How I Eat

poulet roti

For some reason, people are obsessed with what I eat and weigh and I get a lot of messages that say things like “How do you stay so thin?” or “How can you eat all that amazing food and stay in shape?” It’s not really something that I’m all that concerned about and not something I pay all that much attention to. And as much as I’d like to, I don’t start the day gorging on platters of croissants, then spend the rest of day wolfing down cakes, pastries, and chocolates. People come in different shapes and sizes. I know people who eat well and exercise, that are not necessarily svelte, and I know people who eat whatever they want and are rail-thin. (And according to CDC calculations, I’m overweight.) And I try to make it a point not to preach about how to eat, but just present recipes that I like, which are how I eat and feed guests.

Because I live in France, there’s a fascination with the French “diet” as well, and I frequently get asked about how they miraculously manage to keep the weight off while seemingly enjoying all the rich food in France. A few hints: They don’t snack between meals, portions are smaller, they smoke, diet sodas are popular, and they don’t delight in “extreme eating.” However that’s changing as well in France and they’re catching up to their friends across the Atlantic in terms of putting on the pounds – or kilos.

I worked in professional kitchens starting when I was sixteen years old and was surrounded by lots of rich, heavy, calorie-laden foods. Which was awesome…until I hit forty. Then I noticed myself getting a bit rounder in certain areas, as most men tend to do. Yet I didn’t want to stop eating all my favorite foods. So I made a conscious effort to moderate, and concentrate more on what I was eating (in professional kitchens, you eat to survive and sustain, not for pleasure – and you never stop moving) and when I left the restaurant business, I made a concerted effort to drop a few pounds by being more conscious about what I ate, more diligent about doing some sort of regular physical activity, and I also vowed never to eat standing up again. I eat absolutely everything now (except squid, because they’re ugly), and moving to France, I’ve actually lost weight without going to a gym. I was a martial artist for twenty years (karate and aikido), then I started practicing yoga. I did go to a gym for a while in California, but I don’t have the attention span to stay on a treadmill for more than three minutes, and I find lifting weights boring. (I seem to be only able to exercise if someone is either yelling at me, or telling me what to do.)

Since I do a lot of my own cooking, I know exactly what’s in the foods I am eating. If I go out for a meal, I try to go to restaurants that I know where fresh food is on the menu, not frozen or pre-prepared.

For me, a typical day of eating will be breakfast; toast, salted butter, sometimes honey or jam, café au lait, and orange juice. Mid-morning I’ll often have a modest bowl of fruit or berries, perhaps with some plain full-fat yogurt and granola.) If home, lunch will likely be leftovers from the night before or a big salad with vegetables and some meat, cheese, or another protein in it. If I go out, it’s often for ethnic food (Japanese, Mexican, Korean, or Middle Eastern) or something simple. I have an afternoon snack, or le goûter – to bring that excessively long gap between lunch and dinner – which might be a small pastry or a bit of cake or cookies, some cheese, toasted bread with peanut butter, or if I’m out-and-about, choquettes. Dinner is some protein, vegetables, potatoes or grains, or pasta, then cheese with bread, and a bite or so of whatever sweet if lying around for dessert. I usually drink wine with dinner. During the day I will snack on nuts, dark chocolate, and bits and pieces of recipes that I’m testing.

As mentioned, everyone is different and we all have different circumstances, follow different principles in life, have various metabolisms, go on (and off) diets, are wired different culturally, and all have our weaknesses for certain foods. But although there doesn’t seem to be any magic bullet for keeping in shape, most experts agree that it’s about calories and being active.

(Please note that none of the information here is meant to be medical in nature. If you are planning a diet, or have health issues, do consult a doctor or licensed medical professional for advice specific to your needs.)

Stuff I Do

-I ride a bicycle everywhere that I can.

-I walk to places as much as possible.

-I eat a lot of carbohydrates.

-I try to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. I eat fish, although I’ve taken to eating less, unfortunately, because I try to scope of sustainable varieties. I usually have some form of protein with a meal, such as chicken, cheese, or pork. Although I like it, I eat beef infrequently, and rarely cook it at home.

-I eat cheese. Someone “tsk tsk’d” me recently online for writing about cheese, saying it was “fattening.” But you rarely see an overweight fromager here in France.

-I “maximize” my calories, meaning that if I eat something, it should be good. Bad chocolate cake has the same number of calories as good chocolate cake, and is more satisfying as well so you’re not craving more. (It’s been said that M&M’s are specifically formulated to have just the right amount of chocolate in them to keep you craving more, which is why it’s hard to stop at half a bag.) Food writer Peter Kaminsky wrote about FPC, or “Flavors per calorie”, which is the same principle.

-I eat “good” fat, meaning that I eat ones that taste good, where you’ll get more oomph for the bite. Things like dark chocolate, bacon, olive oil, duck fat, eggs, and good butter all have a lot of flavor and I like them.

-I use fats as seasonings. For example, instead of eating a big chunk of cheese, I will crumble some bleu cheese into a salad dressing to disperse it. I’ll use fried bacon, and some of the drippings, to season vegetables, rather than douse them with neutral vegetable oil. I’ll cut the cream in a dessert and use milk instead, then add more chocolate (ie: flavor) to compensate.

-I’ll sometimes put ice in wine if it’s an inexpensive bottle. I drink wine with dinner, and while I don’t do this when I go out (unless I’m drinking rosé) or I’m drinking a pretty good bottle of wine, if it’s everyday stuff, I’ll put an ice cube in it. If anyone gives you a hard time about it, let them know that Jacques Pépin does it, too.

-I eat dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate. When I’m craving chocolate, I don’t go out and buy a chocolate cheesecake, or eat a bag of Oreos; I eat bittersweet chocolate bars and eat a few squares of handfuls every day. I also like chocolates, but I don’t often have boxes on hand (hint.. hint…) But a few chocolates is not a lot of calories and each one packs quite a lot of flavor.

-I’m stressed out. I have a pretty brisk metabolism, the result of years racing around in professional kitchens, and have a hard time sitting still. Which is why many pastry chefs are not overweight. (And pastry chefs don’t eat everything they make, just like bartenders don’t drink everything they pour.) I also am constantly “on the go” mentally, as well as physically, which isn’t so good for my sanity, but does help keep the metabolism moving.

