Ask A Frenchwoman: How Do You Not Get Fat?



Dear Frenchwoman:

Do Frenchwomen really not get fat? What’s your secret because you don’t seem to have a big gym culture? Aren’t you worried about holiday weight gain with all that foie gras and champagne?

Apollo Creed once said “Learn how to think, not to stink.” I liked hiding behind this advice. Until this Sunday, when I went to a three-hour kickboxing class. I haven’t exercised for three years, apart from lifting my kids up and down (don’t underestimate the body-sculpting benefit of lifting kids). But this past Sunday, I spent three hours in a stinky gymnasium with thirty other adults. While I ran around the ring being yelled at by the instructor, I started to wonder, Why? What for?

Fitness is a trend in Paris, but it’s still more of a novelty. Honestly, my closest girlfriends are like me: Allergic to gym clubs.

My American girlfriends go to the gym, do Pilates and run every day. Every. Day. They exercise to stay fit — “un esprit sain dans un corps sain” (a healthy mind in healthy body). Until now, Parisiennes weren’t into the gym. Eat too much one day? Starve yourself the next. Love wine & cheese? Ditch the bread. If it doesn’t really work, at least it eases your conscience a little bit.

I have a girlfriend, my Frenchwoman. She is what you Americans dream about when you picture a Parisienne: A lazy bitch who eats cheese, bread and chocolate every night, who never says no to a bottle of wine and doesn’t know what the inside of a fitness club looks like. I’m sure most woman hate her and her fantastic metabolism but guess what, one day she will need to exercise and on that day, she will suffer. Until then, she’s gorgeous and we usually share the same taste in chocolate.

Because why would I eat a perfect foie gras without a delicious oily dressing in my salad and some bread from Poilâne, a fantastic Sauternes followed by a chocolate mousse if I’m just going to feel guilty all night about the fat settling on my hips and thighs? That is the joie de vivre and the art de vivre à la française that make the French so French.

Let’s say it once and for all so the entire world can be completely jealous: We eat because we love it and we stay fit because that’s how our bodies work.

Infuriating? Probably. On the other hand, I sincerely believe Americans don’t have heathy eating habits. Your birthday cakes have more icing, your aperitifs have more nachos, your pizzas have cheesy crusts, you give Oreos to your kids (while we give an apple) and you drink beer. The cliché might sting, but it’s kind of true, isn’t it?

So why don’t we exercise regularly, even if it’s good for us and trendy? The thing is — and I’m sure it explains the reluctance of most Frenchwomen I know — I would never be caught in gym clothes in public. The day I find a really beautiful exercise outfit in good fabric, maybe I will go for a run. For now, I’ve had three children and I’m a lazy foodie so I have a “big” arse. Guess what? Men love it! I used to work in fashion and the straight men all said the same thing about models, “beautiful, chic, but nothing to eat.” Most Frenchmen love to grab an arse, to have a woman with sensual and feminine curves. Not fat but curvy.

I’m sure the hubby wouldn’t mind if I lost a few pounds, but who’s counting? The delicious raclette we had for dinner with a fantastic white wine was worth the little roll of fat that comes with. The other night, I was out with a friend and we met some other women as drunk and chatty as us. We ordered more wine and one woman shared her sweet dessert with us, saying, “Le nougat c’est la vie!” So French and so right!

Live like there’s no tomorrow, eat like there’s no scale… we’ll figure it all out later.

Do you have something to Ask A Frenchwoman? Email with your questions.


About Author

Alexandra Guitelmann is a married Parisienne with three kids. She is a maman bear who loves taking care of her babes but is also an event manager for only the chicest clients and events in Paris.


  1. This hits every cliché, so to speak, about French women. I really had to roll my eyes at the gym clothes reference 😛
    In reality, I think the combination of no high-intensity exercise yet high metabolism results in the “skinny-fat” phenomenon in France. They’re not doing themselves any favors by succumbing to these archaic societal norms.

    • What’s funny is that after all these years here, I think the cliché is true. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a Frenchwoman in gym clothes on the street. I think they’d rather die. But I have to agree on the “skinny-fat” point (though now, I’m totally in the skinny-fat camp — too many years away from NY/LA fitness culture! I want to be more American!!)

      • Yeah, I know the cliché about not being seen in public wearing gym clothes is essentially true. And perhaps if that were to ever change, there would be no turning back, and French society would never want to see this kind of exercise attire on the street. I lived in Paris for a year about 10 years ago now, and the “skinny-fat” prevalence I could notice right away. For myself, even though I had kept up with running in the parks with quite a bit of mileage, I still gained 15 lbs, probably more, who knows, I didn’t have a scale! So, I was in the skinny-fat camp too, initially without even realizing :-p Anyway, we’re doing no better here despite the super fit culture. Obesity rates are at an all-time high!

  2. This is environmental Parisiennes stay thin due to small portions and incidental exercise. Incidental exercise is the 4km a day of walking up and down stairs on the metro and the street. The larger french people I know all drive everywhere and eat too much steak frites.
    Also, there are many outdoor free gyms in paris that are full of people wearing exercise gear.

    • L’article me fait sourire, native de Lyon et pas de Los Angeles….Même chose à Lyon Avec un petit côté encore bien plus coincé qu’à Paris.

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