Saturday, July 24, 2010

French Women Don't Get Fat?

When Mireille Guiliano released her buzzworthy book, French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, back in 2005, I had not the slightest bit of interest in reading it.   At time I felt burnt out on tales of the French and their miraculously trim bodies.  Plus, I had already been to France and seen actual French women, so I thought, "Of course they don't get fat, they all chain smoke!"

Fast forward five years, and I know better than to think all French women chain smoke, or that there isn't something special going on in their country that keeps more of its citizens slim than we seem to be able to do here in the U.S.  So when I noticed Ms. Guiliano's book on my roommate's bookshelf I decided to put away my old hang-ups and take a look.

If you've read anything by Michael Pollan - the famous food guru of late - you'll instantly recognize some similarities between his message and that of Ms. Guiliano.   I just read Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, where he emphasizes the importance of eating real food (sans chemicals, additives, etc) and of avoiding "food" fads (margarine, anyone?).  In French Women Don't Get Fat (FWDGF), we learn that eating real food is one of the French woman's secrets to maintaining a svelte figure.  Mr. Pollan also highlights the role of relying on culture and history to guide our eating choices.  Is that thing on your plate something your great-grandmother would have recognized as food?  No?  Then don't even think about it.  FWDGF waxes poetic about French food culture and history and their positive role in shaping the choices of a hungry French woman.  Here's a quote from FWDGF that pretty much sums it up:

"French women don't get fat because they have not allowed new attitudes and modern theories of how the body uses food to overrule centuries of experience."

With her no-fuss, no-muss attitude toward food Ms. Guiliano won my affection.  I'm someone who's looking for a return to common sense at the dinner table, and that's what she's offering.  FWDGF did, however, irk me in a couple of big ways.  First,  Ms. Guiliano's assertion that French women don't obsess about their weight and diets like American women struck me as a bit overstated considering the number of pharmacy windows in France that are decked out in ads for everything from cellulite-reducing cream to tummy-flatting teas.  What's more, her disdain for working out at the gym or going for a run outside is very French, but I appreciate that some Americans (including myself) choose to keep fit this way, and there might just be a few French women (and men!) who could benefit from the same.

That said, I greatly enjoyed this book.  It's a fun, quick read filled with lots of easy-to-implement tips for daily life and down-to-earth stories about the author's own struggle with weight (she currently lives and works in New York City where she is president and CEO of Clicquot, Inc...get jealous).  Plus, it has recipes, and adding recipes to your book is a sure way to turn me into a loyal reader.

Have you read FWDGF?  What did you think?


Lou and Erin said...

i think it also has to do with 3 hour dinner's! Good bless 'em (the meals that is)!!

Zhu said...

I've never read the book but I see what you mean. On one side, I do think food is generally healthier in France with less crap and additive etc. Which doesn't mean there aren't fast foods and fatty food! I do think N. Americans have a very unhealthy relation with food.

That said, French aren't perfect, far from it. They are not that thin for a start, nor that fit.

Margaret said...

What did I think? I think I just learned how to make some awfully good vegetable soups from that book. Yum! I enjoyed it. It's not my new bible or anything but there were some good ideas in there. I am still hoping to find fresh nuts the way she described, in season. I had never thought of nuts as seasonal, but obviously they must be! And the picture on the cover influenced me too - I recently bought a shopping cart so that I can walk to the grocery store near me instead of driving. I had a great time pulling it behind me and picturing myself as the lady in that picture. What fun!

Tanya said...

@Margaret, I'm glad to hear from someone who has tried the recipes in that book. And had success! I've been meaning to try some of them. Everything sounds so delicious, even the magic leek soup.