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Can Americans Learn from "French Women Don't Get Fat?"

Updated on January 3, 2012

The Theory

In the introduction of her best-seller, author Mireille Giuliano writes:

I am no physician, physiologist, psychologist, nutritionist, or any manner of "-ist" who helps or studies people professionally. I was, however, born and raised in France, and with two good eyes I've been observing the French for a lifetime. Plus, I eat a lot. One can find exceptions, as with any rule, but overwhelmingly, French women do as I do: they eat as they like and don't get fat. Pourquoi?

The answer to this question is what "French Women Don't Get Fat" claims to answer. First of all, is it true? If so, is it simply a selective gene pool, or are there tips we can glean from the French lifestyle to help us manage our weight in like manner? And, most importantly, if there are such tips, are they found in this book? I'll let the author answer that herself:

By sharing my experience not only with food, but with a "total approach" to healthy living, I aim to guide each reader toward finding her own equilibrium. (Le mot juste indeed: it's an important concept, because while our bodies are machines, no two are built exactly alike, and they "reset" themselves repeatedly over time. A program that doesn't evolve with you will not see you through the long run.) I provide menus you can follow exactly, but the goal is to develop what works for you as you cultivate a new intuition. I'm not presenting prescriptions so much as templates. Tailor them according to your preferences, paying attention to your own body, schedule, environment, and other unique characteristics. In fact, my emphasis is on the simplicity, flexibility, and rewards of doing it yourself. This fine-tuning can't be done by a doctor-author who's never met you.

This disclaimer may at first seem discouraging to the average dieter, desperate to shave off a few pounds before swimsuit season. In fact, I see the lack of absolutes or guarantees to be the most promising recommendation of any. If there's one thing we, as a country, ought to have learned by now, it's that there are no quick fixes when it comes to the battle of the bulge.

The Author

Mireille Giuliano enjoys a glass of champagne.
Mireille Giuliano enjoys a glass of champagne.

The Program

Like many other diets, "French Women Don't Get Fat" is broken down into phases, introduced through the autobiographical tale of Giuliano's life growing up in France, her move to the United States (and gain of twenty pounds), and her journey back to the slim figure she now maintains.

Phase One: Wake-Up Call

This stage consists of:

  • Three weeks of food diaries


  • A hard look at what got you here

As with an addict, the first step to beating your demons is to identify them.

Phase Two: Recasting

From one to three months of vigilance, geared towards learning:

  • Portion control
  • Diversity of nourishment

A few foods may be temporarily suspended from your diet, but have no fear; in the end, nothing is off limits, Giuliano promises. The key is moderation, as you come to grasp in...

Phase Three: Stabilization

Your metabolism re-engaged, your body "reset," you may now reintroduce the "offending" foods you initially eschewed, placing emphasis on enjoying the experience of food preparation and eating, rather than obsessing over it when your focus should be elsewhere.

And finally...

Phase Four: The Rest of Your Life

If all goes well, you find yourself at your target weight, operating under a whole new outlook on food and weight, with, as Giuliano puts it, "a cultivated respect for freshness and flavor that unlocks the world of sensory delights to be discovered in presentation, color, and variety."

The Verdict

I am a skeptic of any diet, but my research into "French Women Don't Get Fat" surprised me. The obnoxious title aside, I think calling this book a diet would be giving it an undeserved bad rap.

In the end, there are many routes to weight loss, but the only real way to maintain a sound body is a sound mind, one thing that has long been missing from the diet propaganda of our generation.

Mireille Giuliani says it best herself:

French women take pleasure in staying thin by eating well, while Americans typically see it as a conflict and obsess over it. French women don't skip meals or substitute slimming shakes for them. They have two or three courses at lunch and then another three (sometimes four) at dinner. And with wine, bien sûr. How do they do it? Well, that's a story. That's the story. One hint: They eat with their heads, and they do not leave the table feeling stuffed or guilty.

Je suis d'accord.


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    • agaglia profile image

      Annette Gagliardi 

      9 years ago from Minneapolis

      well, I'm a skeptic. I have won on weight watchers, only to gain half the weight back. I have worked with a nutritionist for two years, but am still struggling. Portion control is well and good, but I'm still hungry. I have found out I have gluten and lactose intolerance. Anyway. this book seems like one more person who can successfully lose the weight - hope it can work for me.

