I’m currently learning French, one silky vowel at a time. My decision to immerse myself in this culture is an easy one, French women are sexy, happy and balanced.
Fat is a strong word and one which may be misconstrued in this world of diets and twiggy models. It’s not to say French women are not fat, therefore they must be skinny. Au contraire! This is just black and white thinking that we don’t question and as a result, have been conditioned to believe. Based on Mireille Guiliano’s personal experience of weight loss, “there is “ideal” body weight that shows up on insurance company charts based on nothing but height, there is “fashion weight”, an ideal but much less natural, in which commerce plays a big, sometimes insidious part; and then there’s the “wellbeing weight” the one at which a particular individual feels “Bien dans sa peau” (comfortable in his or her own skin).”
So what’s the secret to eating cheese, drinking champagne and still feeling fabulous!?
1. French women eat with their heart
Passion plays a big role in cuisine française. Frozen meals and ‘Maccas’ just wouldn’t dare cross a French woman’s palette. Let’s not forget passion can be fiery as well as dedicated. What are these women dedicated to? Flavour and quality.
French women aren’t reading the latest book of Zen. When it comes to food in French culture, mindfulness is innate, or at least passed down through the generations. They’re living their wisdom, which means tuning into themselves, a concept known as intuitive eating.
What is your most recent food memory that made you go weak at the knees? Was it eating the last piece of chocolate? (Assuming this was not preceded by the rest of the block). Can you remember savouring that last piece? Tuning into the way it melted in your mouth? If so, you’re well on your way to mastering mindfulness.
3. Eating with the seasons
Have you ever eaten a tomato and thought, “wow, so that’s what they taste like?!” It’s most likely it was vine ripened in summer, grown in a friend’s garden or bought from the local farmer’s market. Globalisation has given us many more options when it comes to fresh produce, but how fresh is it and has it reached its full flavour potential?
“In the end, seasonality is the key to the French woman’s psychological pleasure in food – the natural pleasure of anticipation, change, the poignant joy we take in something we know we shall soon lose and cannot take for granted.” – Mireille Guiliano
We’ve talked about how climate affects food but what about the other seasons? Mireille Guiliano lists “The most common herbs in French cuisine”, parsley, sweet basil, tarragon, thyme, lemon thyme, chervil, marjoram, oregano and rosemary, “we chop them at the last second to enjoy maximum flavour”. Spices and nuts also play a melody on the senses of French women, thus curbing cravings for more rich, salty or sweet processed foods.
“The more flavours you train yourself to register, the more complex your appreciation of taste will become. And a well-trained palette is quicker to reach contentment.” – Mireille Guiliano
5. Portion sizes
Ever been frustrated eating out at a ‘fancy restaurant’? Was it that tiny portion in the middle of a large plate that threw you off course? This is actually a French custom; it’s considered strange by French people to have a whole meal on one plate, or to see any plate covered with food. Mireille Guiliano states, “The traditional French meal is still a three course affair…” With a shift in mindset, this way of eating could be enjoyed by all, provided the smaller portions are eaten mindfully, in season and seasoned well. Small plate dining is a cunning skill French women use to maintain their weight. Throw away your spanx, reduce your portions and effortlessly slip into that little black dress you’ve been longing to wear.
6. Scaling down
Bathroom scales: [Out of order] “This scale will only tell you the numerical value of your gravitational pull. It will not tell you how beautiful you are, how much your family and friends love you or how amazing you are.” – Source unknown. Mireille Guiliano says, “ignore the scale and live by the zipper test”. How do you feel in your clothes? The only scales that may come in handy are those used in the kitchen, when you’re starting to figure out what exactly is a portion size. Salmon is considered a ‘superfood’ when it comes to its omega 3 benefits but 120 – 170g is all that is required in one sitting.
7. A daily stroll
Unsurprisingly, based on what we’ve heard so far, French women balk at the idea of running ragged on a treadmill. However it’s no secret that our bodies can be hoarders when it comes to storing excess energy. Mireille Guiliano says, “the key is to add moderately to your daily physical exertion.” For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk an extra block instead of taking the bus to your closest stop. We need not punish ourselves with a gruelling exercise regime, moving mindfully can also add pleasure to our day and give us the opportunity to use our senses for things other than eating. To curb cravings in the first three months of her weight loss journey, Guiliano would buy a bunch of flowers every so often to distract herself from the smell of pastry, but also exercise other senses and learn satisfaction of a new kind. Her Doctor tested her on the sights of Paris, (those other than the row of patisseries on her way to University), this way she took varied routes and paid attention to her surroundings.
8. Never go hungry
Mireille’s Doctor articulated, “You should no more skip meals than you would filling your petrol tank – you’ll only be left stranded later.” Carrying a small snack which is both good for you and satisfying was the Doctor’s prescription in helping Ms Guiliano stay on track, as he helped her retune her French wisdom, after a year on exchange in America. Her saviour became soy nuts but she emphasises that it boils down to the individual. What’s your ‘go to’ healthy snack?
9. Shop for what you need
Preparation of food is as much of a ritual for French women as eating it. “They love to talk about what they have bought and made.” In shopping only for what they need for the next day or two, food is fresher and more flavoursome. Not to mention there is less waste and taking a walk to the shops can increase the effects of moving one’s body, as well as ensuring you only buy what you can carry. Shopping regularly and for the necessities (which may include the finest quality cheese, not just the boring notion of 2 fruit 5 vege), helps to keep out the offenders which may derail your best efforts. Offenders may include a ‘special’ on low grade chocolate. Buying two blocks for a reduced cost is a bargain and may remedy that bad day at work, but based on French wisdom would be an insult to the palette, and buying in bulk could cause you to overeat. Mireille says “with good chocolate you don’t need – and should not want – pounds of it for pleasure. A couple of choice pieces a day won’t disable your budget or your weight-maintenance programme.”
10. Set the table
For French women, dining is an experience, which can make eating less seem more meaningful. “Setting one’s table can be nearly as important as preparing the food.” – Mireille Guiliano. It is seen as an appetiser and increases mindfulness by focussing the mind to anticipate the meal ahead. It creates the effect of an occasion, much like the way a table is delicately tended to at Christmas time. Why not make this a ritual for at least one meal a week.
In her book “French Women Don’t Get Fat”, Mireille explains that France has a history which in terms of time, far outweighs its Western counterparts, where much of the influence comes from American culture. Mireille maintains that the French have had longer to master their approach to food. Food such as bread is deep-seated in French history as something that people fought for, and giving up such delicacies just isn’t a consideration. This window into the French culture is a great opportunity to turn down the noise on commercialism and diet fads and tune into some “French gastronomic wisdom”. Especially now that we are a little closer to knowing, the “secret of eating for pleasure” is as much a philosophy about food as it is of life.