In Mireille Guiliano’s unique, non-diet book French Women Don’t Get Fat (Random House, NY, 2004), wise counsel coming from French literary luminaries and gourmet heavyweights provides a backdrop of universal truths espoused by the author. She encourages all women to apply these truths, as she has throughout her personal and professional life, in their everyday lives: Whether shedding extra pounds or embarking on a thirty-pound weight loss regimen, employ common, simple sense and live with joie de vivre.
This is what she herself learned when she returned from her exchange studies in America a little thicker, a little lumpier, a little bouboum. Smarting from her father’s stinging reception and with the help of her sympathetic mother, she sets out on a slow and deliberate path to restore her French figure with a few recommendations from a family physician, Dr. Miracle. Key to the doctor’s prescription is attaining her “food equilibrium.”
Giuliano, born and raised in France, educated in Paris and New England, immerses us in her childhood upbringing. She enchants us with stories of her Mamie’s fondness for champagne and her own introduction to the premium aperitif at age six. Summers were spent wandering her Grand-mere’s Alsace gardens filled with hazelnut and walnut bushes. While on vacation with her cousins who lived in Aix-en-Provence, finding the freshest herbs and seasonings was considered family sport. She dazzles us with allusions to her mentors, peppering her racontements with citations of their work with food.
Attributing her growth in girth to eating on-the-go and endless junk-munching on American staples like potato chips, donuts, pasta, pizza, juice, beer, soda, ice cream, chocolate and candy bars, Dr. Miracle reminds Guiliano of her French roots: not the roots that provide the provenance for street-lined patisseries but the heart of French gastronomy where the divine value of fresh produce – the best of the season – is held sacred. Despite the flourish of supermarkets and hypermarches, doing one’s daily marketing remains a vital French institution. He prescribes frequent visits to artisanal farmers and organic producers of a fabulous variety of fruit, vegetables, spices, mushrooms, nuts, coffee, tea, and chocolate. Dr. Miracle advises slowing down on the eggy éclairs, buttery croissants, pain au chocolat. Light bulbs spark Guiliano’smemory as she re-learns the French diet paradox: enjoy food while staying slim. She cringes at her American counterpart’s gym-going obsession while substituting a breakfast of fruit and yogurt with 16-ounce-cups of sugar-free, skinny lattes.
As for the matter of exercise, French women are vastly different from their American sisters. They abhor huffing and puffing on the treadmill and would rather shop or sit and read (with their bottle of water, of course) at a café during their free time. Guiliano credits walking for keeping trim. She also drives home the significance of good posture, a good laugh, conscious breathing, wave breathing, nostril breathing, yawning, and asks the question, “Dormez-vous?” not only of Frere Jacques, recommending lavender oil as a no-fail soporific inducement.
Today, as former CEO of New York’s Cliquot, Inc., whose mother company LVMH (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton) is the purveyor of some of the most luxurious goods in the world, Guiliano does not live on bread and champagne alone. She doesn’t diet; never skips a meal; in fact, has two (or three or even four, measured) courses at meals, with dessert, with wine, without guilt.