Do you know about The ‘French Paradox’? This is the fact that the French (and other European cultures), generally eat a very rich/high-fat diet, yet have one of the lowest levels of obesity/heart disease in the western world. *You don’t see them running, going to the gym, or basically raise a sweat much either (unless someone spills their wine!)
Now the age-old, ‘it’s genetics’ argument, is a popular one. However, study after study has shown it has nothing to do with genetics. High anti-oxidants in red wine I hear you say. Yes, this can help, but not enough to explain such a distinct difference – there is something far more fundamental going on.
To traditional cultures and those who understand the ‘natural laws’ governing food, eating and digestion, the ‘paradox’, is not a paradox at all. It’s only a paradox to Westerners/western science because we only tend to look at WHAT we eat – how many calories here, how much fat there. We tend to become so mired in the ‘science of food’, we have forgotten the ‘Art of Eating’.
The French of course are the world experts (PhD’s) of eating – if in doubt, just ask them! They understand that food and eating are a reflection of life itself – that life is about pleasure, to indulge and to ENJOY! It’s not about counting calories, feeling guilty or worrying about the size of your stomach/hips. Rich food is not necessarily bad – it’s only bad, if it’s not properly processed/eliminated by the body.
The great irony of course, is when you remove the guilt and stress associated with food, the mind/body being infinitely intelligent, is better able to eat the foods it needs, eat them in the ‘right quantity’, digest them properly and easily eliminate any excess fats before they can become problematic.
The latest reserch in mind-body medicine, shows us that it’s largely our ’emotions…our ‘pschology’, that creates our physical reality. Fundamentally, feeling happy, blissful, loved or whatever (eating with a sense of celebration rather than guilt), can completely change the metabolic pathways/processing of food in the body.
When the body is stress-free or blissful, digestion is strong and the body’s channels are fully open. Then, even if there is high fat/cholesterol in one’s diet, the body naturally eliminates it. It is only when food is improperly processed (digested/absorbed/assimilated), that we store it rather than eliminate it – thus blocking up our body and leading to excess weight, blocked arteries and so on. We do this well in the West, by ‘eating too much’, eating when stressed/emotional or eating in a hurry (the exact opposite of the French).
Researchers trying to ‘solve’ the paradox, still largely on focus only on the WHAT of eating. e.g – it’s the antioxidants in red wine. However, to really understand how the French do it (and it’s nothing other than the way humans are designed to eat/live – the exact same recommendations are in all the ancient health/life teachings), we need to distinguish 2 main things.
1) It is not just the quantity of food, but the QUALITY of the food, that is important.
2) It’s not so much the WHAT of eating, but the HOW & WHEN of eating.
The following table gives a graphic illustration of the differences between the French & Western cultures surrounding these critical points. It’s all these things combined which largely explains the ‘supposed paradox’ and why the health of each is so different.
TABLE – Comparison of Eating/Outlook on Food – Western vs French:
1. Western: Food often associated with sin, gluttony…overanalysed, complicated, confusing, ‘GUILT’
French: All about pleasure, passion, bliss, family, friends – ‘CELEBRATION’
2. Western: ‘All you can eat’ – 6 donuts for the price of 3! fast food, instant meals, ‘zap it in the microwave’ food valued for it’s SIZE & SPEED
French: Everything focused on quality – eat less but feel more ‘satisfied’ food valued for it’s ELEGANCE & QUALITY
3. Western: Lots of highly processed, reconstituted foods, old food, leftovers, frozen food – FOOD DEVOID of ‘LIFE FORCE’
French: Only the best ingredients, absolutely fresh, natural – FOOD FULL OF LIFE/LOVE
4. Western: Selection dependent on calories, fat content, perceived healthiness.
French: Selection dependent on what one feels like, what looks/smells/tastes good.
5. Western: Cooking often perceived as a ‘chore’ – the STRESS goes into the food
French: Cooking is Blissful – giving LOVE & NOURISHMENT to others
6. Western: Eaten – while HURRIED/STRESSED, ‘on the run’, while anxious/emotional, at the desk, watching TV, in the car, between jobs, amid work/business/negative conversation.
French: Eaten SLOWLY/RELAXED, savouring the taste (5 senses experience), always seated/settled, with others, pleasant conversation / laughter / fun.
7. Western: Snack Regularly
French: Don’t Snack
8. Western: Live to Work – stopping to eat is an ‘inconvenience’.
French: Live to Eat – work is an inconvenience to eating.
9. Western: Lucky to get time for lunch – ‘too busy’ – Heaviest/MAIN MEAL AT DINNER TIME.
French: Everything shuts down for Lunch – 12-2pm. LUNCH MAIN MEAL. Traditionally, Dinner is a lighter meal. * Western influence now seeing larger meals eaten later at night.