-I try to only eat “good stuff.” If I’m going to eat chocolate, I buy good chocolate. If I’m in the mood for ice cream, I’ll get a quality brand (or make it myself.) Save for York Peppermint Patties and M&M’s (and, of course, Planter’s Peanut Bars) – I don’t generally eat commercial candy bars. As for butter, aside from the stuff I buy for baking, I use it prudently and buy very good butter – and enjoy it immensely. Each and every smear.

-I eat everything and don’t demonize any food (except squid) – but there is nothing off-limits; I’ll eat potatoes cooked in duck fat, lardo, bacon, pizza, salted butter caramel, white chocolate, caramels, and potato chips. But I don’t eat them all day, everyday. If I have a copious lunch, dinner will be something lighter. And if I know I have a big dinner planned, I’ll make sure that lunch is on the lighter side.


strawberries & raspberries


Related Links

Advice from a Slim Cook (Rosa Jackson)

Are the French Too Obsessed with Weight? (Nutrition in Paris)

The French Paradox (The Morning News)

Culinary Intelligence (Ruhlman)

142 comments

  • Thanks for sharing! Bodies and diets are all different, and one always runs the risk of uber-criticism when talking about what works for you. I appreciate your candor, and while I don’t have the metabolism to eat the volume that you eat without working out, I take heart that some of your guidelines are also mine. Eat for flavor, eat small portions, eat it all (but in moderation).

    Thanks! And keep up the excellent work!

    • Yes, I was aware when writing all this up, navigating how to talk about this subject. But since I get asked several times a week about it (and about how the French eat), I figured it would write it up. I don’t think I necessarily eat a lot of food, but I try to make reasonable choices about what I eat. Of course, living in a city where there is a pastry shop in every corner can be a challenge ; )

  • I was amused to read this post, because it sounds EXACTLY like how I eat. And how I was raised to eat. And how my grandparents eat. I mean, ok, I don’t have wine… but that’s cause I dislike it. Other than that…. I could have written this post, as far as the meals go.

    You eat like a french person!

  • This seems to me like such a sensible approach to what you eat. A bad meal is such a waste of a meal and I really believe you enjoy it more (and eat less) if every bite is as delicious as you can make it and full of, as you put it, the good stuff.

  • “I ride a bicycle everywhere that I can. -I walk to places as much as possible.”

    What’s great about that is that it often gets you somewhere faster than the metro or bus, sometimes even faster than driving (outside Île de France, of course), and you get to SEE things!
    How else are you supposed to find out about the new Asian market or épicerie de produits du terroir.
    Regarding food choices, I don’t know if they’re common in Paris, but we recently joined an AMAP* here in Nantes, which means we have tonnes of fresh veggies all the time, none of which we choose ourselves, which makes us try new dishes all the time.
    Yesterday we got green garlic, swiss chard, tiny beets, new potatoes, lettuce, fennel, pak choi, and carrots.
    For 9 euros.
    Local and organic.

    *an AMAP is a co-op style arrangment between a group of people and a local producer.

  • Brilliant post! I have the exact same food/lifestyle philosophy as you. Especially concerning the GOOD food and maximizing calories. All those ‘lite’ and fat free foods mean people so often sell themselves short when it comes to flavour. I would much rather spend an hour making my own delicious spicy baked beans than buy a nasty can of them.
    And I’m so envious you live in France where such quality food is readily available :-)

  • Nice to know, but I have to ask the question everyone’s really wondering about. When do we get to see your new apartment?

  • This pretty much describes the way I eat, with a few small exceptions. I do love squid and no ice in my wine plus add in some good belgian beer! And we too have the stock of dark chocolate bars in the house. I usually eat one or two squares a day.

    One point that you didn’t mention that I think is also key Is to eat seasonally. Produce and ingredients taste so much better and are much more satisfying if they are consumed at the time of year that they are naturally meant to be grown/ripen. Clearly from your blog, you eat seasonally as well, but I thought it would be good to add this point to the discussion

  • This is exactly my eating philosophy! If I’m not going to enjoy something, I don’t want to eat it. Thanks for the dose of common sense. Those tsk-tskers miss the point entirely.

  • I totally agree that if you are going to eat something, let it be a good something!
    I will no longer finish a cake that has not made me long for the next mouthful, will no longer finish a chocolate bar, just because I opened it. I rarely drink fizzy drinks, only having water, tea or fresh coffee on a regular basis. If I drink orange juice, it is usually squeezed by me and only a small glass. I hate alcohol, so no problem there!

    David – I second someone else commenting – when do we see the new apartment? Have you at least moved in?

  • Thank you for this post. Sage, sensible advice. And it’s not rocket science either. What a great philisophy which enables you to enjoy all that’s around you and still stay in shape.

  • Good post. I lost weight here too (which, I was telling my sister, was funny because stateside I’d put in at least an hour and a half a day at the gym and still wasn’t seeing what I wanted in the mirror. Here I don’t have a gym membership, though I’m certainly walking more.)

    I do think that, thanks to the richesse of the meals (save breakfast) I don’t want to snack. When hunger strikes it’s close enough to the meal, and usually, I’ve something fantastic in mind whether I’m going out with friends to a restaurant or if I’ve picked up some fresh new things at the marché. And at the meal, yes truly, its all about portions. The attention to presentation feeds your eyes, and psychologically, makes the meal more satisfying.

    2nd the quality chocolate! I’ve now an (almost daily) tradition of walking into the Xavier Berger downtown and asking for fifty grams (circa 3 or 4 pieces) of their granache.

    Finally, I’ve started a small yoga routine when I wake up each morning… though I think that helps with peace of mind more than it keeps kilos at bay. Essentially (as you’ve said more or less!) I think that good fat + small portions + mineral water = mince me.

