Book Review: Women, Pleasure and Food – The French Way

Mindful Eating

I have been doing a series of Master Classes on various topics related to health and weight loss.  This month one of the Classes I created is called Mind Over Meal. This is all about Mindset with respect to who is calling the shots when it comes to your food, your mind or your cravings.  Your mindset can be your best friend or your saboteur which will have a huge impact on your relationship with food. This is particularly the case during this period of social isolation.  

This reminds me of an interesting book I read over a year ago that offers an unusual perspective on food and what role it plays in a person’s life.  Can it be a source of pleasure without triggering unmanageable cravings??

The book is  “Why French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano.  Personally I do not love the title, and I even come from a French background, but once you can get past the title it is a great book.

Mireille grew up in France but spent a year in North America as a young woman. During her time in NYC as a young woman she put on quite a bit of weight. She did eventually lose this weight when she went back to France.

As a result of her experience, many decades later, she shares her observations in her book on the differences she saw in the relationship women in North America have with food and French women. Oh and did I mention that she was also the President of the champagne company, Veuve Clicquot so her entire professional career was focused on food and alcohol.

Mireille believes that guilt about eating is what really has ruined food for North American women.

“There’s so much guilt and sin associated with food”, she writes, “that of course eating becomes a burden for North American women”.

French women eat with all five senses, she says. They also make a point of choosing good quality food ideally in season so the fresh food is flavourful and delicious. (I know that this might be a little challenging these days of online shopping and/or lining up at Sobeys to find empty shelves).  They eat slowly, savour their food, so the experience is very pleasurable and satisfying.  The result is they can eat less and feel completely satisfied and not deprived.

In essence what she is describing is practising mindfulness around the experience of eating.

I love this idea of being mindful while eating whether enjoying the natural sweetness, aroma and full flavour of a tomato in season or couple of pieces of an indulgent food such as good quality dark chocolate.

Her chapter on chocolate is quite amazing.  The difference between having one piece of high quality dark chocolate versus the cheap sugar filled chocolate bars that we can grab on the run is night and day.  She describes how her mother would eat chocolate which she did each night after dinner. She said it was as though it was a meditative experience for her mother. They all knew never to bother her while she sat quietly and slowly savoured her one piece of precious good quality chocolate with absolutely no other distractions. Her mother had no need to binge eat the chocolate because those 1 or 2 small pieces completely satisfied her on many levels.

Practicing mindful eating is the key for a healthy lifestyle and most importantly for keeping the pounds off. What sounds more pleasurable – sitting quietly with no disruptions, savouring one piece of good quality chocolate tasting every nuance of the chocolate or gulping down a cheap Snickers bar because you are stressed after a bad day, while stuck at home handling nonstop Zoom meetings,  kids at home, listening to quite distressing news … with no end in sight. . 

Doing a weight loss program like mine, is definitely helpful in establishing healthy eating habits and it helps sensitize your taste buds so they can actually taste the amazing flavours and natural sweetness in fresh good quality foods (including fresh veg from your own garden).  After any weight loss program though, it’s all about mindfulness that will help you manage your eating habits and relationship with food for years to come. This is why I incorporate it into my weight loss program. 

She also raises another interesting key point when she says,

 “You can’t start eating and living well in a physical/mental/emotional vacuum. Why do you think you have gained weight?  Stress? Loneliness? Answering these questions can help you determine if you’re using food to compensate for other issues”

We can use mindfulness to become aware of the deeper issues, emotions, voids where we use food to satisfy an unsatisfied need in our lives.   This is particularly relevant now as you may perceive you are experiencing more voids with all these recent changes. Wouldn’t it be better and more empowering to identify these voids and deal with the underlying cause and find another source of fulfillment as opposed to using food.  This can be a path to greater fulfillment. As one of my clients said to me during her program,

Dr Sher I am excited to wake up each morning now and think about how am I going to fill my day with meaningful things rather than how I am going to fill my stomach.”, Tanya

I love Mireille’s philosophy on food, life and pleasure so I  now recommend her book as part of my coaching to help clients develop an attitude and perspective around food, pleasure and lifestyle that will help them maintain their weight loss and experience more fulfillment.

So ask yourself what is blocking you from keeping it off? Are you able to enjoy food, not be stressed about it and feel like you are always having to “think” about it?

It’s time to pay attention to what and HOW you’re eating. Choose the best quality foods that you are able to find nowadays, use this time at home to make cooking the food enjoyable and interesting and finally take the time to savour each and every bite.  This is a powerful first step towards feeling satisfied and changing your relationship with food!