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Lichfield to Paris and why the French don't get fat...

May 30, 2014

Yes, the obesity debate rolls inexorably on and on with yet another article in the Times today detailing the latest shocking statistics regarding child obesity.

Apparently the UK now has one of the fastest rises in obesity among developed nations since 1980, with over 29% of girls under the age of 19 obese or overweight. Compare this with France which has one of the lowest at only 16%.

With so much media coverage recently on this topic, it can be so easy to just discount it as yesterday’s news and conveniently file it away in one’s mental library for future reference.

We have been bombarded with such huge quantities of data regarding health related issues, too much dietary sugar and saturated fat, taxing carbohydrates, more exercise etc etc, that we can be forgiven for moving on to the next media headline which promises far less guilt and self consciousness.

Even though I have worked in the industry of helping people to gain control of their eating habits for over 21 years, I have to admit that I too have recently been guilty of ambivalence because of information overload; until last week that is - when I was truly shocked by the differences in kids either side of the channel.

For eight days, five of us (family and friends) cycled from Lichfield Cathedral to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, a total of 500 miles, helping to raise nearly £3000 for various Scouting projects both in the UK and abroad.

As we MAMILs (middle aged men in Lycra) posed for photographs with Westminster in the background, we noticed a UK school party waiting in the queue for their ride on the Eye. Perhaps I don’t get out enough but I was shaken to see how these obesity statistics were actually being played out in real life, and not just in nebulous newspaper headlines.

Track forward 5 days and we were again posing for photographs in front of Notre Dame having completed our epic trip. We observed another similar group of French school kids on a day trip, where the contrast couldn’t have been more striking. They reminded me of my school days when the fat kid was the exception rather than the rule.

Our all too frequent visits to the local boulangeries and patisseries to stock up on cycling calories alerted me to the fact that, whilst high sugar and fat content products such as cakes, biscuits and pastries are freely available, it would appear that the French use them in a far different way to us Brits and US cousins.

Eating in France is more of a social event – they sit down to eat with their families, often taking several hours over the weekend meal. Where we may regard chocolate cake as “guilt” or “calories”, the French response is “celebration” and “pleasure”.

In helping people to gain control of their eating habits and ultimately to lose weight, I have always maintained that banning such foods is counter-productive, as the subconscious desire for carbohydrate and fat (which is needed for a healthy human body) proves too strong to resist.

By re-training the subconscious mind to accept that sugar and fat in the correct proportions is part of a healthy balanced diet, rather than over-using it as an emotional coping strategy, we are able to reboot the onboard mental computer to its factory settings.

Even though global fast food chains have been present in France for many years, and obviously make good profits (probably from the UK tourists), it would appear that the French innate attitude to food is just too strong to be compromised.

Clearly the French can have their cake and eat it too …

Category: weight

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