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How Do Japanese & French Women Keep Their Figures After Delivery? Part II

In the previous post, we examined how Japanese cultures have attributed to Japanese women’s low weight gain during pregnancy. The same is true in France. In that country, the average weight gain ranges between 9kg and 12kg and, similarly to Japan, French ladies are under enormous social pressure not to gain too much weight when pregnant. Again, like Japan, in France women are ‘expected’ to shed the extra pounds soon after giving birth, with three months being a reasonable timeline for French women to return to their pre-pregnancy figures.

‘Eat whatever you like but never overindulge,’ and, ‘A little of what you fancy,’ are popular approaches in France. This small, controlled portion size is certainly reminiscent of Japanese practice. A university survey comparing serving sizes in restaurants between Paris and Pennsylvania reveals that American portion sizes are 25% bigger than those in France.

The French diet mainly consists of cream, butter, cheese, meat and complex carbohydrates that keep French women fuller for longer. This fat-rich diet stimulates the production of cholecystokinin, a hormone that suppresses the appetite and promotes an extended sense of satisfaction after eating even small amounts of high-fat foods. Therefore, snacking is uncommon for those consuming a typically French diet.

French mothers teach their daughters that, no matter their body shape or features, they can still be beautiful. The French body confidence helps them stay slim in their own personal style and happiness. I like how Anne Barone, author of the Chic & Slim series of books on French women, promotes the understanding that we can achieve confidence in our own unique bodies and that a savvy, chic and slim French woman knows her weaknesses – that’s her strength.

Another similarity I noticed between the cultures in Japan and France compared to a Chinese tradition both in Hong Kong and elsewhere in Asia, is that the focus is very much on having the baby gain as much weight as possible. Mums overindulge in their appetite for good, nutritious food, often putting their own body at jeopardy. The ‘eating for two’ mindset is prevalent among mothers. Even after they have delivered their babies, I noticed some ladies in confinement still cooking a large meal – enough for two despite having already given birth. They eat desserts and snack between meals, all for the reason that mums should eat more in order to be able to produce more milk for breastfeeding.

The main lessons I have learned from the Japanese and the French are:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight gain during pregnancy.
  2. Exercise portion control over your meals and eat a variety. Don’t skip meals and eat portions that are enough to fill you up, but no more than that. Let your stomach be your guide.
  3. Be mindful of what you eat and cut out the snacks.

After my third baby, I became particularly mindful of what I ate. For all three pregnancies I enjoyed a bar of chocolate every day during my third trimester. Nope, not dark chocolate, but sweetened milk chocolate every single day! Once my craving lessened after delivery, I mindfully cut sugar from my diet. I still ate three bowls of rice daily – rice-bowl-sized and not soup-bowl-sized. After three sugar-free months, I managed to get back to almost my pre-pregnancy weight + 2kg. That, to me, was a realistic achievement.

Karen Loke, Founder and Practitioner, Restoring Mums