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Mar 11, 2002 05:23 PM

Fat Parisians?

  • l

So, uh, where are the fat Parisians?

We just returned are were flumoxed as to how everyone appeared +/- 10% of their ideal bodyweight, yet were constantly observed cramming brioche or foie gras or steak frites down their pieholes, errr, croisant-holes. Seriously, I'm curious if anyone has any insight. Various theroy's fronted were;

A) Coffee/caffiene make their metabolism run faster
B) Lots of walking, catching the Metro, etc.
C) Some sort of bizzare high protien/Atkins diet.
D) They all are on meth.

Anyone one have any ideas?


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  1. Red wine and lots of walking. The fat Parisians are all in their apartments eating camembert and charcuterie, which they have delivered. Seriously, I thought about the same thing, when I visited Paris. While I was there, I ate really, really well, but I did so much walking that I didn't gain any weight.

    24 Replies
    1. re: zora

      Years ago I gained 10 travelling in England. Lost it when I went to Paris. I concluded that the food in Paris was so much better (everywhere, anywhere) that it took less food to satisfy my hunger.

      1. re: saucyknave
        Vital Information

        I have heard the "it's so good, you do not need much theory" before. I do not buy it. For me, when food is really good, I will eat it until I am nearly in pain (and then some). On the other hand, I have nary an appetite when food stinks.

        While I am on the nay-saying, I will also say that I do not buy this thing about the French never snacking. What do you think all of those wonderful pastries and madelines and stuff are for. The afternoon pastry break is just as much a French tradition as the English tea.

        My theory has more to do with the food the French eat, the fact that it is natural, tied to the land and the season and not over processed. It kind of ties into the authentic/tradional dialogue below. I believe that the French of developed a methodology of eating that works (for them). This contrasts with the US, where we are constantly creatingnew food systems, we rely on convience foods so much, and we want to isolate the magic bullets from the whole.


        1. re: Vital Information

          Vital, I think you've got a good point about the land/seasonal/accessibility thing. But I also have been interested in the family/genetic tendencies. Bottom line, when I was in Paris in college, after a short while we could point out the Americans. We looked like a heard of horses and /or buffalo traipsing across this little tiny rues. Me (at 5' 9", and a friend 5" 11") were giants among these tight bodied kinds. We loped through open spaces--and never looked chic like any person on any street in Paris did. And the pastries abounded and no beer/croissant bellys. One of the true mysterious of life.....

          1. re: berkleybabe
            Vital Information

            I do not discount genetics totally, but if it was genetics, why would not the same body type pre-dominate in French Canada?


            1. re: Vital Information

              first of all, let's dispel two myths - that there are no fat parisians and that the french don't snack. there are and they do.sure there aren't as many obese people in paris but there are plenty of potbellies. a favourite afterschool snack - that parents often share with their kids - is a piece of chocolate bar sandwiched in a piece of preferably warm baguette. a chocolate bar sandwich if you will.

              having said that, even in a big city like paris, it's not nearly as easy to get a fatty snack or meal to go as it is in the states. sure there are the crepes, paninis and sandwich grecques, but they usually take a little more time than say a hot dog or slice of pizza.

              and there is obviously a difference in genetics that varies from region to region. a few years ago we travelled throughout western europe and it was easy to see how people looked similar in one place as they did from another. and i'm not just talking about the obvious difference between the scots and the italians but say the more subtle differences amongst the french in provence, from the alps and paris.

              people in other parts of the world seem much more understanding of this genetic difference. it seems to be a particularly american denial that we may just in fact be quite different despite our wish for equality.

              1. re: louisa

                We should remember that certain "genetic" features turn out to be diet-related. For instance, the average height of the Japanese has increased enormously following the influence of the occident on their white-rice-based diet.

                And often there are environmental factors that we are unaware of. For instance, the macrobiotic diet followed without mishap by many in India has often proved harmful, even fatal, in the US. The simple reason is that in India the grains were so infested that they contained sufficient insect protein to supplement the carbohydrate.

                1. re: John Whiting

                  John, Yours is an interesting comment. But Id be interested in seeing a cite of a scholarly source for the proposition in your last sentence.

                  1. re: jen kalb

                    I haven't time to search it out, but these thoughts have been with us at least since Vincent M. Holt's _Why Not Eat Insects?_, first published in 1885. The theme is taken up again by Calvin Schwabe in his _Unmentionable Cuisine_, 1979. All you need to know is that insects are indeed one of the most accessible and efficient sources of protein and that in grains not stored by the compulsively fastidious they are virtually omnipresent.

                    1. re: John Whiting

                      But isn't eating bugs -- or anything alive -- anathema to those who follow that sort of diet? Couldn't it just be that similar to the rice-and-beans combination in the Western hemisphere, their diet contains complementary proteins (rice-and-legume) that eaten together satisfy the body's needs?

                      1. re: CTer

                        "But isn't eating bugs -- or anything alive -- anathema to those who follow that sort of diet?"

                        Followers of a macrobiotic diet are not necessarily Janists. The latter of course happily consumed microscopic living beings which couldn't be seen with the naked eye, simply because they didn't know that they existed.

                        Similarly, much infestation is invisible and can often be detected only by the presence of tiny webs. Where grain storage facilities are primitive, the consumption of large quantities of insect protein is inevitable.

