Joyous Blog

5 Reasons French women are skinny.

Before I share Elaine's Part 2 post on detoxing, I wanted to tell you about my Euro-travel observations just like I did last year when I came back from Venice. Even though I'm anti the word "skinny", it is a very appropriate title for the French. You do not see obese people in Europe. And if you do, they are usually North American tourists unfortunately.

Now you also don't see gym-obsessed buff trainer-esque like physiques either, but is that really healthy?

So here are my observations of the French and why the women are so damn sexy:

1. They walk EVERYWHERE. Walking burns calories, reduces stress and helps calm the monkey brain after a busy day at the office.

2. They are social butterflies! Every bar and cafe (no matter what time of day) is PACKED with people and the joyful vibe of lively conversation is infectious. You don't see people with their cell phones out while conversing with their friends. You see people FULLY engaged in conversation.

Now whether they are discussing your outfit as you walk down the street or the events of the day is up for debate, but they are engaged.

Studies prove being social reduces stress. A less stressed body, is a healthier body. Nuff said.

3. They don't get their food or their coffee "to-go". In Toronto, you would be hard pressed to walk down a major (or minor) street in the city without seeing someone chugging back their Starbucks coffee while rushing to get somewhere. In my travels throughout Europe, I have noticed, that people at cafes hang out and drink their espressos and yet again... engage in conversation.

4. They don't snack. You rarely see people walking down the street eating and you'd be hard pressed to find snack-ish type foods in grocery stores or markets (other than nutella-snack-packs in the gas stations -- but those are for the North American tourists).

Now I'm all about the healthy snacking, however this can be overdone too. I often tell my clients to eat when you are actually hungry. Meaning, when you feel that sensation in your belly to eat. Why? You digest your food far better when your body is actually ASKING for food. Ignoring these signals and constantly eating those salty nuts not only puts on weight due to excess calories but weakens those digestive secretions.

So what's the answer here? If you must snack, do so when you are actually hungry.

5. They aren't afraid to eat fat. You already knew that right? Probably the most common stereotype of French food is that it's very rich and fatty (translation: deeeeelicious!). While this can be true, for the most part they are not eating fried bad fats. A little good fat goes a long way. Fat is essential for satiety and brain health.

And not only do they eat fat, but they eat quality vs. quantity. There are fresh food markets everywhere you go. I remember when I was in Italy last year and it was impossible to find a grocery store. There was a fresh fruit and vegetable market, bakery, butcher and of course, wine shop.

And the grocery store I finally came across was the size of a small North American convenience store. And you can bet you wouldn't find a bottle of Kraft LowFat thousand island dressing!

Now before I go, I would love to hear YOUR observations! I know many of you read my blog outside of North American, so your perspective is very important here. Please do share your thoughts below!!

Coming up this week:

1. Elaine's Part 2 on Detoxing.

2. Joyous News I'm thrilled to share -- stay tuned :)

Have a joyous week!


Gillian   •   July 16, 2012

I love the way the French eat! I often feel like a total lush in Canada (champagne and pate please), but right at home in France. I wrote an article about the "secrets of French women" recently - with some of the same ideas! Off to France Saturday - hopefully we can have a joyful European patio session when I return :)

Joy McCarthy   •   July 16, 2012

Love it! Thanks for sharing Gillian.

Danielle   •   July 16, 2012

I went to Greece last year and Spain this year and made the exact same comments when I came back. I suffer from stomach problems (although Joy is helping with those :)) but when I was on both trips I never had any stomach issues. They have soo many fresh foods and such a healthy way of life I absolutely fell in love! I love that everyone is so social and welcomed just like family


Carol   •   July 16, 2012

Ahh la vie à Paris! Officially confirmed: I'm living on the wrong continent! hahah Welcome back!


Aleksandra   •   July 16, 2012

I completely agree with you Joy. Whenever I go to Europe I'm amazed at how little they have in their fridges because they get their food fresh every day or two so nothing goes to waste. And the food they do get is all fresh produce. Yum yum!


