I always wanted to read French Women Don’t Get Fat. I don’t necessarily believe in diet books (or diets in general), but the title was intriguing and as a devoted Francophile, I wanted to know: “Well, why don’t French (or, other European) women get fat?” We all know that Americans are obese with terrible eating habits (thanks Jamie Oliver), but what about our svelte Euro neighbors? It can’t be all those cigarettes.
Well, it might be. Or, Mireille Guiliano might be right when she states it’s the lifestyle differences, as well as different ways of adapting to French infrastructure. If you live in Paris and care about your health, it’s easy to keep the pounds off. You will naturally walk everywhere. If you are très chic, you’ll live on the third floor of a charming Parisian villa, the only path to your apartment being up the stairs. There will be a farmer’s market just down the road every few days, so you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables for your elegant but simple meals.
Ah, if only we could all be so French. Seriously, airlift me into this life right now and I wouldn’t complain. But, zut alors! I’m an American living in the Midwest. I depend on my car to get to work and the hypermarchè once a week, which I shop in order to utilize my Kroger Plus Card (and get gas points for all that driving) and because it’s safe. Luckily, I do live in a third floor walk-up and have to climb those stairs every…damn…day.
Now, this isn’t say French Women Don’t Get Fat is completely unrealistic and frivolous. In fact, for a diet book, I found Guiliano’s maxims supremely helpful–if only because they were based so firmly on common sense. Regardless of where we live, Guiliano assured us, everyone can live like a French women if we only exert a tiny bit of effort. Even we in flyover country can find ways to make our lives more French. In fact, I wouldn’t even qualify her rules as “French;” Guiliano merely champions being conscious of your body, what you eat, and how you conduct your life. Pleasure is key, as is balancing what your body needs with what it craves. Distinguishing between the two is important, as is learning how to satiate those cravings in surprisingly healthy ways. I liked how Guiliano begins her book by telling her readers that her’s isn’t like ordinary diet books. There are very few lists, bullet points or charts. There are few rules. Instead, French Women Don’t Get Fat is written in narrative form; Guiliano’s words flow through you naturally; you absorb her lessons like water.
As for her “rules,” they are few and far between. Drink more water. We all know this, but Guiliano points out Americans’ dependence on sugary drinks to supplement their meager water intake, and how many pounds we’re packing on for our sins. Drink water throughout the day. Drink a glass when you get up in the morning, and before you go to bed. It’ll stave off hunger, help you feel full, and leave you feeling fabulous. Another “rule?” Make exercise a part of your day. This doesn’t mean going to the gym and killing yourself twice a week–according to Guiliano, French women don’t “work out.” But they do walk a lot, and climb stairs. Even if they have desk jobs, they spend a lot less of their free time on their tushies, and more time strolling through the park and smelling the roses. Instead of plopping down with Oprah at the end of the day, Guiliano instructs us, take your dog for a walk. Go to the park, or take a 20 minute walk around the neighborhood in the evening. Exercise doesn’t have to be hard.
Rules and stories like these effectively make up the bulk of Guilano’s book. She also has a specific “diet regimen” for dropping weight, but it’s a lengthy process. There aren’t any rules on what you can, and can not, eat (except for the first weekend, where you’re supposed to eat only leek soup…ew?). Instead, Guiliano advocates looking at your eating habits, determining the culprits for your tire ring, and dropping them out of your life for three months. At the end, you won’t crave that Coke or handful of Doritos everyday. Easy peasy, right?
Maybe. I’ve been instituting a few of Guiliano’s maxims in my own life, particularly the rule dictating 6-8 glasses of water a day. I’ve been consciously trying to drink water throughout the day, and I’ve found (not surprisingly) that the hunger pains at mealtimes have dulled, and I’m eating less. That means I can afford to drop the Oreos, the orange pop, the cheese stick, and everything else that was leaving me feeling too full anyway. I’m proud to say that combined with yoga and twice-weekly runs, I’ve dropped 4 pounds from my winter weight. I’m not a big girl either; I’m not close to overweight and that winter weight was pretty damn healthy. But I knew my body could be healthier and in better shape. I knew dropping weight would be tough, but I’m so happy my body has responded as it has.
I know I don’t owe all this to Mireille Guiliano, but her example definitely got my butt in gear. Now, don’t think I’ve druink all the Kool-aid. I know there are thousands of fat (and even obese) French women, globalization making even the most remote Europeans act like lazy Americans. But we still have a lot to learn from the French, and though French Women Don’t Get Fat is old and the buzz has died down since its publication, the insight is still there.