I have never been one to diet. My mom went through every trend diet when I was younger: Atkins, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, South Beach, SlimFast, Scarsdale, No-Fat Diet (which I remember vividly because she bought a fat-free Costo tub of Jelly Bellys and ate a TON of them), even the weird Herbalife supplement stuff. All of them were life-consuming and, from what I gathered, miserable. I love food, I love cooking, and I've never not big on restricting myself. As I’ve gotten older I’ve tried to be more mindful of what I put into my body, but when I get tempted to do something crazy like Whole30 or going Paleo, I eat a slice of bread and tell myself to calm down. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
The French Woman Diet, however, is a totally different kind of “diet,” because it’s really not a diet at all. There is no calorie counting or off-limits foods. There is no rule book outlining what you can and cannot do or what you can or cannot eat. The French Woman Diet is simply all about adopting the mindset of a Parisian when it comes to food, which I can get behind because the French love their food. Following the French Woman Diet means savoring your food and choosing quality over quantity. Rushing through meals, eating on the go, and mindless eating are all classic American mistakes to avoid in order to eat like the French. It sounded easy and enjoyable enough, so I figured, why not try it and see what happened.
I decided to delve into the Parisian Diet for a week because a diet that validates my need for cheese and wine is definitely the kind of diet for me. I vastly agreed with the cornerstone principle that the most important aspect of eating is that you enjoy your food (I mean nutrition is good too, but c’mon, soft cheese on crusty bread, people!). I also knew that as a mother of three, I wasn’t always enjoying my food. I am all too guilty of eating fast with a baby in one arm or swiping cold, rejected chicken nuggets off my kids’ dinner plates and calling that a meal. A bit of mindful eating would do me good.
What I Ate:
Breakfast: Buttered toast with nectarines and tea
Lunch: Turkey sandwich with apples and peanut butter
Dinner: Pulled pork, coleslaw, baked beans, and dinner rolls
Dessert: Dark chocolate
The first day of my experiment was off to a hectic start, and I was definitely tempted to go with my regular on-the-go smoothie while I rushed around getting my kids ready for school. Instead I went with some buttered toast and sliced fruit, and I sat with my kids for a few minutes while we ate breakfast together. Not only did I enjoy my breakfast more because I was savoring my food, but I also got a chance to sit down and connect with my kids instead of spending the whole morning rushing and barking out orders. It only took a few extra minutes, but it was well worth it to sit and intentionally enjoy breakfast.
I was very excited for my first dinner during my French Woman Diet week, which was pulled pork with coleslaw, baked bean,s and some homemade dinner rolls. It may not have been the most balanced, or the most Parisian, but I sure did enjoy it. However, I totally got caught up in the dinnertime madness of trying to make sure I ate and make sure all three kids ate, and definitely overate. I realized this probably happens more often than I think. I’ll make a meal I really love and start to enjoy it, then someone needs something from me. Before long, I’m shoveling as much as I can into my mouth before someone has another request. Perhaps I really did need to take stock of my eating habits.
What I Ate:
Breakfast: French toast and apples
Lunch: Leftover pulled pork, beans, and coleslaw
Snack: Fresh pineapple
Dinner: Salmon with roasted asparagus
Dessert: A chocolate chip cookie
Day two was time to have a way more serious look at my eating habits. I was much more aware of how hard it was for me to sit down and enjoy my food. I realized I have a habit of setting food out on our breakfast bar where I can easily grab bites as I’m passing in and out of the kitchen with a baby in one arm. I almost never sit at the beautiful table my husband built for us when it comes time for me to eat. I’m often standing, picking at leftover fruit from the kids' plates rather than slicing my own. I often eat at the computer, mindlessly snacking while working. I rarely care about how I present food for myself. For someone who claims to love food, I sure wasn’t showing it much in my day-to-day life.
At lunch I made sure not to overdo it with the pulled pork leftovers, and made myself a small, nice looking plate of food. I even wiped down the edges of my plate after taking the dish out of the microwave (to clean off the splatter) and felt like Gordon Ramsey would be proud of me. Or at least wouldn’t look at me with contempt and call me a "donkey" or "an idiot sandwich." Savoring my food throughout the day made me feel like I was eating more, even though when I looked at my normal habits, I was definitely eating less. I was very aware of how much time it takes to eat your food with intention, and honestly, how hard it is as a woman with kids to do this. I was constantly bombarded by a baby that wanted to be held or a toddler who needed her hands wiped or a preschooler who couldn’t find his shoes. Mindful eating is definitely important, but it’s also damn hard to do when you've got kids around.
