It’s probably pretty obvious at this point that our love for all things French runs deep. What can we say? There’s just something so aspirational about the fact that Parisian women manage to look both completely put-together and impossibly effortless at the same time. In truth, their almost laissez-faire approach with beauty happens to align with their fitness and diet strategies as well.
I didn’t completely understand how French women managed to indulge in all their local goodies without gaining weight until I lived in Paris for several months in college. No joke: I used to wander into different chocolate shops just to sample sweets. Yet somehow, I never gained a pound. It seemed miraculous at first until I began to observe tiny lifestyle shifts that were foreign to my life at home in the States. So, to learn how to eat like the French without making it look like you did, we thought it only fitting to head straight to the source.
Below, see some must-know tips from Parisian models, beauty gurus, and more.
Don't Deprive Yourself
Incredible food and wine are essential parts of French culture (and thus, the French woman's diet). This is something that natives aren’t just unwilling to sacrifice but also don’t have to. By committing to small serving sizes and savoring every bite, they don’t feel the need to overdo it. “I try to cook for myself almost every day when I’m home in Paris,” French model Cindy Bruna told Coveteur. “But if I go to a restaurant, I’m going to splurge. I don’t go out to order salad!” (Fun fact: Taking doggie bags to go is not an encouraged practice in France).
That said, French girls are still experts at practicing moderation. Consider this genius, simple tip from model and Instagram star Jeanne Damas, for example: “If I’m drinking wine in the evening, I avoid fruit and fruit juice during the day,” Damas once told Vogue Paris.
Visit Local Outdoor Markets
For the French, getting food at the local outdoor market is second nature. Fish is from the local fish market, meat is from the local butcher, and fruits and vegetables are from the local farmers. Not only does this ensure their food is as fresh as can be, but buying them from the local market also ensures that they're getting seasonal items, which means they'll taste better.
Scarfing down your meal causes you to consume more than what your body really needs. To follow the French diet, think of mealtime as a time of enjoyment versus a time to get a need met. And, while it may sound intuitive, try to make sure you're really chewing each bite. Think of the old adage: eat your water and drink your food.
To avoid eating too quickly, try using utensils with things you'd normally eat with your hands. This will force you to slow down, and will also make you take smaller bites.
Start Good Habits Early
You’d be hard-pressed to find a French woman who doesn’t cite her Maman as the ultimate beauty and wellness influence. “My mother taught me the importance of taking care of my skin and my body,” says model Sigrid Agren. By learning to enjoy fresh, seasonal foods in small portions and drinking lots of water by example, French children establish these mindful eating habits early on.
Don’t underestimate a good stroll—French women know that the physical and mental health benefits abound. “I force myself to walk a lot,” remarks Caroline de Maigret. “For example, if I have an appointment and I go by car, I park 20 minutes [away]. Paris is a city where you can walk a lot. Sometimes I just walk for an hour, if I have time, which is the same hour you would have gone to the gym—my mind is happier that way.”
Drink Lots (and Lots) of Water
Sure, it‘s the oldest (and simplest) trick in the book, and you're probably sick of hearing it at this point. But it’s a non-negotiable ritual for French women, something that they swear by for better skin and overall well-being. “I drink liters and liters of herbal tea and water,” says Damas. “In the morning, I have hot water with lemon,” adds model Aymeline Valade.
It’s a morning habit for actress Roxane Mesquida as well. “What I do the most is drink green tea every morning,” she says. “And drink a lot of mineral water—not tap water—the best is Volvic.”
Eat Whole Foods
It may seem counter-intuitive to eat full-fat cheese if you're trying to follow a diet, but the truth is, if you're eating whole foods, you'll feel full faster, which means you'll eat less of it. The French don't believe in processed foods (think: cereal, breads, and soft drinks). Instead, go for real, whole foods from the local markets and farmers and balance it with things like walking, drinking water, and taking care of your mental health.
Make Feeling Good Your First Priority
In her book, The French Beauty Solution ($19), Caudalie founder Mathilde Thomas addresses what she calls “the erroneous notion of no pain, no gain.” Her clients, she says, tell her “about crash diets that left them lightheaded and skincare products that irritate their skin—because they felt they had to suffer to be beautiful.” Thomas argues that for French women, any kind of wellness ritual is pointless if it makes you miserable. “Beauty is something to give you pleasure,” she says. “Because when you feel good, you look good.” Not vice versa.
Boutique fitness and gyms are a relatively recent development in France, as outdoor activities and sports take precedence over sweating it out on the treadmill. But to further illustrate Thomas’s point above, Bruna highlights a favorite French fitness approach in her interview with Coveteur, called Sophrology.
“It’s like meditation—exercises I do at the gym where I listen to [my trainer]’s voice and do mental work that takes away my stress, gets rid of bad moods, and builds my confidence,” she says. “For example, I’ll lie on the floor after a workout, and [he] will tell me to imagine my stress is a cloud—a cloud that’s just floating, floating away. Or he’ll have me imagine a blue point, and focus on that. This type of exercise is very popular in France.” The point? Working out and eating well should take away your stress, never add to it.