Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Review: French Women Don't Get Fat

My friend Marie asked me this weekend if I read anything for fun anymore. You'll all be happy to know I read a Nora Roberts book this weekend.

So there.

French Women Don't Get FatI picked this book up from the library because I'd always wanted to see what she had to say, but never wanted to actually spend the money on it. Best of both worlds!

I expected it to be just what it sounded like: gimmicky, pointless, based on nothing of value. Thankfully it was better than my expectations. I mean, it's not the Next Great Masterpiece or anything, but it was engaging and fun to read. And quick; I got through most of it in one evening.

The author is French, but spends most of her time in America. She speaks a great deal of her own experiences - traveling to America the first time as an exchange student and gaining weight, then gaining even more when she went to university in Paris. She lost the weight with the help of her kindly family doctor and has kept it off ever since. After seeing so many of her American friends struggle, she decided to "pass on" the "secrets" French women have used for eons to retain their slender forms. It's not meant for people with a lot to lose, but rather those of us (waving hand) who seemed to have found themselves with an extra bit of weight and not sure how it got there (break up, filling ensuing void in heart with dip and bags of chips).

Really? Most of it is common sense. I think it is all things our grandmothers knew: simple tricks to keep the weight off. But somewhere along the line, all of those tricks were lost. The Standard American Diet took hold with its processing and HFCS and this and that, and suddenly common sense went out the window.

Drink lots of water. Eat more fruits and vegetables. If you want dessert, don't eat the bread. If you want the bread, have a piece of fruit to finish the meal instead of dessert. Keep a diary of everything you eat for a couple weeks, then look back and see where you can make changes. Substitute something healthier where you can, and don't bring anything into the house if you can't control yourself (Ahem. Potato chips.) Take a walk after dinner. Shop locally, shop often, make your own food.

Very simple, common sense things. But things few of us do. She never proposes cutting anything out of the diet, just limiting things like sugar to occasional treats. Which is at is should be. If you can't live without your daily chocolate, find the absolute best you can afford and every day "treat" yourself to one square. The thing is, if you go for quality (which she advocates) a little goes a long way. You don't need the entire bar, because there is more taste in one square of the good stuff than a whole bar of the bad.

It is a little gimmicky; she likes to pepper little french phrases in to prove that she is from The Continent, and her urbanite tendencies definitely shine through (New York and Paris, is there any place else to live?). If you can get past that the book isn't half bad, considering. The recipes she includes look pretty good and she has since developed a website if you want to download them yourself.

I couldn't help but flash in certain places to Michael Pollan. I can't remember which book it was (perhaps both), where he said that America has no real food culture and that is one of the basic reasons why we're all so fat. She didn't say that in so many words, but I thought as I was reading that pretty much everything she was suggesting underscored this idea. The French remain thin despite butter, despite choice cuts, despite drinking wine with every meal and not "exercising" (although I think you will find most Europeans move more over the course of their day than any American). The French enjoy their food; they aren't afraid of food. Every morsel is to be enjoyed to its fullest. And if you have a few too many bites one night, you have a few fewer the next. It's all about balance, something we say we advocate in America, but really don't.

I wouldn't recommend this book for everyone; if you have more than say 30 pounds to lose (her number from the book), you may need more help and support than this can give you. But if you've already taken off the weight, or like me have found weight creep on with no real idea how it got there (potato chips), this book can give you some basic tools to help it creep right on off. They are simple, basic tools to help get through life without actually dieting anymore; things our mothers should have passed down from their mothers, but somehow got lost instead.

Which sounds pretty damned good to me.

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