The REAL reason French women don’t get fat: Nutritionist JANE CLARKE reveals


When I was 30, I moved to Paris to live and write for a year.

It may be a complete myth that French women don’t get fat (obesity rates are rising across the Channel, just as they are in the UK), but it’s certainly true that some French women seem to enjoy fine food, yet maintain their slim figures.

You know the kind of women I mean — those elegant creatures who epitomise Parisian chic. I used to watch them each morning as I sat in a café on the Rue du Bac, sipping coffee before beginning to write my columns and books.

And I came to realise it’s the way French women eat, not just what they eat, that makes such a difference.

French women stay slim by taking time to relish their food and being conscious of what they eat says Jane Clarke 

French women stay slim by taking time to relish their food and being conscious of what they eat says Jane Clarke

French women stay slim by taking time to relish their food and being conscious of what they eat says Jane Clarke

The Parisian woman would never drink her coffee in one go, then bolt down a croissant. Instead, she has a mouthful of coffee, which she savours, followed by a bite of croissant, then perhaps a spoonful of yoghurt. She rotates between the flavours and textures on her plate, enjoying each individual element, until her breakfast is finished.

At the end of the meal, she feels satisfied, emotionally and physically, because not only has she taken the time to enjoy her food, but her brain has had the opportunity to register that she has eaten. It takes away the urge to overeat. And because she feels replete, she’s less likely to reach for a snack an hour later.

I’ve run my nutritional practice in Britain for more than 30 years and, during that time, I’ve helped many people lose excess weight — not by issuing restrictive diet sheets that remove all joy from mealtimes, but by using my time in Paris as inspiration for effective and long-term weight loss.

Nutritionist Jane Clarke

Nutritionist Jane Clarke

It’s the most beautiful way to train your body to eat differently. It takes what your body naturally loves and responds to — the sight and smell of food, its tastes and textures, even its crunch and sizzle — to re-educate your palette and brain, so that you savour each mouthful and learn to interpret the signals that let you know when you’ve had enough.

I tell my patients it’s like learning to ride a bike. It takes willpower and patience, and you’ll ‘fall off’ a few times before you learn to ride/eat freely, but it really is the most satisfying, rewarding way to lose weight and keep it off.

BRITAIN’S DANGEROUSLY WEIGHTY ISSUE

The link between obesity and a higher chance of dying from the Covid-19 virus has put our country’s weight front and centre of Government policy.

But it’s a focus that is long overdue. More that 63 per cent of UK adults are overweight, and almost a third (28 per cent) are obese. That not only makes us more vulnerable during this pandemic, but also puts us at greater risk of chronic illness — from certain cancers and type 2 diabetes, to coronary heart disease, stroke and depression.

Trying to lose weight can seem overwhelming, and repeated failure can sap our will to get back on the diet treadmill.

That’s what makes a sensory approach to eating so different — and so successful. It takes away the desire to comfort eat, or go back for seconds, because you’ve gleaned absolute nourishment and pleasure from your food.

The trap of a low-fat lifestyle is that it takes away all satisfaction from eating. When, for example, you eat a low-fat yoghurt, it tastes synthetic and feels watery in the mouth. You wish you’d eaten a full-fat one and end up snacking to try to achieve the oral satisfaction you’ve missed out on.

Take a swig of water after every little bite and the body with be quicker to notice that you are enjoying the food, says Jane

Take a swig of water after every little bite and the body with be quicker to notice that you are enjoying the food, says Jane

The sensory approach, which is about pleasure and empowerment, not deprivation, is so much easier to stick to.

The difference between a bland, low-fat, restrictive diet and one that juggles all the wonderful tastes and textures of food is like the difference between having sex in the same position month after month or, instead, trying new postures and experiences. It titillates the senses and makes you feel satisfied in all the right places!

Now, who wouldn’t want to try that? Just follow my rules, set out below, to start your journey to a healthier you. The only thing you have to lose is the excess weight.

FOR SLIMMER HIPS, TAKE SMALLER BITES

So often, we rush an evening meal so we can flop on the sofa. But what if we spent more time anticipating what we were going to eat, selecting the ingredients and then sitting at the table to enjoy it?

Even if you have only 15 minutes for lunch, you can switch off your phone, power down your computer and focus on the food and all the sensations it brings alive for you — the textures, aromas and tastes.

Take small mouthfuls and pause between each one. The more you lift your fork to your mouth, the greater the satiety you will experience.

Wondering what the French do differently? Jane says the French use their senses to connect with food meaning they are left more satisfied after a meal

 Wondering what the French do differently? Jane says the French use their senses to connect with food meaning they are left more satisfied after a meal

Your brain notices every movement you make. Smaller bites mean more forkfuls, which, combined with you savouring your food, will make you feel more replete.

If you eat a chocolate bar while you’re driving, you’re too busy controlling the steering wheel and watching the road to concentrate on what you’re putting in your mouth, so your brain won’t register the food you’ve put in your body.