Lisa   •   July 16, 2012

It's important to remember that the French Government limits their people to work no more than 30 hours a week. The people don't even have a choice in the matter, so with that being said, ofcourse they have more free time and are seen sitting around cafe's. Americans would too if we had such restrictions, but I would rather have the choice to work as much as I want and then exercise the fat off. Just my two cents. I love America, yes we could be healthier, but we are free to do as we please and that what matters to me. :-)

Lisa   •   July 16, 2012

Also wanted to add that I have nothing against this post and nothing against France. In fact I would love to travel there someday. I just don't see eye to eye with the way things are governed there. I do enoy reading your posts Joy!

Luciole   •   October 27, 2012

Hi Lisa, just to mention that people in France do work more than 30 hours a week; actually very few people might work less (when working full time). What the law says is 35 hours a week. But then, people very often (almost always) work at home in addition to those 35 hours. So it's absolutely not a matter of having enough time to chill out in a café as the stereotype goes about our "laziness". It's just that the day is structured so as to allow three good meals a day. And France is a liberal country too, I don't think the way we deal with our politics should impact the way we feed our bodies :)

onscrit   •   September 5, 2013

Bullshit about work limitation!! amazing what can we read. The standard is set at 35h/week but be sure that Many pple work a lot more (executives, doctors, engineers, farlmers and much more...)

jc   •   November 18, 2013

Um, not at all actually :) I'm a french who annoys me and thank some comment. However, you might be surprised to learn that the government forbid us to work more than 48 hours . (10 hours per day) However , beyond 35 hours , we get paid overtime . It is therefore true to say that 40% of French EMPLOYEES are the 35 hours. This is obviously not the case for employers and professionals such as lawyers, doctors, accountants, photographers all other trades in his account. ... who have no legal limits for self- employed . ( We can be self- employed for any business in addition to our normal job). So we can work as much as we want and are very well paid if we do . However, for us, life is important! We must live it now! It is true that we have a problem with money. For us , the money should be secondary , friends , family and the couple are the most important ( in theory). :) sorry but I do not support the false claims especially if it is to say bullshit .

ada   •   April 7, 2014

35 hours. To be precise. And yes, France as an economy might go to detriment because of this but hey, the French themselves will keep their joie de vivre and their skinny legs and tight buttocks.

Devin   •   November 5, 2014

This isn't entirely true, Lisa. The 35 hours (not 30) is the 'legal' working week, after which workers are entitled to overtime. There are very few industries - mostly public services - where workers aren't allowed to put in longer hours. There is a maximum amount of overtime you can do per year, but it's substantial, and many people's normal working hours are 37 hours. The funny thing about this - plus the 4-6 weeks' annual leave - is that French productivity is pretty high compared to many other countries with longer working hours. Also, when they reduced the length of the working week, workers did the same amount of work in 35 hours that they used to do in 37.5. The result of this - and other French workplace attitudes - is a rich work-life balance that favours living as much as working. But if you wanted to work your life away in France you'd be free to do so.

Sina   •   July 16, 2012

I am German and came to the US 15 years ago and gained 20 pounds. Honestly, the "food" here is shocking. I was used to a low sugar, fresh fruit and veggies kind of a diet for all my life and was thrown into processed, preserved food. It took me quite a while to adjust back, mainly because I had to adjust my husband to eat like me who was through and through American fed. We have a beautiful 6 year old daughter now who begs me to go for walks every night and has no clue what Chef Boyarde (sp?) is but can't decide if her favorite veggie is broccoli or green beans and she will take a bag of baby spinach to school for snack because she thinks it's cool. And I am glad to be back to that but when I look around it is scary to see how people literally hurt themselves with the way they are feeding their body. And they look at you as the crazy person for being skinny and eating fresh food... I hope they will come to their senses and save themselves for their own good :) Sorry for ranting on!

Joy McCarthy   •   July 16, 2012

I thoroughly enjoyed your rant. Getting back to basics like you've done with your family is the key to joyous health. Thank you for sharing!

Theresa   •   July 16, 2012

Love it. Real, fresh, food. Moderation. Exercise. =)


Erin @ The Grass Skirt   •   July 16, 2012

This is so interesting! I also heard that French women eat what they really love...but only a little bit of it at a time. They won't indulge in something if it isn't what they truly want. I'm not sure if it is true, but it makes sense!


Ryan   •   July 16, 2012

Why is it such a good thing to be skinny though? This is an interesting article but I think the wording could be better. I understand where you're going with it, but it is actually damaging to encourage the idea that skinny=healthy. Why not 5 reasons French women are healthy? or 5 reasons French women are happy? Aren't those the truly important things?

