This is a case of both having and eating your cake. And your bread. And don't forget the wine, cheese and chocolate! Mireille Guiliano's...

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“French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure”

by Mireille Guiliano

Knopf, 256 pp., $22

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This is a case of both having and eating your cake. And your bread. And don’t forget the wine, cheese and chocolate! Mireille Guiliano’s “French Women Don’t Get Fat” is more culinary adventure than diet book in the American sense of the word.

Born and raised in France, Guiliano came to Massachusetts as a high-school exchange student and gained 20 pounds in just one year. The shock of that experience, and the slow but steady return to slenderness once back home, gave her pause to ponder the differences between the French and Americans in their eating habits and attitudes. How is it that French women, who are loathe to work out, keep their naturally slim figures and eat what they want, when they want it?

“French Women Don’t Get Fat” is Guiliano’s elegant and spirited response. Thoroughly Gallic in sensibility (with many bien surs and comme ças thrown in for good measure) “French Women” is a stylish meditation on French cuisine and culture that includes specific steps and tips, the author’s own experiences, and a few dozen recipes featuring ordinary ingredients, simply prepared. (I made the cauliflower gratin and baguettes with great success.)

Guiliano’s advice is not new — eating well is a matter of balance and moderation. Smaller portions of a variety of tasty, healthful foods will keep you sated and in shape. She is a strong advocate of eating fruits and vegetables in season, drinking water and wine (with food), and walking for exercise.

This is a diet that requires refining one’s sense of taste, not deprivation as in many American fad diets. “French women take pleasure in staying thin by eating well,” she writes, “while Americans typically see it as a conflict and obsess over it.”

Guiliano also recommends using real plates, “decent napkins,” and never, never eating in front of the TV. While she’s at it, she dispenses guidance on posture, lovemaking and even breathing.

Maybe it is ze French accent, but I received all of this more as cajoling than hectoring — and as license to indulge.