French Feminine Secret:
Make Everyday an Active Affair


“An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”
Henry David Thoreau

If Americans have done one thing quite well….

It’s been to confuse a very simple concept:   Moving our bodies.

Does exercise seem like a daunting task that you’d rather avoid?  Are you confused about how to move your body?  Do you wonder, “Should I do fast spurts or a slow jog”?  Yoga or Crossfit? Barre class or tango?

When confused, this is when I turn to the French for a common sense approach that almost seems too easy to be true.

Enter the French Mademoiselle …

When I arrived in Paris for the first time, I desperately looked for a gym.  My inner monologue was telling me that I needed to burn those calories that I’d be consuming from croissants, le chocolat and Champagne.  

The more I searched, the more perplexed I became.    I saw the occasional jogger (I now place my bets they were ex-pats).  And, no one was wearing yoga pants.

I couldn’t find a gym in Paris.

How did these French women stay so slim?  

I just had to find out.

Over dinner, I asked a French lady about her exercise regime.  She answered, “Oh, I don’t exercise.  I just walk a lot and I like to play tennis.”  She didn’t see it as exercise but indulging in a pleasure.


She also confessed that life is very difficult for the French person who is overweight — from the looks they receive to their inability to find clothes.  For this reason alone, they are motivated to stay slim.

This seemed a bit harsh….but…. okay! 

My findings?  During that visit, I dropped 5 pounds in a week while eating foie gras, nightly indulgences of des fromages and wine during meals.  And, let’s not forget le chocolat!


Back at home, I was going to the gym each day trying to get six-pack abs and watching my calories like a hawk, cutting my carbs down to a bare minimum. I had prescribed to the “no pain, no gain” philosophy.  If it wasn’t causing my muscles to scream in pain, I believed it wasn’t worth my time.

Like most things in my life at the time, I lived in extremes, which meant when it came to exercise, I was either sitting or spinning.

However, in Paris, I was moving all day sans the gym (seriously, thank God, I couldn’t find one.  This was pre-smart phone attached to us like leashes).

What was the difference?

The French lifestyle makes all day movement as natural as waking and sleeping.

Regardless of our perception of the French woman lounging at cafes smoking (and yes, she does that very well too), what we don’t see are the number of steps that she climbed and walked to park her little derriere in that seat.

Julianne, a lady who lives in the Marais district of Paris told me:

“I eat what I want.  Drink what I want.  And, I walk all over this city in my heels.  That’s my secret. And, I don’t desire to have hard muscles like a man.  I want to look like a woman, so that takes a lot of the pressure off.”

While the French have mastered the art of leisure, they are not lazy people.

They walk everywhere, some women (not all) participate in sports they love and shop daily for their food and then carry ten pounds of groceries up, sometimes, five flight of stairs to their apartment.  They take strolls after dinner, and their sex life is typically very active.

All this activity adds up throughout the course of a day.

As a result, the majority stay slim and healthy.

Also, when it comes to une voiture (translation = a car) the French share.  I was shocked to discover that my well-off French friends have one car for the entire family – mom, dad and two teenagers.   Whoever is left without the keys are d’aller à pied.  This lifestyle leaves more money in their pocket for play and other indulgences …. and a tight bottom is always a nice reward.

The French woman lives for a life of pleasure.

She finds nothing sensual in wasting two hours of her precious day driving to the gym, changing clothes, pushing and pulling on some sweaty machine and surrounding herself with grunting males full of testosterone (she saves that for the bedroom).  She’d rather take a walk with friends and eat a little less.  She’s confused by the American who spends hours in the gym building a voracious appetite, only to leave and undo all that hard work with a large meal.

She also knows that any regimen that she can’t maintain for life will ultimately fail her.  

So, when it comes to exercise, she chooses consistent moderation.

So, mon amie, what if YOU adopted a more natural, feminine approach to exercise instead of the intense extremes of our culture that leave many women frustrated and feeling defeated because it’s not aligned with their natural, feminine way of being?

I can tell you from experience what I think would happen:

You’d enjoy moving your body much more and stop living in the tortuous extremes that usually end in defeat.

10 French Inspired Movement Ideas

While we can’t all live in Paris or be French, and we don’t have to be, I have discovered some clever ways to live life more sensually while adding movement into daily life.

1.  Park at the Back of the Parking Lot:

Don’t be one of those people that spends 10 minutes of your precious life circling the lot for a space by the door.  Challenge yourself to park at the back of the lot.  Those extra steps add up.

2. Find an Active Artform:

Participating in dance, pole dancing, trapeze or any art form that requires you to move your body can be fun and help you stay fit.

3. Take the Stairs:

I rarely take elevators when stairs are available.  The next time you have the chance to climb a couple flights, do it!

4. Walk with Purpose:

The French know how to stroll, but they also know how to pick up the pace for the sake of fitness.  Walk briskly while contracting your abdomen and paying attention to your posture.

5. Go out exploring:

Many Parisians clock thousands of steps a day just by exploring the city. Why can’t you do the same? Walk around your city, town or neighborhood.  You may be surprised at all the cool things you discover.

