It’s probably pretty obvious at this point that our love for all things French runs deep. What can we say? There’s just something so aspirational about that je ne sais quoi: the fact that Parisian women manage to look both completely put-together and impossibly effortless at the same time. In truth, we know that the secret is balance. French girls really do care how they look, but they also know not to fuss too much about it. And this almost laissez-faire approach happens to align with their fitness and diet strategies as well.
I didn’t completely understand how French women managed to indulge in all their local goodies without gaining weight until I lived in Paris for several months in college. I can still smell the fresh baguettes I enjoyed on a daily basis; I still have the dozens upon dozens of corks I amassed from all the wine bottles my friends and I worked through during our stay. No joke: I used to wander into different chocolate shops just to sample sweets. Yet somehow, I never gained a pound. It seemed miraculous at first, until I realised that there are tiny lifestyle shifts that really make a difference.
I walked constantly, for one thing. Yes, I enjoyed lots of wine, but it wasn’t uncommon to sip on a single glass for a few hours as I read a textbook at my local café. When I went out to eat, I enjoyed incredibly fresh meals, often crafted from local, seasonal produce… in much smaller portions.
Of course, these are my own personal observations gathered over a relatively short period of time. Which is why we thought it only fitting to head straight to the source to better understand exactly how French women manage to stay slim while also maintaining a healthy appetite—and, in turn, their sanity. Below, see some must-know tips from Parisian models, beauty gurus, and more.
Incredible food and wine are an essential part of French culture—something that natives aren’t just unwilling to sacrifice but also know that they don’t have to. By committing to small serving sizes, they really savour every bite, so they don’t feel the need to overdo it. “I try to cook for myself almost every day when I’m home in Paris,” French model Cindy Bruna tells The Coveteur. “But if I go to a restaurant, I’m going to splurge. I don’t go out to order salad!”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a French woman who doesn’t cite her maman as the ultimate beauty and wellness influence. “My mother taught me the importance of taking care of my skin and my body,” says model Sigrid Agren. By learning to enjoy fresh, seasonal foods in small portions and drink lots of water by example, French children establish these mindful eating habits early on.
Seasonal foods are a huge part of French cuisine, and natives tend to base their meals around whatever local produce happens to be available at their local market—doing so allows them to not only avoid additives and hormones but also better enjoy the food that’s currently available.
“I try to eat what’s in season and try to buy products that are fairly natural and that are produced fairly,” says actress Clémence Poésy. Adds Agren, “I don’t follow any particular diet, but of course I try to be healthy, and I am conscious about buying products that are in season, organic, and local. I try to avoid processed foods. I eat a lot of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and whole grains. I also love fish after growing up Martinique and eating fresh fish almost every day.”
Don’t underestimate a good stroll—French women know that the physical and mental health benefits abound. “I force myself to walk a lot,” says Caroline de Maigret. “For example, if I have an appointment and I go by car, I park 20 minutes [away]. Paris is a city where you can walk a lot. Sometimes I just walk for an hour, if I have time, which is the same hour you would have gone to the gym—my mind is happier that way.”
Sure, it‘s the oldest (and simplest) trick in the book, but it’s a non-negotiable ritual for French women—something that they swear by for better skin and overall well-being. “I drink liters and liters of herbal tea and water,” says Damas. “In the morning, I have hot water with lemon,” adds model Aymeline Valade. It’s a morning habit for actress Roxane Mesquida, as well. “What I do the most is drink green tea every morning,” she says. “And drink a lot of mineral water—not tap water—the best is Volvic.”
In her book, The French Beauty Solution (£17), Caudalie founder Mathilde Thomas addresses what she calls “the erroneous notion of no pain/no gain.” Her clients, she says, “tell me about crash diets that left them lightheaded and skincare products that irritate their skin—because they felt they had to suffer to be beautiful.”
Thomas argues that for French women, any kind of wellness ritual is pointless if it makes you miserable. “Beauty is something to give you pleasure,” she says. “Because when you feel good, you look good.” Not vice versa.
This concept is also reflected in the French approach to exercise. Boutique fitness and gyms are only a relatively recent development in France, as outdoor activities and sports take precedence over sweating it out on the treadmill. But to further illustrate Thomas’s point, Bruna highlights a favorite French fitness approach in her interview with The Coveteur called Sophrology. “It’s like meditation—exercises I do at the gym where I listen to [my trainer]’s voice and do mental work that takes away my stress, gets rid of bad moods and builds my confidence,” she says. “For example, I’ll lay on the floor after a workout, and [he] will tell me to imagine my stress is a cloud—a cloud that’s just floating, floating away. Or he’ll have me imagine a blue point, and focus on that. This type of exercise is very popular in France.” The point? Working out and eating well should take away your stress, not add to it.
In need of some more fitness ideas? These PT-approved tips will turbocharge your workouts.