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French Women Don't Get Fat

The Secret of Eating For Pleasure

By Mireille Guiliano
(Knopf, December 2004)

French Women Don't Get Fat

smart, slim French woman publishes a book entitled French Women Don't Get Fat and it's flying off the shelves. Sure, the title is a bit audacious and sweeping: Spend a few minutes on the streets of that nation's capital and you're bound to see at least one pudgy Parisienne. But admit it: The claim gets your attention! In America, we love to spend money on diet books, diet foods and other weight-loss gimmickry; but, finally, here's the ultimate non-diet book, as author Mireille Guiliano calls it.

Guiliano knows a thing or two about the French, about our wild food habits in the United States and about a sensible approach to living well. Her credentials? She's definitely a foodie. (Have you ever noticed how few foodies and oenophiles are actually overweight?) And a sensualist à la Colette. And a French femme, married to an American, who spends her time between New York and Paris. And the president and CEO of Clicquot Inc. (the company that distributes high-end Champagne, wine and cognac with brands such as Champagne Krug and Veuve Clicquot). And she has two eyes in her head with which to observe the world around her. And she's been "overweight" herself — sort of. Twenty pounds, to be precise, which caused her dad, quelle horreur, to proclaim that she looks like "Un sac de patates." Cruel to compare your daughter to a sack of potatoes, but it did the trick.

French Women for All Seasons
A Year of Secrets, Recipes, and Pleasure

Mireille Guiliano picks up where she left off with her best-selling first "non-diet" book. You may adore her slightly preachy voice and delight in what's pretty much an elaboration on the kind of advice she dished out before. Or you may have a reaction similar to ours: been there, done that. We were thrilled with the first effort; the second one capitalizes on the success of "Real Women Don't Get Fat." Maybe it's time American women develop the self-confidence to look past French stereotypes for wellness advice.

Guiliano's advice comes down to this: Adopt "a balanced and time-tested relation to food and life" and there's no reason you should ever pile on the pounds. She advises us to practice the French lifestyle of savoring food (including chocolate, bread, cheese and wine), controlling portions, walking, drinking lots of water, eating a variety of fresh foods, adding healthy staples like satisfying Greek-style yogurt and, most of all, enjoying ourselves.

It all comes off a bit smug and obvious (gee, take the stairs?), but Guiliano delivers her message with such charm that you cannot scold her. She means well. And it has worked for her and millions of other French and Western European women. But, alas, we poor heavy schleps in America have a lot going against us. An average U.S. croissant is twice the size of one in Paris. People look at you funny if you take to the streets in many an urban center (especially L.A.). And the stairs? Frankly, in most buildings they are plain scary, not to mention the fact that you run the risk of setting off an alarm just by opening the door to them. Relax and slow down? That's easy to say for the French, who each year enjoy six weeks of paid vacation. Also, we happen to know that Guiliano stays in shape with the help of a dedicated yoga practice.

All those reservations aside, what we love, what we adore about this book is its celebration of pleasure, zest for living, guilt-free but sensible self-indulgence and a positive slant to everything. Guiliano provides us with a valuable reminder, if not a brand-new lesson, for us hurried, guilt-ridden fast food citizens. It's a brave new world of "eating for pleasure." So, at your next meal, put down your cutlery between bites, savor each item on your plate individually and leave room for dessert. C'est très facile!

Reviewed by Sylvie Greil

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(Updated: 01/09/12 CT)

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