The Brie and Merlot Diet
Dr. Atkins plied us with bunless burgers. The South Beach Diet insists that ricotta cheese with lemon extract and no-cal sweetener is a fine dessert. Diets work, but after a while a person gets tired of skimping. This explains the runaway sales of Mireille Guiliano's new book, French Women Don't Get Fat --a title any American who has roamed the streets of Paris recognizes as a mysterious truth.
American tourists watch French women stroll into patisseries, buy chocolate at Jeff de Bruges and wine on Rue Cler, and have lunch complete with baguette--and wine, and a tart. The next thing they notice is that these women, many middle-aged and beyond, are not wearing elastic-waist pants from Chico's. They conclude the French are blessed with souped-up DNA that lets their thin-thighed bodies metabolize lunch before dessert hits the table.
The real reason only 10 percent of French adults are obese--a slim statistic next to 30 percent of adult Americans--is attitude, along with common sense. "Dump the diets," says Guiliano, who is also CEO of champagne maker Clicquot Inc. "A solution that counsels 'eat x and y for so many weeks and lose 30 pounds' is no solution for the long term." This may be hard to swallow for Americans, who spend $42 billion on diet books and products every year.
Taking time. Instead, says Guiliano, spend three weeks recording your eating patterns. Then, over a period of three months, recast them. Rather than give up foods you love, eat as the French do, taking time to relax at the table with family, friends, and decent china. Approach food with joy, but nosh in moderation; savor great dark chocolate or a glass of wine. Our cultural differences were clear in a study by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Paul Rozin and French sociologist Claude Fischler. Asked to respond to the words chocolate cake, Americans said, "Guilt." The French said, "Celebration."
Rozin and Fischler found that American portions are, on average, 25 percent larger than the same meal in France. And the French often leave food on their plates. Americans must separate desire from habit, says Guiliano, who, at 58, is size 6. "The question really isn't whether you want the bread or a cookie; it's whether you really want the bread or cookie . . . . You probably don't," says Guiliano. "It's not hunger that makes you finish that last fry."
Happily, eating smaller portions "becomes second nature after a time," she says. "It isn't an act of counting each bite or depriving oneself. It's about equilibrium." A big meal is balanced with a light breakfast or a soup supper the next day.
And take more time with less food. The mean time spent eating at a McDonald's in France is 22.2 minutes. In the United States, people stay seated for only 14.4.
Next, toss the junk, like chips doused with artificial flavor inexplicably named "ranch." Processed foods are sweetened and salted to appeal to our most primal needs so that we will eat them compulsively, says Guiliano. "Real food . . . we eat for pleasure, not because it pushes a sugar or salt button installed by our evolution. Real foods and real flavors make eating a fuller experience, and so we eat less. We can never eat enough fake foods to get that degree of pleasure." -Katy Kelly
This story appears in the March 7, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.