I’m not big into diets or weight loss–I love food and baking too much to fully commit to any health food craze. But I am a fan of healthier eating, as a way to balance my too-often chocolate indulgence. So while I would never read a “diet book,” I would read a “healthy lifestyle” book. Which is what lead me to Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat, a guide to living (and eating) like a French woman.

Three out of Five Bookmarks

Guiliano’s experience in France is rooted in her family–she grew up there and frequently visits, although she is now married and lives in America. Until her semester studying abroad in Massachusetts, Guiliano was  what she describes as a typical French teenage girl: skinny, beautiful, and intelligent. Then she came to America for a summer, discovered American portion sizes and brownies, and gained so much weight she wasn’t recognized by her own father when she got home. Her doctor back in France put her on a diet of soup and plenty of activity (but never exercise, because French women don’t sweat), and she magically lost weight and devoted herself to never living like an American again. Ok, maybe that’s not exactly how she phrased it, but that’s what I got out of this book–Americans have no self control, they don’t care about appearances or else they wouldn’t be fat, and exercise is stupid.

Most of the book isn’t actually about her specifically, but rather how generations of French women (or at least the ones in her family and her small town) have managed to eat delicious and rich food without creating an obesity epidemic. In simple terms, it comes down to balance: if you want to eat a rich dessert you need to eat a light dinner and only have one glass of wine, and then walk up an extra flight of stairs the next day. But because an entire book can’t just say “eat better and walk more,” she has several steps for American women to take on the path to being more French. First, record everything you eat and the amounts for several weeks. Don’t do anything to change your eating habits, just write everything down. At the end, it should be clear what foods you are eating in excess and can cut down on. Second, do a crash diet for a weekend,eating only magical leek soup, to jump-start your taste buds and rewire your brain to accept proper portion sizes. Then, for the next several months, eat healthy foods prepared at home and don’t indulge. After several months you’re allowed to start eating a diet that balances healthy foods with mindful indulgences; eat sweets on the weekends, but remember to have a few weekends of magical leek soup too. And always, always remember to trick yourself into an active lifestyle (because exercise means sweat, which is as far from a glamorous French woman as you can get) by taking the stairs.

The book also includes many recipes, which were my favorite parts of the book. While some of them seemed weird–all the soups called for the cooked veggies to be blended in a food processor after cooking–most of them included seasonal ingredients and easy prep work. Her healthy desserts were my favorite, including recipes for fruit tarts without crusts and baked apples with walnuts. She created a menu for each season, highlighting which meat and produce would be freshest (I’m a fan of seasonal eating, just because fruits and veggies taste so much better right after they’re picked). She doesn’t give any calorie counts, but there is minimal use of salt and portions are small.

Her often flippant attitude does a disservice to the common sense advice of balance in diet and lifestyle. It’s not the most ground-breaking book on healthy eating, but her advice is something many people need to remember and is obtainable in everyday life. Don’t overload yourself with the empty calories of sugary drinks, don’t eat out all the time because you can’t control portion sizes and ingredients, and don’t forget to plan your day to compensate for an indulgent dessert. She throws in a few too many French words for my taste (I thought it came off as snobby, the boy says it just shows she is multi-cultural) and her attitude toward all non-French women may put off some readers, but if you need a common sense kick in the butt to get your life back in balance, French Women Don’t Get Fat may be for you–just remember not to take anything too seriously.