  • I work in a cheese room of a well-known health food store in Kensington, London. I get so many people stepping inside my little dairy paradise made of gruyère vieux and roquefort asking me for “low fat cheese”. My immediate answer would be “Really? Take a good look around you!”, but then I just politely say “No, not in here, check the dairy fridge downstairs”, omitting the part in which I would say “if you really want processed 0% fat stuff that has nothing to do with cheese”. I think there is a problem, a huge misconception of what is good, bad, good for you or not. People have stopped to eat for pleasure and to listen to their bodies and the senses. A small portion of good cheese has never killed anybody, why would one deny him/herself of such a pleasure –if they ask me for cheese it means that they like it, otherwise they would eat something else with much lower fat content.
    I am also asked how I can be so thin working with cheese and tasting it all the time. The answer is moderation, quality, exercise, balance as far as the rest of my diet goes, and a full time busy job. No need for low fat cheese, just for a little bit of good thinking.

    Anyway, I am pleased to see that French (and Italians) never ask me for low fat cheese, only Brits, Americans and Eastern Europeans. Also, unlike many others, French never ask me for vegan cheese –whose name to me sounds like a true oxymoron, and it really makes me mad.

  • I was a personal chef for about 10 years, and I found that my relationship with food at that time in my life was ideal. It was precisely because I was so involved with it every day that I was not tempted to overeat. Maybe that’s paradoxical? My clients loved to eat well, but basically as David described. They had wide-ranging tastes, and I was able to try a large variety of dishes, and be creative. I enjoyed what I cooked and ate when I was working, but I was never tempted to overeat (even though that has been a problem at other times in my life).

    As someone who lives in France part of the time, I would say it is the French love of food and respect for it that has kept them from being excessive. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality. And it’s about the time taken to enjoy it. I think the fast food culture in the US is not just about fast food, but fast eating.

    My two cents….:)

  • I don’t think you eat like a French person. I think you eat like a person. The way most people eat here in NA (I’m Canuck) is not real. Eating fat does not make you fat. Eating things your body can’t recognize, like vegetable and soy oils and HFCS does. I was at a lecture with a well known nutritional biochemist who said “if you want to eat something sweet, make it yourself. At least you know what will be in it.” A good bakery is a godsend for people like me who will make a batch of cookies and then eat them all, when all I really wanted was one.
    Good post!

  • David, you and Michael Pollan, what a duo.
    I love his quote: ‘if its a plant, eat it , if it’s made in a plant , don’t’

  • Dark chocolate is so good for the diet. A couple of good squares satisfies the need for a treat and clears the palate and keeps the weight down.

    When I want to loose weight though – after visiting the US and stuffing my face with mexican food – then i just eat natural food only for a couple of weeks. Unlimited veg, meat, fish, eggs and natural yoghurt. No fruit for about 10 days but massive salads and lots of veg and the weight drops off.

    Eating like that half the time, and indulging in good cheese, chocolate and the odd macaroon the rest of the time does the trick.

  • I visited Paris for ten days recently, for the first time, and lost 15 pounds. I stayed with friends, cooked every night, drank (which is something I rarely do at home). Took a baguette baking course, shopped at patisseries and boulangeries, and still managed to loose weight.
    Someone said it already. The amazing food (which I cooked for my friends from lovely ingredients) did not tempt me to snack in between meals with garbage food. No snacks, no fake foods, no pop (except for one diet Coke at the American embassy happy hour), and it melted away fat without any hardship.

    Now to just try to maintain that here at home in Canada.

  • David – on M&Ms – have you noticed a difference in taste between the M&Ms sold in France and those sold in the US? The first time I bought peanut M&Ms in France I thought they were so much richer and more chocolatey, but thought it was probably my imagination. Then one year I brought some home and my husband and I did a taste test. We both could tell the difference between the two. In the American M&Ms the primary taste is sugar/sweet; in those sold in France the primary taste is chocolate. My husband actually preferred the American ones because they taste like his childhood. Which do you prefer?

  • There were three 20-something French women who came to visit my city, and we decided on a picnic in the park. I told them I was bringing Prosecco and an asparagus salad to share, and that we would pass a place to pick up some nice sandwiches and pastries.

    Just then a McDonald’s interrupted us, they decided they were too hungry for a picnic, and excitedly went in and suggested I eat my salad at their table.

    I was reminded of the idealization Canadians have about French attitudes towards food. Things certainly must be changing with the younger generation.

  • My late Mother in Law subscribed to portion control as a way to maintain her weight. She ate everything that everyone else ate, just less of it. She also said the key to eating this way, easily, was to make sure she ate breakfast every day. Her cup of cereal, half a banana and piece of toast she said kept her from eating a morning snack and less lunch (usually half a sandwich and piece of fruit) Mid afternoon she would eat a few potato chips or a couple tablespoons of chocolate chips; whatever she could easily grab in a small amount. At dinner, she served salad first to help take off the edge, then ate the rest of the meal in portions the size of a Swanson tv dinner (recommended RDA standards) She always had something for dessert, even if it were only an oreo or two. She died at 90..not having missed a taste of anything. She was also a “busy body”, always doing something and rarely sat still lest she had a sitting project to get done. Being one who can’t sit still is a big help in weight control. Damn, I wish I were antsy and that self disiplined, but she didn’t even really think about it until someone asked her what she did to stay slim!

  • I’m confused about the ice cube in the wine glass thing. Does it just dilute the wine and make it go further?

  • Living in Shanghai there are no signs of an obesity problem here. however with the arrival of McDonalds, KFC,Subway and a host of other fast food outlets I wonder how long this will last. The Chinese eat little or no bread, no cream and cheese in fact very little diary, and they eat a lot fresh food, rice is eaten only as a filler. The only restaurants I’ve been in offering desserts are Western ones, Chinese offer everyone fresh fruit as a courtesy at the end of the meal, it arrives with the bill. Sounds like good advice.

