Mireille Guiliano wasn’t the first to write about why French women don’t get fat but the popularity of her elegant guide to a trim waist à la française gave rise to a whole genre of books dedicated to cultivating a French lifestyle. Admittedly, I’m a big fan. On a surface level, these books are escapist fluff. I can while away a whole afternoon on the couch, imagining myself transported to a Parisian coffeehouse where I sip on full fat café au lait and eat chocolate stuffed croissants with abandon. Yet I believe that there is something to be said for advice on eating from a country with a centuries old and deeply ingrained food culture.
Losing it in France: Les Secrets of the French Diet by Sally Asher is the latest addition to my French lifestyle collection, and along with French Women Don’t Get Fat, is my favourite. Actually, I’d be hard pressed to say which is the better book, as I love them each for different reasons. Unlike Guiliano, who was raised at the French table, Sally Asher is an Australian who lived in France for several years and overcame a lifetime of bad eating habits to lose twenty-five pounds and keep it off once returning home–without ever going on a diet.
What I personally find incredibly irritating about most weight loss books, is that their authors assure you their way is not a diet (because we all know diets don’t work) but “a lifestyle change”. However, any time you alter what you eat and cut out certain foods or food groups, you’re dieting. But in the case of Losing It in France, When French Women Don’t Get Fat et al, it truly is about a lifestyle change. It’s not about what you eat as much as when and how much.
I know this is true, because I once lost over twenty pounds using the techniques described in these books, and kept it off for almost seven years–until various life challenges and emotional upheavals sent me running to the refrigerator to deal with the stresses.
Which brings me to what I like best about Sally Asher’s book; she spends considerable time elaborating on the emotional side of problem eating, careful to make it clear that the key to success means mastering your emotions and rooting out what causes you to overeat and make poor food choices. Most of us are now familiar with the types of little tricks that will over time gradually lead to weight loss: drinking more water, taking smaller portions, adding small amounts of full fat like butter to dishes to increase satisfaction and satiety. All suggestions included here, but the real value in the material is the recognition that cutting out that second helping of Spaghetti Carbonara is all fine and dandy, but unless you identify the underlying issues that cause you to overeat, you will always struggle to lose the extra weight.
Asher also writes in a highly engaging and honest style. Her personal journey is one anyone can identify with. Changing your habits and dealing with emotional issues require commitment and hard work (though I would venture not as hard as dieting) but Sally makes you feel like if she can do it, you can do it, too–without having to cash in your retirement savings to go live in France for a year.