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two cigarettes a week theory

Why French Women Aren’t Fat: A 2 Cigarettes a Week Theory

two cigarettes a week theory

If you have followed my Jersey Shore summer series ‘Little Stories’ on cultural differences between America and France you may enjoy this article which highlights a ‘secret’ that some French women use for weight control. If you want to browse the summer series, you can start by clicking the first segment here, “Differences in Food Cultures, Why Can’t Parents Say No?”

Two Cigarettes a Week: A French Woman’s Secret To Not Gaining Weight?

There is no secret that French women elude a certain aura; a pulled together chic look with a set pearls and a scarf tied around the neck ( And the reputation that French women are thinner than other women. French author et femme célèbre Mireille Guiliano “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” has made her fortune and mark by promoting this French women’s typical stay thin and eat whatever you want diet and lifestyle. Seriously, how can the French eat all that cream, cheese and patisserie, enjoy apéritif and drink wine at dinner and still stay mega-thin?

While I may not have all the answers like Madame Guiliano, I do know a secret that many foreigners don’t know. It took me 8 years living in France until I discovered it and, even today 13 years gone by, I am still amazed about this cultural secret that for me is a difference in America-French lifestyle habits.

This diet secret is what I call “Two Cigarettes A Week.”

French Women Aren’t Fat: The French Women’s Culture of Discipline, Pleasure and the End of a Meal

I distinctly remember when I discovered that the French friends I knew, mes amies, were not full-time smokers, but they did smoke; albeit two cigarettes a week.

There were about 12 of us having a filling lunch at a all you can eat buffet when the meal was coming to a close. The waitress came to our table to take our coffee orders. Just on cue, with the coffee, most of the French women picked up their purses by their feet, opened them and dug way down inside to take out their pack of cigarettes.

I sat with a minor shock looking around the table: my friends smoked? How can this be? I have never seen them with a cigarette and they don’t smell like smoke. What is this?

But then one friend explained it to me; the cigarette pack in the handbag can sit there for a month until it is used up. A cigarette comes out at the end of a big meal, sometimes at the restaurant, sometimes a home after Sunday lunch. One friend says she smokes at the end of a long stressful day while watching the moon outside. Mais c’est tout. (That is all.)

On average, a smoke of about two cigarettes a week. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Très French. Disciplined.

I know which of my American friends smoke. The ones that do smoke, smoke regularly. The ones that don’t smoke, do not carry cigarettes nor smoke.

These French women have done this two cigarettes a week for years. They aren’t attached to cigarettes, they are not ‘real’ smokers, they are disciplined enough to keep this pleasurable habit in check, just like they do with pleasurable food and drink. In strict moderation. And on those meals they go a overboard and eat just a wee bit too much, or they feel that they just need to stop eating what is on their plate as the meal draws to an end, then this cigarette is a symbol that the meal is over and it is time to stop eating. A small coffee and a smoke from one of their crumpled pack of cigarettes, the meal has ended. Wasn’t the meal good, we all say? I have had enough.

Voila, a hidden cultural secret that you won’t find in many “How Do French Women Stay Thin” books. And a secret you won’t discover if you are visiting France. You need to live here and experience it as part of the culture. Having a disciplined pleasurable twice a week smoke fits in perfectly with the French culture that I know. Everything in moderation. The French have a symbol at the end of their meals to transition that the meal is over. For some, the meal finishes with a small cup of strong coffee. For others, a piece of chocolate. And for some  French women, it is that one cigarette.

Note: This ‘Two Cigarette A Week Non-Smoker’ cultural habit does not include the estimated French women who smoke regularly, especially as a tool for weight control. “Why Can’t the French Stop Smoking.”

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7 Responses to Why French Women Aren’t Fat: A 2 Cigarettes a Week Theory

  1. ~TheLadyinRed~ October 13, 2015 at 17:15 #

    I think the most important nugget of what you have written here is that there should be a personal indication of when a meal is over – when you’ve had enough. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a cigarette, though. Healthier choices can be coffee, chocolate, a glass of wine….something that you look forward to, but upon ingestion indicates that the meal is over. I think that is something missing from American culture in a constructive way. For many, the meal isn’t over until a high calorie dessert is consumed in its entirety. It’s almost as if there needs to be a less caloric, equally enjoyable end to a meal, that is acceptable instead of dessert.

  2. robert July 13, 2012 at 07:16 #

    When you quit or stop smoking for a while your metabolism spikes. When it returns to normal after some time this is usually when people gain weight. So if they stay in that high metabolism “zone” by basically quitting smoking every week it might be possible. And yes, if you don’t smoke, don’t start. The two most addictive substances known to man are nicotine and crack cocaine.

    • mbrighton July 16, 2012 at 05:36 #

      Hi Robert, Thanks very much for your informative comment and insights! Please keep them coming! Mary

  3. Terry May 11, 2011 at 20:36 #

    This is an interesting way to end a big meal. However, I smoke and I understand the reasoning of why so many people enjoy a cigarette I actually had to call a doctor and found out that this way can be helpful. It was nice to get some facts from a licensed professional about this topic. Thanks for the post!

    • mbrighton May 11, 2011 at 22:06 #

      Hi Terry, Actually as a health professional I would never advocate smoking to control weight or as a healthy way to end a meal. My observations were those from an “foreigner” living in France socializing with French women. The observations that some French women (actually more than meets the eye) actually smoke a couple cigarettes a week, usually after a big meal. Don’t start smoking if you don’t already, and if you do smoke, of course, try to quit. What can start as a couple of cigarrettes can end up with a pack a day for some.


  1. innerfrenchgirl - February 15, 2010

    Another blogger positing on the "smoking is slenderizing" theory of French women:

  2. innerfrenchgirl - February 15, 2010

    Another blogger positing on the "smoking is slenderizing" theory of French women:

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