    • daisynicolas profile image


      9 years ago from Alaska

      I'm reading it now and thought I'll review it, until I saw that your review of the book itself is very well written.

    • profile image


      9 years ago


      I totally agree with you on that one! I'm surprised she did not go into detail about how much smoking also relates to the thin frame of French woman! More likely than not they will eventually gain lung cancle or bronchidis as they age.

      "French smokers have jumped from 20 percent to 26.5 percentFrench smokers have jumped from 20 percent to 26.5 percent "

      Bottom line people, be healthy, don't follow the french or diets that are out there.

      Exercise, eating small portions,avoid sugary foods.

    • Candelish profile image


      10 years ago from Florida

      With such overwhelmingly falce information present, it's no wonder most people (women in particular) have made the weight loss industry so incredibly large. Thank you for this Hub, and thank you for the wonderful Hub idea is has given me!

    • MythiliK profile image


      10 years ago from India --> Switzerland

      When I worked in USA for a year, one thing I found was, more people are addicted to Cheese Burgers :D a quick way to get fat :-)

      I have given reference to this hub in my hub about "Korean girls slim body secret".

    • richtwf profile image


      11 years ago

      Yes a very interesting article. To me it all boils down to a few things when it comes to eating smartly:

      1) Food education - Awareness of what we're actually eating and how it can affect us.

      2) Knowing ourselves and the way our own personal metabolism processes the food we ingest.

      3) Moderating what we eat, and not necessarily abstaining from any particular foods - A little of something which is 'naughty but nice' does you no real harm.

      4) Maintaing a good energy balance by burning the energy from what you eat through sufficient daily activity.

      The French generally eat more healthily and probably live more healthier lifestyles too, so there's the lifestyle aspect which must be considered. But as it has been already commented above, countries who have had a good reputation for healthy living are not immune to bad Western eating habits and the responsibility for these changes is our rapidly changing way of life and the increased dependence upon convenience and time-saving ways of living. It's all becoming a rush-rush society to the point now where we may eat more convenience foods, over-indulge ourselves more often than we should, just for sheer gluttony's sake and not being physically active enough to balance what we've eaten.

    • jandee profile image


      11 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      I spend most of my time in fr. It is true they are slimmer ! I have friends who eat for many long periods in the evening but also enjoy the beautiful red .I think the baguette is the secret-the long skinny ones I have seen blokes as well as women removing the middle from them,also in supermarch' I have noticed chubbier people buying American bread ? So maybe things will change soon.

    • kazeemjames01 profile image


      11 years ago

      Nigerian women should also learn from French women. Thanks for sharing this hub. Very interesting.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      11 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Off the wall, but France has the highest infection rate of Toxoplasmosis (T. gondii): 80-90%. Characteristics not limited toT. gondii parasites made rats to be attracted to cats so that they could be ate by cats. The only place they could reproduce was in cat intestines.

      T. gondii dictated the behavior where women infected with Toxoplasma spent more money on clothes and were consistently rated as more attractive. Women are more easy-going, more warm-hearted, had more friends, and cared more about how they looked. However, they were also less trustworthy and had more relationships with men. Scientist called T. gondii, “Fatal attraction.” Infected men appeared to suffer from the “alley cat” effect. They become less well-groomed undesirable loners who were more willing to fight. They were more likely to be suspicious and jealous. They tended to dislike following rules.


    • stricktlydating profile image


      11 years ago from Australia

      I noticed in France there were more Deli's, Grocers and various other fresh foood outlets than there was "Fast Food". Their diet seems more traditional. Although there was so much lovely fresh bread!

    • cressinia profile image


      11 years ago

      I hate to say it, but a lot of French women smoke, and that's an undoubted help towards keeping a svelte figure!

    • jamesmoralde profile image


      11 years ago from Florida, USA

      great hub! very informative!

    • Jenna Pope profile image

      Jenna Pope 

      11 years ago from Southern California

      Portion control is a biggie for me. Interesting, informative article. Thanks!