  • What a great post! I actually just wrote a blog post about my own food philosophy, and it’s interesting to see a lot of things similar to what you’ve written here. It’s interesting to hear that it has some similarities to the way French people eat. This was a brave post to write, personal food choices can be a really difficult thing to write about publicly. Thanks for putting it up here :)

  • David, help please! Only you can help me with this!
    Now, i LOVE so called healthy food, i only ever eat healthy wholesome fresh foods, i go mad for veggies, legumes, i adore grains, use only muscovado sugar ecc ecc, BUT, but.. I don’t know how to eat moderately! I CAN’T eat in moderate quantities, it has to be HUGE portions, i can eat tons of it, yup, it does you well, it’s healthy and nutritious but my portions are dinosaur size. I am female btw. I love food, i love to cook, i am gourmet, but i can’t restrain myself when it comes to QUANTITIES. Cooking only for myself and living on my own doesen’t help either. How do i bake one piece of croissant or one singe kouign amann??!! I mean, you can’t, right? Yet i do want to bake it and taste it. So how do i handle it??!!! And all other delicious must try must do recipes?!! Without piling on pounds and feeling miserable. David! Good people! Gimme some sound and wise advise that i can use in this eqaution, ‘cos it can get very overwhelming, and i feel lost facing someting that i don’t know how to manage and so far i was NEVER capable of eating moderately without ending binging on big portions. THANK you so so much.. If anyone answers my desperate plea.. Thanks..

  • Yes! I swear if you harness your inner exacting food critic and only eat the most delicious food, you can eat whatever you like. Especially in the U.S. There is so much terrible and mediocre food out there, you can just say to yourself “It’s simply not delicious enough” and pass. In this instance, being a little snobbish can really help.

  • you’re invited to try what i eat.i bet you’ve never heard of the way i eat;it’s vegetarian,ethnic and different from what you do.
    i’m in paris next week,tell me if you dare to try my way of eating
    i’d prepare a few of my dishes for you to sample.

  • I am interpreter so I often work at different places and there was a time when I felt the only thing discussed during breaks anywhere was dieting. And then I would be asked how I stay slim. I never followed a diet in my life and bake all the time, but living in the Netherlands (and not having a driver’s license) I cycle everywhere. Also, like you, I eat “real” food. I grow most of the vegetables we eat and lots of calories are burnt in the process.
    I like the point you make, that in order to be healthy, rather than avoid certain food and stress about what you eat, it’s better to eat really good food and enjoy it.
    Also, I was reminded of my aunt who is a biochemist and ran a lab at a hospital. She used to say that whoever says that lard is bad “knows nothing of modern biochemistry”. Her family is remarkably long-lived. :-)

  • Dear David,
    Great writing, thank you and it says a lot for walkable places for you, beautiful as well. Paris that is!

  • Here’s hoping that one paragraph about French diets and weights puts an end to the seemingly endless “how do they do it?!” inquiry. Sound advice for all, to be sure.

  • So now I miss my NYC life (day of yore) where I walked and biked everywhere. In the Twin Cities – you can only do that 6 months of the year! (A wee bit cold) I like the take on quality. Yep – if I want cheesecake – I’ll have cheesecake BUT – it needs to be worth the calories.

  • Wonderful post – so far, only aspirational for me. Thank you for your column. I am inspired!

  • I lived in Italy for a while, and my friends there would put sparkling mineral water in their red wine. I tried it, and it was delicious and refreshing.

  • Someone came to a blog by a pastry chef who has fabulous ice cream recipes and tsk tsk’d about CHEESE? At least they let you know up front that their opinion isn’t worth much.

    Sounds like you have it figured out :) And most of your diet sounds close to the “primal” diet, except for the flour and potato part. Primal emphasizes good fats, protein from healthy animals and fresh vegetables, with cheese, dark chocolate and wine as acceptable accents to the day.

    I agree about squid. I think squid, octopus and eel are creepy animals and I won’t eat them because of that, no matter how “delicious” people claim they are. Eff the haters :)

  • I frequently am asked what I eat, though not “How do you stay slim?”…more like, “Why aren’t you the size of a house?” (No one has ever called me slim). Interestingly, when people find out I review restaurants, they are more apt to ask me about my weight control then when learning I cook as much as I do. And that goes to the point you make: it truly is easier to eat healthful portions and foods when you cook for yourself. But here’s the rub for me: When my husband is cooking and I am writing, the aromas wafting over to my desk are more enticing– and more likely to compel me to eat when I needn’t– then when I am cooking (for myself or work). When I cook, I taste. When David cooks, I eat.
    Perhaps if he stopped cooking, I would one day hear that lovely question: How do you stay so slim?

  • Here here! (or is it hear hear?) I didn’t lose weight in France, I lost it before, but I’ve found that it’s been much easier to keep the weight off here than when I go back to the States.

    I spend a ton of money on food here – I assume you do too – but you’re completely right when you say to maximize the calories. If it’s not good, don’t put it in your mouth!

  • I know people have been nagging you about how you stay slim, etc. Maybe now they’ll stop. Soooooooo… wouldn’t you like to shut us all up about your apartment? I’m thinking the reason you haven’t blogged-all is because: it’s not done to your liking yet, you feel it’s an invasion of privacy (yet you told us about “the making of it,” so this theory doesn’t seem to hold up), or you are secretly working on the Reveal My Apartment blog, which I’m hoping is the case!

    Unlike everybody else, I gained weight in Paris, despite walking everywhere almost every day. C’est la vie! It all came off when we returned home. I blame the wonderful bread.

  • Awesome post! I especially liked the term “fromager” =))

  • Lindsey + Zoe: It’s funny that people think that French women (and men) know some special secret, when for years, it was that they didn’t have access to junk food and didn’t eat so much fast food. Some also feel that eating in front of the tv has something to do with overeating, which is something more French people seem to be doing.

    vera: It’s really hard to eat well while traveling. I know that I indulge whenever I am on the road – ice cream at the airport, caramel corn, candy bars in America, etc.. but when I get home, I make it a point to do a little ‘detox’ kind of thing, and mostly crave vegetables and grains for a few days.

    Susie: There was an update in my last newsletter.

    Carol: Curious that people say “Corn syrup is in everything!” because I always thought that it had to be listed on the ingredients list. And if I buy something in a jar or box, and I’m not sure what’s in it, I check.

    Cathg1g2: I met Michael P. last year and he was incredibly nice. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he’s very down-to-earth. Interestingly he had a 63 gallon drum of HFCS in his house and he told me that represented what the average person in America eats a year. (I didn’t pick it up to see if it was full!)

    Susan: I used to skip breakfast, until a friend who is a trainer yelled at me, and said that if you don’t eat breakfast, your body just holds on to the food/fuel that it already has, and you not only don’t lose weight, but you lose energy. Am not sure about the veracity of that statement, but I now eat more for breakfast than I used to.

