Book Review: “French Women Don’t Get Fat”

Well…of course some of them do! But that’s not really the point. Mireille Guiliano, a vivacious French women, offers in this charming 2005 classic a safe and sane way to enjoy your food while maintaining both weight and health.

A little about the author: At the time of publication, Ms. Guiliano was the CEO of Clicquot, Inc., an American branch of the French champagne maker. A large part of French Women describes her odyssey as a young woman to the United States in the 1960’s as an exchange student. There, she encountered the largess of American eating: Huge portions, unlimited amounts of carb-rich foods, etc. She ended up gaining about 25 lbs. before returning to France. Ms. Guiliano credits her family doctor with getting her back to a reasonable weight by applying time-honored French dietary principles to her daily menu. I will describe some of these later in this post.

But let me be clear: French Women is not a diet book. Instead, it provides an enjoyable education on how to savor and appreciate food instead of just downing it. Here are some eating tips from Guiliano’s book, and I will provide some examples regarding how I have incorporated them into my life. Yes, I’m a real believer in Ms. Guiliano’s lifestyle.

Portion control. Guiliano points out that the word “menu,” which is of French derivation, actually means “little.” She explains that the typical French menu offers small amounts of various items, rather than one large main dish plopped down in the middle of the plate. This approach to food preparation limits calories while providing satiety through variety.

In my July 26th article entitled “Meze: Mediterranean Appetizers for Lunch,” I provided a photograph of a “menu” style meal, using lunch containers one can easily purchase at the local Walmart.

All of the ingredients in this brown bag lunch are easy to obtain, prepare and pack. The portions are not big, but note the variety in color and texture. From upper left clockwise: Stuffed grape leaves, fresh grape tomatoes, pita chips, low-fat cheddar cheese (Trader Joe’s has the best), hummus.

Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and buy seasonally. Buying seasonally will ensure that your produce items will be at the peak of flavor. For example, summer is the best time for peaches, nectarines, and plums. Some of the tastiest apple varieties come out in autumn and winter. Late spring is a great time for cherries and strawberries.

Display your produce on the kitchen counter. If you purchase apples, don’t just throw them into the frig. I tend to forget all about them unless I can see them in front of me. And refrigeration kills flavor. Instead, consider displaying apples, melons, tomatoes, peaches, pears etc. on your kitchen counter in an attractive bowl. It’ll pretty up your kitchen, and you won’t forget to eat what you spent your hard-earned money on.

Apples I purchased yesterday at Trader Joes

Get the best that money can buy. In French Women, Guiliano emphasizes that bread, chocolate, wine and other delightful carbs are part of the French diet. However, she strongly recommends that if you’re going to consume such items, get the highest quality possible and consume small portions. How do I translate this bit of advice to my life? Well, as much as I like chocolate, I can’t tell you the last time I ate a Snicker’s Bar or Hershey’s Bar. Instead, I prefer the pricier dark chocolate brands like Godiva or Ghirardelli; they just taste better. I get the bags of 70+% dark cocoa chocolate packaged in separately wrapped 1 oz. portions. A couple of bites really satisfy me, because the flavor is so intense. So all I need is one square and I’m done.

Ditto for other foods. When I buy salmon, I get the expensive but tasty wild Pacific species. When I buy chicken, I prefer Empire kosher because the flavor and texture is superior to other brands. Yes, I’m spending more money on food….but I eat less of it because the quality and flavor is more satisfying. If you can afford to go this route, do so.

Try alternatives to salt and pepper. For example, take a good look at the fresh herb section of your produce store and experiment a little. I for one love fresh dill. It adds a delicate grassy flavor to microwave steamed fish. I also enjoy it in tomato and squash stew (see recipe for the latter item in my “Recipes” section, entitled “Squash and Tomato Saute.”) And when I roast a weekend chicken, I always stuff it full of fresh rosemary and lemon slices; it adds so much to the flavor.

Sit down when you eat. To Ms. Guiliano, standing while eating is a HUGE no-no. Make a point of honoring your mealtime by sitting down and savoring the food.

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There’s so much more in French Women to talk about, but at this point I would suggest that you purchase the book and enjoy. And I promise that you will. Ms. Guiliano’s writing style is casual, chatty, and fun. French Women Don’t Get Fat can be purchased from amazon.com in hardcover and Kindle format.

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