Spend any time in France and you quickly notice that they seem to break every single food ‘rule’ we hear about how to stay slim, fit and healthy. Bread accompanies breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack. Wine most days. Dairy galore with cheese and croissants.
Long termed the French Paradox, just how do they maintain their health?
Spend a little longer in France and you start to realise that whilst the average French person is far from gluten, dairy, alcohol and sugar free, they do one thing incredibly well, consistently. They take what seems like a frustratingly long time, over a healthy lunch!
When we moved to France years ago, one of the first differences we were struck by was the insistence on at least 1 hour for the lunch occasion - or 1 1/2 hours for the children at school, when literally everything closed and there was nothing else to do but eat!!
It took us a while to adapt, before we accepted that whilst this may not have been the exact reason we moved, overall it kind of was part of it. There was something about this country’s culture that embraces the joy of food and eating ‘en famille’ that we knew was far healthier than the hurried sandwich version we’d grabbed back in the UK.
And so we embraced it too. Our children came home to eat lunch until they were about 10 years old. And whilst i grumbled many a time about how it interfered with my busy day, I have absolutely no regrets as I’ve no doubt it contributed towards their healthy relationship with food.
Let’s flip it over and consider it from a different angle. Having spent my gap year in France long ago, I was able to reflect on how French food had affected my 17 year old self. Interestingly it is the only time in my life (other than being pregnant) that I’d put on weight, having returned home to England almost a stone heavier than when I left! Having skied, ran or exercised almost every day (that’s one thing definitely in their favour, the French do move), yet with my clear increase in weight, it was not the full story.
The one habit I hadn’t embraced as a cash short gap year student, was, once again, the long healthy lunch. I opted for the good old stable and cheap cheese baguette as I rushed out to the ski slopes during the sacred lunch hour to enjoy the empty slopes. It’s also highly possible that I may have gone a little over board with the croissants at breakfast and the beer for après ski, without food, most evenings.
I wasn’t particularly food conscious at the time and didn’t noticed that the locals simply didn’t eat this way. Oh hindsight is a wonderful thing. Thankfully I wasn’t advising anyone on lifestyle at that point in my life!
Ahhh…the joy and health benefits of a long lunch #Frenchstyle.
To this day I rarely have a sandwich lunch - it clearly doesn’t suit my body and I’ve never put on weight again. With teens who are now at school all day (with time cut out in their school day for a 3 course lunch, bien sûr) these days I do often take a quicker lunch. However, having a wholesome lunch, with the lighter meal in the evening, has literally become second nature.
I only recently learned that UNESCO features the French gastronomic meal in it’s World Intangible Heritage list. With good reason I believe. A healthy, joyful relationship with food seems to be very precious in our time short and quickly distracted world. My only guidance would be to enjoy such feasts primarily at lunch.
There’s much I love about this country and much that didn’t quite go to plan to bring our French dream alive, which I shared very recently in my story, The Perfectly Imperfect French Dream, which I shared in the anthology of amazing stories in our amazon International Bestseller, Courageous World Catalysts 2. You can check it out and order your copy here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Courageous-World-Catalysts-Inspirational-Changemakers-ebook/dp/B07HFJ9R9Z/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1539064724&sr=8-2&keywords=courageous+world+catalysts