Joy McCarthy   •   July 16, 2012

Yes you are absolutely right. Skinny does not necessarily equate to healthy which is why I mentioned that I'm not a fan of the word "skinny". But I think you get the point of my post, I hope? It's just semantics. Just like the "skinny bitch" books which are all about health -- even though I don't agree with all their recommendations.

Sonya   •   June 19, 2014

Even though those things are more important than weight, this article is about weight. We don't have to only talk about what is most important. And, it is fun and informative to learn from other cultures about how they accomplish things we care about. YOU may not care about being thin, but myself and many of the commenters do. I feel more comfortable in my skin being thin, and I am healthy. Eating more like the French has brought me a 20 lb weight loss (I'm now smack in the middle of BMI charts); a passion for great food; and a healthier relationship with food.

Andrea   •   July 16, 2012

Am leaving on Thursday for a 3 week Euro trip and not worried for even a second since every time I'm there I actually feel BETTER than here, no matter if we went to a restaurant or a market, eat white bread (omg!) or sweets. I think it goes to show that we are making ourselves sick with the antibiotics and GMOs and everything that goes into all of our food. It's scary to think it's almost inescapable. It's so major to buy organic, buy local and even grow what you can to know exactly where your food has come from and that it's safe.

Roux   •   October 23, 2012

Unfortunately, Monsanto and GMOs are everywhere, including Europe. I live in France and I love it, but globalization is here--along with huge supermarkets, fast food and...GMOs.

Sarah   •   July 16, 2012

Hi Joy! What a great post and such great observations. Being from Europe, I always took all these things for granted and even though women over there are considered "skinny" over here, trust and believe, they are just as obsessed about their weight gain and belly "fat". LOL..It's all relative...of course :p. Things that I have noticed when I go back home: 1. People really take the TIME to EAT. Whenever, you go to a restaurant or a cafe, you pretty much have to beg the waiter- aka "garçon, l'addition s'il vous plait", before he or she will DARE come and bother your table and rush you to leave and pay your bills. They really allow you to take your sweet time to eat and to order as much as you want... That is one thing I still struggle greatly with living here now...I find it SO rude when the waiters come and ask if I want anything else...only because they really want me to pay the bill and free the table. It really bothers me! I always feel rushed when I eat here. At home, when I go out with friends to "eat", we know that we should allocate at LEAST an hour and half to 3 hrs for a comfortable lunch/ dinner. Eating in good company is one of my fav activities for that reason. Good food and great conversations, always! 2. The grocery store carries such delightful and healthy foods and healthy options. I was shocked to see that even what they consider "junk" food is still relatively healthy to me. 3. The grocery store always has a LOT more FRESH produce; may it be freshly daily baked breads and pastries (delight!), vegetables, meats, cold cuts, cheeses. Everything is very FRESH. 4. At the restaurants, the meal portions are WAY smaller. People might eat 3-4 course meals but each portion is much smaller than here so you have more room to fit all of that food :p. And again, people really take the TIME to eat each course so the digestion is not rushed or impaired. One course at a time... 5. With regards to people not being crazy overweight or on the other spectrum super buffed, my brother was just reminding me that GMO foods are FORBIDDEN in Europe. Therefore, you might have less of a negative influence coming from these food additives and chemicals. Plus I don't think they are as many hormones into the food. The way teenagers have been developing here is SCARY! I think that in general with regards to food, Europeans might have a better sense of the say: "Everything in moderation"...But I might be biased :p I think this is all I wanted to say about that topic ;) Thanks for sharing Joy ;)

Joy McCarthy   •   July 16, 2012

wow! Thank you for that thoughtful response! I agree with everything you've written here. The old world is certainly ahead of the times - rather ironic isn't it?

Christina   •   July 16, 2012

Great article, and totally true! I spent a year in Italy as a teenager and much to the shock of everyone back in Canada came back 20 pounds lighter. Why? A Mediterranean diet filled with fresh, local produce, and none of the sugar-filled snacks we are raised on here. Real food is just the cultural norm.


Jess   •   July 16, 2012

You forgot to mention that nearly 30% of french women smoke. Plus, even though France has a lower combined percentage of overweight and obese people (about 40%, according to the OECD), that percentage is expected to rise by at least 10% over the next ten years.

