French Diet & American Women

with Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD and Mireille Guiliano

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript

Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, says that French women don't get fat, but they do eat bread and pastry, drink wine, and regularly enjoy three-course meals. Kathleen Zelman, director of nutrition for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic, chats with Guiliano to unlock the secrets of this "French paradox" -- how to enjoy food and stay slim and healthy. They joined us on March 10 for a conversation, and to answer your questions.

If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR: Kathleen Zelman, director of nutrition for WebMD, is interviewing our guest, Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure for WebMD Live. Welcome ladies, let's begin.

ZELMAN: In a nutshell why is it that French women don't get fat?

GUILIANO: Because they've learned to eat with their head and they fool themselves.

ZELMAN: What are they fooling themselves about?

GUILIANO: First they eat with pleasure, using all their senses. They also eat sitting down, which is very important, because if you eat standing up, in front of the TV or multitasking, you tend to overeat and want more. You eat on some kind of autopilot and you don't enjoy what you're eating.

ZELMAN: How can we learn how to eat with our senses?

GUILIANO: By making some choices and taking a few meals to start with where you sit down and do nothing but eat. Pay attention to the color and presentation, the portions, the chewing and the eating slowly and you're going to notice you get satisfied much faster and you will eat less.

ZELMAN: What is wrong with the American diet?

GUILIANO: It's first that your relationship with food is different than ours. We eat for pleasure; you eat feeling guilty, feeling food is sinful and following diets that are all about deprivation. Your eating is about one-size fits all, do this, don't do that, eat this, and don't eat that. That doesn't work, it's very stressful and we already have a stressful life.

Obviously if diets worked, everybody would be thin. People eat fast food, a lot of food with preservatives and coloring -- artificial; what I call poison food. My book is a lifestyle book that says: okay, do your little diary or journal and try to pick a few things from my hundreds of tips and apply them to your life. Apply the ones that are easy to do to begin with.

ZELMAN: I totally agree that diets don't work. But another facet of our lifestyles is that we also eat very large portions which certainly add to our weight problems.

GUILIANO: One of the things I'm saying is, that as a rule, we all eat 10% to 40% more than what we need. Unlike diets, I'm not saying eliminate bread or pasta or pizza or ice cream. No, you can have any quality food, but learn to decrease it slowly. If you're eating a pint of ice cream twice a week, learn to eat half of that and then keep decreasing.

If you eat slowly, sit down, and take 20 minutes to eat, you will not need those large amounts. I am getting lots of feedback and email from my readers who say they cannot believe how easy it is and what a difference it makes to sit down for a meal and take time, not rush into it. What happens is that after a few bites you will be satisfied. So, reducing the portions is meant to be done slowly, because if you do it radically, like in many diets, your body will take revenge and you will binge. This way you're learning to change your relationship with food and to learn that less is more.

ZELMAN: I love the practical nature of your advice. The WebMD Weight Loss Clinic is a program from France where we advocate many of the same principles as are in your book. One thing that we advocate, that you do also, is to eat plenty of yogurt. Why is yogurt so important in the French diet?

GUILIANO: French people do not drink raw milk like Americans do. We get milk from custards, warm savory dishes, desserts, cheese and yogurt. Yogurt is one of the best snacks in the world, and for women it's important because it's high in calcium. It's a great breakfast, a wonderful snack, a great dessert, and you can even use it with all kinds of food, like the Greek, Latin and the Egyptian people do. French women eat one or two yogurts a day.

In terms of looking for your balance, let's say last night you had a big meal with friends or at a restaurant and you had a glass of champagne and bread. Eat dessert. The French enjoy it and don't agonize, but the next morning we are not going to have two croissants for breakfast. Yogurt is the perfect food.

ZELMAN: Sounds like yogurt is one of the foods you use to balance overindulgences?