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      how hard r u willing to fight for your figure ?

      what pain r u reday to endure in order to watch urself with pride in a mirror ?

      can u watch over ur eatings or r u already a prisoner of ur belly , an eppendix of ur stomach ?

      I am 38, i walk 4 miles a day to and from work, on heels, because i want to look good, I cook 3 times a day, I run my business, i am a mother and I don;t have a maid or a servant to do things for me.

      But I am ready to except the pain to be beautiful and proud of my body. By the way, I am 58 kg and 1,65. So , it can be done.

    • karibaxter profile image


      12 years ago

      I loved this book! I still talk about it. Quality over quantity. Enjoy your food, don't obsess over it, then don't eat until it's meal time again! I agree--not that hard.

      Thanks for reviewing this book!


    • profile image


      12 years ago

      As the French adopt more fast foods and as our food supply is increasingly controlled by companies who KNOW that their hidden and not-so-hidden ingredients retard fat-burning, it is inevitable that the French will also get fat, as people are doing in Japan, Mexico and other parts of the world.

      But wouldn't it be nice if we lived where we could walk everywhere and eat wholesome food whether we grew it and made it ourselves or not? I think that the lifestyle, along with the French mentality, form the complete package in combination with unadulterated food.

    • RickyDLV profile image


      12 years ago from USA and occasionally other countries.

      So true, ask any health professional and they will confirm, "the more you stress, the larger you will become." As we stress our bodies go into a survival mode. Our metabolism slows, we gain fat all to help us survive a drought, winter, or what ever the enviromental forces might have been before we were civilized. Now we still have a clinical responce to stress but we stress about the tiniest of things.

      Only educating yourself to enjoy and respect nutrition will give you a stress free healthy body.

      Be Well

    • tima888 profile image


      12 years ago from London/ Dubai

      The French are not immune to obesity any more, there are many Fat people in France, and their number is rising every year to the extent, that the health care system, is setting up special equipments in their hospitals, to cater for morbidly obese French patients, and there are NGO's who defend and represent the French obese's social, medical and political issues. This is not new either, the French have never been thin at 100%, but now they are catching up the rest of the world with their share of obesity, eating disorders and body loathing which was imbedded in their culture any way especially for women.

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      It never ceases to amaze me. How can great French food not make one heavier?

    • luxSmee profile image


      12 years ago

      Since reading this book I've dropped 11 pounds without even trying. Much of the advise in the book can be found else where as well. I found that I'm healthy by focusing on quality instead of quantity. I started using the foods recommended in the book as well as searching for healthier alternatives to what I was eating. It's about time the American way of eating was challenged.

    • profile image


      13 years ago

      true MG, its observed and experienced that when in france you dont put on weight but when in usa you put on easily. menu at the restuarants are different altogether. attitude of people is different. climate and health conciousness is different. in general its good to be vegetarian, cut down on milk and milk products, eat lots and lots of raw fruits and vegetables. have small quantities of carbohydrates, still less proteins and much lesser fats. follow nature. eat fresh food only. no stale food. no packed foods.

    • profile image


      13 years ago

      Well parts of the states were once french colonies so why do they get fat then. If it is genes one would expect there to be some 'residue'. By the way I have some french in the family who are definately country women and slim is not what I would call them. Though the food is fresher than in the states gotta give them that.

    • psioni profile image


      13 years ago from Toronto

      I'd say this is mostly genetic. I live in Quebec, and French-Canadian people here are generally much slimmer and shorter than Americans. It's not because of their diet. They eat lots of pasta and fatty foods. French fries, meat pies, beer, etc etc.

    • betherickson profile image


      13 years ago from Minnesota

      Diet is indeed important, but if they eat less for supper, well this could be a major factor ( I saw this on the discovery channel )

    • Ren Chin profile image

      Ren Chin 

      13 years ago

      great hub maddie! i love french

    • byee profile image


      13 years ago

      Portion control and exercise are definitely the keys. Compare the size of an American croissant to a French one--the difference is huge! America = everything is bigger, larger, even our fat butts. Thanks for the hub.

    • Annette Rozen profile image

      Ann Martin 

      13 years ago

      i enjoyed reading your hub, i like the idea of doing a book review!