Joy McCarthy   •   July 16, 2012

Is it really that high? I don't think smoking is entirely the reason that French women tend to be slimmer. It's not just French women, it's most Europeans in general. Thanks for sharing those stats though.

Sonya   •   June 19, 2014

I read that more Americans smoke than French. It was a few years ago but it might be available online if one wanted to research it.

Annelies   •   July 16, 2012

Why French women don't get fat? They eat three bites, call it a meal, and then chainsmoke the rest of the time.


Julie Daniluk   •   July 18, 2012

Your blog is bang on! Walking down any street in Europe is a startling contrast to walking in North America. I don't believe smoking is the primary reason why people are slimmer. The rate of smoking in the Russian region (CIS) is slightly higher than all of Europe yet their incidence of obesity is similar to North America.


arnaud   •   July 18, 2012

hi guys, I am French born and been living in your marvelous country for a decade now. I can tell you that your point of view about why French women are skinny very tourist minded oriented. Here is how a "normal" person eats: 3 meals a day. Breakfast out of 1 slice of baguette, a croissant and a small coffee. No snack or bite until lunch time. Then 1 hour for lunch. They will eat a full size meal and yes walk to their bar/restaurant (for working people) or cook at home. Then nothing until 4-ish for kids for a sugar/fruit snack. followed by nothing until 7:30-8-ish pm for a full size dinner, generally a lot heavier than lunch. appetizer (crudites as we call it), meat/fish, veggies, cheese and dessert. Now women are still very much under the view of fashion, Society view of "fat" ( a few curves and bam you are obese), the stigma that a woman after birth will generate and keep curves very hard to get rid of and social view sees you as fat,etc.. Therefore, women will: starve themselves to indeed barely eat during these 3 meals I mentioned above. Many will go through eating disorders, and/or take meal replacement pills to keep the weight off, this leading to mood disorders due to lack of proper food intake, followed by anti-depressant because they feel depressed (when many times it is the combination of badly planned meals and society's oppression over women's image). there, French women are skinny but soooo messed up inside.

  •   July 19, 2012

I am a French woman. I've been living in the USA for several years now. Joy is right on, and so is Sara (after 17 years here I still cannot get used to waiters interrupting my conversation!). Sina, like you I put on weight as soon as I got here, and it took me time to adjust. I blame it partially on the commercials for junk food that you see on TV and which you did not see on French TVs. Arnaud is right that women there can be obsessed with their weight, and I agree that the social expectations in France are a lot stricter than in the USA. And yes, you can probably witness some extreme behaviors in France like you do in the USA. I also have witnessed an increase in overweight people in France the passed years I visited, and yes, it is expected to rise... You see more and more junk food around (McDonalds, JFK, Burger King...), and more and more processed foods are reaching the shelves of grocery stores... I am "skinny", but most of all I am very healthy. It has very much to do with growing up in France, and I also love to walk, but the urban planning in the USA makes it so hard. Actually, it drives me mad not to be able to walk more. I do get that "look" or a comment once in a while because I am skinny and I will choose fresh produce to eat. People here look at me as if something was wrong with me. Joy, I love your recipes!! I have the summer off and I have been spending plenty of time cooking and trying your recipes.... actually I stumbled upon this blog entry as I was looking to make your quinoa muffins! Off to the kitchen now and looking forward to your book!

stella   •   July 27, 2012

Just came back from Greece (3 week vacation). I am a little overweight and my Greek cousins reminded me of this. What I notice was they began the day or ended the day with fage yogurt (sometimes added honey). Boxed food for snacking (cookies, donuts, etc) is rare. 2 servings of fresh fruit. Lots of walking.


Generic Clomid   •   August 9, 2012

We gulp diet pills after eating fatty food. We take depression pills after being lonely in our houses. We eats chips rather than fruits and vegetables. We eats "on the go". Why we Americans don't follow these five golden rules of healthy life?