  • Almost all of my colleagues are French, and I’m in Paris regularly for work, and what I’ve noticed about French women I work with is that they’re very careful about what they eat–everything is in small portions. And as you say, they smoke! As someone who works with her nose, it would never occur to me to smoke, but for many French perfumers, it doesn’t seem be a concern. I once trained with a perfumer who would have a cigarette perpetually hanging out of the corner of his mouth, even when smelling new scent mods with me!

    Despite the common belief that French women somehow have a healthier attitude towards food than Americans, I’ve noticed exactly the same concerns and phobias. Le regime seems to be a favorite topic.

    I like your article very much–it sounds like you’ve developed a system that works best for you and is very sensible.

  • I live in the coastal part of Croatia and subscribe to a similar philosophy- no processed foods, garden vegetables, lots of fish (I do love squids), olive oil, amazing Croatian cheese (Paski sir is a must if you haven’t tried it) and red wine. Preferably all served on a terrace overlooking the Adriatic. Heaven…

  • People ask me the same. I’m almost 5’9 and I’m a size 4-6 and I eat it all.

    People don’t get it that I can spent the holidays in Paris with my family stuffing my face and not gain weight. First off, I exercise a lot, but also I don’t eat the typical North American food.

    I check labels and eat real food. I eat only 2 or 3 things from a can and that’s it.

    I cook everyday for myself and I do enjoy it.

    I hate frozen foods and junk food. You won’t catch me eating a piece of cake that is 2 feet high.

    I keep my portions quite similar to portions in France and I am happy with the way I look and feel.

    Oh, did I mention that I’m over 40 … so that whole notion of “you gain weight after 40″ applies if you aren’t eating properly.

    My cousins in Paris are over 50 and they look amazing and they don’t exercise and have wine every night … the same applies to my cousin in Italy.

    It’s a totally different approach to food :-)

    This is a great post David!!!

    Krizia

  • Thank you for your wonderful explanation. Personally, I have never felt as good as when I lived at a lower altitude (currently I’m at 9000′) and ate only what was in season for fruit & veg. Simple happiness. Now, I must have my daily dose of chocolate!

  • Wow David. We have a remarkably similar way of eating.

    Your daily eats are pretty in line with me.

    People email me pretty frequently with the same comments (how are you so thin with all the food you eat), etc….

    It’s really not something I focus on too much. Instead on focus on cooking healthy, homemade meals which tend to be way less calories and more nutritious than frozen stuff, premade junk, or restaurant meals.

  • A few years ago I visited Paris. I stayed for about two and a half weeks, and lost weight doing so, in part because of all the walking. The French also had some great gluten-free products in the supermarket, the pain de campagne tasted like bread!

    I loved that I could go into a restaurant and get tasty gluten-free meals where they would know exactly what was in the food…

  • glad to hear someone else puts ice in wine….I have done that for years…..
    hope you are in & enjoying your new place

  • BRAVO David!
    You eat like a French person…maybe a lot better but more or less the same principles.

  • Wow, David – you’re becoming the go-to guy for everything!! For “foodie” who is one person in love with food and cooking for eight – it’s a mental decision, but possibly you could freeze portions, or better yet – bring the extras to work and neighbors (or if you live in the States to a soup kitchen/shelter or the local fire house). Your situation sounds a little lonely – busier people don’t have time or the inclination to sit down and binge on too much food so start volunteering and experimenting in a kitchen that feeds others? Good luck, xo

  • Great write up David! Everything in moderation…unfortunately most people don’t follow that simple rule of thumb.

    As far as those boxes of chocolates are concerned…I promise to remedy that the next time I’m in Paris. Your hookup is guaranteed. ;)

  • My Man’s Belly: Deal! Do I get to choose the chocolates?

    Julia: Am not sure I follow. But when I do have extra food, mostly from recipe testing, I usually bring it to the folks who work at my market or give it to neighbors and friends.

    Victoria: Yes, there is a somewhat overwhelming obsession with diets here, although I think that’s likely true of many people in most modern cities. I do see a lot of people drinking diet soda here, although as I heard one restaurateur in the states say to customers (because he refused to carry diet soda) – “You’re on a diet? Then drink water!”

  • I’ve lost about 55 pounds over the last two years. In the midwest. No dieting involved, just changing habits. Whole grain breads, preferably where I can get fresh baked, not prepackaged in the grocery store (unless it’s Whole Foods.) No processed foods. Lots of veggies and fruits, whatever is in season. Smaller portions of things others might consider taboo when trying to lose weight. Allowing cravings to be satisfied, but with small portions too. Let’s face it, if you crave creme brulee or cheesecake or eclairs, you are going to eat anything in front of you until the craving is satisfied. Since the first five or six bites of something are usually the best, that seems to satisfy me.

    Most of all, walking or biking anywhere I can. And if it is a day where I am going to be home more, walking or biking local trails.

    I truly believe that everything in moderation (not deprivation), eating seasonally, being active in whatever way you can, and just being overall sensible is far better for losing weight and being healthy. Dieting is temporary and most people end up putting all of their weight plus more back on.

    Sounds as if you eat sensibly and of course walking so many places is a plus.

  • What I got most from your article was your lack of stress about food. There has been so much focus on obesity and fat-hating in the States this week. There are so many fad diets based on vilification and denial of specific foods – food bigotry, if you will. If Americans put as much care and attention into what they eat as many do in how they dress, we would all eat much more luxuriously and healthily. Bravo!

  • I love that you are the first to qualify bacon as “good” fat

  • Great post, thank you!
    I understand your statement about people working in the kitchen – they eat to survive. I got back to my ideal weight (after 20 kg gained during the pregnancy) exactly when i was working part time in a kitchen :)

    But we have an expression – do not eat in a restaurant where the cook is slim :)
    different cultures – different habits :)

  • You get out of here, with your rational reasoning and your sense-talking!
    When I was studying in France, I remember thinking it was funny that we hear so much about the French supernatural ability to stay thin, yet the amount of diet aids available was mind boggling. All of my friends’ mères d’accueil were on le Weight Watchers, and close to the end of my program, my host mom started buying diet jam (presumably for herself?). My favorite aid was Contrex slimming water – it makes you pee so you weigh less!

