Food Lifestyle Sport

French paradox contributes to athletes’ success in France as portion size is key


Photo by Caroline Layt of Australian teammate Janet Naylon looking at those lovely French pastries and desserts through the window of a local patisserie in Clermont-Ferrand

By Caroline Layt
October 18, 2017

It was a great evening in Clermont-Ferrand, France. I had made my first finals at world masters championships level in the hammer and weight throws and had ran well in my 60 metre heat, setting a season’s best – 8.96 seconds in qualifying for the semi-finals.

My track buddies had also done well in their events, so a few of us decided to go out and celebrate. When in Rome, do as the romans do, or in this instance substitute roman for french, so where else, but off to a French restaurant.

The main course was lovely and the French wine I allowed myself went down a treat at the restaurant titled 1492 due to the building’s construction date being of that year.

After mains fellow sprinter Janet and distance runners Stuart and John decided to have dessert.

When training for major athletics championships such as a world championships, much effort goes into preparation and dessert, chocolate and all good things in life are either banished or consumed in much smaller quantities.

Dessert was the priority after being disciplined for so long and our anticipation was at boiling point. I chose crepes with rich vanilla ice cream wrapped and sealed inside. A lovely warm fudge chocolate sauce generously sat atop the crepes.

I enjoyed my dessert immensely and still remember it as one of my most enjoyable dining experiences to this day.

My and other peoples’ experiences of the French diet is what makes it so interesting, as they have croissants and baguettes as part of their breakfast menu. They are world renowned for their rich cuisine and yet so many French people are svelte and France has the lowest obesity rates among the western world.

The French diet does have its extravagances, but what it does do well is that all food groups are covered and portions are small, unlike the American larger portioned diet.

According to NDTV Smart Cooky: people in France tend to savour their meals and studies have shown that eating fast may lead to eating more as it takes about 15 minutes for your brain to recognise your stomach is full. This means the French penchant for eating slowly can prevent overeating.

French people tend not to eat to excess, which brings us to – the French paradox – the only western country known for the butter in its pastry crust and the thin citizens who consume it.

Visitors have wondered how the French do it, while they force themselves to sweat away working out or deprive themselves of the simple pleasures in life to maintain their svelte figure. There are no such requirements for French women, as the media and popular culture has played its part where it is not seen as sinful to eat and drink delicacies such as cheese, wine and chocolates.

The media and popular culture portrayal of French culture

Women eating the above type of foods is not seen as indulgent, but as a right. As an article in Vogue magazine written by Ashley Schneider states, “Dignity and mystique cloak the French woman, as she savors her steak-frites. There are no food items banned from her palate, no sinful dishes demanding a stiff workout hours later. Instead she abides by a simple, natural set of guidelines. Ones that understand true pleasure.”

French women choose quality over quantity and the ingredients are always second to none, e.g. a few pieces of quality dark chocolate is chosen over a large bowl of ice cream.

Emilia Petrarca wrote in W Magazine, “Such is the root of the “French girl myth” which has captured the imaginations of fashion publications, brands, and popular culture writ large ever since the days of Coco Chanel, and maybe even as far back as Marie Antoinette. We find ourselves wanting to do everything “like a French girl”, simply because there is a way French girls do things.

Through French fashion icons and actors like Brigitte Bardot and Francoise Hardy and the movies that made them famous – An American in Paris and Amelie, American women see their French counterparts as having the “innate ability to possess superior style, smaller waists, clearer skin, more complex neckties, cooler social lives, and richer romance than the rest of us-and all the while putting in little to no effort”, she writes.

In essence Petrarca feels American media and popular culture like it that way. Americans feel they are free and yet they still crave to be told what to eat and how to dress and this is what makes the French way so appealing; due to their living by a different set of rules.

The French diet and way of life will always be present, as the media through articles such as those above and popular culture remain fascinated with all things French.

The Aussie silver bullets and French team certainly benefitted from the French diet

As for our 4 x 200 metre relay team – nicknamed the silver bullets in setting an Australian open indoor record 1.49.98 at those 2008 championships. We bought into local culture, food and way of life and it certainly didn’t do us any harm while we were in France in winning that silver medal and setting our new aussie record.

As well as we did, the French diet certainly didn’t hurt the French team, as they did one better – world champions with a newly minted gold medal.

Photo below by Stuart Paterson – Women’s 40 years 4 x 200 metre relay team medallists: France, Australia and Germany, WMACI Clermont-Ferrand, March 2008. Silver medal Australian team back row: L to R Caroline Layt, Jackie Bezuidenhout, front row Marie Kay and Janet Naylon (AR)


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