Life style and food draw a line between the cultures of the two countries
CAIRO: French women are known for their elegance, sophistication and slimness. In France, an overweight woman is an exception rather than the norm. In Paris, where the cream of the French crop reside; it’s practically unseen.
So fascinated are people about the magic formula that makes the French thin while eating fatty food, that a book entitled, French Women Don t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating For Pleasure, by French native Mireille Guiliano, shot to the bestseller list in the United States, where Americans are now striving to eat like the French.
What’s so annoyingly ironic about this is that while French women laze away the day, indulging in high-fat cheese and carb-loaded baguettes, Egyptian women are sweating it out at the gym, following a strict diet and most nights, going to bed hungry in the hopes of becoming as thin as their French counterparts.
So what’s wrong with this picture? Why are French women, who in general have never set foot in a gym nor have a dietician’s number on their mobiles, thin while Egyptian women are, as a population, not?
In an interview with The Daily Star Egypt, Dr. Maged Al Haridi, a nutritionist and General Practitioner, based in Alexandria, explained why the French are thin and what Egyptians can learn from their eating habits.
“The French lead a much healthier lifestyle than Egyptians, said Dr. Al Haridi. “And your lifestyle is what determines your weight, not necessarily what you’re eating, he adds.
According to Dr. Al Haridi, even if our quantities are small, the quality of our food is low. And when it comes to the matter of losing weight, it’s a question of quality versus quantity.
“We do not eat enough good fats, like those that come from olive oil, fish, and yes, even cheese, he says.
According to Al Haridi, we need saturated fats, as they are good for brain cells and omega 3 and 6 fats, as they lower cholesterol, all of which come from foods such as meat, milk, olive oil, fish, almonds and yes, even the smelly but heavenly tasting cheeses.
However, most Egyptians eat foods containing trans-fats, like mass produced chips, and biscuits. “That’s true enough. You never see in France people walking in the streets eating chips or donuts, states Nancy Mahmoud, an Egyptian currently studying in France.
One of the biggest sins that Egyptians munch on on a daily basis is the traditional taameya, also known as falafel. According to Al Haridi, when bought from shops, Ta’ameya is usually cooked in oil that has not been changed in over a week, Furthermore, in numerous ta’ameya outlets, when the oil is nearly finished, more is added, rather than having the pot cleaned out and new oil put in. The problem with this is that oil must be changed after one or two uses, otherwise the chemicals in the oil change, predisposing to cancer, states Al Haridi.
This not only leaves you with chunky thighs, but now, you can also get cancer from this food staple.
Another big problem with Egyptians is that we simply do not move enough. Abroad, while the French do consume high fat foods, they burn what they eat because they are constantly walking. Most Egyptians just sit around on their couches watching T.V.
“Also true. The French walk everywhere. In Egypt, we always drive, even if it’s a two-minute walk. We’re just very lazy, added Mahmoud.
“In the Arab world, food is a sign of generosity, so the more we put on a table, the more hospitable we are, states Al Haridi. However, in France, it is very rare to go to someone’s house for a meal and find a table heavy-laden out with a variety of dishes.
“In France, your food is set on your plate, not buffet style like in Egypt and the rest of the Arab world. If you want more, which is not appropriate to ask for in the first place, you have to get it from the kitchen, states Mahmoud.
Al Haridi also blames the dieticians and nutritionist, who wreak havoc on a patient’s body in order to claim fame. “Many doctors will give diets that are either chemical in nature, or severely cut the calorie intake of their patients, so that they lose weight fast and tell all their friends about the doctor who made them thin so fast, states Al Haridi.
The problem with this is that the body goes into starvation mode, stores the fat in the body (in fear that you will never feed it again) and starts eating away at the muscle. Unless an individual plans to starve for the rest of their lives, eventually they will go back to eating their regular portions, or greater portions to make up for the days they went to sleep hungry. As a result, their normal diets become a surplus, their muscles are less, their fat storage has grown, and their metabolism has dropped, making that much harder to lose weight, speaking nothing of the mental effect yo-yo dieting has on them.
In order to lose weight the French way, Al Haridi suggests starting a health diet that combines protein, carbohydrates and fat, such as a cheese or salmon and tuna sandwiches with vegetables such as lettuce and cucumbers.
Another French behavior to implement is smaller quantities. Eat in smaller plates, or one plate, and always walk away from your meal slightly hungry.
Al Haridi also advises his clients to exercise on a regular basis and drink around eight glasses of water a day (coffee, tea and diet beverages count as part of the liquid intake).
And most of all, remember that it’s not about being thin, it’s about being healthy.