July 17, 2006

French Women Don't Get Fat

French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating
For Pleasure by Mireille Guiliano
Finished on 7/11/06
Rating: B+ (7/10 Good)

Growing up, I was a fairly skinny little girl. It wasn’t until I entered puberty that I even gave my weight a second thought and I must’ve been around 17 when I went on my first diet. Remember the Scarsdale Diet? Dry wheat toast and half a grapefruit for breakfast? I have no idea if I managed to lose any weight, but at the time it seemed like the thing to do. I doubt I needed to lose much more than 5 pounds, but I wanted to be tall and skinny like all the popular girls; while I couldn’t do anything about growing taller, I could try for that waifish look, even if it meant giving up some of my favorite foods (Fritos and guacamole for lunch!).

Like the majority of Americans, I tried all the new diets as they became popular. I drank liquid protein shakes in the early ‘80s, advanced to Slim Fast when it came on the market, gave the Rotation Diet a spin (not that I have any recollection of what that involved!), ate Healthy Choice microwaveable meals, and most recently got caught up in the buzz of the South Beach Diet.

Each and every one of these diets showed initial promise. I was able to see immediate results, losing a few pounds (water!) right off the bat and eagerly continued with high hopes for the perfect body. Well, at least the perfect weight.

But as with any diet, I felt deprived and could never stick with it for more than a few months – with the exception of the South Beach Diet. Rod and I both went on it together and were able to lose quite a bit of weight and keep it off for over a year. Unfortunately, last year we chose to indulge ourselves in a lot of comfort food (we were in desperate need of comfort) and all that weight came back in a matter of months.

So why in the world would I pick up French Women Don’t Get Fat? Diets don’t work. Everyone knows that. Well, it does have a cute cover and I was curious to see what the French could possibly know that Americans either are ignorant of or simply choose to ignore.

So what is Guiliano’s philosophy? Well, let’s take a look at what she says:

French women typically think about good things to eat.
American women typically worry about bad things to eat.

French women eat smaller portions of more things.
American women eat larger portions of fewer things.

French women eat more vegetables.

French women eat a lot more fruit.

French women love bread and would never consider a life without carbs.

French women don't eat "fat-free," "sugar-free," or anything artificially stripped of natural flavor. They go for the real thing in moderation.

French women love chocolate, especially the dark, slightly bitter, silky stuff with its nutty aroma.

French women eat with all five senses, allowing less to seem like more.

French women balance their food, drink, and movement on a week-by-week basis.

French women do stray, but they always come back, believing there are only detours and no dead ends.

French women don't often weigh themselves, preferring to keep track with their hands, eyes, and clothes: "zipper syndrome."

French women eat three meals a day.

French women don't snack all the time.

French women never let themselves be hungry.

French women never let themselves feel stuffed.

French women train their taste buds, and those of their young, from an early age.

French women honor mealtime rituals and never eat standing up or on the run. Or in front of the TV.

French women don't watch much TV.

French women don't have much TV to watch.

French women eat and serve what's in season, for maximum flavor and value, and know availability does not equal quality.

French women love to discover new flavors and are always experimenting with herbs, spices, and citrus juices to make a familiar dish seem new.

French women eschew extreme temperatures in what they consume, and enjoy fruits and vegetables bursting with flavor at room temperature, at which they prefer their water, too.

French women don't care for hard liquor.

French women do enjoy wine regularly, but with meals and only a glass (or maybe two).

French women get a kick from Champagne, as an aperitif or with food, and don't need a special occasion to open a bottle.

French women drink water all day long .

French women choose their own indulgences and compensations. They understand that little things count, both additions and subtractions, and that as an adult everyone is the keeper of her own equilibrium.

French women enjoy going to market.

French women plan meals in advance and think in terms of menus (a list of little dishes) even at home.

French women think dining in is as sexy as dining out.

French women love to entertain at home.

French women care enormously about the presentation of food. It matters to them how you look at it.

French women walk everywhere they can.

French women take the stairs whenever possible.

French women will dress to take out the garbage (you never know).

French women are stubborn individuals and don't follow mass movements.

French women adore fashion.

French women know one can go far with a great haircut, a bottle of Champagne, and a divine perfume.

French women know "l'amour fait maigrir" (love is slimming).

French women avoid anything that demands too much effort for too little pleasure.

French women love to sit at a cafe and do nothing but enjoy the moment.

French women love to laugh.

French women eat for pleasure.

French women don't diet.

French women don't get fat.

If asked, I would say Guiliano’s book is NOT a diet book, but rather a book about living a healthy life. It’s definitely a lifestyle, which makes all the sense in the world to me. It’s full of basic common sense and I feel that if I don’t lose the 5-10 pounds that have been hanging around for the past six years (as my cute gynecologist said, “Welcome to your 40s”), I still believe it’s a lifestyle worth adapting and one in which I will at least be able to maintain my current weight. Having said that, I have already lost 4 pounds without feeling the least bit deprived (of course it’s been 100 degrees for almost a week now and maybe that 4 pounds was merely sweated away!).

Guiliano admits to not being a "physician, physiologist, psychologist, nutritionist, or any manner of '-ist- who helps or studies people professionally." She was, however, born and raised in France (she currently resides in New York) and feels qualified to share her knowledge about French women and their healthy lifestyles.

Other obvious guidelines:

Savor every bite. Put utensils down every few bites. Portion control - use a scale until you learn to eye 4-6 oz. Don't buy junk (chips, ice cream, cookies, beer) if you lack self-control. If it's not around, you can't eat it. Save those treats for a social event or weekend, but don't keep in stock.

