Why don’t French Adults Gain Weight? Some Observations

Why don’t the French gain weight? Some observations from my recent walk on Le Chemin de St. Jacques.

For years, the media has discussed why French people and particularly French women don’t get fat. Careers have been made by writing books on this topic. There are lots of theories, mostly having to do with small portions and not eating between meals.

First we have to separate losing weight from not getting fat in the first place. Losing weight is hard and complicated. Not getting fat is easy but requires constant vigilance. I weigh myself every week; if I’ve gained more than two pounds, I cut back on food and add more exercise.

Too much emphasis is put on losing weight; I’ve not seen much effort in the media in staying at the right weight. When people talk about the French staying thin, they mean staying at the right weight all their lives.    

Here’s what I’ve observed.

While walking Le Chemin de St. Jacques, I had the opportunity to observe the French in action, so to speak.

Forget the Mediterranean diet we’ve heard so much about. Not in Southwestern France.
Maybe it exists in Italy or Greece but here the food was heavy, meat-based with
potatoes.  Remember where French fries come

But everybody has to walk. When I walked through small villages, I noticed so many people walking to do their every day chores. Older people who live in the small villages are less likely to have a car. They may never have learned to
drive. Old people go to the shops with a shopping bag in one hand and a crutch
or cane in the other. They have to go every day because they can’t carry much. In the U.S., these old folks would be considered disabled and have a
scooter. I didn’t  see one mobility
scooter, just a few conventional wheelchairs.

French bread is designed to be
soggy after a few hours. More reason to go back to the shops.

Then these same old people have to
walk to the garbage cans. In most villages, the garbage and recycling bins are
located in one spot and there’s no home garbage pick up.

These same people garden every day.
They’re watching their euro cents and grow tomatoes and other vegetables. Yes,
they have to bend down, using their canes to right them up.

Even with a car, it is so difficult
to park in front of stores or churches. I didn’t see one drive-through,
either for an ATM or fast food. In contrast, my local bank in Asheville only has drive-through ATMS, no walk-up on the outside of the building.

Yes, the French also smoke more.

When I got to Marseille, the second largest city in France, I stayed in a room in an old condo on the fifth floor. The building didn’t have an elevator. Imagine trying to advertise a room on the fifth floor to Americans.

Catherine, the apartment owner, was a woman in her late fifties and thin. She was a teacher. On weekends, she went to the food markets with her shopping cart and carried her purchases up the stairs. Only one floor below, I met a couple with two small children who must have gone up and down the stairs numerous times a day.

That’s how the French stay thin. Losing weight is a whole different topic, which I’ll leave to the experts. 

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