French Women Do
n’t Get Fat
I recently came across an article in the New York Times magazine entitled “French Women Worry About Getting Fat, Too.” The title is poking fun at the popularity of Marielle Guiliano’s book French Women Don’t Get Fat which was published in 2004 and became a #1 New York Times bestseller. The popularity of this idea grew, and the book has now expanded into a brand that includes a “French Women Don’t Get Fat” cookbook and a “French Women Don’t Get Fat” 3-month weight loss program.
What Guiliano’s book and the New York Times article had in common, was their explanation of the French way of eating. High quality food. Cooking at home. Eating slowly. Enjoying your meals with good company. This model of eating is vastly different than the typical American way of eating, which is more centered around fast food, eating out at buffets, eating quickly, often eating meals alone, and eating between meals. Snacking is an American concept. “We eat three times a day, ideally no more,” said Dr. Patrick Serog, a nutritional consultant for Jenny Craig in France. The popularity of snacking is growing in modern France however, as a study last year found that 61% of French people snack at least 2 out of 3 days. This may account for the rise in obesity in France as well. Fifteen years ago, 8.5% of French were obese. Now that number is 14.5%, with 38% of French being overweight or obese. Still well below America’s 35% obesity rate, but when France has the highest percentage of underweight people in Western Europe, you can imagine there must be quite the stigma for being overweight or obese in France.
With this rise in obesity in France, several weight loss programs have cashed in on this opportunity and moved from the US over to France. Weight Watchers has been in France since the 1970s, and has 1800 weekly meetings! But Weight Watchers seems to be a program that can be easily adapted into different cultures. Weight watchers doesn’t limit or restrict the type of foods people can eat, it focuses on Points, or basically calories. French people on Weight Watchers can still eat their 3 elaborate meals a day, eat the same foods as their family enjoys, and have their glass of wine on the side. Seems fairly simple.
Jenny Craig made its way to France as well, and started marketing its product in 2010. Rather than allowing its users to eat anything (like Weight Watchers), Jenny Craig specializes in frozen, pre-packaged meals delivered to the home or picked up at a local Jenny Craig center. Users are also instructed to supplement their meals with fresh fruits, vegetables, and dairy. This system may not seem like something the French would embrace. Eating different foods than your family, not sharing in that communal dining experience, being on “diet”? And most of all, what do Americans know about dieting? This is why Jenny Craig had to make several important changes when adapting the American program into a program that works for the French.
An example of the differences would be the marketing strategy in both countries. The American Jenny Craig website and advertising is full of feel-good, positive affirmations. “Feel like new, feel like you” and “see what success tastes like” and other self-esteem boosting phrases. The French take a more practical approach. The quote on the main Jenny Craig French website reads “It works. Why not you?” According to Erick Moreau, the director of Jenny Craig in Europe, “the French are the most pessimistic people in the world.” If you’ve ever been to France (or seen a French film) you’ll know that their sense of humor and way of speaking is a little more direct and serious. No “You can do it, just believe in yourself!” type of advertising there.
Another main difference between the two programs are the meals. If you glance at the online menus at both websites (Jenny Craig USA and Jenny Craig France), you might notice that the dinners in France are more “adult” foods, very French, and are elegant entrees with fancier packaging. The American meals are more reminiscent of favorite meals from childhood: burgers, macaroni and cheese, and sweet and sour chicken. The American Jenny Craig plans also come with a multitude of snacks, desserts, and granola bars. American dieters are encouraged to eat 6 small meals a day (3 meals, 3 snacks), while the French stick to their 3 meals a day. The French typically stay away from snacking because snacks are usually consumed on the go, and alone, instead of together with family or friends around a table. On the Jenny Craig plan, however, the French are encouraged to have 1 small snack at 4pm– the same time many French children get home from school and eat their mid-afternoon snack, or le goûter.
Obvious differences also exist in the “dessert/snack” menus in either country. France has two snack options, a white chocolate or a milk chocolate cereal bar (to be eaten at 4pm). “In France, dessert is fruit,” Serog said. “Cake is for special occasions.”
And on the other hand, in Jenny Craig USA, there exists a multitude of “indulgent” desserts.
Another difference between Jenny Craig in the US and in France is who the dieters meet with each week. In the US, Jenny Craig users meet with a trained Jenny Craig consultant each week, or by phone. In France, they meet with Dietitians. I believe this is a major difference. In one country, people are trained to think like Jenny Craig and almost rely on the program. In another country, people are taught sound nutritional information that they can use for living a healthy lifestyle, not just while on a temporary diet.
A 2007 study in American Psychology reported that one-third to two-thirds of dieters eventually regained more weight than the amount they lost on their diets. Obviously relying on temporary diets, or “fixes” are not successful in maintaining weight loss long-term. As much as people hate to hear it, the secret to weight loss remains “eating healthy & exercising more.” It is that simple! However from what I’ve read, Jenny Craig in France does a fairly good job of promoting good lifetime eating habits. It encourages many “French” traditions; eating at home with the family, enjoying your food (higher quality entrees, elegant packaging), refraining from snacking on the go/eating alone, and meeting with Dietitians for nutritional counseling.
Whether or not the French are on Jenny Craig or simply reaching or maintaining their body weight without the use of a pre-programmed diet plan, they are doing a better job at eating than we are. I think we Americans can definitely learn from the French. Walking more, cooking at home, enjoying fine dining, minimal snacking, and treating each meal time as a time for good fellowship are all French habits that we could benefit from.