I have to admit, I’m a bit embarrassed to review this book. But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t always been fascinated by the myth of the naturally thin French woman, and frequently flipped through French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano in bookstores as a diet-obsessed teenager and university student, hoping I could absorb their secrets through it.
Years later, as a twentysomething who’s spent three and a half years and counting living in Paris, yet who still enjoys reading books on how to become more French, I decided to revisit this book when I found someone selling it for pennies on Facebook Marketplace.
To preface this book review, I want to reiterate that I’ve always found French eating habits very fascinating. Growing up in North America, I’d always heard stories about how they drank bottle upon bottle of wine and had a diet centred around baguette, butter, and croissants yet remained lithe. As such, when I moved to Europe and began meeting actual French people I subtly examined their eating habits to see if it was true.
My conclusions? It’s true that most French people are a healthy size, and they do love a good baguette and glass of wine. But their diets aren’t “perfect” – they also enjoy a Domac (verlan for McDonalds), kebab, or Coca-Cola from time to time. Not to mention richer foods like saucisson and raclette being cold weather staples!
What I did pick up was that they have a sophisticated palate when it comes to food, are open to all kinds of flavours and textures (kids food doesn’t really exist here and children tend to eat what the adults do, which I think has an influence on adult eating habits), eat only until they are full, do not snack much (save for the ever important goûter), buy food fresh and do frequent grocery shops, and eat small breakfasts, large lunches, and light dinners.
Unlike what books targeting North Americans will tell you, however, they do go to sports classes, hit the gym, and are diet-conscious from time to time. So I’m sorry to burst the bubble of anyone who believed that the French somehow held the key to being in perfect shape without even trying, but they’re pretty much like everyone else!
Back to the book. Guiliano’s book apparently made waves when it was released as it gave an inside peek into the set of so-called French diet secrets. It consists of a long preface in which she discusses her idyllic upbringing in the French countryside with an orchard full of fresh fruit and nuts, the story of how she moved to the US for a few months and gained a few pounds and subsequently lost it with the help of a French doctor, and several chapters on the French attitude towards food and diets, dotted with recipes and menus.
While I had really bought into this book as an adolescent, reading it as an adult I am a lot more critical.
While I agree with her points on the importance of buying local and in season, eating only until full, and having proper sit-down meals, I do find a large chunk of the book highly problematic, namely her questionable multi-day cleanse in which one consumes nothing but leek soup (which consists of nothing but leeks and water), and her constant pushing of champagne-centric meals (which I’m sure her being a former Veuve Clicquot executive has nothing to do with – in all honesty, French people do not consume nearly as much champagne as she purports!).
Nevertheless, I did find some of the recipes nice, like the concept of eating for both health and pleasure, and enjoyed the history lessons on French diet staples. I also don’t believe she had any ill intentions in writing the book, even if I don’t think it really reflects the reality of the modern French diet.
Would I recommend this book to people? To be honest, I’m not really sure. While I like some aspects of the book, others really bother me. In any case, it provides interesting insight into the French diet culture – from one Frenchwoman’s perspective, at least!
Ha ha ha… From one Frenchwoman’s perspective it was really entertaining to read your review. And as always, very interesting to compare our different ways of doing things.
Couple of things I’d add if I may…. I have never heard/used “Domac”!!! I say “Mac Do” though.
And that sentence: “they’re pretty much like everyone else”… are dare you?! We French people are unique – it’s a well-known fact!
I completely agree with you on the leek soup and champagne dinner : rubbish!
Thanks again for sharing.
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Thank you for commenting! I love to hear a French perspective on this topic as I feel that what I learned through North American media growing up was definitely not the whole truth. I’ve had some interesting conversations with French friends about this, and some find it funny how North Americans romanticize the French diet so much (probably because it’s so different from the standard North American diet!). Regarding your other points, I’ve heard a few French people use “Domac” around Paris but maybe it’s just a regional thing or they were pulling my leg when they said it was the slang for McDonalds! And I definitely agree with your two other points – the weird diet the author peddles is definitely rubbish (and unhealthy…), and French people are very unique and wonderful, and one of the major reasons why I love living in this country 🙂
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To be honest, I think I’m romanticizing French food too so I completely understand! I actually learned to appreciate fine food in the UK (which always sounds very odd for my fellow citizen!) where the use of spices and herbs and flavours are bolder and more exotic. We French people use to be very traditional.
But it’s the respect and importance of food which I really love. To me, everything is related to food. The love you feel for your family or friends is necessarily shown with food. Whether you’re a good cook or not (Lafayette Gourmet always does the trick if you have people over ), caring is feeding! Like weekend is croissant!!
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