The Secret of the French Diet Revealed

Since the dawn of time, the world has been obsessed with the French diet.

Bestselling novelist Mireille Guiliano boldly declared “French Women Don’t Get Fat”. Daily Beast claimed “The French Diet is Le Bullshit” and that one of the reasons the French stay thin is that they have “no American guilt when it comes to eating.” GoFrance from AboutTravel offers the theory that the French are thinner because they have more sex.

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Instead of getting caught up in the disagreement, I decided to figure it out myself. For five days I swapped my gluttonous, American eating habits for French ones. I modeled my French diet off of what I’ve read on the internet, in books, and magazines, and what I’ve observed while in France. Of course, not all French people eat this way, but I’m following the “French diet” as prescribed to Americans: small breakfast, large lunch (with wine), smaller dinner (also with wine). No distractions while eating. No speed-eating. No snacking, counting calories, or restrictions. And after all this, apparently I won’t get fat. (Ha!)

DAY 1: 4 in. of baguette consumed, 4.25 hrs of hunger

Observations:

fullsizerender-7-Breakfast is more difficult: I never eat breakfast without also doing something else. I watch The Daily Show, do my makeup, walk somewhere, etc. The French don’t do that. Today, I bought a bagel at 8:40am and couldn’t eat it until 10:40am because I wasn’t seated, distraction-free.

-Eating four courses by yourself is long: At lunch, I ate my sandwich, salad, cheese and baguette, and dessert alone. Between the salad and cheese, I moved the clock out of sight.

-Forever hungry: My stomach is a bottomless pit. I have two settings: hungry, and hungrier. A mere 2.25 hours after lunch, I was hungry again, and I had to stay hungry. (If I pass out, do I get to stop the diet early?)

Shout out to Bellini (UWS Italian restaurant) and my dad for buying me dinner.

DAY 2: 12 in. of baguette consumed, 2 hrs of hunger

Observations:

-Distraction-free eating increases efficiency: For breakfast, I spent 30 minutes enjoying coffee, strawberries, and baguette with Nutella and jam (Side note: how much baguette is enough baguette?), yet I was ready for work in half the time it usually takes me. Similarly, I had a long, distraction-free lunch, and worked more efficiently in the afternoon.

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-Hunger goes away: Grumblings of hunger (like the ones I felt one hour after breakfast) go away. Being hungry doesn’t mean that I need to snack, just like how sometimes I feel sad, but that doesn’t mean I need to cry.

-Flavors and distractions aren’t compatible: Regrettably, I don’t remember the taste of my salad and main course at Café Un Deux Trois because I was focused on the conversation with my roommate. The dessert, however, arrived once I was alone. I remember it perfectly.

Shout out to Café Un Deux Trois (Times Square French Restaurant), Café du Soleil (UWS French restaurant), and my roommate for eating lunch with me.

DAY 3: 7 in. of baguette consumed, 6 hrs of hunger

Observations:

-Stress distracts from food: Enjoying distraction-free meals is impossible when you are stressed or anxious, because you can’t clear your mind to appreciate your food.

-Cocktail parties are dangerous: The French must be plastered all the time from drinking wine on their empty, snack-free stomachs. Knowing that I’m a lightweight, I usually have a power bar before a cocktail party. Not tonight though, no snacking allowed. And…two glasses of wine later, I was drunk. Oops.

-No phones: Not being on my phone has alerted me to how often everyone else is on their phone. When my company gets their phone out, I can’t get mine out, too. I wait for them to be done. Honestly, I like not taking my phone out. I pay better attention to my company, and I rush less because I’m not always looking at the time.

Shout out to OCabanon (Chelsea French restaurant) and my editor for having lunch with me

DAY 4: 12 in. of baguette consumed, 5 hrs of hunger

Observations:

-Baguette is impractical: It’s not pleasant to go buy a baguette in the morning in New York City: the streets are dirty, and everyone is late and pissed-off, especially those of us spending $2.99 on a baguette. (I ate stale baguette for two days because I didn’t want to buy another one.)

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I stopped eating before dessert and broke the no-phones rule to snap this pic. Too much food on the table!

-Rushing kills joy: Rushing takes all the joy out of eating. Flavors mute and the anticipation of the next bite evaporates—eating becomes a task. At Café Henri, I was halfway through my main course when the waitress delivered my dessert and coffee. Coffee is only good when hot, so I rushed through the main course and salad, to the dessert and coffee. By the end of the meal, I had eaten too much, and felt dissatisfied.

-Small dinner is BAE: For dinner, I ate avocado toast, a small salad, and goat cheese on baguette. Light dinners require less cooking. Light dinners are my new favorite thing.

Shout out to at Café Henri (LIC French restaurant) and my non-French employer for understanding when I said I needed two hours for lunch.

DAY 5: 11 in. of baguette consumed, 3 hrs of hunger

Observations:

-Hunger happens: I had the same amount of breakfast as usual, and was painfully hungry for three hours. The grumblings of our stomachs should be ignored, but the hunger pangs should be soothed with food before we get hangry (hungry and angry).

fullsizerender-9-Observing: I love when my lunch company returns to work and I finish my Prix Fixe alone. I get my social fill, and then I get alone time. Once my company leaves, I begin tasting my food again, observing my surroundings, and listening to the people next to me say things like, “Berdorf’s is so New York” and “I think I’m persecuted for being Mormon.”

-No one else is dieting: The hardest part of doing a French diet is that no one is doing it with you. My friends didn’t want to delay the drive to Boston so I could have a sit-down dinner. Instead, in the backseat of my friend’s car, I ate a banana and part of my mostly-stale baguette with a single-serving packet of Nutella, which I spread onto the baguette with my finger.

Shout out to Le Midi (East Village French Restaurant) and my roommate for eating lunch with me.

Conclusion: would I recommend this?

Yes. But not because I lost weight. Maybe I lost a little weight, but I felt fatter because I ate more at meals to sustain myself for the afternoon. I would recommend the French diet because it was beneficial for my mental and emotional health (stay with me here.)

carrie-alone-cafeTaking time away from my desk for lunch made me happier and more productive in the afternoons. Not restricting what I ate at meals (including dessert and wine) stopped me from thinking about my body so much. Without my phone during meals, I lived in the moment, in the environment, with my company, and my food. Eating by oneself is oddly empowering. I sat by myself, appreciated my food, and enjoyed my own company.

Everyone makes their own choice whether or not to stick with a diet. I’m not staying on the French diet. I’ve reverted to watching The Daily Show over breakfast and eating lunch at my desk. The five days weren’t wasted, though. I’ve made changes, like snacking less, and no more phones at dinner.

Most importantly, I gained an understanding of the French and American relationships with food. Americans treat food as work—a necessary digestion of sustenance. The French Diet treats food as a vacation—a deserved break from life, a moment to be appreciated, distraction-free. So, would I rather be at work, or on vacation? I’ll take the vacation.