French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano is a blueprint for remaining slim and healthy.
I expected to dislike this book when reviewing it, assuming it would be too ooh la la, but in fact I was surprised to find it very enjoyable.
Guiliano is wrong, of course, and she makes her claim with tongue firmly in cheek – some French women do get fat. They are as capable of it as the rest of us. Here where I live in Normandy, the local women and short and stocky by middle age, and there’s more than a fair share of moustaches, too. But by and large, what Guiliano says does hold water. French women with any pretensions to style retain their girlish figures all their lives by being strictly disciplined about what they eat, and by getting off their butts.
This doesn’t mean the gym – it means walking and cycling, parking away from where you work and walking to the office, pushing your kids on the swing. Little 10-minute bites of exercise that add up during the day. All around where I live, I see women in their 60s, 70s and 80s cycling rather than taking the car. Any given Sunday will see people strolling around, walking their dogs. And everyone tends their potager, producing the majority of vegetables for the family table.
I found much of what she says very true to my experience of life here – that French women eat slowly and carefully, allowing their stomachs to fill and be satiated. They don’t eat on the go or stuff food into their mouths unthinkingly. They eat quality foods in preference to junk. They like a drink with a meal, but only one (it’s quite noticeable how British women chug it down compared with the French), and would never deny themselves chocolate (it’s in every French thing from breakfast cereals to bread). Meals are a time for celebration, when the whole family gathers together – French culture doesn’t have much truck with the TV dinner. In fact, where I live, many houses don’t have a living room as such and the kitchen/diner or dining room is the natural gathering place – the dining table is the focus of the household.
She is also accurate when she says that when it comes to overeating, each woman must make some effort and must find her own solution. For herself as a young woman it began as simply as not taking a route to work that involved passing 14 pastry shops. Doh, you may think, but I know many women who do exactly this kind of thing, popping into Pret a Manger with all its delicious smells, thinking they’ll stick to yoghurt, doing the office coffee run and loading up on everyone else’s donuts, going out drinking with boozy friends and thinking they’ll still to Perrier. Fat chance. How many overweight women keep foods in the house that they simply can’t resist, indulging their husbands and children in poor eating habits and placing themselves in situations of unbearable temptation? Believe me, you can eat a Mars Bar even if it’s frozen – I’ve done it. The way to not do it is to not have it in the house.
Of course many women who want to lose weight just don’t want it enough to actually DO anything about it, such as make their own yoghurt (I do mine every two days and it takes about a minute), or shop 2-3 times a week instead of once a fortnight. This book will not appeal to them – it does not suggest any miracle pills, just a gradual, incremental change in how you eat and exercise – it is a book about lifestyle, not weight loss.
In this country, the way of eating Guiliano describes is perfectly normal – the large breakfast, the three-course lunch, the light evening supper. But one reviewer on Amazon says: "Receipes weren’t what I would eat. Too much daily shopping for fresh food. Who wants to make their own yogurt?? A few bites of each plate in a restaurant seems like a lot of waste." With an attitude like that, no wonder she is (by her own admission) 20 pounds overweight – by the time she’s 60, she could be 40 pounds over. Perhaps she thinks she can lose weight on fruity whip and foozy cheese and angel meringue cookie batter or whatever junk she currently throws down herself.
French Women Don’t Get Fat is simple, matter of fact and common sense, and even includes recipes. Many of them are similar to how the DH and I eat already, but some of them were new to me, and Guiliano’s suggestion of pulping an entire lemon and keeping it in the fridge to make citron presse is a seriously good idea. This bitter and refreshing drink has now replaced the Earl Grey in my afternoon tea break, so yet another way to avoid caffeine.
A word of warning, however – Guiliano has clearly never been short of a bob or two, and is now CEO of the US arm of champagne producer Veuve Cliquot. This colours her ability to understand a budget somewhat. For instance, in this household we will not be cooking our chicken in champagne anytime soon (the real stuff is strictly a weddings and anniversaries affair). But I appreciated the spirit of what she says, and the spirit, not the letter, is what this book is all about.