cheese butter. Actually, my favorite thing on the plate were the roasted carrots and potatoes, which had a spice combination we just couldn't put our fingers on. For dessert, I had to go with the cheese plate, one of my favorite things about France (cheese for dessert!!!).

Provencal Calamari

While in the Sarlat market, we stumbled across this woman selling HUGE vats of stews, paella and casseroles. How gorgeous is this? After lingering for a good 10 minutes, going back and forth between which one we wanted to try, we settled on the calamari stewed in a tomato sauce. #noregrets Also, where do you get those pans!? They are insane! If you buy me one, I promise to open a stand at Soda City!

Cassoulet

Cassoulet is one of my favorite dishes. In fact, I make a vegetarian version with butternut squash and roasted garlic pretty frequently. Traditionally, cassoulet is a slow-cooked casserole of white beans with various types of meat, usually duck and pork sausages. My favorite was this one, which I shared with my stepmom from a restaurant in Sarlat. Actually, and I just learned this as I'm typing, the dish originated in the area we were in, so pretty cool to have a favorite in the city of its origin. Try this classic recipe at home one weekend for a special meal.

Pain au Chocolat

My goal when I set off for France? Eat ALL the cheese and ALL the pain au chocolat. Mission accomplished. These were the two foods I remember most from my first trip to France and bring back all sorts of happy memories. The pain au chocolat in this recipe was my favorite. In the background, you can kind of see the ruined castles of Lastours, which we then spent a couple hours hiking around. As amazing as this breakfast was, I definitely don't recommend it for post workout fuel - I died!  Make it yourself at home on a special occasion with this recipe from Saveur.

CHEESE (!!!)

Not surprisingly, the cheese was some of the best I've ever had. I can't even tell you how many types I tried, but some of the highlights were an organic tomme de brebis from the market in Monpazier, local Rocamadour cheese, which is a relatively strong flavored, creamy aged goat cheese, and of course all the triple cremes. I kind of love the idea of serving a beautiful cheese plate for dessert - a lot less sugar and especially fun when you have organic local options available. If you're here in Columbia, check out Soda City on Saturdays or Rosewood Deli during the week for delicious local cheese.

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