How do the French really eat?

"I’ve come to the conclusion that French people stay slim entirely because their diet is so high in cream and butter – it renders you almost completely unable of overeating or snacking between meals." People love to talk about French food almost as much as they love to eat French food. How is it that the French manage to stay slim when their diet consists of cream, butter, and more cream?

Well, after a weekend staying with a French family, I have gained an insider’s glimpse into French cuisine – and let me tell you now, it’s not for the weak-stomached.

The idea of eating a diet high in fats and sugars may sound appealing to those who regularly avoid such things, but in reality it takes gritty determination and a cast iron stomach. I’ve come to the conclusion that French people stay slim entirely because their diet is so high in cream and butter – it renders you almost completely unable of overeating or snacking between meals.

Justine and I gained this insight into the French diet during a weekend away with my flatmate, Emmanuelle. We were invited to stay with Emmanuelle’s family in the gorgeous rural town of Chalon, located in the heart of Burgandy – the region famous for rich red wines.

Let’s eat!

As we were guests for the weekend, we were showered with delicious food and drink. Extra preparation had gone into each meal, but according to Emmanuelle the type of food was more or less standard.

We were welcomed with dinner upon arrival. Hungry from the journey and the cold, our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. We mistakenly thought the first course was the main course, and tucked in enthusiastically.

Our entrée was sausage meat wrapped in fluffy brioche with a side salad – more than enough to fill our bellies. As delicious as it was, we were not expecting what came next – a main course of beef bourginon and mashed potatoes. By this time we were well and truly satiated, but – as guests – we couldn’t possibly decline dessert. Out comes the caramel cream, a light, custardy sweet treat that would have tasted amazing if we weren’t physically incapable of enjoying it.

And just when we thought it was all over, the cheeseboard appears. I think I was actually sweating at this point – my body was trying so hard to reject the food. I managed to eat a few slices of cheese, before I was finally served a cup of tea. By this point my stomach was churning with meat, cream and wine – a challenging combination in large quantities.

Now, this may have been all right if it was an isolated incident. One can handle over-indulging every now and then. But the real challenge came the next day. We weren’t hungry at breakfast but graciously accepted a pastry with our coffee. We may not have if we knew what we were in for at lunch.

At midday, and then again at around 7pm, we endured two more 5 course meals, all washed down with bread and wine. Emmanuelle and her family barely even registered the amount of food we were eating. I presume they had all grown up eating these rich foods, and were used to stocking up on calories at each mealtime and never snacking.

In my culture, we eat smaller meals but snack more often. I can see now why the French maintain their figures – they don’t snack, they just ensure they get the most out of each meal. While 5 course meals may be reserved for weekends, visitors and special occasions, bread, cream and butter are permanent fixtures.

I’m sure if I tried to mimic the French lifestyle I would barely be able to eat three meals a day, yet snack! So, there you have it – the secret to staying slim is stuffing yourself silly. Can you believe it?

A word on Chalon

Aside from eating, Justine and I did make the most of the opportunity to explore Chalon and the surrounding countryside. Emmanuelle drove us around in her car, a rare treat for us – we had been relying on trains and planes for a while now.

It is a gorgeous part of France, and was made all the more beautiful by the recent snow fall. There was something intensely traditional about staying in a family house, eating home-cooked food and heading out for a Sunday drive. We loved it – but next time we’d stretch our stomachs in preparation!