A Musing: French Women Don’t Get Fat


Last week was full of celebrations! Food was a large part of the gatherings I attended, and I consumed many delicious things, including but not limited to: two chorizo burritos as big as my head, brownies, cocktails, yellow cake with fudge frosting, oysters, wine, truffle fries, giant fried chicken sandwich and fries, lamb with fig compote and butternut squash, clams casino, ice cream three times  . . .

I made a home made pizza the other night, which usually sends my eyes rolling to the back of my head it’s so good, but my pleasure-o-meter barely registered a blip. Compounding this problem was the fact that my house was a mess and I couldn’t find anything, and I was exhausted from working and going to school (and having a huge paper, a presentation, and a mid-term in the past two weeks!). It was all Too Much. I knew it was time for a complete reset. Bring on Spring Break, Spring Cleaning, and the Magical Leeks!

You may be familiar with the concept of the Magical Leek Weekend from Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat, published almost ten years ago. The media certainly buzzed about the book, and it was a best seller. I had taken it out of the library when it first came out, because I was (and continue to be) charmed by all things French, even though I hate anything to do with diets, abhor the word fat, and deeply mistrust anything reeking of the self-help genre. Imagine my surprise when I read it and found it was actually a manifesto for pleasure, nourishment, and equilibrium. I liked it so much that I picked up my own copy. I thought it was worth a re-read as I eat my magical leeks (I made them with home made chicken stock and thyme, and eat a hard boiled egg if I feel hungry. The intention is to reset, not starve or feel ill from lack of protein!), clean my house, and rest this weekend, and I’m glad I did.

The still radical notion to sin-and-guilt, work-and-stuff, go-go-go-obsessed Americans is that pleasure, balance, and intention can be your North Star. It isn’t just to do with food, but with all aspects of your life. Guiliano even references literature to get her point across:

Unlike a book about diet, mine does not allow you to open to a color-coded graphic — do a, b, c, d — and get immediately to work. Really, that’s part of the point. You could speed-read your way through Madame Bovary, picking up plot, characters, and setting, but the only way to absorb the book’s insights is to surrender to the narrative, allowing that you may not see everything on the first attempt.

Yes! This is why I forgo challenges where the emphasis is to read a large number of books in a small amount of time, versus really digging deep into one book over a long period of time.

She even deconstructs our language around food:

Too often, American Women eat on the sly, and the result is much more guilt than pleasure.  The tendency goes with an attitude that should be changed.  Nothing is sinfully delicious.

Amen! Let’s get rid of people saying they were “being bad” when they ate something they wanted to eat, too! It’s all about gratification and equilibrium. Eat something rich, then eat something simple for your next meal. Work really hard on a project, then plan some time to rest.

I now see that I could have saved making that pizza for after I had a few simple meals. I could have taken a few days off from work so that I had more time for school and home. Planning that indulgent night out the evening before needing to work on my mid-term wasn’t optimal. Thanks for the reminder, Mireille! As I eat my magical leeks, get my house in order (literally and figuratively), and rest (I slept twelve hours yesterday!), I know that when I sit down to eat poached chicken, asparagus, and rice tonight, it’s going to be absolutely delicious.

(image: poster produced for the French Department of Agriculture in the 1930s)

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