The French Anti-Diet Remedy: A Convivial Eating Society
First, let me point out so there are no misconceptions: French are not anti-diet and do put themselves on strict diets. I know some who are following these popular diets Montignac (low glycemic index foods), French version Weight Watchers (both of these reasonable eating plans in short-term, me thinks), high protein/low carb Dukan diet, and the more dangerous 5:2 (fasting two days with 500 calories, called 5/2 in France ). These diets are used as punctual periods to lose a few kilos, when a French person feels they have ‘gone past’ their weight number. In general, French are strict with their weight (as they are with many things) and they don’t like to be a few pounds over what they were pendant leur jeunesse (during their young days).
In this article I don’t want to pass judgments on the merits of different diets (I am anti-diet), but to inspire you to engage in more convivial eating by showing you an example of the ‘joie di vivre’ French food culture. French eating rules do not encourage being on long-term diets (unless it is medically ordered such as diabetic diets), because the convivial eating food culture doesn’t ‘allow’ it.
And this is a positive thing, because convivial eating literally means: eating with life. Con+vivere is from Latin translated as with life: eating together around a table, enjoying a long meal and one big aspect that brings community and communication together: everyone eats the same thing.
The act of sharing the same bowl of food put in the center of the table is a sacred act in itself, it is the symbol of we are together, we eat together, we share the same food together. We are equals, this is the beauty of conviviality, to feel connected at the same level. While on the subject, read this super interesting research on the subject of eating the same thing together, your ideas are more persuasive and it instills trust. This is good to know when you are eating with teenagers and talking about important subjects around the table!
Diets don’t fit into this French anti-diet setting because it feels uncomfortable to come to the table with different foods and decline eating what is in the middle of the table. Following a diet isn’t looked down upon (au-contraire, keeping a good weight is considered a disciplined act), it is just that it doesn’t fit in to what ‘everyone’ else is eating together.
This is also the reason that having a food allergy or being vegetarian is more challenging in France. It can be awkward for someone who needs a gluten free diet or who is a strict vegetarian to put their dietary needs out to the host of the dinner or restaurant serving food or to not to eat what everyone else is eating for dinner at home. France is progressing on these points, but it has a lot more work to do, especially when compared to other countries.
If you travel to France (I hope you do) and see the French sitting around a table enjoying meals together, know that these are convivial episodes. They are planned and enjoyed, a privilege of a meal spent together. Diets are forgotten, and tomorrow is another day to cut back and eat less. The French are thinner than other Europeans, but they are also strict with themselves too, sometimes too strict, especially French women. (I know French women who weigh themselves daily and cut back on their food portions to be back at the weight the day before and they have done this for years.)
But all the French I know treasure convivial eating, and it is this anti-diet and pro-eating French food culture that brings life to daily drama. My call to action is to encourage convivial eating for you too: share a meal together, eat slower, stretch the time out. You’ll find that these convivial ‘with life’ meals become medicine for anti-stress and weight control.
Do you have a story to tell or just got to the end and want to read more? I would love to share my professional and personal stories as a nutritionist and mom living in France, just ‘next door’ to Italy, my second heart home. You can follow me on Twitter, or sign up for article updates and newsletter by clicking the button below. Your email will always remain private and by subscribing you can download your free E-report on “10 Simple Ways to Eat Like the French Without Having a Food Snob Attitude.”