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The French Connection 

New book explains why Americans eat so poorly

During my last visit to Paris, I did not forgo a single meal. In the mornings, a dazzling array of baked goods at the local patisserie beckoned; at noon, we enjoyed a heady lunch at a bistro, wine included. At dusk, we strolled to a neighborhood restaurant and indulged in a remarkable repast complete with buttery sauces and, of course, more wine. Ah, the joie de vivre: to be able to enjoy this amazing cuisine and not worry about gaining an ounce. After all, the trick is to eat like the French. And why is that? For over a decade, we Americans have been obsessing over the French Paradox. Our first ah-ha was red wine. It's gotta be the red wine, we said. All the French drink red wine. Heck, they give wine to their babies. Red wine. That's why the French stay so healthy while shoveling in those complex sauces and treating themselves to double and triple cream cheeses.

But it wasn't only the wine. Our next epiphany was olive oil. Sales of olive oil in this country shot up. But it wasn't the olive oil, either. So we added cheese and yogurt to our theory. Then garlic and onions.

However, the French diet goes far beyond wine — and olive oil and cheese. It's a cultural attitude toward food and the appreciation of that food. You won't find the gargantuan plates of food in a traditional Parisian bistro. Moreover, a few decades ago, Chef Paul Bocuse and Nouvelle Cuisine had Americans screaming for more — more food that is, since Nouvelle Cuisine had minuscule portions.

The truth is the French stay fit. In French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating For Pleasure, author Mireille Guiliano sets out to tell us why. Her book is not a carb-loathing diet book along the lines of Atkins or South Beach. (Only in America could we declare war on bread, which, by the way, is the same word in Egyptian Arabic for life.) Instead, Guiliano describes a lifestyle based on choices that French women make on a daily basis.

Guiliano came to the truth about French women's ability to stay svelte after spending a year in the States as an exchange student. In a small town in Massachusetts, she learned about snacking, brownies, eating on the go, and eating American-style food. When she got off the boat upon her return to France, her father took one look at her and her 20-pound weight gain and told her she looked like "a sack of potatoes." Depressed and distressed, Guiliano continued her American eating habits when she entered school in Paris. Finally, her mother held an intervention and got the family physician to visit her. Dr. Miracle, as Mireille calls him, instructed her to keep a food journal (similar to a weight watcher's journal) for three weeks and then he would analyze it.

After the three weeks, she turned over her notebook and was surprised at the amount of food and sugar she had eaten. The physician recommended that she needed to "recast" herself and begin with a weekend cleansing consuming leek soup.

Guiliano soon remembered the wise ways of her culture. How French women watch the zipper and not the scales — she calls this being comfortable in one's skin, bien dans sa peau. How these women drink eight to 10 glasses of water a day and carry an emergency bag of snack food if a meal is delayed. (In Guiliano's case, it's a bag of soy nuts.) it. "Tout est question d'équilibre." (Everything is a matter of balance.) The rules are simple: smaller portions, lots of vegetables and fruits, three meals — consumed sitting down at a table — a day with no snacking and no seconds, eating slowly, no skipping meals, drinking eight to 10 glasses of room temperature water, walk everywhere, and take the stairs when possible. Guiliano supplies other observations about French women — some diet related, others reaching to other areas French women seem to excel in, such as maintaining relationships.

Clearly, Guiliano does not believe in deprivation, nor should she. She is president and CEO of Clicquot, Inc. in New York and director of Champagne Veuve Clicquot in Reims, France. She espouses drinking a glass of wine with dinner and having chocolate when you want — but only one piece. She states, "Cooking is a sensual art," and believes that eating was meant to be done with all the senses. She recommends taking time to enjoy the food and the company instead of eating on the go, alone, or in front of the television. She also recommends staying clear of sugar-free or sugar-reduced foods and offers alternate recipes. These are not your typical diet book recipes: chocolate mousse, croissants, fingerlings and caviar, and salad of duck à l'orange. She's French, mais non?

Americans joke a lot about the French. How rude they are to us when we're in their country speaking English. Or how dare they not side with the Bush administration about the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? But when it comes right down to it, we're probably just jealous because they all look so damn good and stay fit while dining on foie gras and brie and swilling Bordeaux and Champagne. Guiliano points out the truth. There's no quick fix to weight loss and to remaining healthy; one simply needs to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant that has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? Note: We need events at least 12 days in advance. Fax information to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136. To contact Tricia via email: tricia.childress@creativeloafing.com.

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