                        1. re: John Whiting

                          I dont believe that many Indians follow a macrobiotic diet (which originated in Japan) or a vegan discipline in any event. I addition to the protein complementation that occurs when both grains and legumes are in the diet, the vegetarian indian diets I am familiar with make significant use of dairy products and, in coastal areas, fish. My vegan daughter has a bit of a hard time in Indian restaurants, even vegetarian ones, for this reason.

                          So I have a really hard time believing that proteins from insects or other pests in the food make a meaningful contribution to nutrition there, except in the most marginal, near-starvation circumstances.

                2. re: louisa

                  americans do not lack the understanding, they "lack" the limited gene pool of a single population

                  1. re: thew

                    It's been more than a generation since the French had a "limited gene pool of a single population."

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      My goodness, if you look at history, the French and all Europeans (and stretching past Central Asia) are a bunch of mongrels - in the sense of genetic mixing.

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                        I recently saw a paper where they were looking at SNP variations among Europeans. When they did a projection of the differences, to the authors' surprise it looked almost identical to a map of western europe.

                        1. re: jgg13

                          I believe that the relative homogeneity of European populations would make it unlikely to distinguish differences by SNP analysis. Are you saying that variation appeared to be spatially congruent with current national boundaries?

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            By region, not by nations - and even then not perfectly, but the visual effect was pretty striking. I can try to dig up the cite although outside of the "hey that's neat" factor the paper itself wasn't that useful to me so it got deleted pretty quickl.

                      2. re: pikawicca

                        The white people whose ancestors come from within the hexagon are already a pretty varied lot, running from fair skin and hair of the north to the olive tones of the south. Not to mention the immigration from the traditionally Catholic parts of Europe that has been a feature of the country since the industrial revolution made it here, Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe dating from the late 19th Century (besides the already existing population that largely integrated following the Revolution of 1789-99) and the Roma. Immigration from the Maghreb, Africa and the Caribbean boomed starting right after the end of the second world war, with significant Asian immigration starting about a generation later.

                        Anyone with two eyes and half a brain should be able to see that this is a genetically diverse populace.

                        1. re: tmso

                          people like to use genetics as a fallback excuse. "well, everyone in my family is big." you cannot control the size of your frame, but you can monitor and manage what covers it!

              2. re: Vital Information

                "For me, when food is really good, I will eat it until I am nearly in pain (and then some). On the other hand, I have nary an appetite when food stinks."

                Vital, first I'm not talking about food that "stinks" so much as food that doesn't satisfy the body's nutrient need and/or aestheic hunger.

                Second, without denying your response in the face of food, I can say that mine is different from yours. I'm sure our difference is mirrored in others. People's relationship to food rests on the complexity of food and its roles in our lives. We may not even be referring to the same substances as our diets and our notions of "tasty" may be vastly different.

                Take chocolate. Take candy counter chocolate. (It's the chocolate of my childhood. Edible but not satisfying. But confronted with it, I'll eat til it disappears. It's as if there's some ingredient that stimulates me to eat another--the salt? memories?) But give me some really good chocolate and I can eat some, leave some. The fuller taste of good chocolate satisfies my craving for the chocolate taste because it delivers more intese flavor. I recognize that others may like what I do not and be sated by what does not sate me. My experience is that when I eat food that satisfies me, I can eat less food. When I am eating for psychological reasons, bad day, etc., then the game is played by different rules.

                To the extent that one eats for the aesthetic pleasure and nutrition, one can eat less when well fed, though perhaps not everyone does. To the extent that one eats for psychological reasons, then one eats to eat or perhaps evoke a memory or obliterate one, etc.

                Food is a lot like drinking --with added complexity. Some may drink only the best but be satified after only a glass or two. Compulsive drinkers may choose to drink only the best, but drink compulsively. And of course others may simply drink anything in any amount. The range is wide. This is perhaps more true of food with its vastly greater variety of experience.

                To my mind, these elements are at play in the French diet, its role in their lives, and its effect on their waistlines. Other elements have been mentioned in other postings.

                1. re: Vital Information

                  I admit that my experience with regard to this is limited, but I have known several men who had this response to being served good meals. I have never met a woman who did, though. I have observed women who tend to self-consciously limit their portions at the dinner table to a size they feel is "appropriate", then surround themselves with snacks, and munch away for hours, full of guilt at their lack of willpower.

                  I always found it amusing that a boyfriend would be unable to move and groaning in pain because he voluntarily consumed not only his dinner, but a week's worth of lunches at one sitting.

                  1. re: Vital Information

                    Would that your theory were true, but when it comes to weight, the preponderance of science backs that claim that a calorie is a calorie.

                  2. re: zora

                    Me too! Last year we went to Paris, ordered fois gras and creme brulee at almost every meal, skipped our daily gym routin, yet when we got back after two weeks, we didn't gain any weight.

                    I think walking has something to do with it. But there is probably some special magic in the air too!

                  3. I think it's a combo of caffeine, walking and smoking (nicotine being an appetite supressant).

                    1. Take a look at this link. What you describe has been called the "French Paradox".


                      1. My own experience corresponds with that of others on this board. See below.


                        1. I think it also has something to do with heredity.

                          In my family lineage, there is quite a lot of French descent. I look at my nieces and see the long bones and little fatty flesh (unlike the English in us that provides some "plush").