Friday, May 14, 2010

French Women Don't Get Fat.

Ok boys and gals, the time has finally arrived for my feedback on:

French Women Don't Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano.

Since this book has been out for a while, I'm not going to do a tradtional review, but rather, list some points that I highlighted and follow with some of my own thoughts. Before we get to that though, I guess I just want to point out the grand theme, which is to genuinely enjoy good (and good quality) food. Guiliano frequently points out the many ways French and Americans differ when it comes to food consumption and appreciation. There's a certain degree of snobbery that remains consistent throughout the book, but once I took on a mature and objective outlook, I was able to truly understand and appreciate what Guiliano was saying.

Now, on to the bullets:
  • " the master of both your willpower and your pleasures."
  • This spoke to me instantly because I'm constantly going back and forth on being "free" to eat whatever I want, feeling guilty about exercising said freedom and trying to find redemption through restriction and/or too much exercise. The thing, for me, is: I CAN enjoy all types of food. But if I want to maintain my current weight and not go back to 248 pounds, let's be realistic: I need to take responsibility for my decisions and be mindful of what my healthiest/least self-defeating choices are. I'm an adult and I'm in charge of my body. Yeah, technically I can eat cake for breakfast everyday. But I obviously know the long term effects of such behavior and know that I can regularly nourish myself with better options and still have the cake when it's really friggin' good and the time feels right. 
  • "It is one thing to identify your offenders, quite another thing to manage them."
  • While I'm still moving away from food labels ("good, "bad," "sinful," etc.), I do get what she's saying here. Peanut butter is a food that I could easily identify as an "offender" because it's something that I've abused in the past. But since I've allowed myself small servings of it almost everyday this week, I feel safer having it in the house and no longer feel like it has some stupid power over me. It's a jar of peanut butter, for fuck's sake. 
  • "Any program that your mind interprets as punishment is one your mind is bound to rebel against."
  • Nothing too complicated about this concept. Yet fad diets continue to flourish. 
  • Regarding food as a 'reward':"'s okay as long as the food is rewarding: no junk, good quality and respectfully savored."
  • This is something I've been really trying to live by this week. I like sweets, but there's a lot of sweet crap out there that's just not worth my time. I've bought some good (well, good by my standards; certainly not anything by Hershey's) chocolate over the past week and have managed to make it last by really zeroing in on the smell, texture and taste. And I have indeed savored each bite, hence not feeling like I have to eat it all at once. 
  • "What is relatively easy for you may be hard for someone else, and vice versa."
  • Guiliano points this out early in the book and I'm glad she did; this reminded me to read with caution and not assume that I would be able to live by every single topic in the book and have it completely change my life. I've spent a lot of [wasted] time over the years trying to model the various eating habits of others and often found myself discouraged because what worked for them didn't work for me. Well, duh, that's because they are not me. And I am not them. But that doesn't mean I won't ever find what works for me. It's just gonna take time, practice and patience. 
  • Three meals a day, three-course dinners; "Our courses are greater in number, but smaller in size."
  • Obviously I'm no stay-at-home chef, so I can't go too crazy with multiple courses, but I have tried breaking my meals up into different sections and just focused on enjoying the different components on their own. Doing so has increased my appreciation for certain foods, where as before, they all kind of got lost when the focus was to have "one great meal." 
  • "Snacking, which results from not having three proper meals, is generally an unhelpful expedient that confuses us, body and mind."
  • Now, I know I just said that I need to find what works for me and not mindlessly copy the actions of others, but for the sake of this book and for the sake of what Guiliano is trying to achieve AND for the sake of me finding my own food balance, I've been practicing this and can't say that I've missed snacks. Obviously snacking works well for a lot of people. It may have worked for me a bit, back in my dieting days, but I've noticed that by skipping snacks in between meals, I enjoy my next meal much more and am satisfied with less because I was able to "work up" a genuine hunger. This is not to be interpreted as me starving myself. I'm simply getting more satisfaction from my main meals and just haven't been distracted by the thought of snacking. But if you adore your snacks, take this section with a grain of salt. 
  • "Wine can also enhance your health if absorbed in small daily doses and always, always with food."
  • Truth time: Prior to reading this book, I pretty much ALWAYS drank alcohol around a meal, rarely during. And of course, drinking in such a manner allowed alcohol to get the better of me and led me to make poor food choices. So this week, I have tried having a glass of wine with dinner. Doing so has increased my appreciation not only for the wine, but for the food as well. I finish feeling like I had more of a true dining experience, even at home. I know that sounds cheesy as hell, but it's true. 
  • "...being ready for the pleasure of food is essential to contentment with proper proportion."
  • Because I've been making an effort to eat what I feel will please me the most at that moment, I have been feeling satisfied with less. I don't make hideously large portions of food to begin with, but I often find myself finishing a plate just because "it's a serving" and it's there. I'm making an effort to pause and breathe more in between bites. I feel like I have a better idea of different fullness levels and have a much better judgment on when to stop without feeling deprived. 
  • Regarding chocolate (of the dark, rich, high-quality variety, of course): " is better enjoyed after lighter meals than after fat-laden holiday feasts, or by itself as a pick-me-up."
  • A piece or two of chocolate after a lighter meal definitely rounds it out and of course adds a pleasing, sweet touch. Such satisfaction has kept me from going back for more. And I haven't been limiting myself to just pieces of chocolate; whatever source of sweetness I feel like, I just go for it, but downsize and savor, of course.
  • "Mindless exercise is almost as bad as mindless eating."
  • Just something to keep in mind. I try not to zone out during workouts, but sometimes it happens, especially on machines at the gym. I just highlighted this as a reminder to make sure I'm always mentally present and getting the most out of my exercise. 
  • "Self-punishment is never our path to well-being. The only purpose of withholding some pleasure is so we can more fully enjoy everything else for having it in proper balance."
  • I know, I can't help but sometimes roll my eyes and/or groan when weight maintenance "experts" go on and on and on about "balance" and "moderation" because they often seem like generic practices that are easier said than done, but still overused. Well, I stopped rolling my eyes this week and just decided that if I expect to be sane about food for the rest of my life, I do need to make more of an effort to find that "gray area" or "middle-ground" or whatever term you want to apply to it. I'm just tired of living in extremes and am at a point where I'm ready to welcome both pleasure and nourishment from food without going overboard and/or freaking out in the process. So far, I've been doing just that pretty well. But as always, mother-frickin' baby steps. 
  • "...when that balance slips, each must devise her own plan of correction, based on personal preferences."
  • I like how she says "plan of correction." Soooo much better than "get back on the wagon" and the like. And she doesn't imply that you need to starve yourself the next day or workout for hours either. Just go with the flow, with a healthy-minded foot forward. At least that's how I interpreted it. 
  • "Attitude shifts take much longer, but when they take, they tend to take for good."
  • I just liked how she acknowledge that a) it is indeed about attitude, b) yes, it can be changed and c) yes, it will take time. 
  • Regarding the 50 Percent Solution: "...ask myself if I can live with half the amount being offered; indeed, will I be just as happy eating half as much?" and "...if you continue eating only half of what's on your plate each time, you will never eat the whole thing."
  • At first, I was a little thrown off that she mentioned this practice as an afterthought at the very end of the book, but when I think about it, I suppose it makes the most sense. Guiliano wanted you to first get comfortable with the idea of just enjoying your food without guilt, then progressing to portion control from there. As I mentioned before, I'm mindful of serving sizes when making my meals, but I don't always need as much as I think I do. And being completely satisfied with half of some of my meals the past few days has acted as proof. How? Savoring each and every bite, son! And again, pausing in between bites and just really paying attention to what I'm ingesting. 
  • "Eat the smallest bite that lets you register taste. Then have another."
  • Another point I wanted to highlight, just to reinforce the concept of food appreciation.
So there ya have it. There are some parts I admittedly breezed through (sometimes Guiliano talks at length about her upbringing and picking fruits in the summer at her aunt's house and blah, blah, blah) and I didn't get much from her, with regard to fitness. She clearly despises the gym and thinks we should all walk and bike everywhere. Perhaps when I'm retired in Paris, I'll do just that, but otherwise, simply walking isn't a practical means of exercise for me. I'm at a point now where I need to sweat because it really does make me feel good and I like the way my body feels when I make regular efforts to keep it in shape. She does suggest some strength training and yoga though, which I appreciated. She also wants you to eat nothing but leek soup for a couple of days before beginning her "program," but obviously I skipped over that nonsense.