GUILIANO: Yes. It helps a lot. When eating a "normal" breakfast you'll have cereal, a piece of fruit and some bread. After this big meal, you'll need to reduce a little bit and relook at nutrition, on a weekly basis, and balance it.

Yogurt is great because when you have it for breakfast, it has carbs, protein and fat. This is what you need in every meal. It's the one perfect meal that is well balanced that will keep you going for the morning and has almost no calories.

ZELMAN: Do you think the research on dairy and weight loss works with the French lifestyle?

GUILIANO: Yes, we eat a lot of cheese. When I'm in Paris I always have cheese for lunch or dinner and have two yogurts. Dairy has the protein, but also the calcium which is very important for women, particularly for our bones. We feel it's very important to consume dairy.

ZELMAN: How about vitamins and minerals?

GUILIANO: If you have a balanced meal you don't need to take vitamins -- if you eat quality fresh foods. Of course a lot of people eat garbage like preserved foods and things you buy in the supermarket that are ready. The food industry has to put preservatives in for shelf life.

ZELMAN: But what if you are eating lots of fast food?

GUILIANO: If you're eating this type of food then you need to take additional vitamins because you are lacking major nutrients.

MEMBER QUESTION: I understand that the French are adverse to exercise. If this is correct, then why am I wasting my time lifting weights, doing Pilates and running around like a crazy woman?

GUILIANO: My philosophy and that of most of my French women friends, is that this is not how we like to spend our time; spending hours every day going to work on a machine. For us, walking is the most simple, the most inexpensive exercise there is, besides what it does to your waist line. It is also exercise for the mind because it gives you time to relax, to think, to dream, and to look at the sky or the buildings or at nature. So it has many other effects that go with the French lifestyle of body and mind.

ZELMAN: Research suggests that women need weight lifting to keep bones strong.

GUILIANO: I mention this in my book. Buy those little weights and use them two or three times a week. To us, the idea of going to a gym and changing and going on the machines or equipment is not attractive and takes a lot of time that we don't like to spend in that way. We prefer to walk, walk up the stairs and do things all day long while doing other things -- not having to go to a gym. At the end of the day the idea is to move your butt, because all of us spend too much time sitting in our work, in the car, in the subway, in the bus, and so we need to put our metabolism in motion.

ZELMAN: How do you manage this physical activity if you travel?

GUILIANO: Walking is ideal. This morning, for example, I took a walk at 7 a.m. in Washington. I know I will be sitting all day in interviews, I have a lunch and then I'm taking a plane to Houston. I will do a little yoga when I arrive in my hotel, I will make sure that today I drink more water because planes are dehydrating, and I will watch carefully what I have for lunch because I'm going to sit all afternoon in a plane.

MEMBER QUESTION: Are there any tricks I can use to limit the amount I eat? How can I push myself away from the table, so to speak?

GUILIANO: You learn, first of all, that many times when we think we are hungry we are actually thirsty. I've helped many people that cannot believe when they want to go to the fridge or eat more food, or think they want to eat, that they should have a big glass of water, wait 20 minutes and keep themselves busy doing something. After that if they're still hungry, they can have a piece of fruit or yogurt or a few nuts. The feedback most of the time is that they forget they're hungry, or they realize they were not hungry to begin with.

"If more people would walk...we could make a difference in our obesity statistics."

When you are in a restaurant, and I agree portions can be enormous, just learn to stop -- you don't have to finish your plate.

ZELMAN: But what if you are still hungry after eating your small portions?

GUILIANO: That means probably that you're eating too fast. Many of my readers give me stories of how they first felt suspicious that if they would sit down and slow down they would eat less. One woman who was eating oatmeal was eating a cup and a half but she was watching TV, eating standing up and talking on the phone. After 10 days of trying sitting down to eat, which she was suspicious about, she couldn't eat past a third of her oatmeal. It was all she needed.

ZELMAN: I understand that you drink plenty of water. How much do you drink and don't you agree that water satisfies thirst and not hunger?

