"French Women Don't Get Fat". Is it true? In France there is enormous peer pressure to stay slim. Overindulgence is socially incorrect. Snacks between meals are for children only. Eating in the street is about as socially correct as peeing on a public wall--which is to say drunks and little kids can do it, but not responsible adults. Portions are much smaller not only in restaurants but at home. People eat slowly, and meals are a social event with conversation.

            I'm not going to re-write Mireille Guiliano's bestselling book, summed up in this excellent blog posting: {http://frenchwomendontgetfat.com/content/everyday-eating}

            She describes the average French person's attitude to meals and food. However, I have to say that Mrs. Guiliano belongs to a class of wealthy, sophisticated urbanites. She paints an optimistic picture of the French, implying there are no overweight people, and that everyone in France enjoys moderate portions of food and wine while watching their weight and health. This is far from universally true. She describes the perfect specimen of a certain upper-middle class French woman. French people with modest incomes do not necessarily eat healthy diets, and French children are beginning to consume too much soda, snacks and sweets. The younger French generation has developed a taste for cocktails instead of wine with dinner.

            There are overweight women here in France, and lots of French people don't have truly healthy lifestyles. French overweight people still tend to be less fat than your average heavy American, so I suppose it looks better when you get off the plane from Chicago. But diabetes and heart disease are still two of the biggest killers in France, and lots of French adults are carrying too many pounds. My French women friends are more concerned about their looks than their health. If they take gym classes to stay fit, they actually worry about exercising too much. They don't want to develop big arm or leg muscles, which they consider ugly and un-feminine.

           My French women friends don't count calories but they control portions and they avoid 'white foods' (sugar, bread, pasta, potatoes).  They aren't always eating a healthy diet of varied foods, but they definitely eat less sugar than my American friends. The French diet is not ideal; nearly every French person I know eats too much meat. They eat meat every day; primarily red meat. When I go grocery shopping I peek to see what other people are buying. My cart is mostly filled with fruit, veggies, cheese, pasta, beans, and olive oil. When I look in the average French shopping cart, I see loads of junk food, sodas, tins of prepared food, frozen convenience foods and sugary treats including candy, cookies and snacks. I'm appalled by the amount of 'charcuterie' (pork sausages and patés) in the average shopping cart. Are they eating saucisson at every meal?? I'm sorry Mrs. Guiliano; France is not a paradise of slim, healthy adults. That would be Japan.

            To conclude on a positive note, let me whip out the French woman's secret weapon for staying fit: the simple vegetable soup or  "potage aux legumes".  This is what we eat for evening meal once a week, all winter.  With just a slice of cheese and bread (no butter) and fruit for dessert, this is the typical dinner meal my French women friends use to maintain their slim figure.

potage aux legumes - simple winter veg soup - serves 2

2 tsp olive oil

1 leek OR 1 onion + 1 clove garlic

1 carrot

1 potato

1/2 bay leaf

1 sprig parsley OR tiny branch of celery with leaves

1 sprig fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried thyme

2 cups water

salt, pepper

1/ In a saucepan, sauté the chopped leeks or onions + garlic in the olive oil 5 minutes until transparent.

2/ Add everything else, cover and bring to simmer.  Cook for 30 minutes.

3/ Run through a food mill on medium setting or blend with immersion blender for 30 seconds.