  • The trick here is definitely the daily walking and biking. The average American has a sedentary lifestyle, a car, and doesn’t cook fresh food often enough. Including me. But I’m getting better!

  • Love this post, David! Hooray for common sense and for just some general knowledge about how not everyone has the same genetics or metabolism. And I’m all for biking and walking most everywhere. It’s how I discover all the best things about my city :)

  • I recently moved from San Francisco to Nashville. Talk about a world of difference. The mass transit system is virtually non-existent, so people here drive everywhere. There are no sidewalks in half the city, so again, no incentive to walk. Back in San Francisco, coworkers routinely went to the gym (but then, most of them were twinks who wanted to keep their girlish figures). Here, people can’t fathom how I can think nothing of walking several miles a day or take the stairs. And the eating habits — what one person eats at one sitting is enough to feed me for 4 meals.

    I admit that the lack of exercise and the eating habits are what is spurring me to make sure I stay healthy.

  • I clicked on your “frozen and pre-prepared” link. How depressing! Can you maybe expand on this in a future post? What are some good choices for someone coming to Paris in, say, July and staying in, say, the 7th?

  • I second Meredith’s question — why ice cubes in wine? thanks…

  • Brilliant article – thank you.

  • Never sure why adult individuals are so fascinated about people who are thin and eat basic, wholsome food. I have followed a healthy diet since I was 18, and did not really have bad eating habits before that. I am also thin, but big deal! It should be 101 knowledge for everyone. Your post will no doubt give many readers insight, and it is a great guide to common sense living for diet and excercise. I also appreciate the fact you do not take yourself too seriously and just present the facts. Hopefully, after reading this post, people will start to use their heads, balance protein, consume more vegetables and whiole grains and get on with healthy living. It’s just not that complicated!

  • My motto about eating is this: everything needs to be calorie-worthy. I also adhere to moderation, fruits and veggies, lean protiens, etc. but when eating a yummy treat or dessert, it especially needs to be calorie-worthy!!!
    love your blog David!!

  • One thing I try to do as much as possible is ask “is it worth the calories?” I also diet at the market by refusing to let myself bring home snack foods and if I need a treat once home I am not tempted by things like chips or junk candy. I love to bake and find there are ample recipes that manage to make something delicious with four ounces of butter and occasionally two. These little efforts can pay off by allowing good food into my diet as well as good treats.

  • This is such great advice. It sounds like a delicious and balanced way to live.

  • How sensible! I do pretty much exactly the same things including the cycling. It is the fault of my heredity that I am fat, really it is.

  • Frankly, I don’t understand people’s curiosity about how and what you eat (and your apartment :), but, as always, I enjoyed your post. I’m with you on all points: quality, selectiveness, and moderation should define our food. Seasonal eating is also important: while indulging on winter treats we clear our senses and prepare them for spring strawberries.
    As for the wine, it might be the secret of the French staying fit. Alcohol dissolves fats, so if you sip wine during your meal, the amounts of fats in your stomach are significantly reduced, and fats don’t enter your system.
    Real cheese is fatty, that’s why it pairs so well with wine – a perfect combination of fat, a fat destroying agent, antioxidants, and an enjoyment! Chemistry is our good friend. :)

    For a desperate foodie:
    – drink a glass (or two) of water before your meal – you will eat less;
    – use small plates – they will look full but fit much less food;
    – eat half of your usual portion and wait 20 minutes – you will feel you need no more;
    – share food with your co-workers or friends!

  • About that ice cube: no less a person than Saint Louis advocated diluting wine with water, according to Joinville (1309):
    [St-Louis] me demanda en Cypre pourquoy je ne metoie de l’yaue en mon vin … il me dist que … se je ne l’apprenoie en ma joenesce et je le vouloie temprer en ma vieillesce, les gouttes et les maladies de fourcelle me prendroient, que jamais n’avroie santé; et se je bevoie le vin tout pur en ma vieillesce, je m’enyvreroie touz les soirs; et ce estoit trop laide chose de vaillant home de soy enivrer.

    One translation tells it like this: “[St Louis] used to add water to his wine … while we were in Cyprus he asked me why I did not mix my wine with water … he said that if I did not learn to mix my wine with water while I was still young, and wished to do so in my old age, gout and stomach troubles would take hold on me, and I should never be in good health. Moreover, if I went on drinking undiluted wine when I was old, I should get drunk every night, and it was too revolting a thing for any brave man to be in such a state.”

    Perhaps the relevance is a bit thin: but at least, under force of criticism, one can argue that putting water in wine has a noble history in France. Of course, St Louis might have succumbed to Cheez-Its or Jet-Puffed marshmallows if they had existed.

    Dan

    • Good to be in such highly esteemed company!

      A few years ago I went to a Scotch tasting and we were required to put ice in the Scotch; they said it dilutes the alcohol so you could taste the Scotch better. A number of drinks are improved with ice or being served ice-cold, such as pastis. Chef Judy Rodgers (of Zuni Café in San Francisco) said that chilling things can change flavors, and uses the example of an ice-cold cola drink versus one that’s room temperature. The cold one seems to have a lot more flavor.

      I don’t put ice in good wine, of course, but for everyday wine (like rosé, Vinho Verde, and wines like Muscadet), an ice cube seems appropriate. People in the south of France routinely put ice in rosé, which is where I picked up the habit.

  • Great post! I think France deserves some credit, too. At least for me–whenever I come back from my summer months in France, I always weigh five to 10 pounds less, in spite of daily croissants, tartines, great lunches and dinners and lots of wine.

    And I always put an ice cube in my wine (not-premium) wines. For me, it helps cut the alcohol content, which is over the moon in so many of them these days.

  • Yes, I imagine it is tiresome to be asked all of the time what you eat and how you do it. I think people are after easy answers, some secret to eating what you want and staying slim. Good luck! I am fond of eating what I like. I try not to eat things I don’t like — if something doesn’t taste good when I am out, don’t eat any more of it. I have to force myself to exercise when it is not swimming season and I whine about it but if the jeans get too tight I take up walking up hills every morning.

