That French women are stylish, slim and simply beautiful is painfully obvious when you walk around the streets of Paris. They make looking good look easy but, believe me, it’s not. In the 25 years I’ve lived in Paris I have met many French women and indulged myself in countless conversations with them about how they stay so thin.
The overwhelming response is that they “Just say No” over and over again. And they actually mean it.
Let me give you an example. One of my work colleagues, Catherine, was complaining about the three kilos she had recently put on. (Of course, I couldn’t see those kilos; she was as svelte as ever. But, she knew they were there and she was not happy.) Catherine went to the doctor’s for a series of tests and, when she was convinced there was no medical reason for those extra kilos, she went to work on getting rid of them. Lunch was a daily litany of vegetables only–no cheese, no bread (!), no soda, no dessert. Snack at break time might be hot water for a change but no chocolate, no nuts, no nothing. It worked–the pounds quickly melted off her; her self-denial got her where she wanted to go.
I know some people think that French women eat balanced meals and that’s how they stay so fit. They probably do – about two-thirds of the time. However, during holiday season and vacations, they eat just like the rest of us – too much. But then they use negativity to handle the situation. They have a strong self-denial mindset. We Americans, however, are trained to be positive. We don’t go on diets; we don’t deny ourselves. We don’t say no to second helpings. We try to eat balanced meals for a while and then slip back into old, fatty habits. We also encourage each other; we publicly acknowledge that it’s OK to be a “little” overweight – let’s say 5 to 10 kilos over our ideal weight. For a French woman’s standards, one kilo over the line is akin to going out in public with a cold sore – totally unacceptable!
These lean ladies are also mean ladies. They will make remarks when you’re getting fat (or fatter). They will tell you that you “should do something” about it. They will giggle sarcastically when you drink a Coke since you are enforcing the stereotype of the fat American. They will make comments about your fat kids too and go into warning mode about it’s your responsibility to make sure they don’t turn out like you. They are ruthless in their fight for skinniness.
French women also get weight-watching help from the government, even without asking. A law was passed last week which bans free unlimited soda refills in public restaurants. The fast food chain “Quick”, the first hamburger restaurant brand of European origin had installed a soda fountain in their establishments and will now have to dismantle them. Marisol Touraine, the French Health Minister (herself a very skinny lady), said the law was created to fight against commercial measures which “entice customers and encourage them to consume unhealthy products excessively”. In France, water is the only essential drink and the only one allowed in school cafeterias (soda vending machines were banned in French schools way back in 2004).
You might remember when, in 2012, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to ban soda servings larger than half a liter. It was ruled unconstitutional; a hindrance to our freedom to choose. France is taking away that choice altogether in their country and no skinny French citizen is even blinking an eye. That’s because it actually helps mothers keep their children away from sugar, sugar and more sugar. Just one more statistic – the average Frenchman drinks 45 liters (quarts) of soda a year; whereas the average American gulps down 170 quarts per year. Given the new law in France, that statistic will most certainly decrease – but the American one will most certainly keep rising. We just can’t say no.
So, if you’re looking for a French lesson in losing weight, look no further. Just do as the French ladies do – start saying no and keep repeating it until you’re at your ideal weight. Take a lesson from Coco Chanel who coined the phrase, “Elegance is refusal.”