    • bruzzbuzz profile image


      13 years ago from Texas , USA

      Once again, proof that the only way to become healthy is to reprogram what got you to an unhealthy state to begin with.

    • solarshingles profile image


      13 years ago from london

      they eat much less, but much diverse and much healthy/live food with no salty,faty crisps and fast food

      it is also very different life style

    • Sapristi! profile image


      13 years ago

      Having lived in France for several years, I often tried to figure out what it is that makes those French women stay thin! Note also that not all French people are sticks by any means.

      In my opinion, the author of this book is right on many accounts. The quality of food people eat in France is better. They don't snack as often. The portions are smaller, but more attractive and leave you feeling satisfied anyway. However, in my experience, the thin French women do worry about their diets - they just exert more self-discipline. They will skip meals if they feel it's not necessary to eat. They are not slaves to food and do not build their day around meals.

    • Solorya profile image


      13 years ago from Oklahoma

      Nice hub. I read the book in college and even drank the "leek soup," and while I may not consciously abide by their rules, I think I've taken some of the main concepts with me--eating fresher foods, not stuffing myself, etc. It's freeing in a way to think, "Yes, I can eat just that one piece of chocolate and be completely satisfied."

    • singpec476 profile image


      13 years ago from Not Too Far Away

      Hi Maddie really good hub, the French take a lot of stick for their attitude and arrogance but they are stylish and although they love to eat they do look after themselves, I have been to France many times and always have a great time. I think there is a different mentality involved and maybe that has something to do with it ?

    • Garry Nelson profile image

      Garry Nelson 

      13 years ago from Hawaii


      Yes, I have found that I tend to always lose weight when I'm outside of the USA and I always eat as much as I like, with no consideration for my weight. I would suggest it's the food. Very few countries have the level of processing that we do, or the amount of fast food. The food is always closer to nature in the countries that I have traveled to.


    • Vaniteux profile image


      13 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I've spent many summers in Provence, and I always come back lighter than I arrived, and I EAT my way around the country side!

      The difference for me, the few fast food restraunts they have, are out of the way and incovenient. The food everywhere, is so fresh... I can't touch a tomato in the states... but I devour them there... They don't fill everything with preservatives like we do.

      I think the biggest thing though, the mobility. We just plain don't walk around here. Most cities have transit, but let's face it, we are a nation dependant on cars... Why walk 3 blocks to the market, when you can drive, cause you know, it's hot out. I live in Houston, and things are so spread out here, no body walks to anything. In Provence, I walk everywhere, or ride a bike. I can't walk my 35 mile commute to workand back everyday.

      I can't wait to go back this summer!

    • weight-loss profile image


      13 years ago

      I read this book some time ago and thought it raised some good points. By concentrating on enjoyable experiences and foods, it's not necessary to consume large amounts of anything. You can have your cake and eat a bite or two of it!

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      13 years ago from France

      True enough. I have share many lunches and dinners with French friends and they DO eat several courses but ONLY in small portions.

      It also helps that they do lots of exercise. And I do not mean going to the gym, but walking as much as possible, cycling, swimming, horse riding... It is very difficult to find someone who does not exercise on way or another.

    • WhiteJedi profile image

      Linda Christiancy 

      13 years ago from Nebraska

      Interesting. Sounds like there's a big difference in attitude towards food between Americans and the French.

    • profile image


      13 years ago

      Well, begin with this: the French, in order to get to a place in town either walk there or take a bus or any other mean of public transportation. US: if you live in a smaller town (smaller than NY, Chicago etc.), you can't even get to a grocery store without driving there in a car; in my town, there aren't even sidewalks! And the nearest supermarket is across a highway. Another matter living in a large city. When I lived in NY (in Brooklyn), I had to walk a mile and a half each way to the nearest subway station to get places. And since I am a "last-minute guy", quite often I had to run that distance so I'd be on time. That alone kept me quite trim...

    • profile image


      14 years ago

      I think it's the fact that they eat their main meal at lunch time and generally have a light supper. Also might explain why despite the cheese, cream etc. in their diet their coronary disease is much lower than their European neighbours.


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