Stay healthy at a thalassotherapy spa. Developed along the French coast, these spas offer treatments that use seawater and sea products (like algae) to revitalize the body. Enthusiasts believe sea-based minerals, such as sodium, potassium and magnesium, get absorbed through the skin and can help increase circulation, metabolism and the elimination of toxins. Not many thalassotherapy spas exist in the US (Gurney’s Inn in Montauk, NY is one), but many resorts offer select therapies, such as seaweed wraps and mud facials.
Paris’s Moulin Rouge was the birthplace of the can-can, a high-energy dance form traditionally performed by a chorus line of skirt-whipping, high-kicking women. If you don’t want to master provocative moves, pick a fast-paced style, such as the cha-cha, salsa or the Charelson—they burn close to 400 calories an hour.
“Everyone, French and non-French, agrees [drinking water] is critical and most of us don’t get enough,” says Mireille Giuliano in her book French Women Don't Get Fat. Instead of aiming to drink eight glasses of water a day, she suggests drinking at least two more than what you already drink: one big glass when you wake up and another before you go to bed.
Alcohol may be a depressant, but drinking it actually flattens your REM cycle, causing you to wake up more frequently, says Will Clower, MD, neuroscientist and author of The French Don’t Diet Plan. Stick to one glass of wine a day. More rest means less stress and stress-induced eating.
Originating in France, Pétanque (pronounced pay-tonk) is similar in nature to bocce in that players take turns tossing "boules" (metal balls) as close as possible to the "jack" (a much smaller, often wooden ball). Although it doesn't require much movement—players are required to throw from a set spot on the ground—you can burn 204 calories an hour playing!
Knock out belly fat by laughing away the stress that contributes to it. Film and silent pantomiming are two art forms that began primarily in France. Use them to your advantage by renting a French comedy like Le Dîner de Cons (The Dinner Game) or reading Bip in a Book, written by Marcel Marceau, a world-renown French mime.
If you’re going to run 26.2 miles, do it in France. Not only does the Marathon du Médoc course wind through beautiful French vineyards, but there are also multiple food and wine stops along the way. Oh, and did we mention 90 percent of participants compete in costumes? This year'srace takes place September 10.
An easy way to cutback on calories is to watch what you drink. When celebrating a special occasion, swap your wine glass for a flute. Champagne ranges from about 80-110 calories per serving, compared to beer which is generally between 130-170 calories per serving. “The higher the alcohol [in beer], the higher the calories,” says culinary nutritionist and registered dietician Natalia Hancock, RD. Champagne is also free of the added sugars that characterize mixed drinks and, because of the fizz, may make you more likely to drink it slowly and drink less.
Avoid the unknowns of prepared food—especially the processed kind—by making homecooked meals, says Giuliano. Besides helping you control what you put in your body, it's also a great way to share pleasure with others. "That alone should wake someone's senses," she says.
Bicycling may be a très chic weekend activity, but it’s also a smart way to lose weight. According to the American Council on Exercise, a 150-pound biker can shed 544 calories in an hour at a 12- to 13-mph rate. Thank Frenchmen Pierre Michaux and Pierre Lallement, who helped perfect the invention in 1864.
The French lifestyle is all about moderation, says Guillano. Think of crêpes as a great way to pack a bunch of different fruits and veggies into one meal. Try using cherries, apricots and strawberries—or tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant, if you prefer savory to sweet. Make the crêpes out of whole-wheat flour for an extra health boost, but stay away from skim milk. “It tastes like water… which defeats the whole purpose,” Guillano says.
“There’s a difference between activity and exercise,” says Clower, who spent two years living in France. “The French are active, but they’re not exercisers.” Find an active hobby you enjoy like bicycle riding, playing soccer or gardening, and stick to it to burn calories effortlessly.
“If you don’t make improvisation and experimentation part of your culinary life, you are sure to find yourself in an eating rut,” says Giuliano, which can lead to overeating as you try to find something that satisfies you. Let your friends, especially those of different cultures, inspire you to try new foods and flavors. Simply adding a new herb or vegetable to a dish can create a novel flavor experience.
To avoid overeating when your entree comes, start your meal off with a satiating appetizer. Escargot, a French snail delicacy, is rich in belly-filling protein, says Guiliano. Try pairing an escargot-based dish with a red Côtes du Rhône wine, a green salad and a fresh fruit for dessert.
Because a French press coffee maker uses coarser grains that stay in contact with the brewing water, java junkies swear it yields coffee that’s more flavorful and caffeinated than joe from a traditional drip filter. Research shows that caffeine may help increase focus and alertness and ward off Parkinson’s disease and cognitive decline. One caveat: If you have high cholesterol, you may want to stick to drip brews. Their filters catch more cafestol, a substance in coffee that stimulates LDL cholesterol.
Instead of depriving yourself of the foods you love, satisfy your taste buds with bold flavors that are lower in calories. A few of Giuliano’s favorites include anything with lemon or vinegar, especially tiny cornichons (French for gherkin) from Maille. She also enjoys slivers of parmesan, fresh fruit and nuts like almonds because they’re travel friendly.
When you're at the grocery store, choose quality over quantity. Not only is eating “real food” more satisfying, but it also doesn’t contain any hidden ingredients or sneaky calories. “The French eat a lot of different food, but everything they eat is real," says Clower. "Their cheese is not cheese food; their bread is not plastic wrapped I-wonder-what-it-is bread; it’s not made with high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, stabilizers or chemicals that give it shelf life…The coffee doesn’t come in a bucket with caramel, other syrups and things. It’s just coffee. The stuff the French eat is made with real ingredients.”
Sitting and enjoying your food with friends and family will help you shovel less food and empty calories in your mouth throughout the day. “The French never eat on the run,” says Clower. “For them, eating is not an errand. Their culture thinks about it as a communion with the people you love in your life. It’s an art of sharing.”
Make the world your obstacle course: Parkour—a noncompetitive sport that originated in France, but is growing in popularity in the US—involves running along a route and overcoming any obstacle in your path using only your body. Usually praticed in urban areas, parkour requires skills such as jumping, rolling, vaulting, climbing and swinging. Kenneth Kao, DC, one of the head instructors of parkour at Apex Movement Boulder, compares the activity to yoga. "It's got the mental discipline that pushes a person towards success in everything, even outside of merely jumping a gap or balancing on a rail," says Kao. "Parkour changes the way a person sees the world and makes obstacles in life just another thing to overcome.” For tutorials and videos visit americanparkour.com.
“The pleasure of most foods is in the first few bites,” says Giuliano. “Eat one thing on your plate at a time, at least at the start of your meal when you can concentrate and enjoy the full flavors.” When you take your time with your food, how much you’re hungry for drops about one half to one third in the first couple of weeks, says Clower. “You can eat all you want, you’ll just want less.”