What I Ate:
Breakfast: Oatmeal and tea
Snack: Roasted chickpeas
Dinner: Moroccan cod packets in foil
Dessert: Molten chocolate cake
On the third day I was a little more prepared at breakfast time and sat down to enjoy oatmeal with my kids. I realized while intentionally savoring my oatmeal that I don’t love oatmeal as much as I thought I did. I eat it because it’s good for me, and I like it well enough, but I think I’m better off rushing through this meal, to be honest. It’s quick and easy and fills me up, but there's not really much here for me to savor. Maybe if I just make healthy, easy breakfast choices I can work on enjoying my food like the French do for the rest of the day?
In the afternoon, I didn’t get a chance to eat an intentional and well thought-out lunch, so I didn’t end up eating lunch at all. Is this why the French are so skinny? Do they just get caught up doing stuff and resist the urge to eat cold fried chicken from the fridge? (I mean, cold brie from the fridge, because French women don’t have leftover fried chicken from a fast-food restaraunt in their refrigerator.) I did eventually make myself an afternoon snack, even though it took a while, and I made sure to savor the whole cooking experience.
I made myself some buffalo roasted chickpeas, which smelled amazing while they cooked. I even put them in a lovely little bowl to eat them, but then I sat down... in front of the computer. I ate the whole damn batch in a single sitting, and after the first few bites I was no longer savoring. It was mindless eating for sure, something I am so, so guilty of, especially when I snack. This time it was healthy, but what about those (very real) times when I sit down with a bowl of chips or multiple chocolate chip cookies? I can see why the French discourage this so much. It takes the joy out of food, and what’s the point if you’re not enjoying it?
What I Ate:
Breakfast: Mango and guava smoothie
Lunch: Spaghetti cacio e pepe
Dinner: Red beans and rice
Dessert: Fudge brownie
By day four I was really missing my morning smoothie, which I realized was completely silly. I wasn’t forbidden from having a smoothie, I simply had to enjoy it. So instead of my morning oatmeal I made myself my usual mango smoothie, poured it into a fancy glass with a straw trimmed to fit, and sat at the table to sip it rather than running out the door with it at the last minute.
Now maybe I just happened to make an exceptional smoothie this morning, or maybe it was because I was craving it, but this smoothie tasted divine. However, I have a feeling that it wasn’t that the smoothie was more spectacular than normal. It was probably the fact that I was enjoying it that made it stand out so much. I was involved in the whole experience: the presentation, the smell, the taste, even the conversation with my kids. It sure beat drinking it straight from the blender cup while driving.
I also realized I didn’t need my food to be complicated to be drop dead delicious. I made spaghetti for the kids for lunch and set some aside to make spaghetti cacio e pepe for myself (rather than eat leftover spaghetti with red sauce from the pan). It was so good that I was able to forgo an afternoon snack as I simmered some red beans and rice on the stovetop for dinner. Even though I felt like I was eating more than normal, I was actually cutting out a lot of mindless snacking, and enjoying my food a lot more.
What I Ate:
Breakfast: Oatmeal and tea
Lunch: Bread and brie
Snack: Greek yogurt with honey and raspberries
Dinner: Skillet pastitsio
Dessert: Blackberry lime sorbet
On day five it was time to plan my menu for the upcoming week. The way the week was going so far made me excited to plan another week of food that I loved. I was really starting to embrace the French mindset when it came to food, and it was totally changing the way I approached eating. I was mindful of what and when I was eating, and I definitely was enjoying my food more than usual. I got out some of my glossy, beautiful cookbooks that I don’t often use and crafted a menu that was going to delight me while eating some brie and cheese and getting my French vibe on.
I remembered looking at a delicious-looking mini pizza topped with fresh salad in one of my cookbooks while planning my menu, and decided to whip it up for lunch. Yes, it was more effort than I can afford to do every day, but it was the most memorable lunch I have had at home... ever.