  • I have friends that eat according to the WTC rule–Worth The Calories. They are slim and happy.

  • Dan reminded me of one peculiar thing in regards of the ice cube… When being a student, it surprised me that in Old Greek poems the word “bibamus” that meant “let’s have a drink” was very frequent. Curious as we could be at the age of 18, we wondered how could all these grand men stay sober and do grand things if they drank all the time. It turned out that it was a tradition in ancient Greece to dilute their wine, and they drank mostly young wine with very little alcohol, it was almost a grape juice.
    So why don’t we look at the greatest and do what they did, so many things are forgotten…
    Personally, I enjoy a glass of wine with an ice cube much more than without it, it is usually a rose or white wine though. You just have to relax and rely on your senses.:)

  • I came to a similar conclusion a few years ago. Two young kids left me frazzled and overweight. I was eating processed foods for convenience and “calorie” control but they left me hungry and unstatisfied. I started to walk/run and eventually started training for a1/2 marathon. The running gave me much needed me time. In addition to exercise, I completely overhauled how we eat – tasty fats, produce in season, smaller portions of local, abx/hormone free, humanely raised meat, growing my own herbs and produce and really learning to cook and using the flavors per calorie rule. I dropped 33 lbs and have never felt better.

    A friend recently said she stopped buying shredded cheese because she was upset the cellulose used to make the cheese stay clump free was chemically processed wood pulp. I told her there is a whole world of tasty cheese out there, and I guarantee you’ll use less and enjoy it more than the bland bags of crap they pass off as cheese here in the US! Americans give up flavor in exchange for convenience all the time!

  • BRAVO!

  • Thanks David. I agree with you, quality over quantity :-)

  • I am sure this post was very informative to many of your readers. Being in a couple with a Frenchman for 13 years and living in France for 5 has revealed all of these ‘secrets’. It all seems so obvious to me now, but if I had married an American and stayed over there I am pretty sure I would be chunky like the rest of my family.

    Good food in France is so expensive so that is one way to curb calorie intake! Last week I spent way too much on cheese at the marché so I skipped meat an fish. Local vegetables are very affordable so we eat lots of those :)

  • I’m the same way with chocolate – extra dark and the best quality available. If you’re ever near Rue Mouffetard, there’s a little chocolate shop called Nicolsen’s that has some of the darkest, creamiest chocolate I’ve ever eaten.

    Also, I came to Paris a couple of years ago and lived on a diet of baguettes and chocolate. Came home and weighed 8 pounds less. My conclusion? Walking around the city for 12+ hours a day, for two weeks, will do that.

  • This all seems like great advice to me, David. Walking, riding, doing all that moving around, and then also eating the “good fats” resonated with me.

  • Couldn’t have said it better myself!!

  • Hi David, Dick and I were on your food tour last April. Have been back to France three X since then, and will go again this fall. Our goal has been to double our weight on each of our trips. Hasn’t happened yet :). The further away from your chocolate tour we get, the more we appreciate it. Love all your posts and your v. entertaining writing. You actually sound like yourself. Saw Jeanette and Mort while in Paris in April.

    Best, Debbie Young

    PS Had dinner with a caterer last night who used to own a terrific little neighborhood deli/cafe. She said that she carried a line of frozen cakes from you that were wonderful. C’est possible? (The frozen part, not the wonderful.)

  • I have been tired of hearing similar thing in response to having a food blog “but you dont look like you eat or cook anything!”. My answer is that I share everything I cook or cook small amounts! Moderation is the key. I will start adding an icecube to my wine as i dont normally have expensive ones around. Just to strech a bit more:) My mom used to do that and I used to roll my eyes, guess should have listened to her :)

  • Your posts are beautiful, but this one especially, because it has opened the secret door on how to enjoy all the gorgeous food that you write about. Thank you for writing it with such eloquence.

    Three years ago, I conquered my disordered eating and started my own food blog. (What better way to conquers your fears than taking pictures of them?) :) Food is nourishing, it brings people together, it changes moods, and one sensational bite, can change the course of someone’s life. It’s not meant to be gorged, or eaten alone, and food is never, ever, “bad.” I demonized food for far too long, just so I could reach, and maintain an impossibly, painfully, small size. The years I spent strictly restricting food were the worst years of my life. It took a while, but when I finally allowed myself to enjoy “real” food again (I think it was bacon), I was happier than I’d ever been in my life.

    I may no longer be a 00, but I’m healthy. And so is my relationship with food. I think we all need to stop categorizing food as “good,” and “bad.” When we eat what we love (and eat it for the Right reasons), like you, we can let go of the obsession with weight and literally allow things to gradually fall into proper alignment. XO

  • I would love to have that gorgeous looking chicken for dinner tonight Do share your recipe, please!

  • Hear, hear, sir! I think it’s very wise to stop counting calories and to just make sure that you don’t over-eat and that what you eat is mostly whole and healthy and sometimes sweet and indulgent. It’s all about balance and moderation, which can sometimes be challenging of course (which is why I only bake when I know I’ll be serving or giving away most of it).

    “-I eat cheese. Someone “tsk tsk’d” me recently online for writing about cheese, saying it was “fattening.” But you rarely see an overweight fromager here in France.”

    They’re not actually wrong in calling cheese fat because most cheeses do contain a lot of fat. However, carbs are by far more fattening than fat (which is counter-intuitive for sure). Carbs may be healthier but they also kick insuline production into high gear whereas fats do so only moderately. Since insuline is what stores glucose as fat a diet of pasta would make you a lot rounder than a diet of cheese.

  • For me it’s all about portion sizes and not getting in the car to get everywhere. At our house there’s no good food or bad food – it’s all food. I love it. :)

  • Love the list, David! I know what you mean about exercise… I can only really put my mind to it when someone is yelling at me or telling me what to do. I’ve always done my best work, athletically, when I had the absolute most batshit coaches. Not a possibility for daily life and exercising to keep fit, unfortunately. I rarely find a list of “eating do’s and don’ts” that fit my life really well, but yours seem to. It’ll have a place on the fridge!