Instead, if you’re going to eat chocolate, really enjoy it! Have one square at a time. You could have some unsalted nuts alongside to juggle the textures, too.

After each mouthful, have a small swig of water to cleanse the palette and help you notice that you’re enjoying the second little square.

The more we feel that physical and sensory satisfaction, the more we enjoy what we eat and drink, then the happier we feel about ending a meal when it feels right, not when we’re overstuffed.

If you make eating like this a habit, you will slowly but surely need less food to feel replete — which means you will consume fewer calories and lose the excess weight that is putting your health at risk.

FORGET ABOUT STRICT PORTION SIZES

In my clinic, time and again I see that so much obesity comes from boredom and thoughtless eating.

When you have the same meals again and again, the same go-to bowl of pasta, or relying on processed foods, and eating your meals without thought or sense of enjoyment, then your body simply doesn’t know that it’s eaten as much as it has and it wants more.

Pause a moment: think about the foods that you really enjoy and which make your body feel nourished and well looked after. Ensure there are at least three flavours on your plate (and, ideally, five or six) and eat them individually, rotating between the flavours with each mouthful so your body, brain and emotions have a chance to register them.

Don’t measure portions but eat slowly, putting your cutlery down between each forkful, so the stretch receptors in your jaw and gut process how much you’ve eaten.

Ignore restricting calories and portion size, instead put your knife and fork down between every bite

Ignore restricting calories and portion size, instead put your knife and fork down between every bite

TREAT YOURSELF — AND EAT FOR PLEASURE

One of the problems with low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt plans — the foods many diets encourage — is that they just don’t taste good.

Don’t be afraid to use some delicious olive oil on a salad, or a little sea salt or touch of honey in the food you eat.

These tastes, along with herbs, spices and seasonings, all provide sensory hits for our palette, making our brain light up and take notice of the food we’re eating — and leading to a feeling of satisfaction.

Saliva and other digestive juices are produced when we eat foods that give you real pleasure. It’s counterproductive to put yourself in a situation where you’re not going to enjoy what’s on your plate, as your sensory recognition system switches off and you won’t feel as if you’ve eaten anything.

Eat flavours on your plate individually, savouring the flavour of each, says Jane

Eat flavours on your plate individually, savouring the flavour of each, says Jane

That’s why so many ‘diet’ or ‘healthy’ foods simply lead to cravings and failed eating plans.

Such foods offer little satisfaction and, within minutes, your body wants more — real food, with real flavour and real nourishment.

When I lived in Paris, at the weekend I would walk to the fromagerie and buy two or three small pieces of cheese (my time in France instilled my passion for cheese). Then I’d stop at the market to buy some fragrant figs and crisp celery.

The pleasure of my routine, the anticipation of savouring these delicious ingredients, and the ultimate enjoyment of this simple meal, fired up all my senses to satisfy my appetite.

It was the perfect lunch: no more or less required. 

  • JANE CLARKE BSc (Hons) SRD DSc is a dietitian and the founder of nourishbyjaneclarke.com

THE SCIENCE OF SATISFACTION

Appetite is controlled in the hypo-thalamus, the part of our brain that also controls many of our emotions, which is why food is so much more than just fuel.

The ‘feeding’ centre in the hypo-thalamus is divided into ‘hunger’ and ‘satiety’ centres, and it’s the signals reaching these areas that dictate whether you feel hungry or satisfied.

Our body is designed to provide the brain with the information it needs to govern our appetite. Taste buds sense flavour, the nerves in our mouth register temperature and texture, our jaw and our gut measure how much food is entering our body. When we titillate our taste buds and nerve endings with distinct flavours, it gives our brain a better opportunity to register satisfaction.

It takes the body time to register that it is enjoying the food you're eating, this means chewing slowly is advisable

It takes the body time to register that it is enjoying the food you’re eating, this means chewing slowly is advisable 

The foods with the highest satiety values are those with several organoleptic properties — which means they stimulate more than one sense simultaneously. They not only taste good, they also look, smell, feel and even sound good.

The best example of this would be crunchy, springy bread, warm and fresh from the oven. Or chicken that you’ve smelt cooking.

You just need to make sure that you avoid the temptation to eat consecutive mouthfuls without interspersing with a different taste and texture. A bit of bread followed by tangy cheddar, for example, or the crunch of a fresh apple or the coolness of a ripe, green grape.

Within the jaw, there are stretch receptors which respond when we chew. The more we chew and the more time we take over eating, the greater the feeling of fullness.

There are similar stretch receptors in the stomach, which send signals to the brain when food is present. Low-fibre, sweet and fatty foods pass through the stomach without stretching the receptors. Conversely, wholegrain and fibre-rich foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, act like a sponge in the stomach, swelling with water and expanding to stimulate the stretch receptors and vagus nerve, telling our brain that we are full.

Not only are these foods dense in nutrients to nourish us, they are also low in calories, so they give a feeling of fullness without adding excess energy. Our stomach is only the size of a clenched fist, so it doesn’t take much for it to feel full. We just need to listen to the signals our body sends.

 



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