Luciole   •   October 27, 2012

I'm French :) and have been living in the UK for two years and now in Toronto for a few months. The thing about snacking is that in Europe (well, mainly in France) you get three consistent meals a day. As these are (or should be) nutritious, fulfilling and pleasurable, you just don't want to eat in between and can think of something else than food. Something I notice here and noticed in the UK is this obsession with cookies, tiny sugar-packed "treats", etc. There are machines everywhere to keep you aware you should have something. This works for food and for drinks, by the way. It would be interesting to see how many paper cups are saved when every one in downtown Toronto has his/her own cup. Besides, food chains' arguments often revolve around the idea of "indulgence" and that's something that kind of disturbed me when I settled in an anglo-saxon country. The idea that the more sugary or the fatter or the more decadent something is the better it is, or rather the more attractive it is. This is not healthy! The words "indulgence", "treat" and "craving" do not easily translate to French, and I think this is significant. In French you have an "envie" (desire) rather. Not to say that this is absolute, of course we have our own nasty expressions (eg. "pêché mignon", 'sweet sin' for a favourite food). I just mean there are cultural matrices that condition your way of eating pretty much. A good reason to be critical of those 'it's genes' theories.


Anoush   •   January 10, 2013

I'm European, and I was surprised by the number of fat people when visiting your country. But then I had the impression the US/Canadian bones' structure is "wider" than the average European one: hips, shoulders, jaws. So I suppose it might also be genetically explained, at least partially. On the other hand, after only very few days in NY, I gained weight by tasting your delicious breakfasts, eating whatever on the streets and trying to finish all the huge portions I was served. The food was actually good but portions were way too large for me and I had the feeling I'd better hurry up as they brought us the bill before we'd finished the main course. After a week, we went to Italian and French –unfortunately more expensive-restaurants, where we were served normal sized portions and our stomachs were relieved.

Joy McCarthy   •   January 10, 2013

The portions in the U.S. are HUGE. However, in Canada... Toronto specifically, I don't find that restaurants serve too much food.

pop_the_brown_hornet   •   April 2, 2013

A little bit late on the discussion From a canadian that been living in france for 4 years now. I was amazed on how french women are slim. The average women here is thin compared to canadians. Since Toulouse is a student town, I can compare multiple women all the way to 30s and the results are consistent. There is something in their diet. The food here is much better and most important good food is within walking reach. I remember the first few dinners with work colleagues, I looked like a fool not knowing basic meals names. Stuff that I could only get at the restaurant back in Montreal, they 've eating them since there were kids at family dinners. In the south here, lunch time can go on for 1h30 and up to 2h30 on a friday when the team performed well. The french really enjoy eating good food all the way to the desert. Also a a lot of healthy sandwiches are available for lunch. They all kind of different flavours. I've just spent easter 2013 in London, and the women out here are more chubby. On another note french women dress more stylishly without even trying. I still got love for ma canadian women though :-)


Mary   •   July 28, 2013

The most joyous thing in this post was being told to eat when you are hungry. The Canada food guide and all of these articles about eating every couple hours has always had me shaking my head. It is nice to hear someone say that the body will let you know when to feed it....pretty smart.


M.J.T.   •   September 4, 2013

Two things that are interesting to think about/might complicate this picture. First, it's really interesting to hear someone discuss the pressures on French women to be skinny. I wonder what the prevalence of eating disorders in France compared to North America or Great Britain would be. Secondly, as a vegan who lived in Montreal in six years, I also wonder how healthy French food is since traditional French food is *very* reliant on animal fats. French food has to be about the worst kind of cuisine for a vegetarian. I realize European regulations monitor the hormones in meat and dairy much better than in North America. But I think the important thing to remember is that what makes Europeans healthier is the emphasis on food preparation *at home*, less stress, and moderate exercise.

DaFrenchCanadian   •   September 17, 2015

Vegan propaganda spotted. Eat an egg to find proteins and think normally.

Diana   •   March 28, 2014

I enjoyed reading your article, however I don't think it's just a French or European thing in general this whole "eating healthy, enjoying the food and do more passive forms of exercising such as walking". I'm European, and I've heard of the large portions served in the US, I know people from North America are heavier than the rest of the world, but I think it's just a matter of education. You will find fat people everywhere, and this works the other way around as well. Personally, I don't fancy packaged poison and always go for the fresh alternative. It's just a matter of self control and normality after all. We weren't born to eat the amount of processed food people eat these days. Yes, we all have cravings and it's okay to have a treat from time to time, but this doesn't give us the right to abuse this kind of food and indulge ourselves constantly. Also, there are almost always healthier alternatives that taste just as good and most importantly are natural.


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