The French are relentlessly chic, especially when it comes to cuisine. But despite their love affair with creamy cheese, full-bodied wine and soft pastries, French women, on average, are skinnier than American women.
Obesity rates in France are about three times lower than in the U.S., and a new book called "The Parisian Diet" reveals all the French secrets to staying slim.
Rachel Yohai, 49, is an American who has been trying to eat like a Frenchman, but this is far from her first diet. She said she has tried NutriSystem, Slim Fast, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and Medifast in the past, but none stuck.
"Over the years I've lost 20 pounds, you know, put back 25, lost 30 pounds, put back 25," Yohai said. "I can't do restrictive anymore. I just can't do it anymore."
She has been on the Parisian Diet for five weeks and she said this one's different from the others because "the main thrust of this diet is enjoying your food."
"Everything fits better, everything looks better," she said. "That's really important to me."
Dr. Jean-Michel Cohen is the mastermind behind the French guide to skinny eating. A well-regarded nutrition expert in France, he is also a famous television and radio French talk show host. Cohen said the Parisian Diet is not so much a diet but a guide to developing a new attitude towards food.
His first tip is quality, not quantity. Smaller portions means fewer calories. Even pasta is allowed but Cohen suggests eating it with a tiny amount of sauce, and add lots of flavor with fresh herbs and salty olives.
Cohen's Tip Number Two: Savor food and avoid mindless eating -- something he said are classic American mistakes.
Many of us are guilty of rushing through a quick, unsatisfying meal at lunchtime. Instead Cohen said we should enjoy the entire experience and linger over a meal.
"It's the sights, it's the smell and the flavor, you need to enjoy," he said. "You need 10 minutes to realize if your hunger is cut or not."
Cohen's third tip might come as a surprise. He suggests skipping the salad if it's not something you love. Here's the logic: When people deprive themselves of foods they love while on a diet and think they are eating rabbit food, they will eventually give up. So Cohen said it is better to have a smaller portion of something flavorful, rather than having a boring salad that gives you no pleasure at all.
There's nothing more American than fast food, and Cohen said nothing is ever totally forbidden. Even a McDonald's Big Mac is allowed -- if that's all you order.
"The problem is, in reality, that you accompany this with French fries and a soda, but you have to take your time and you have to enjoy it," he said. "I know perfectly the value of calories of a Big Mac. It's about 500 calories per piece."
Remember to savor the burger, he said, and swap out that side of fries with a salad, but don't head for the fast food every day.
The bottom line is that everything should be loaded with flavor, even ho-hum yogurt and fruit could be zestier with some lemon zest.
The French tend to cook more at home as well, which contributes to healthier eating, whereas Americans tend to eat more fast food or processed food. Americans also work 10 percent more during a given work week -- the French average 38 hours a week versus Americans who work, on average, 42 hours.
No wonder we are a nation who wolfs down lunch and picks up fast food for the family dinner on the way home.