I pulled out a high-calorie favorite for dinner, and decided to be done after one well-savored portion (which was no easy feat, because I wanted more). It didn’t take long for everything to settle and for me to feel full, and I would do well to remember that next time I want to eat three servings at once when indulging in my favorite meals. Everything in moderation is a good life mantra for me, and listening to my body (and giving it a chance to digest) made all the difference. I finished off my meal with some sorbet rather than gas pills. And instead of hating myself and moaning at my husband for letting me eat too much, I felt good. That’s successful adulting.
What I Ate:
Breakfast: Pecan coffee cake and tea
Lunch: Chicken caesar salad
Snack: A cold chicken nugget
Dinner: Tomato bisque and a croissant
Dessert: Chocolate chip cookie
On day six, I decided a lazy Saturday morning breakfast was in order and took a cue from French Women Don’t Get Fat author Mireille Guiliano, who is a strong advocate for eating foods that “force you to chew.” My husband made a fabulous coffee cake for two, and I really savored the experience (especially the not cooking part). It had crunch. It was sweet. It complimented my tea so nicely. I definitely had a much smaller piece than I normally would have because I was taking my time to enjoy it. I'd realized that giving myself smaller portions wasn't a means of depriving myself or limiting my food intake. If I wanted more I was welcome to have it, but when I really stopped to taste and appreciate the meal, I wanted less of it because my body had more time to digest it.
I was doing well at savoring my food by this point in the week, but while dinner was simmering on the stove (and smelling amazing), I was got a little impatient and picked up a cold chicken nugget while clearing away my kids’ plates. I paused a moment and asked myself if I was really going to savor that chicken nugget... then somehow convinced myself that yes, yes I was. It did not go well. I did not enjoy the cold chicken nugget when I was cognizant of what I was doing. Eating leftover kid food is something I do far too often, convincing myself that I want the food or not even thinking about it while mindlessly eating cold rejected food. It really isn’t worth it, and this was a lesson I will always remember when I reach for the half eaten grilled-cheese or fish sticks. Real dinner is worth the wait.
What I Ate:
Breakfast: Pancakes and sliced nectarines
Lunch: White pizza with arugula salad
Dinner: Red beans and rice
Dessert: Dark chocolate
My husband is a true weekend warrior when it comes to breakfast. By the time I had breastfed the baby and gotten out of bed with him, he was already serving up some amazing homemade pancakes. Normally I pass on the pancakes for something healthier, but this week, I decided to do as the French do and have a small stack of pancakes and savor the hell out of them. It was well worth the experience.
It was uncomfortable at first, but savoring my food ultimately brought me a lot of joy and made me feel like my attitude towards food and eating was much healthier in an emotional sense. I wasn’t pushing another area of self-care aside because I was too busy being a mom.
I was also feeling up for a little afternoon cooking since breakfast had been cooked for me. I almost never do anything special for lunch, but I wanted something spectacular to savor. I remembered looking at a delicious-looking mini pizza topped with fresh salad in one of my cookbooks while planning my menu, and decided to whip it up for lunch. Yes, it was more effort than I can afford to do every day, but it was the most memorable lunch I have had at home... ever. It is worth making food that brings you joy when you have the chance, especially if you love to cook.
Do The French Do It Right?
Is that even a question? Of course the French have it right when it comes to food. I thought my food habits were OK to begin with and considered myself to have a healthy relationship with food, but as the week went on, I realized that was far from the truth. Too often I don’t take the time to enjoy my food, even when I want to, because I put my kids’ needs so far above my own. Even though it was incredibly hard to find the time to sit down and savor my meals, it was worth it every time.
I also didn’t realize how guilty I was of mindless eating until I was painfully aware of how often I had the urge to sit in front of my computer while I rushed through a meal or snacked my way to the bottom of a bag. Sitting down to a meal or snack that I prepared for myself with thought almost seemed selfish and gave me a twinge of guilt. It was easier not to think about enjoying my food while I scrolled through Pinterest or took bites between tending to my kids. It was uncomfortable at first, but savoring my food ultimately brought me a lot of joy and made me feel like my attitude towards food and eating was much healthier in an emotional sense. I wasn’t pushing another area of self-care aside because I was too busy being a mom. Also, this "diet" is truly no diet at all. I ate everything I wanted without feeling guilty or remorseful or feeling like I "cheated" in order to deserve it.
So I am totally on board with the French Woman Diet, because in the end it’s not a diet, it’s a way of life. A life that embraces cheese, dessert, and ultimately, me.