6. Pick a sport:

French women may not run around the Seine at six o’clock in the morning.  She’s more likely to have a sport she enjoys participating in:  skiing, snowboarding, golf, swimming, tennis or yoga.  The French mindset is one of individualism, so choose something you love and then get to playing!

7. Sneak in Fitness:

French women have sneaky tricks up their sleeves to keep fit.  For example, my friend, Catherine, does 100 squats each morning while drying her hair.  I perform lunges while vacuuming, and I’ve discovered that 100 sit-ups takes me to the first 15 minutes of a movie.  How can you sneak in a few strengthening moves into your day?

8. Grow a Garden:

Bending over, raking, digging and pulling is sure to add to your physical fitness. My grandmother wasn’t French, but she was a Farm girl.  She never stepped foot into a gym, but she worked out in her garden and walked a lot.  She lived to be 93 and was tres slim.

9. Get a Bike: 

I love seeing a chic French woman biking through the streets of Paris — usually in heels and a dress. Living in a bike obsessed town, I’m really enjoying this concept of leaving the car at home and hitting the pavement with a bike.  In fact, I purchased a town bike this year.  I dress up, grab my Papillionaire and bike into town to pick up bread, cruise by the river and just enjoy the beautiful scenery.  My inner Frenchie is so proud of me.

10. Create your Active Mantra: 

Instead of indulging in beliefs about your loathing of exercise, begin to play around with mantras of the woman you desire to be, a healthy, fit and happy woman.  You will fit the beliefs that you have about yourself.   Try creating your own mantra to remind yourself of your body’s natural desire to move.  These are some of my favorites:

I am a woman on the move.

I am creating my best body every. 

My body deserves movement. 

Celebrate and honor what your body loves to do.  

This is Living the French Kiss Life-style at its finest!

What you do in your street clothes matters just as much as what you do in your workout clothes. You don’t have to join a gym or wear gym clothes to move your body.

I go through stages where I love sweating it out while lifting weights; other times, I prefer biking, dancing or wake boarding.   So, if you love the gym, then by all means, go for it!

When I found the beautiful path of moderation and pleasure, I realized how complicated I was making something that is quite simple:   Just move and enjoy life!

My life became a whole lot sweeter when I stopped with the insane American fitness ethic and adopted a more European approach (and my body became slimmer too!).

Coincidence?  I think not.

It was the extremes that was causing so much struggle.

Now it’s Your Turn, Bon Vivant:

Please take un petit moment to answer these 3 questions in the comments below:

1.  What are some fun ways that you can move your body every day?

2.  What is your inspiring mantra for moving your body?

3.  Do you have some savvy secrets that keep you fit?

I would love to hear about your experiences.  I can’t wait to mix and mingle with you below.

Yours Truly,

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23 Responses to French Feminine Secret:
Make Everyday an Active Affair

  1. I so agree with this. As I am growing into my physical Self more and more, I have such push back to the American hardcore life in athletic-wear workout til you drop mentality. I’m not a dude and I have NO desire to work out like one. That doesn’t make me feel sexy or feminine. Feeling tough once in awhile is good, but it’s not the space I want to vacillate in. I’ve been trying to build a work out life that is more feminine … rebounding (b/c it makes me laugh a lot), and yoga, and dance. … AND SLEEP!! Getting more normal movement in my day would be the ideal. I work at home most of the time so I’m not clocking steps the way I wish I was. That’s why I love visits to NYC … all that walking. All of those glorious subway stairs. 🙂

    • Hi Cris,

      Yes, all those metro steps add up and the people watching is unbeatable.

      And, thanks for bringing up the importance of sleep. It’s just as crucial as movement.



  2. I’m an American and lived in Sydney, Australia for 8 months. I lost about 30 lbs by doing exaclty what you’ve described! We walked to the grocery store, walked around to explore, walked to work, enjoyed ourselves, and tried new things – including new foods and wines. Without realizing it, my American clothes were falling off!

  3. My husband and I recently decided to take better care of our health and as part of that we have begun exercising. He wanted me to do P90X with him but everything within me shouted hell no! I have no desire to punish myself that way. I’ll stick with Pilates and early morning jogs. My husband doesn’t get it, but clearly I’m not alone in this 🙂

  4. This is seriously AWESOME. I laughed my whay through your entire article, loving every bit of it. Yes, let´s move like females while putting that sensual touch to life and it´s various activities. God knows that does NOT mean we are being weak.

    Thank you!
    Bliss and light!

  5. There’s also a lot to be said about the quality of food. This “eating what you want while staying slim” isn’t unique to France, most of Europe is still lucky to enjoy good food that is nutritious, flavorful and beautiful – all of these things are important for feeling full.

    When I lived in the States in a small town, I didn’t find it very easy to walk around. There were no pedestrian walkways! And if you happened to be walking, people would even think you were up to no good (I was told. It’s assumed you’re poor and probably on drugs if you’re wandering near the road! really bizarre mindst.)

    The truth is in Europe distances are shorter and cities and towns are planned for walking, so in the US (and to a degree in Canada) you have to be more creative to come up with ways to incorporate movement into your life. Tonya, your list is a great starting point.