Lastly, THE RECIPES! You can check out some that have been posted on the book website. I've yet to try any, but some are so simple that I'm excited to make one or two over the next few days.

Although some of Guiliano's concepts weren't new to me, I ended up getting much more from this book than I expected to and can say that I genuinely enjoyed it. French Women... is a relatively quick read and flows more like a novel and less like a typical Here's-How-I'm-Gonna-Help-You-Shed-Pounds diet manual. I don't think I'll be turning into a Francophile anytime soon, but I have no qualms about having a French attitude toward food because it makes the most sense. Not to be hatin' on Team USA, but the typical American approach to food is pretty scary at times and our means of consumption can be quite destructive; and I know it's true, based on my experience alone.

There are a ton of other highlighted notes that I made but didn't share because if your interest is at all piqued by now, you really should just get a copy and read it already.


Michelle said...

I just loved that book. Everything you pointed out is fabulous. In regards to exercise, we all have different preferences. I am with you, I like to sweat, but to each their own!

Bess said...

It's been awhile since I've read this book.

I remember I enjoyed it overall but I did not like that leek soup fast she suggested if you want to drop some quick weight.

It is so interesting how Americans have such a punitive/restrictive attitude towards food and are obsessed with going to the gym, and so many other cultures take pleasure in their food, enjoy everything in moderation and have a more leisurely attitude towards exercise.

Tamara said...


Exactly. Kinda bums me out that I (and numerous friends and family members) spent so many years having such a distorted relationship with food and activity. Could've saved myself a lot of trouble had I been born overseas, heh.

{Absolutely, Positively} Josie said...

i read most of this book (in pieces, standing in bookstores at various points in life), and i like and identify with your take on it. most reviews on it i've seen are a little too gushing for me; and while i agree with many aspects of the french way, it's good to see a reviewer think for herself, point by point. thanks.