Why French women don't get fat

Author: Maya Kerthyasa

No, Mireille Guiliano isn't fat. In fact, the French author has made something of a career of it following the release of her 2004 book French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure - a sort of anti-diet diet book that became an international bestseller. We caught up with her over cups of tea (no milk, no sugar) while she was in Sydney as a guest judge for the Australian Grand Dairy Awards.

GT: How highly do the French rank pleasure when it comes to food?
MG: It's the number one factor. Food is pleasure. The French, they don't believe in the big happiness thing - life is made of lots of little pleasures, and food is way on top.

You're not a fan of diets.
All diets are bad. There's not one good diet, and that's why many people in the press call French Women Don't Get Fat the non-diet book, because it's a lifestyle. Basically it says you can eat whatever you want. Just eat it in small quantities and take the time to enjoy it. [It's about] the pleasure factor.

Quality over quantity?
That's another thing - quality. Because we do that not only with food but with clothes. We'd rather have one piece that we can buy every two or three years, but with it we can buy less expensive things to mix and match rather than buying junk. Food is the same thing. We'd rather buy a nice piece of cheese or some really good fruit and vegetables than a whole lot of garbage.

And that's why French women, as you say, don't get fat?
It's a series of very simple things. One is that [we] tend to eat three meals a day, breakfast being so important. And then we drink a lot of water between meals, we walk a lot - we are not gym freaks, we don't actually like to go to gym - but we walk in the street, we walk to work, we walk to do errands, we walk the stairs a lot - we don't have many escalators or elevators.

So just how much cheese is acceptable?
A few slivers, that's all we need. It's like with nuts. You see people on the plane, they eat them like that and ask for another bag... you don't need a packet of nuts or a wheel of cheese - that's fattening. But if you eat a few slivers it's very good.

You're in town to judge the Australian Grand Dairy Awards. How do our cheeses compare to the French?
Actually they're very good. You are ahead, and so is England. I guess because you have a lot of good cows and good meadows, you have wonderful cheese and a great variety. I'm stunned at why you buy French cheese here... I'm eager to taste some more.

What about restaurants - how do French women approach dining out?
You have to outsmart [the restaurants]. In the old days you'd go to Italy and you had to have a first course, pasta, fish, meat, and dessert. Otherwise they look at you like 'no way, we're not serving you' - same in France. Now there are a lot of restaurants where you can have two entrées and you can choose. There's a lot of very nicely made fish - there's grilled fish, there's baked fish that hasn't been soaked in fat). You can have portions of vegetables and can ask to have them prepared the way you want them, but you have to look at your menu and decide.

What's the French woman's secret to surviving the festive season?
I would say don't go with the 'I'm not going to do this' [mentality]. No, because there are rituals. Prepare for it, but then choose what you want to eat. It's a little bit like when you go to a buffet - you can have French toast or waffles but you don't need it all. Pick the two or three things you really want and enjoy them. And don't feel guilty.

What's your go-to cheese?
I love them all. I eat cheese every day - no lie. I can't live a day without cheese.

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