  • I enjoyed reading this post, mainly because I have colleagues constantly asking me “what do you eat” or “what can I eat tonight”.
    Most of the meals that I cook take 20 minutes to prepare, and over the course of the week I will try to incorporate chicken, beef, pork, lamb & fish, plus making sure that varies fresh vegetable and fruit work their way into our weekly diet. I give no thought to calories or “healthy eating” because I believe that by simply cooking with fresh ingredients everyday, I will be eating a balanced diet.
    Thankfully, my colleagues are beginning to try some of my recipes and start thinking about the meals that want to be eating over the course of the coming week.
    Keep up the good work, can’t wait to get back to Paris

  • Wow! You eat alot….of good things. ;o) I’ve been thinking lately about what I eat–and what calories I waste on bad stuff. I’ve struggled with my weight off and on my entire life and I think I’m finally getting a handle on things–NOT eating the things I love (butter, bread, chocolate) or trying to substitute lesser stand-ins that are “low fat” is ridiculous. I’m trying to learn to eat excellent versions of what I love but less of it. So sensible!

  • I’ve always thought that much of the obesity problem is at least as much mental/emotional as it is physiological. It stands to reason that lack of emotional equilibrium would be reflected in diet.

    It sounds like you have balance in your life generally, David, and your diet reflects that. To me, that’s the real takeaway. You have to have feelings of self-worth to hold out for the “good stuff.” Maybe if more people felt better about themselves, they’d eat better.

    Maybe not.

    Good food for thought, in any event.

    Nicole

  • thanks for letting us know :) i wish i didn’t care about these things, but i’m not evolved enough to not be interested in what everyone else is eating and doing all the time. i love especially your idea of eating good calories vs. bad, good chocolate vs bad chocolate. this is key for me. you have to live a little, but if you’re going to indulge it shouldn’t be hershey’s and pringles you know what i’m saying?

  • Very sensible comments about enjoyable eating. I have just read your page in Delicious and see that you were looking forward to your trip to Restaurant Alain Ducasse. I hope you come back to Australia some time soon

  • Oh I relate so much to this article !!
    I know that for me it is the lack of exercise that is not good. As for the food, homemade or chosen restaurants, for the quality of ingredients, for the “good fat” ones,
    I am doing exactly the same as you do.

    I just need time and incentive to move it …
    Thanks for reminding me, us.

  • Thanks for that glimpse into your daily life – fascinating! I agree with you about maximising your calories – no point eating something if you’re not going to enjoy it to the full!

    xox Sarah

  • I simply love the concept of FPC, is the same way I am behaving right now. To eat less to eat better to eat good to eat tasty (and to run a lot) …. that’s my philosophy.

  • Excellent read – thankfully I discovered the joys of “moderation” in my mid-twenties and haven’t used scales or gone on a diet since. I’m now nearly double that age. I thank my lucky stars that I’ve got to grips with this concept because all around me at work woman are food/diet bores and obsessed with Weight Watchers. I work with a colleague who loses a pound one week and gains a pound the next and eats lots of Weight Watchers ready meals/food. She won’t get off the diet merry-go-round and has been on it for something like 10 years.

    My dear Mum, who is in her 70’s, dieted herself into metabolic inertia in her youth and that, mixed with lack of exercise, means that even she doesn’t eat more than I do but can’t shift the weight. Even in her 70’s she still obsesses about food, her weight and agonises endlessly when it comes to buying clothes.

    I think it’s one of lifes great ironies that half the planet are trying to lose weight and other half are literally starving to death. How could we explain this to an alien without sounding like the most messed up species on the planet.

    Anyway……… I think I’ve gone a tad tangential here….. so will stop!

  • Great advices for everyone out there that are really wondering “why I’m not losing any weight and I gain it instead!?” mmhh..maybe it should be all those frozen and pre-prepared meals and of course, bad quality food and habits.
    I have a great way that, so far, it has helped me to keep me fit and healthy. Sometimes, you don’t have the time or the lust to go to Bio or organic stores due to the hectic schedule sometimes we get into, specially in America. But, whenever you go to those huge supermarkets just stop for a moment and ask yourself if your grandma would buy that canned-spray cheese or those flavored onion crackers or that chocolate covered jelly banana. Guess not…

  • a nice little read for a morning on vacation. Thanks. New York, not Paris. I found the CDC guideline incredibly misleading. i plugged in my weight (normal) then plugged in 10 lbs extra (also normal), but then thought about it, if that extra 10 were from eating/drinking i would definilely be fat, if it is from exercise (as I’m trying to focus on), it is muscle mass… go figure.

    cheese: fattening? one would have to eat an awful lot of cheese for that. BTW: i have NEVER been able to figure people out who drink 1% milk, why drink milk at all? i make sure to buy real milk from real farmers and enjoy the cream on top in my coffee and then savor the rest of the bottle (I generally don’t drink milk straight).

  • Dave,I loved this article especially that you do not cut out all the wonderful fats and yummy chocolate. I find when I go to France, especially Paris, I eat everything because it is so good. I usually maintain my weight or lose weight because I move (walk) a lot more. Hmmm, maybe I should just move there to maintain my weight. Thanks again.

  • Well, this post certainly got readers’ attention, didn’t it? It was even commented upon at an afternoon get-together last night in my small town in Central Pennsylvania! The key is that it’s so basic and illustrious of the difference between rational and insane.

    Anyway, there is one detail that I’d like to bring up which I found to be true in a small town in Spain where I lived for many years, and what is probably true throughout western Europe and certainly in the United States: that this may be the last adult generation that can cook! And I’d question even that. I would venture to say that as we try to educate Americans to eat better, to learn to shop well for food, we should also keep in mind that perhaps most under the age of 50 do not know how to prepare the food they buy.

    This may be one reason why they find it so easy and convenient to load up at the nearest fast food or chain restaurant. Lack of time may be another contributor to poor eating habits. Curiously, this detail affects both people with challenged pocket books, who must work two and three jobs just to keep family heads above water, as well as people who makes lots of money but who spend 10 – 12 hours a day earning all that dough.

  • David, your comment about the squid being ugly made my day! Can’t stop laughing about it :) Love this post especially getting the most of your calories by eating the best flavors. Happy weekend!

  • This is such a great write-up and something that a lot of people should read! It’s simple, eat what you love, in moderation, and don’t stress about the pounds.