10. Western: Westerners eat like they have sex – do it when they can, instant gratification, more the better.
French: The French eat like they have sex…i.e. they don’t ‘have sex’…they ‘Make LOVE’
So What To Do?
Now, knowing all the things we do badly. My advice is NOT to simply eat WHAT the French eat. You see there are 3 problems with that.
1) Basically, we simply cannot get the ‘quality’ of food here as you can in France – really fresh food, cooked with love. If you can then great. * For e.g, if anyone knows where you can get cheese made on day, without additives, please let me know.
* According to Ayurveda, it’s the ‘oldness’ of our food and the highly ‘unnatural’ processing/treatment of food (reconstituted foods, microwaves) that make it unrecognisable to the natural intelligence within our body’s. Old food is also more easily ‘oxidised’, which is a major contributor to fats/cholesterol becoming the hard/plaque-like deposits that lead to heart disease, rather than being processed & eliminated.
2) Although it’s a nice idea to eat with an unadulterated ‘devil may care’ / guilt-free attitude, unfortunately, due to years of Western conditioning, that tasty/rich food is ‘bad’ for us, I suggest it is simply not possible for most of us to completely eat without guilt. Just think of all those looks you get when you order the ‘chocolate mousse’ or the cheescake fantasy! Also, it’s obviously impossible in our ‘eat on the run’ society, to organise having 1-2 hours off at lunch and eating in a pleasant, settled atmosphere with lots of family/friends.
3) Just like there is no ‘perfect diet’ for every Westerner – everybody has different needs – the same applies for different countries/cultures. Each culture is guided by ‘Natural Laws’, however the individual ‘laws of nature’ that govern each region vary in the extent to which they are expressed. In short, WHAT the French eat may be right for them, but it doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. Wine in France, chilli’s in India and fish in Japan, may be suitable for those cultures, however, there is no one ideal diet for all people the world over.
The fact is we are not as ‘fanatical’ as the French when it comes to food – that’s fine…someone has to work! However, we can learn a lot from them. The following are some helpful tips for you to use.
* They employ many of the great teachings from the French way of eating. They focus more on the HOW we eat, not the WHAT. While the ‘Laws of Nature’ pertaining to what is good for us, varies (see above), the laws relating to HOW we eat are universal.
* Note: some of these may not be immediately ‘possible’, due to our crazy ‘work-obsessed’ culture, so obviously do the best you can.
* Note 2: please don’t ever say these are not ‘practical’ – if you think they aren’t, ask yourself how ‘practical’ it is to have a heart attack, to have bowel cancer, to disrespect your body so much you can’t even sit down to eat lunch! Sorry, but some times what people call ‘practical’ is really not practical – if you respect your health!
Select 2-3 of the tips below, and incorporate them into your eating routine. The more you do and the more often you do them, the better you will feel, the healthier you will be and the more you will ENJOY LIFE…Remember that the next time some over-serious ‘do-gooder’, frowns at you for ‘having a little cake’.
1. Take a MINIMUM of 45 minutes for Lunch each day.
2. Do NOT eat at your desk!!! Get out of the office.
3. Don’t answer any non-urgent phone calls during meals – and most are non-urgent.
4. Make ENJOYMENT the basis of your eating. * Note: This doesn’t mean chocolate or french fries. There are plenty of meal options that are enjoyable/tasty and still nourishing & healthy. A ‘little’ bit of rich/calorie dense food is fine (if good quality) – too much is the problem.
5. Reduce ‘rabbit food’ …unless you actually like ‘rabbit food’ – see the * Note above and Tip 6. below. The French don’t really eat rabbit food.
6. Eat food that stimulates & nourishes your emotions & SENSES (looks good, smells good, tastes good) – only by doing this will you be ‘truly satisfied’… and not want/need to ‘snack’.
7. Eat SLOWLY – put your fork down between bites & TASTE/Savour every mouthful.
8. Increase the QUALITY (freshness)…Decrease the QUANTITY.
9. Eat with others – family/friends – where possible & Engage in uplifting/pleasant conversation only – avoid ‘work’ talk unless it’s good news/celebratory/ or of a light-nature.
10. TREAT Yourself. At least one meal/day (preferably lunch), include something you really LOVE…can ‘indulge’ in.
* There is a great book out called “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat”. I haven’t read it, but heard the author talk about it – all the same things, so if you want more information on it, I’d highly recommend. Written by a French woman too, so far more credibility than me!
As mentioned in the table above, if you want to make eating healthy simpler, transfer the French outlook on things to your eating habits – “don’t merely have sex (eat)…make love (celebrate food & delight the senses)!
Of course, you can’t be good at making love & war. “Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without your accordion.” – Norman Schwartzkopf.