The World's Healthiest Diets
Week One: France
As a college student living in the international dorm, I should have been studying my Parisian roomie's eating habits instead of just coveting her style. In nations with low obesity rates, women know how to eat right and enjoy every bite. "The diets they follow often place an emphasis on whole grains and legumes and use meat sparingly," says Daphne Miller, MD, the author of The Jungle Effect: The Healthiest Diets from Around the World. They're a far cry from the typical U.S. diet, a processed, produce-deficient carb-fest. Although I can no longer use the excuse that I'm a broke college student, I still live on lattes, burgers, and apple cobbler. So I embarked on a 30-day culinary experiment, borrowing secrets from some of the world's healthiest places to slim my 170-pound frame.Week One: France
Despite baguettes and Brie, French women have the lowest average body mass index in Europe. "It's true that the French eat for pleasure, but they enjoy cream, cheese, and wine in moderation," says Mary Brighton, RD, a health and food blogger who lives in Pau, France.
Eat slowly. The length of the average French meal has decreased in recent years, but it still clocks in at a leisurely 42 minutes. Brighton has a suggestion to help me slow down the pace at which I stuff my face: "Adopt the French habit of eating a three-course meal to savor food and to recognize satiety cues." When I started with salad, I began to feel full a few bites into my second course, pasta, and I left a bit of it on the plate, rounding out my meal with an apple. Something else that worked: listening to music and making meals last for five or six songs. That's about 20 minutes, or the amount of time it takes your brain to register that your stomach is full.
Make lunch the main event. French breakfasts are small, but lunch is a big deal and might include soup, salad, a chicken entrée with at least one vegetable, and a light dessert, like sorbet, says Steven Jonas, MD, a coauthor of 30 Secrets of the World's Healthiest Cuisines. Supper is lighter and later, usually eaten around 8 or 9. "Because the body uses lunchtime calories for the rest of the day, fewer go into storage and turn into body fat," he explains. My midday meal is often coffee and crackers, so I had to take extreme measures to bulk it up. Each night I cooked twice as much as I normally would for dinner and packed about two-thirds of it for lunch the next day. The new portions were perfect; I wasn't starving by supper.
Treat yourself. This I can do: I never met a pint of Ben & Jerry's I didn't like. But that's not the French way. Instead, they enjoy a petite treat at the end of each meal -- a piece of dark chocolate, an espresso, or an after-dinner drink. "It signals your brain that it's time to stop eating," Brighton explains. "Having occasional small treats throughout the day also makes you less likely to binge later." I bought a bar of dark chocolate and ate a square after each meal. At first it wasn't easy to stop at one, but I let it melt in my mouth and reminded myself that I had another to look forward to in a few hours. So long, snack attacks!
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