Big grins will break out on faces across America when readers check out the diet menus devised by Mireille Guiliano for French Women for All Seasons: A Year of Secrets, Recipes and Pleasure, the sequel to her surprise bestseller, French Women Don’t Get Fat.
Chocolate, champagne, cauliflower gratin, duck breasts with honey glaze, pork chops with apples this isn’t crash dieting, but a liberating philosophy that imbues life and eating with joy, satisfaction and sensory sensation. Guiliano has already received thousands of e-mails describing how her approach has created newly minted Francophiles with a fresh way of seeing the world.
"The best compliment is from friends who say the book is like having a conversation with you," Guiliano says with an accent full of the energy and charm that fill her books. "I write like I speak . . . and I speak my mind." Fans of the first book will recall that Guiliano gorged on pastries and became chubby while in America as an exchange student, and began her quest to lose the weight after a blunt comment from her father ("You look like a sack of potatoes") upon her return home to France.
Enlisting the help of family physician Dr. Miracle, Guiliano reacquainted herself with fresh, homemade food and revisited the tenets her mother and grandmother taught her about tiny indulgences. She eventually returned, svelte and stylish, to the U.S., married an American and landed a job as CEO of Veuve Clicquot, the venerable champagne house established during the French Revolution with Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, an equally impressive female, at the helm. Before Guiliano ever thought of writing a book, however, women often noted that while she traveled the world, entertained constantly and was passionate about food and wine, she didn’t become fat. Not wanting to share her personal history ("I couldn’t say been there done that," she says) she would instead shrug in the French way and say offhandedly that French women don’t get fat.
After her co-workers and friends begged her for more specific advice and began to lose weight with her approach, a Francophile friend finally persuaded Guiliano over lunch in a Paris café to sit down and write about what she had taught them.
French Women for All Seasons presents more easy recipes from family and friends featuring fresh, seasonal ingredients, along with Guiliano’s recommendations for adding gentle exercise and simple, sensual pleasures throughout the day, from dressing and working to relaxing, eating and entertaining (she even shares the secrets of tying scarves à la Francaise).
"The first one is about joie de vivre," Guiliano says of her books, "the second about the art of living." Guiliano’s cheerful confidence and flair have made her popular on the speaking circuit where she presents her ideas to women’s groups and college students, and continues to inspire readers of both sexes and all ages to shed pounds and tons of anxiety. "I’ve learned a lot since the first book came out," she says. "People like being made aware of quality and freshness." Call it natural female suspicion, or looking for evidence of theory in action, but women are now scrutinizing every detail of Guiliano’s life ("Oh, yes, it’s crazy," she says) as she moves from continent to continent, from green market to café to charity cocktail function, watching what she buys and eats for proof that her secrets really work.
And it does: The balance of indulgences and compensations can lead to good health, and she often hears comments that "it’s a shame that it had to come from someone outside the culture," Guiliano says. Americans apparently needed to hear the message from someone representing a culture known for its rigorous dedication to aesthetics flabby and fat is something the French won’t abide, even in their pigeons. "If I were a sociologist or anthropologist, I could write about it," she laughs. But Guiliano somehow manages to turn unrealistic European standards into a gentle, non-recriminatory exercise in living well in her two sensible guides. "When you desire it, eat a rich crepe take the time to savor it and eat it with pleasure. Eating on autopilot is the biggest no-no," Guiliano says. "Don’t deprive your body, because we all know everything is in the mind."
"And," she finishes with characteristic, no-nonsense flair, "it’s just not necessary."
Deanna Larson writes from Nashville.