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Important Lessons for Weight Watchers Members from French Kids Eat Everything

Posted Sep 08 2012 3:53pm

French Kids Eat Everything Illustration

What Weight Watchers Can Learn from French Kids Eat Everything

Image:   Karen Le Billon

I recently read French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters by Karen Le Billon and can’t stop thinking about it or talking about it.

It all began when I stumbled upon  Karen Le Billon’s website  and started reading about French school lunches (causing me to nearly drool on my keyboard). Within minutes, I was hooked by both her message and writing style (turns out she’s a Rhodes Scholar with a PhD from Oxford University). The next thing I new, I had downloaded the eBook  from Amazon (which is way too easy for a book addict like me, by the way).

What’s the premise of French Kids Eat Everything?

The title really says it all…How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters.

The author writes of her experience adapting to the vastly different French food culture when she, her husband, and two young daughters move to her husband’s hometown in in northern France for a year.

Once I picked up the book, I had a hard time putting it down. It’s a delightful, light-hearted look at the contrasting ways North Americans and the French approach feeding our children and eating in general.

The bottom line is that in France parents feel that teaching their children how to eat well is as important as teaching them to read and write, and schools, governments, and communities have worked together to create food and education systems that support parents in feeding their children well.

How does that compare with what’s going on here in North America? (Let’s not even go there. Since I can’t think of anything nice to say at the moment, I’ll keep my lips zipped.)

What does this have to do with Weight Watchers?

Well, a week ago Sunday, when I opened my Weight Watchers weekly to prepare for my meetings, the first think I noticed was a quote from the author.  I was delighted to think that Weight Watchers International had read the book, and liked it enough to include this quote:

“The French won’t ask a child, ‘Are you full?’ but rather ‘Are you still hungry?’ — a very different feeling.

(A great conversation starter at my meetings – So thanks, Karen and Weight Watchers!)

So, to say the the book totally resonated with me is an understatement. Not as a Parent, but as a Weight Watchers member who struggled with unhealthy eating habits and excess weight for decades.

I think that, just like me, many Weight Watchers members are struggling to overcome the unhealthy habits they formed in childhood. Many of the “food rules” prescribed in French Kids Eat Everything are the exact same guidelines we Weight Watchers members need to adopt to achieve lasting weight loss success. I think the book is a helpful resource for all of us, young and old, seeking to take charge of our eating habits and relationship with food.

More Highlights from French Kids Eat Everything

Le Billon distilled her year in France into 10 French Food Rules for helping parents foster healthy eating habits in their children. If you struggle with your weight,  I believe that these rules can help you foster the healthy eating habits you need to lose weight and maintain your weight loss.

(I’ve modified Karen’s French Food Rules slightly to fit the needs of adults struggling with their weight.)

French Food Rule #1: You are in charge of your children’s and YOUR food education.

They key is to be authoritative – NOT authoritarian, NOT controlling and NOT indulgent. Be kind, but firm with yourself. Set clear limits for your behavior. Set goals for yourself and help yourself reach them. Teach yourself how to eat well. The Weight Watchers program will help you with this.

Remember that healthy eating is about how, when, and why you eat, as much as what you eat. Create “House Rules” about food and stick to them.

French Food Rule #2: Avoid emotional eating. Food is not a pacifier, a distraction, a toy, a bribe, a reward, or a substitute for discipline.

You may have learned all kinds of unhealthy behaviors in childhood, but now it’s time to commit to unlearning them and adopting healthy behaviors in their place.

Learn to seek out “good” foods, rather than avoiding “bad” foods.

Remember that while food is a source of pleasure, eating should not be emotionally driven. DON’T reward yourself with food.

Focus on food as a source of sensory pleasure. Describe your food with sensory words – how does it taste, feel, smell, look, sound?

French Food Rule #3: Eat on a schedule – Don’t skip meals.

Eat 3 times a day around the same time each day.

Eat reasonable portions at regular times with a balanced menu. Focus on high satiety power foods.

Manage your schedule to make significant time for healthy eating, an important skill for healthy nourished living. Feeding yourself should not be an afterthought.

French Food Rule #4: Food is social

Avoid eating alone as much as you can. If you eat alone, still eat at the table without distraction.

Eat meals at the table (NOT in your car).  Turn off the television. Step away from the computer. Put down the cellphone.

Create rituals around eating. Set a nice table. Light a candle.

French Food Rule #5: Eat vegetables of all colors of the rainbow. Include a wide variety of foods. Don’t eat the same main dish more than once a week.

Expose yourself to new foods. Work to outgrow juvenile tastes for sweet, salty, calorie rich foods. Work to develop more mature tastes. Make variety fun. Build upon what you already like. Try new cuisines.

French Food Rule #6: You don’t have to like it, but you do have to try it. Keep trying new things. Be fun and experimental

Your taste buds are adaptable. Give yourself time and be willing to try new foods several times. This was true with me and quinoa.  It took several tries and recipes before I could really say I liked it.

Be willing to at least taste new things, but don’t force yourself to eat them.

Try simple textures. You may find it helpful to eat new foods as purees or soups.

French Food Rule #7: Limit snacks, ideally to 1-2 per day, and not within one hour of meals. In between meals, it’s okay to feel hungry. At meals, eat until you’re satisfied rather than full.

If you feel you must snack, do it in a structured way and only if you are truly hungry. Some people find it best to include one or two snacks a day, especially one in the mid-afternoon when energy can slump. But, don’t make constant nibbling a habit. If you start to feel hungry an hour before the next meal, try to wait it out.In between meals, it’s okay to be hungry. At meals eat until your satisfied, not full or stuffed.

Learn the difference between feeling satisfied and full. Learn to feel 1/2 full, almost full and then stop.

Only snack while seated at a table or at least seated. And snack only on unprocessed foods.

Learn the difference between thirst and hunger.

Keep a diary/food journal to learn more about your behaviors and habits.

#8 Take Time for Cooking & Eating

Become a mindful eater. Eat slowly. Pay attention to what you are eating.

Eat without distraction (no television, driving, working, reading, etc.)

Eat smaller portions.

Eat more slowly and wait at least 20 minutes before having seconds.

Stop the vicious cycle of overating, food as fuel, eating on the run, and super-sized portions.

Take the time to make eating a pleasant, positive experience.

#9 Eat mostly real, homemade food, Save treats for special occasions

Seek balance, moderation, and routines.

Eat fast food only on days starting with F.

Fill up on real food before treats.

Limit junk, fast, and “fake” food to a once-a-week treat.

#10 Eating is joyful, not stressful

Rules are habits/routines and okay to break every once in a while Develop healthy habits, its what you do most of the time – not once in a while – that matters most.

Food is a source of pleasure, not anxiety, not worry.  Food shouldn’t be your “enemy” or your “best friend.” Aim to worry less and eat better.

To learn more you can check out author, Karen Le Billon’s website  or pick up a copy of her terrific  book  (which is currently only $3.99 for the electronic version).

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