Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat made quite a splash a few years ago. I remember hearing about it, but never pursued reading it. Perhaps I thought it was a book for women seeking weight loss.
This book is much more–it’s an invitation to enjoy life! Although, if I was trying to lose weight, this is exactly the book I’d want to read.
It’s one you have to read cover-to-cover, but rest assured, once you pick it up you’ll want to immerse yourself.
The story begins with the autobiographical gastronomical musings of the author–a woman who takes great pleasure in serving food, but doesn’t serve Food, if you know what I mean. (There’s my requisite book review pun.) As Guiliano more elegantly puts it, “French women take pleasure in staying thin by eating well, while Americans typically see it as a conflict and obsess over it” (8).
In her college years Guiliano didn’t pay much attention to what she ate (which happened to be when she was an exchange student on a standard American diet). She returns to France overweight. Mercifully, the family doctor comes to her aid and with his help and a special recipe for leek soup she learns to re-cast her body and her attitude towards food, returning to the traditional practices experienced in her childhood.
The story carries with it straightforward, common sense advice. The author recommends an attitude change towards food, rather than a specific diet. “You don’t need an ideology or a technology,” she says, “you need what French women have: a balanced and time-tested relation to food and life” (7).
This approach works because it’s something you can maintain throughout your life, unlike a rigorous gym schedule. Comparing the differences between French and American habits she says “America…gravitates toward different philosophies, quick fixes, and extreme measures. In diet as in other matters, these work for a time, but they’re no way to live” (6).
Personally, after learning about a Weston A. Price/ Nourishing Traditions diet, I have sometimes been anxious or overwhelmed by the sheer amount of time and research that I felt needed to go into my food. While I still believe the WAP diet is more of an attitude towards food rather than a diet, its commitments can be daunting. French Women Don’t Get Fat was a truly refreshing reminder to enjoy real food rather than hounding it down.
Guiliano sees food’s relationship to the rest of life, and thus she includes in the book a few notes on physical activity, posture, even fashion. She draws analogies between these things and diet, showing that one can be as classy about food as about dress.
I loved this book. I loved its nostalgic meanderings through ingredients and its mouth-watering recipes. I loved Guiliano’s reminders to drink water and eat fruit (heaven forbid that we become so afraid of sugar that we banish fruit!). I was also inspired to drink more wine, maybe even purchase a bottle of Champagne every now and then. I found myself checking my posture while I read, breathing more deeply, immersing myself in the story–only putting it down to prepare a cup of fragrant tea.
Guiliano, Mireille. French Women Don’t Get Fat. New York: Knopf, 2005. Print.