  6. “when I asked a French friend where the gym was, she replied, “Pourquoi? The gym is for misery.” That quote was perfect, even though for me it is not quite true.
    You see, I quite enjoy the gym. I have been working my way back to health for a little over a year, from an incredibly unhealthy state. I have dropped over 70 pounds…yoyoed around the last 10, have about 30 more to go and over the last 6 months, I have gotten to my truth. I have to live abundantly! I have to have fun, so yes I go to the gym, but I do classes like cardio jam and zumba, I swim with headphones and I make music a large part of my life. So the gym can indeed be misery but if you enjoy it, why not.

    I have learned that you have to really enjoy yourself, your life and the business of living. I do best when I am having a great time, feeling purposeful in what I do. Taking care of myself, (looking glam is part of this) and then I find that I eat to fuel my fabulous lifestyle.

    Thanks for this article. Maybe one day, I’ll catch up with you in Paris!

  7. Thanks, Tonya, this is exactly what I need to hear, and often! I can sit for too many hours in front of my computer working…I’d love to get a bike or join a yoga class. I’m going to look around and see what I can find.

    I’m starting to think things like “humm, could I really live more for pleasure than for accomplishment?” The very thought of it makes me feel better, lighter, and all kinds of possibilities pop into my mind…I live with this feeling of urgency all the time, this sense of all that has to be done, and it can be so exhausting!

  8. Fantastic post! I love walking and try to do it for a couple of hours every day. I’m about to move to Barcelona until the end of the year. It’s not Paris but it’s good enough to make sure that I walk everywhere there too. Thanks for the inspiration 🙂

  9. Thanks so much for sharing Tonya!! Really enjoyed your posts!!! However I’m on the other side of the problem.. I’m underweight and would like to hear about your suggestions. I’ve been slim and tall (5’11’ and 120lb) all my life so I rarely work out, I used to work out in gym when I lived in US to lower my born-very high cholesterols but it felt like a task and I didt enjoy it. I used to eat three portions and still didn’t gain much weight back in US.

    I don’t have any sports I like, but I do walk a lot especially I live in Taipei now, as I’m more conscious to eating healthy and organic food, I don’t eat big portions like I did in US and I realized I’m allergic to gluten, now by the age of 40 I keep losing weight and also a lot of muscles on my upper body especially arms and chest. Now everyone can see I’m seriously underweight, I know I have to start doing push-ups but is there a better way? Look forward to hearing your opinions Tonya, merci beaucoup!!

    • Hi Cath,

      First of all, thanks for stopping by.

      I believe that this article applies to all women, regardless of weight. Our bodies desire to move. And, to be perfectly honest, I don’t always want to, but I love the feeling I have afterwards, so that feeling is what inspires me.

      The most important thing is that you FEEL healthy, so continue to explore, play and enjoy your body.

      Tons of Love!

      • Thanks Tonya, you’re absolutely right!
        Yesterday after writing you I realized that I didn’t enjoy the food here (I miss the California and European cuisines that I grew up with.. which are not authentic here, and it’s hard to cook as to find ingredients) and I didn’t like the city I dwell in either.

        However last night we ended dinner early so instead of taking the metro I decided to take an hour long walk home to explore the city a bit more with hubby after dinner like the Parisians do and found two interesting restaurants. Most importantly I really enjoyed the walk, my body felt good afterwards.

        I then realized it’s true that I can move more, explore more and make more connection with the city. Thanks to you, your sharing and comments sparks up my day, thanks for your sweet support. It is women like you who make this world a better place xo

  10. This is so true! When I lived in Korea and then England, I stayed slim because I walked everywhere. Driving in Korea was just too daunting and we were a one-car family in England. There, I walked 2 miles almost every day. When I was pregnant with my second child, no one could tell until far into the pregnancy, because I stayed so slim from walking (yet I was indulging in creamy Starbucks smoothies and Subway with extra pickles! Not both at the same time, though, I assure you).

    Now we live in a very rural area and I can’t get to the necessary places (work, grocery store, etc.) without one of my vehicles. But we have a large garden and the entire area is hilly, so enjoying all the wildflowers means walking up and down those hills!

    If you can live in a place where everything is centrally located walk, walk, walk. Once it becomes second nature, you won’t need the gym.

  11. I swear Tonya, I should have been born in Paris! I knew I wasn’t just frolicking through life, but unknowingly channeling by inner French-self, lol!

    I so believe in moving. You’re correct, Americans are way too enamored with exercising. I’ve never had an exercise regimen EVER in my life. My mantra is, “I don’t exercise, I DANCE!” Yep, dancing is what I do. I’m almost 50 and I can still wear clothes I wore when I was in college(pre-babies).

    Thanks so much for (unselfishly) sharing your golden nuggets with us Tonya!! Benedictions a vous!!

    • Love your article. Two summers ago i spent the majority of my time doing physical labor outside in the Texas sun andcheat. I pushed myself in ways i didnt think possible and i felt and looed great. Before that, i dieted and worked out like a mad woman and i never felt as good as i did that summer. Unfortunatly i live in a very car dependant area. And now work at a desk. I hate it and long to move my body in natural ways. We Americans have so much to learn.

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