After studying abroad in the States for a year, Mireille Guiliano returned to France to realize she had inexplicably gained weight. Through careful study and practice, Guiliano had to rediscover her French practices around eating in order to shed the weight and keep it off. Since then, she has been unraveling exactly what it is that makes French women stay trim. Here are 10 things I learned about eating like a French woman.

1) French women honor mealtime rituals and never eat in front of the television.

French women take mealtimes seriously. They don’t eat in the car, standing up, or in front of the television. I love mealtime rituals. Dinner time is the part of the day where I feel the most sophisticated and grown-up. The best part is that you don’t have to have expensive things to make your dinner table feel elegant. My dishes aren’t fancy and I bought my linen napkins on sale, but my carefully laid table with wildflowers at its center still evokes a sense of importance and care around our mealtime connection each evening.

Eating in front of the television is an easy habit to fall into, especially if you find yourself under a lot of stress at work, coming home feeling empty and like you can’t muster the energy for conversation. (Props to parents of young kids out there, when for you it’s a victory just to eat three meals a day). The ironic thing is that while you think watching television will bring rest, it actually does the opposite. For me, more often than not, connecting with my husband at our dinner table at the end of the day restores my energy instead of draining it. We are working on breaking the habit of eating in front of the television— it’s a difficult habit to break, but I think it’s worth it. The time together is just too sacred to miss out on.

2) French women walk everywhere they can.

I love the French approach to exercise— they sneak it into their lives as stealthily as possible. While some French ladies will take exercise classes, most French women avoid the gym in favor of a game of tennis or a stroll through the neighborhood. Walking is a considerable part of the French woman’s everyday life. I’d much prefer to trick myself into exercising by walking to the grocery store, the coffee shop, and the bar rather than working out in a gym. Peet and I live in the perfect location to walk to many of our favorite places and I feel like we get to see special parts of our city that you easily miss in the car. Last night we walked home from dinner and drinks at one of our favorite local places, and we got caught in the rain on our walk home. Recalling childhood memories as our clothing was soaked, stopping for a kiss under the streetlamp, the date was sealed in our minds as one for the books. Très romantique.

3) French women eat three meals a day: they don’t snack a lot and they don’t skip breakfast.

I have been a chronic breakfast skipper for as long as I can remember. I’m not a morning person. I never feel hungry before 10:00AM, and I don’t want to add the work of preparing a meal to a morning where I am probably already running late because I chose to sleep for 15 more minutes. Le sigh. Anyway, since reading French Women Don’t Get Fat, I’ve been attempting to eat breakfast each morning, even if it is just a couple of bites of yogurt or a handful of granola. I’ve noticed that the sheer act of taking a moment to stop and consider fueling my body in the morning has helped me to become a little more in tune with what my body needs.

4) French women think dining in is as sexy as dining out.

I’m still learning to embrace this one. For me, there’s nothing more fun than the adventure of dining in a new restaurant, complete with foreign cocktails and cheeses I’ve never heard of before. But whether we’re in Covid lockdowns or trying to save a little cash, romantic dinners can be accomplished at home. We open a bottle of wine, light a few candles, and thank God that you can’t really mess up spaghetti, because we are probably not paying a lot of attention to the recipe. Accomplishing the mission of creating a meal together is bonding, and we always laugh a lot. Another plus: after your date, you’re only a few steps from the bedroom.

5) French women don’t need a special occasion to drink champagne.

Perhaps my favorite thing I’ve learned about French women is their love for champagne and the freedom on occasion for which they will drink it. Author Mireille Guiliano assures readers that one need not be celebrating a special occasion to pop open a bottle of bubbly. As one of my Instagram followers reminded me, “Champagne is the occasion”. I’ve started to order champagne when I’m out with my girlfriends. It makes me feel like this ordinary evening is going to be something special. To have friends who love you, support you, challenge you, and laugh with you— now that is an occasion.

6) French women shop at the market, eat in season, and cook with the freshest ingredients.

French women shop seasonally, locally, and regularly. They do not stock up on weeks of canned and freezer food, but rather frequent their local markets regularly in favor of the freshest ingredients with the fewest added preservatives. I try to shop at our local farmer’s market when I can. Yes, this can be more costly than shopping at the supermarket. French women invest in their food (they invest in their beauty, too) not only with their money, but with their time and energy as well. French women take time to consider meal plans and the schedule of the day is often planned around a trip to the market for fresh ingredients for dinner. We only have a weekly farmer’s market where I live, so I can’t get local produce just any day, but I try to stock up on as much fresh goodies as I can. And you best believe I walk there.

7) French women love to sit at a cafe and do nothing but enjoy the moment.

I love to eat at cafes by myself. I often carry a book with me, but sometimes I won’t bring any entertainment at all, in favor of people watching and enjoying my own thoughts. I love to sit outside in the springtime and watch birds or butterflies move about. There’s something so freeing about not being expected to discuss or impress. I can just be.

8) French women don’t eat “fat free”, “sugar free”, or anything stripped of natural flavor.

Many diets are structured around the pretense that you must eliminate delicious foods from your diet in favor of fake, “healthier” versions in the form of sugar-free, fat-free, or low-carb diet foods. Not the French woman’s diet. French women always go for the real thing— they would never eat fake chocolate or a fat-free cookie. Instead, they eat the real thing, made with excellent ingredients, and in careful moderation. Quality over quantity is key.

9) French women care enormously about the presentation of their food. It matters to them how you look at it.

Food is beautiful. The world of food is full of gorgeous colors, shapes, and textures. There’s nothing quite like a carefully arranged charcuterie board. Presenting your food beautifully can be both fun and challenging, and it makes a huge difference in how enjoyable mealtimes can be. So, go for it! Add a splash of pink radish to your salad or a little garnish to your beige chicken dish. People crave beauty as much as we crave good food. There’s no reason not to add a little beauty to the process of preparing food.

10) French women don’t diet.

At least, not in the way Americans interpret the word. French women do not count calories, carbs, or grams. They do not eliminate entire food groups from their diet. They do not deny themselves decadent foods, but rather celebrate the pleasure of eating through careful moderation. French women don’t diet. They pay attention to balance. They eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. They drink plenty of water. They consume bread, chocolate, and wine, all in moderation. They eat three meals a day. They don’t snack. They walk everywhere they can. They honor their bodies with the way that they eat. And their bodies honor them back.

Thank you for reading this post about the 10 things I learned from Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat. To read my post about four other books all about how to live like a French woman, click here. To stay in the loop about all of my future book reviews and projects, sign up for my email newsletter below.

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