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Book Review – French Women Don’t Get Fat

November 9, 2009

Saying that I love to read is an understatement.  Basically I can and will read anything I can get my hands on.  This includes my husband’s free subscriptions to Restaurants and Institutions and Chain Leader.  Ask me anything about Pinkberry’s aggressive expansion and Donatos Pizza’s reorganization.  I bet I know the answer.  No, we  even don’t own or manage a restaurant.  My husband has been thinking about opening one for about a million years.  I’m not about to open Pandora’s Box though so I’ll move on from that topic. 

So, I am often reading a variety of books and magazines simultaneously.  I have one in the kitchen to read with meals (incidentally, this is a direct violation of the book I am about to review), a magazine near my hair dryer (girls with long, curly hair can see why this is necessary), and a book on the passenger seat of my car (only a person who has driven in West L.A. can understand how this is feasible). 

My mom loves to tell people how I used to read in the bathtub when I was 5.  My mom is probably the only one reading this right now.  Thanks for the support Mom.

In the vein of my last post on eating better, I am going to review French Women Don’t Get Fat.  I actually read this book a while back and after falling off the eating wagon a bit, I reread it again recently.  Oddly enough I gleaned a lot more from this book the second time around, possibly because I was able to overlook the author’s slightly condescending nature this time.  I also managed to avoid her 3 page list on what French women are and what American women are lacking because honestly?  I don’t need her to tell me that when my brother would be happy to tell me what I’m lacking any day of the week.

French Women

The author is Mireille Guliano, President and CEO of the champagne company Cliquot Inc.  She is not a doctor or a nutritionist, but rather, a person who learned through her own experiences how different Americans and French view food.  After a stint in America as an exchange student, she returned home to France needing to rethink her newly acquired eating habits.  With the help of a doctor – who she refers to throughout the book as Dr. Miracle – the author is able to return to her normal size and kick all her bad habits to the curve. 

She talks about:

  1. French women eat at regular mealtimes, never standing up, never in the car, never in front of the TV or with a book.  They sit with proper utensils and a place setting. 
  2. French women eat real foods in moderation.  This means butter instead of margarine, full fat milk instead of skim, sugar instead of Splenda. They eat smaller amounts but more variety.
  3. They eat what is in season to ensure maximum flavor.  i.e. just because Trader Joe’s carries strawberries in February doesn’t mean they will be flavorful.
  4. They don’t feel guilty about food the way Americans do because they believe in indulging on occasion but cutting back slightly the next day to make up for it. 
  5. They drink water and walk all day long. 
  6. No gyms, no 30 Day Shred DVD’s, no spin classes.
  7. French women eat chocolate and drink wine.

Obviously a lot of what the author talks about is common sense.  We shouldn’t be eating chemically altered food.  We should be cooking more at home.  We should be drinking more water and walking more. 

What I learned:

  1. Our meals should be filling enough that we can go a few hours without a snack.  I used to eat just a small breakfast and be starving for a snack an hour later.  Now, I eat something filling enough to get me to lunch.
  2. We shouldn’t be exercising so we can eat more.  This was a tough one for me as I would be in the gym at 5 am every day running like a crazy person so that I justified eating an extra cookie or 5.
  3. Her ideas about recasting did wonders for my sugar habit!  While I didn’t make her famous (infamous?) leek soup, I did go 2 weeks with no sugar and suddenly I just don’t crave it anymore.  I was “recast” I guess.  Whereas I used to need a ton of brownies to feel satisfied, now I just need a bite or two and I’m done.  I can’t remember the last time I had a brownie!
  4. This book contains lots of recipes and while I’ve only made a few of the easier ones, I was inspired to start making a lot of my own food.  Now I actually prefer to do so because I can control the portion size, the oil, the salt, and the sugar content.  She also introduced a lot of foods I hadn’t really thought of trying before and I now regularly consume.
  5. This book isn’t just about what to eat or not eat, it is also about how to savor life by eating with friends instead of in front of the TV.  How to enjoy food, especially good quality.  She discusses eating 3 course dinners (small portions of course) unhurriedly.  This is something I was never able to do and I feel like I am slowly getting better at this.

