Me reading French Women Don’t Get Fat is a very good example of me not always jumping on certain bandwagons. This book came out in 2007. It’s made the morning show rounds. There have been two sequels. I’m clearly late to the game.
Why? Because in 2007, I was way too far into the “pink zone” of foods to have any interest in a book that encourages the sort of diet that this book is all about. But lately, given my love for butter, distaste for crazy cardio, and general disinterest in washing my hair, I realized…maybe there was a connection here.
The book is more memoir than I expected, which is probably why I liked it so much. I’ve definitely had a travel bug lately; I miss my trip to Paris!
In the meantime, I’ve settled for reading foreign travel memoirs and fantasizing about my next trip.
So. The French woman teaching us how to not get fat is Mireille Guiliano (who is French but has lived in the US for many years; she is also the CEO of Veuve Clicquot, which is cool on many levels) talks about how she was a slim French girl her whole life until she came to America to study abroad when she was 19…and gained about 20 pounds. Her family was shocked upon her return and her self-confidence was absolutely shot…and then she gained even more because she was unhappy. The family doctor (“Dr. Miracle”) eventually paid her a visit and reminded her how to eat like a French woman again. Once she did, the weight came off easily (although not in a “drop ten pounds overnight!” sort of way) and she’s had no problems since — even now, as she drinks and eats as part of her job.
According to Dr. Miracle, there are two parts of us: the one who wants to be slim and healthy and the one who wants “pleasure aplently, and now.” (Mmm…yup!) He says the key is to make friends of your two selves and be the master of both your willpower and your pleasures. So he taught her to find her personal balance…and that’s what she teaches here.
Now I am, by nature, an “all-the-way” kinda girl. But she makes a pretty damn good case for moderation and balance in this book.
“Achieving balance has more to do with the mind than with the stomach; it’s about discovering and dealing with mon petits demons…Once you realize that changing one’s habits is mostly a state of mind, you will see why the only truly effective approach is one that engages your head.” OK, madame…you have my attention.
After you keep a food diary for three weeks to identify what it is that seems to be the problem, the next step is to “recast” and basically start looking for what you need to balance in your life. “This means no pizza three days in a row, but also no three hours at the gym on Saturday.” (There’s also a chapter with questions to ask yourself to tackle the emotional aspect of weight loss, which I always appreciate seeing.) So you look at your food diary and say, “What could I do without — or at least with less of?” She’s a big fan of small things adding up and reducing things in small increments.
Her whole philosophy is that a French woman’s secret is mainly in her head. She masters the mental part of living well and teaches herself to be satisfied differently.
Other rules of eating like a French woman…
- If your “offending” foods are junky and processed, upgrade them to something better so you’re truly getting pleasure in what you eat.
- Quality of food is a recurring theme. She talks a lot about eating seasonally, because seasonal food tastes better and therefore it’s easier to be satisfied with the simplest (and often healthiest) foods. All the recipes in the book are just comprised of simple, whole foods.
- She points out that in America, there seems to be a gastronomic class system. “The right and opportunity to enjoy the earth’s seasonal best seems to be monopolized by an elite. Outside their ranks, the great majority of Americans are conditioned to demand and accept bland, processed, chemically treated, generally unnatural foods, which through packaging and marketing, have been made to seem wholesome.” AMEN. Isn’t this what the Food Revolution is saying too?! Basically, the system is broken.
- Variety is key. Food boredom leads to overeating because we seek more food to compensate for the fact that our palate is just bored. “Novelty is a powerful distraction.”
- Ritual eating. No TV, no computer, no eating out of cartons. Of course, she makes it seem like there is nothing in the world better than sitting down to a set table. (I tend to agree!)
- Portion control. “Half a pound of anything in one sitting is too much.”
I really connected with her take on exercise. I think that loving cardio is something extremely American, especially for our generation of women; most girls say they love how it makes them feel. And I do too…but like I’ve recently said, I sort of don’t anymore.
- If you enjoy some form of a sport, like running, do that, but French women dislike the view of the workout as mandatory. “American women seem to have two modes: sitting or spinning…mindless exercise is almost as bad as mindless eating.”
- Exercise is to be done by moving more: doing housework, riding your bike to work, walking more (either as part of your daily tasks or just for the sake of exercise), and taking the stairs. (Seriously, her argument for taking the stairs more made me wish I lived in a fourth floor walk-up.) She says you need to just move more — and “if you go to a gym, you’re probably doing enough in spandex, so pick something you can do in street clothes.”
- She supports strength training for tone and preventing muscle loss, but in a “do some sit-ups before bed” way, not “hire a trainer to punish you” way.
- She’s romantic about walking: “It’s when I feel my tensions liberated…it can be a special kind of indulgence, these moments when one becomes aware of really existing, as the images, information, and other sensations the world tries to press upon us all recede. Learning to be comfortable in that space, when it’s just you, takes practice. But doing it diminishes the impulse to lie to yourself or run away. You won’t want to.”
I loved that. I totally got it. I’ve just been loving walking lately. Why? I couldn’t understand it. But it’s because I just feel good while I’m do it — and not after. During. I just feel like it’s time with myself more than any other type of exercise. And I also don’t mentally check out as much. I can easily walk for an hour and a half without my ipod. Running? Not so much.
The overarching theme is that you must truly live for pleasure. “For all her attention to what she wears and what she eats, the French woman is most defined by ease in being herself and the attractiveness of taking her pleasures. It has little to do with weighing a certain amount. And it doesn’t come upon you through avoiding food.” She also extends this into sex and romance with some tips on seduction. Basically, American woman often approach food and sex from a place of guilt (which I totally agree with). We approach these things from a scientific point of view and something we have to work at instead of just embracing both as a source of pleasure.
The thing is, I can go on and on about this book, but you really need to read it for yourself because part of what makes it so appealing is her style. So much of this is not new or mindblowing information at all. But because she’s just so elegant and funny and also because she uses French phrases, you will listen. You can’t help but think, “Um, I want to live like this! Sign me up for champagne at lunch and a smaller waist!” Seriously, I know I need to drink more water, but after her chapter on water, I finally stopped saying, “I need to drink more water!” and started doing it.
She’s also a foodie, so as she waxes on about fresh berries or rants about Snickers bars (in her sweet French way), you’ll find yourself just craving real food. And good food! She definitely takes the “taste calories” approach…but I’ve found myself taking this approach more lately, and I’m really happy about it. My square of dark chocolate goes a long way toward making me feel like I’m living a very indulgent life. And I suppose, then, that that’s the whole thing of it. That’s the “tricking yourself” thing that French women put into practice.
I mean, I’ll do pretty much anything that makes me feel European and so I’m pretty down with taking more of her principles to heart. I’ve added pictures of a few European capitals to my vision board — and not just because I really, really miss traveling, and not just because I’m convinced I’ll drop ten pounds if spend some time abroad. Mainly, I just want to remind myself to eat, drink, walk, and sex for a healthy body.
J’adore this book — definitely recommend!