Walk at least 20-30 minutes a day.

Always have something on hand to eat if you start to feel hungry (string cheese, apple, almonds) while away from home.

Deprivation is the mother of failure. Reward yourself with a little something on the weekend, but don't go overboard. Enjoy dessert but skip the chips; savor the baked potato and butter, but skip the beer or margarita.

Nuts are a nutritious snack, but they're high in calories and fat, so be careful. Don't overindulge!

Meat once a week; fish 1-2 times a week

If you eat a large lunch, make dinner a more modest meal. Likewise, if dinner is to be large, go lighter with lunch.

Some favorite quotes:

"Making choices that are meaningful to you is the essence of the French woman's secret."

"The key is to cultivate your own intuition of your offenders and pleasures and adjust each accordingly by degrees that suit you."

"When you add an indulgence, make a corresponding reduction to compensate. Add another half hour of walking the next day. Skip the cocktail. Pass the breadbasket."

"The trick is to manage and gratify your appetites, while determining how, when, and what to reduce. Eat breakfast!! Don't skip meals or rely on ‘protein’ shakes for meal substitutions. Eat with your head. Make wise choices. Don't try to achieve an ideal weight (based on insurance company charts that focus only on height and gender) or fashion weight, but rather a ‘well-being’ weight, the one at which a particular individual feels biendans sa peau (comfortable in his or her skin)... It's the weight at which you can say, 'I feel good and I look good.'"

Obviously, I found a lot of useful information in this book and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who not only wants to try to lose a little (or a lot of) weight, but also to anyone who wants to try to live a more healthy life. I read a library copy and am tempted to buy a copy for my permanent collection. Guiliano includes several recipes in her book and I’d like to give some a try. And I just discovered she has a new book coming out in October called French Women for All Seasons: A Year of Secrets, Recipes, and Pleasure. Definitely something I want to check out (and not just because it has a cute cover!).


  1. You've convinced me to look for this book, Lesley. Thanks for the detailed review. I've hesitated to read the book because my son confirmed a lot of what I thought I remembered, when he was in France earlier this summer. Europeans walk and walk and walk because, for one thing, they can.

    In our area, you have to drive everywhere - there aren't even any sidewalks outside of the historical part of town (and the loose dogs are a bit of a discouraging challenge, elsewhere). This is a typical problem in the U.S. - having to get in a car to get to where you need to go because there's no option. But it sounds like there's plenty of other advice or thoughts worth reading, other than the obvious. Thanks for the detailed review!

  2. It was rather detailed, wasn't it? ;) I guess I just felt like I wanted to share it all with anyone who cared to read it.

    I'm lucky about the walking part. We live near a very nice MOPAC/bike trail. It's only about 5 minutes from our house (on foot), so we head out every evening before dinner and go for a 30-35 minute walk. Very pretty and peaceful, as long as the heat doesn't kill us! I also walk in the morning, pushing my 21-month-old niece in her stroller. Get a good 30 minute "hike" in and she's happy as long as I fee her Goldfish crackers and raisins. :) Needless to say, I'm trying! I may not be able to give up reading while I eat my breakfast and lunch, but I'm trying to slow down and savor each bite. And use my head. Of course, that all went out the window when I had a Carne Asada burrito and two (2!) margaritas tonight at dinner. Yep, I admit it. I inhaled. :)

    Thanks for stopping by. I've enjoyed your blog tremendously.

  3. Bookfool,

    BTW, my daughter was in France earlier this summer, too. Wonder if she was there at the same time as your son. She went to Paris at the end of May.

  4. Eeeeeek...your diet recap brought back scary memories! Wasn't the rotation diet the one with beets and tuna or something like that? My husband said he felt ill just looking at my plate.

    I really enjoyed FRENCH WOMEN DON'T GET FAT when I read it last year. There are many similarities between French women and Korean women that I've noticed -- lots of walking, and walking with a purpose-- usually to catch a bus or train. They walk at a pretty good clip. Actually, it's a little half-run. Also, their food choices involve a lot of fruit and vegetables. Supposedly kimchi, a 3x a day staple in the Korean diet is supposed to be really healthy and boost metabolism -- if you don't mind the smell and spiciness. I'll never be as tiny as most of them, but walking and using mass transportation and eating less Western food has helped me shed about 25 pounds. I'm trying to shed more, (but now it's starting to get stubborn.)

    I'm going to bookmark your blog! I really love it!!! It's funny -- I was listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter when I clicked on your profile.

  5. Thanks for visiting my blog, Bybee. I've enjoyed yours, as well (especially your great review about Joan Didion's book), and have it bookmarked. I've noticed a few familiar bloggers commenting on yours - such a nice book community we follow, isn't it?

    As far as the Rotation Diet, I don't recall the beets, but then, I wasn't really on it for very long! I've heard the same about kimchi, but have no desire to give it a try, let alone consume it 3x a day! I'll just stick to small portions and lots of walking.

  6. Anonymous7:46 AM

    Good review

    It is all about moderation and quality not quantity

    I going to try to incorporate more of this into my eating habits

  7. Thanks for your comments, Linda. Glad you enjoyed the review. After our feast this past weekend, I need to incorporate some of these beliefs and habits back into my routine. I ate far too much and was not happy to see the results on my scale on Sunday morning.


I may not answer your comments in a timely fashion, but I always answer. Check back soon!