What I Learned from the French: A Functional Medicine Doctor’s Experience in Paris

I had the pleasure of visiting one of the most sought out cities in the world, Paris!  Pari, as the french say.   

Perusing the city, engaging with the people, and immersing myself in the culture, I couldn’t help but share some of the things that I observed.  As an American, the first few hours in Paris is a culture shock and then you realize that they have it significantly more figured out than us. They are born into a culture that is for the people and not for the profits.


They do everything with the best interest of the people in mind.  

So what did I learn from the french?  Well here it is. Make sure to read beyond the headlines, there is depth to every learning.

  1. Eat pastries. The french do love their pastries.  The mille-feuille and the infamous croissant au beurre (with butter) because of course you need additional butter added to your croissant.  The difference is in the size of pastries, which are so much smaller than American indulgences. Most importantly, all food in France is made with real ingredients.  There are no fillers, fake sugars or processed hydrogenated oils. It is good ol’ butter, flour, and eggs. While these aren’t the most nutrient dense foods, our bodies do have the ability to process and digest the real ingredients.  
  2. Eat carbs. The Parisians not only love a good pastry but they live for their baguettes.  All meals are served with a large basket of some of the most amazing bread you will ever eat.  The French may enjoy their carbs but their carb intake is equivalent to their activity level which brings me to #3.  
  3. Don’t work out, just walk everywhere.  The french are one of the healthiest cultures despite their dietary indulgences and smoking of cigarettes.  They walk anywhere between 3-6 kilometers per day. If they are not walking, they are biking across the city.  Many buildings in Paris are old, so they often take the stairs. Physical activity is a daily must.
  4. Eat slower and I mean wayyyy slower.  As an American, this was one of the most significant adaptations.  At first, you are almost irritated by the slow pace (at least people from NY and NJ) and then you start to realize that we have it all wrong in our culture.  In Europe, there is no such thing as “takeaway” (to-go), you don’t eat on the run and you definitely don’t eat behind your laptop. To the French, food is sacred and  you must sit down to enjoy it. When it comes to the dining experience, a lunch is about 90-120 minutes and most dinners are 120-180 minutes. It is for this reason that the culture is known for being thin.  They eat slow and digest their food. Not only do you stabilize your metabolism, digest your food, but you also enjoy quality time with others.
  5. Spend quality time.  One thing overlooked by many, is the role that stress plays in our health.  We all acknowledge that stress is not good and that we don’t feel our best when we are stressed but we fail to understand the significant dysregulation to our immune system and hormones.  The quality time spent with family and friends while enjoying quality food and drink is in part responsible for the lower stress levels in the french culture. The statistics on use of antidepressants reflects this statement (check it out below).
  6. Don’t stress, drink more wine.  Spending 2 weeks in Europe, I did not see any level of intoxication.  I saw people with an appreciation for wine and quality time with their loved ones.  They carefully pair wine with each course to compliment the taste of the food. They drink the wine from their country which is gracefully cultivated with no pesticides, herbicides, sulfites, and other synthetic chemicals.  It’s just plain good!
  7. Kids do NOT eat different food. In America, we traditionally have a children’s menu and often we feature low quality items on the children’s menu. Ie chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, hot dogs, etc.  Not only do children’s menus not exist in Europe but those items listed above will not show up on any menus. Food is sacred, it is meant to be prepared with love and consumed with appreciation. Children are offered the same quality food as their elders just in smaller portions.
  8. Drink all of the Espresso (not coffee, mochas, frappuccinos, blah blah).While spending time in Paris, you may drink anywhere between 1-5 espressos per day since every meal should end with a bitter digestive.  As an American, I asked for a mocha (mainly since they have some of the best Swiss chocolate in the world) and they proceeded to stare at me blankly. I then realized, the request was foreign and I was foreign.  The moral of the story is, the French enjoy their espresso as a digestive aid not a treat, caffeine buzz, or sugar fix.
  9. Finish dinner with espresso AND a little something sweet. The french do insist on having a little something sweet after the meal.  The end of meal espresso will often be served with a small piece of chocolate or a small cookie. This is not because everyone is hooked on sugar, it is to satisfy your sweet tooth so that you do not overindulge on sugar in the evening.  
  10. Take life slow.  Born and raised in the greater New York area, I am bred to hustle,  stop at nothing, and run you over if you move too slow. Hence, the earlier comment about having culture shock my first few hours in Paris.  For a long time now, I have known that the go-go-go is not sustainable for a happy and healthy life. Spending time in Paris, observing the quality of life, the authentic human interactions, and people truly living at ease has brought it into perspective even more so.  Life is too short to not love every minute of it.

So, big announcement, I am moving to Paris!  Just kidding. Just kidding.

I don’t know what many of us are waiting for… we are waiting to change jobs, we are waiting until our kids are older, we are waiting until we get the promotion, we are waiting until we are completely sure….

Life is about imperfect action and we need to START living.  We need to STOP living in fear or the “what if”.  You can do anything you want, it does not mean it will be easy.  If it was easy, everyone would do it. You just have to choose and take one imperfect action.

We can take these lessons learned from the french and apply them to our everyday life.   It will not be an overnight process but being able to slow down, enjoy our food, and enjoy time with loved ones can be a step toward a happier and healthier life.