French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano is certainly an eye-catching title, even acknowledging that it’s more likely a generalization than an absolute statement.
Mireille Guiliano was born and raised in France. When she came to America as an exchange student in college, she put on weight, and even when she went back to France, the bad habits she had picked up led to more weight gain. Her concerned mother took to to a doctor.
His prescription was first to write down everything she ate for three weeks. Then he sat down with her to evaluate her eating habits.
Like an addict’s, my body came to expect too much of what had once been blissfully intoxicating in small doses. It was time to enter rehab, but fortunately Dr. Miracle had never heard of cold turkey. (The French don’t much care for dinde at any temperature) (p. 22).
For the next three months I was to pare back, finding less rich alternatives, reserving the real thing for a special treat–as it is intended. This was less deprivation than contemplation and reprogramming, because, as I would discover, achieving a balance has more to do with the mind than with the stomach…(p. 24).
After cutting back for three months, she could gradually start adding items back in, in moderation. But she was to begin with 48 hours of nothing but water and “Magical Leek Soup” (which she says is delicious. I’ll take her word for it.)
Obviously, if one is overweight, there’s no getting around the need for cutting back somewhere. But the emphasis in this book is in the subtitle: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure. Rather than dieting, guilt, and deprivation, she advocates balance, eating foods fresh and in season, and truly enjoying one’s food, concentrating on the food and taking pleasure in it rather than eating mindlessly while doing something else. The most pleasure we get from food is in the first few bites, so savor those bites. Aim not for a certain size or number, but rather “‘well-being’ weight, the one at which a particular individual feels bien dans sa peau (comfortable in his or her own skin)…the weight at which you can say, ‘I feel good and I look good'” (p. 23).
She says that for the most part, French women don’t go to the gym, preferring to incorporate more movement into everyday life. “It always astounds me to see people who live no higher than the fourth floor taking the elevator” (p. 211).
A few other principles that stood out to me:
Do not eat on autopilot (p. 31).
On the whole, “offenders” are foods we tend to eat compulsively, with less actual pleasure than you might think. Often they are poor versions of something better (p. 32).
French women never let themselves be hungry.
French women never let themselves feel stuffed (p. 254).
French women typically think about good things to eat. American women typically worry about bad things to eat.
Learn to say no, with an eye to saying yes to something else.
Seasonality (eating the best at its peak) and seasoning (the art of choosing and combining flavors to complement food) are vital for fighting off the food lover’s worst enemy: not calories, but boredom. Eat the same thing in the same way time and again, and you’ll need more just to achieve the same pleasure. (Think of it as “taste tolerance.”) Have just one taste experience as your dinner (the big bowl of pasta, a big piece of meat), and you are bound to eat too much, as you seek satisfaction from volume instead of the interplay of flavor and texture that comes from a well thought out meal (p. 118).
She shares recipes, seasoning information, different tips for different stages of life. This being a secular book, some of its philosophies and principles I would not ascribe to, like the information on alcohol and meditative breathing.
As an adult, she divides her time between France and America, so she’s well familiar with both mindsets. She has shared these principles and practices with others through the years who have asked how she can “get away with” seeming to eat so much yet staying slim, and they have found them successful as well.
While I wouldn’t minutely follow everything she says (I don’t think I could ever get “hooked on the sensation of that tender grayish glob of seagoing goodness sliding down your throat” [p. 100] – oysters), I’ve marked some recipes to try and gleaned quite a lot of good thoughts and especially attitudes.
(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books)