What I Didn’t Like

  1. As I mentioned before, the author has a tendency to sound smug.  I love France just as much, if not more, than the next person but I don’t think the French are better in every regard.  Besides, I often wondered why she settled in New York if she believes France is THAT much better.
  2. As a vegetarian I found it a bit difficult to utilize a lot of her recipes/menus.  It is much easier to eat meat and feel full but feeling full with vegetables can be challenging.
  3. As far as I know she has no children and apparently her husband isn’t picky which makes eating the French way about 100 times easier for her.  Maya is fairly adventurous and will try most anything, but what child will eat Red Mullet with Spinach en Papillote without putting up a fight? 
  4. The author obviously has money.  Can most people really afford to buy a $15 piece of wild salmon for dinner?  Especially not these days, in this economy. 
  5. I disagree that the gym or some type of formal exercise is not necessary.  Yes I agree that we shouldn’t be spending an extra 10 minutes on the stationary bike so we can eat a vat of fries, but in my opinion a regular person needs to be active for at least 45 minutes a day for their overall health and mental well-being, not specifically just for weight maintenance/loss. 

Summary

This book is a quick, easy read, and is interesting – even if you aren’t trying to lose weight.  The breezy nature of the book, the anecdotes of the author’s childhood, and the delicious sounding recipes make me recommend this book.  It has that same old world charm that I associate with being in Paris and  I am totally sold the things she emphasizes – luxury, quality, variety, freshness, and balance.  And last but not least, anyone who can recommend dark chocolate as part of a healthy diet must be on to something.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2009 2:39 pm

    I LOLed at the part about your brother. Mine’s the same way haha.

    I also LOVE to read. The part I took away from the book that I continue to use is that sometimes you indulge, and sometimes you don’t. So, you don’t need to have a big dinner every night – it’s ok to just have soup. Maybe the next night, you’ll go out and enjoy something completely because you went light the night before. Definitely used that trick.

  2. December 19, 2009 7:23 am

    Exactly…I love that you can indulge but then cut back a bit the next day/meal. Somehow this was difficult for me to comprehend as I just kept wanting to indulge!!

  3. March 14, 2010 11:34 pm

    Holly, you are absolutely correct, it shows that you’re an authority on the subject. I admire someone that takes the pride you have and with your projecton of information. oSo when i actually do sit down to read material, I appreciate well written and organized blogs like this one. I have it bookmarked and will be back. Thanks.

  4. May 7, 2010 7:24 am

    Hello webmaster, class read! I hope you don’t mind if I quote you on my website if I place an url back? cheers

  5. May 17, 2010 6:10 pm

    You give really good reviews girl! Wow. I’ve never read this book but it’s been popular for years…I recently seen the French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook in stores…interesting…I’d love to go to Paris and give it a whirl :)…I WISH 😉

  6. February 5, 2012 12:50 pm

    I read this book too and found it quite interesting…some things, I have adopted, like drinking water with a slice of lemon in it and drinking water as soon as I get up, as well as the ‘eat what’s in season’ norm. HOWEVER: I love the first point of your what-I-didn’t-liek section. Why stay in NYC if France is that much better? I mean, the oysters! The chestnuts! The mille-fueille! And some of those things just cannot be incorporated into every culture. I live in Mumbai. I am not going to walk EVERYWHERE and risk getting hit by a bus while carrying baby in one arm, eco-friendly bag full of seasonal fruits and vegetables in the other and wearing stilletoes on feet. I walk for most of my errands and I go to the gym a few times a week. I feel fine.

    • February 5, 2012 8:11 pm

      I love your comment Meenakshi. We aren’t all lucky enough to be able to walk everywhere! I’m sure getting around in Mumbai is tricky. I visited once…I still remember how busy the roads were!

      That being said, it’s been years since I read this book and I follow so many of the author’s suggestions. I also still drink the water with lemon when I wake up…it’s really so refreshing. And eating what’s in season is my goal!

      Thanks for the comment!! And yes, I feel fine too. 🙂

  7. April 9, 2013 8:56 pm

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