Equilibrium: French Style

The secret of eating for pleasure…

Ask my friends and they will tell you that I have always held a curious fascination for all things French. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why… perhaps it just comes from growing up with a very french sounding (maiden) name!

If you weren’t already aware, July is Tour de France month in our (cycling mad) household – an ideal excuse for me to indulge my francophile tendencies (I love that Gourmet Traveller plays along by scheduling their annual French issue for July, too!)

Appropriate then, that I make mention of a book that had (and continues to have) a profound influence on my relationship with food – Mireille Giulliani’s French Women Don’t Get Fat.

Now, I acknowledge the reality that today’s average French woman is perhaps not always a glowing picture of health and that sadly, thanks to the global spread of modern convenience foods and sedentary lifestyle habits, the French are having to deal with much the same obesity, health and body image problems that we are facing in Australia, the US and UK (see this article). That aside, I believe there is much we can learn from Mireille and her special perspective on the traditional french way of life and philosophy on food. Any woman who lists ‘breakfast, lunch and dinner’ among her favourite pastimes is worth taking notice of, in my opinion!

I wholeheartedly agree with Mireille’s view on banishing the diet books for good – replacing all the contradictory ideologies and technologies that seem to appear with amazing regularity, with a balanced and time tested relation to food and life.

“Why don’t the million-copy wonders (diet books) put a definitive end to our woes? Simply put, the answer is ‘unsustainable extremism’… You’re bound to slip out of your Zone,  fall off your Pyramid, lose count of your calories. And why not? C’est normal!”

Essentially it comes down to a completely different attitude to food. French women typically think about good things to eat, while other women worry about bad things to eat. French women tend to eat smaller portions of more things, while elsewhere, women eat larger portions of fewer things. It’s this concept, combined with the French notion of maintaining one’s ‘equilibrium’ – balancing food and movement within a day, a week, a season or even a year – that forms the core of what we try to teach our Équilibre clients everyday.

The French Woman’s Manifesto

For me, it’s such a liberating feeling to know that I can eat real, beautiful food in sensible amounts without any feeling of deprivation or guilt, rather than the foods which our consumer society dictates we need in order to lose weight or feel virtuous. It’s time to get off the merry-go-round and take control for yourself and your own wellbeing!

Although impossible to distill a cultural attitude and lifestyle approach into a few simple bullet points, I have listed what I believe are the essence of Mireille’s teachings, or at least the ideas that really resonated, making me re-think my own approach.

French women…

  • eat three meals a day (they don’t skip meals or substitute them with slimming shakes!)
  • are stubborn individuals and don’t follow mass movements (Everyone’s doing low carb? Not a chance!)
  • balance their food, drink, and movement on a week-by-week basis.
  • don’t eat ‘fat free’, ‘sugar free’, or anything artificially stripped of natural flavour. They go for the real thing in moderation.
  • choose their own indulgences and compensations. They understand that little things count, both additions and subtractions, and that as an adult everyone is the keeper of her own equilibrium.
  • don’t often weigh themselves, preferring to keep track with their hands, eyes and clothes (‘zipper syndrome’)
  • never let themselves be hungry or let themselves feel stuffed.
  • believe in the 3 P’s: Planning, Preparation and Pleasure.
  • do stray, but they always come back, believing there are only detours and no dead ends.
  • French women DON’T DIET.

“If you can manage to adopt even a fraction of the French attitude to food and life, managing weight will cease to be a terror, an obsession , a miserable stop-go affair, and reveal its true nature as part of the art of living.”

2 Responses to “Equilibrium: French Style”

  • Britt:

    Hi Nic,

    I too adore tous les choses français and wholeheartedly agree with you here about changing our attitudes to food and dieting in order to sustain a healthy equilibrium.

    The one time that I did observe the French way of thinking (small portions and everything in moderation), I managed to both lose weight and sustain a healthy weight.


    • Nicole:

      Merci bien for your support Britt… It really is a light bulb moment when you realise that food doesn’t have to be the enemy, n’est ce pas?
      My only regret is that despite all my romantic ideals, French was my very worst subject in Year 12! Maybe I will have to live there one day to rectify that!