39 of 43 people found the following review helpful
An American who lived this as a teen and learned from it,
This review is from: French Women Don't Get Fat (Paperback)At age 55, people often tell me that they envy the way I can apparently eat anything I wish and stay slim. That isn't true, of course, any more than it is for anyone else.
But when I was 19, I went to Paris and worked as an au pair for a year, and after the initial culture shock (no eggs and bacon for breakfast?! supper late and small? Lunch big and SLOW?), I learned that I felt healthier and stronger when I ate in the classic French manner: exactly the diet and routine outlined in this book. For the past 35 years, whenever I feel a little sluggish or put on a few pounds, I return to eating in the French manner to the extent that this is possible in the United States.
That is the real crunch, as mentioned by a number of other reviewers. What is easy in France is difficult here. I live in an urban community where a nice grocery with fresh produce is a short walk away, and I can easily walk to the post office, library, movie theater, etc. I rarely go to a restaurant that is not within a 5 minute walk from my house, and I have a large variety to choose from. A small minority of Americans live in this context.
But I did not always live here. When I have lived in more suburban areas, I thought about ways to simulate a similar life. Some things are easy: park at a small distance from your destination and walk the rest of the way. Get in the habit of stopping on the way home from work to purchase those few fresh fruits or vegetables that will make dinner special. Eat a smaller and later dinner, and do change plates between courses, even if only once. Those four extra plates per family of four are irrelevant, and the difference in eating habits is worth the little effort.
Some things are hard: portion size in restaurants in the US is huge. Good produce can be hard to find and expensive. A smaller and later supper is not appropriate for a child or teen who had to wolf down a quick school lunch in the allotted 25 minutes. Ready-prepared food (usually caloric and bland, and often pumped with preservatives and unpronounceable ingredients) is prominently displayed in the grocery store and very tempting! In suburban areas without sidewalks, any walking at all is risky to one's life and limb. And most of us work more hours than the French and see the preparation of meals after a long day at work as a burden and not a creative process. That is even more true when we take into account that the average family dinner takes less than 15 minutes to devour, and that allows for little sense of pride in the meal that was prepared.
Still, I have found over the years that it is worth the effort to emulate the traditional French lifestyle to the extent possible, even if that is sometimes limited to the weekends. When I get too far away from it for too long, I definitely can tell the difference; I have less energy, I feel bloated, and even my skin and hair look dull. A week of consciously living more like the French will revive me.
Several reviewers have pointed out that the French themselves are getting away from these traditions and putting on weight as their lives become more like ours. This is true. It is also true that the French government and health care community see this as a cultural and health crisis, and serious efforts are taken to guide the French back to their traditional lifestyle. Alas, we Americans are held up as a bad example, and (also alas) this is entirely appropriate. Exporting our lifestyle has also exported the health and diet issues that are inescapable and unfortunate by-products.
A final anecdote: two years ago, I was helping the children of an expat French family to make the transition to the English language in an American school system. I met with the daughter to discuss her studies, see what she needed help with, what she did not understand. Her immediate concern was the food pyramid. She simply did not understand the concept. We discussed it at length (in French), and suddenly a light bulb went on: "Oh! Is it to teach Americans how to eat? But why would a person need to learn how to eat? It is so easy! I learn from my family by seeing what is served every day, and I will do the same for my children, of course." Later that week, she was very distressed. The children had been told to keep a food diary, and then to compare it to US dietary guidelines, and to write a short paper on how they could improve their daily diets. Charlotte was nonplussed...there was nothing to change. She asked me if she should eat badly for a day or two so that she would have something to write. This experience really put the whole issue into focus for me. A ten year old French girl knows how to eat well. A ten year old American snacks on junk food and often eats dinner out of a bag. We CAN stop the madness, but our society makes it very difficult. This book can be just the inspiration needed, if approached with an open mind.