GUILIANO: I think it plays a great role. First of all, water flushes your toxins, but most importantly, and this is the big difference between American and French women, we drink 2 to 3 times more water.

Americans think they drink water because they have their little bottles, but a sip doesn't count. Every time you drink one glass of water you set your metabolism in motion and you lose 20 to 50 calories. This has been proven by a medical establishment in Germany. If you drink 8 or 10 glasses of water a day you lose weight. Many of my readers are only doing four things I suggest and losing weight. The first thing they try is drinking more water. It always works.

Reducing portions, walking, yogurt, leek soup and having a glass of wine with meal because wine is food and wine is very rich in nutrients -- these also help.

ZELMAN: Let's talk about other liquids. You say champagne is the best. Besides the fact that you own a champagne company, why is champagne better?

GUILIANO: Champagne, besides being a milder diuretic like leeks, has a lot of nutrients like calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc. It also has natural traces of lithium, which regulates your mood.

ZELMAN: Many people drink champagne for special occasions because the good stuff tends to be pricey.

GUILIANO: People are always happy when they sip a glass of champagne. Many restaurants serve champagne by the glass and all you need is a glass, you don't need to drink the whole bottle. You need to buy the good stuff because there are wines with bubbles that are made artificially and they are not aged. It's quality over quantity.

ZELMAN: How do you determine quality?

GUILIANO: First, you buy the real stuff. You can also buy sparkling wines. Many countries -- America, France, Germany and Italy --all make sparkling wines which are less expensive and they're good for you. Also, red wine is great; we've known that for many years. It's filled with antioxidants.

ZELMAN: Let's talk about weighing on a scale. I know you said you don't own one.

GUILIANO: I don't need one because when I overindulge my pants are tight. I call it the zipper syndrome. I know after the holidays, if I've eaten too many chocolates or iced chestnuts, I need to go back to my little reduction.

ZELMAN: Registered dietitians think scales keep people on track. Many people wear stretchy clothes.

GUILIANO: That's the problem, the clothes. French people always have tight clothes so it keeps us on our toes. All these elastic things are a bad excuse to make you eat more. Pay attention to how you feel and how you look.


Weight loss occurs in the belly before anywhere else. See Answer

ZELMAN: We recommend weekly weighs.

GUILIANO: Yes, you can do that if that helps. Our weight changes so much with the time of the month and what you ate yesterday and how much you drank in terms of water.

Going on the scale is very relative. There is nothing like your clothes that will tell you this is too tight, I can't sit down, I have to have a yogurt, eat soup or do the leek broth for a day to get back to my normal routine.

MEMBER QUESTION: What is the leek broth?

GUILIANO: Buy some leeks and cover them with water after cleaning them well. When they have boiled for about 20 minutes and are soft, you drink the broth. Drink this every hour or so and then for meals (Saturday lunch and dinner and Sunday lunch) you eat the leeks and add some lemon juice or olive oil or herbs, so you are basically eating a vegetarian meal.

At the end of the weekend, on Sunday, when you go back to your normal meals, you will have lost a few pounds because leeks are a diuretic. You will look wonderful, your skin will look wonderful and it is a great jumpstart to your lifestyle.

ZELMAN: You mentioned chocolate and I know you are an admitted chocoholic. How do you manage to satisfy the cravings?

GUILIANO: Again, quality chocolate is an antioxidant, anti-stressor, it has fibers and it has, which is very important, the right fat. We French eat a lot of very good chocolate, but we eat very small amounts.

ZELMAN: You also eat a lot of delicious French bread.

GUILIANO: Yes. Bread is very good for you; it has a lot of nutrients and fiber. Today in America we have lots of good breads -- whole grains, 9 grains. So, if you like bread, why not have a piece with breakfast or lunch? Nothing is wrong with that.

ZELMAN: I am glad you are reinforcing our message that carbs are good for you.

GUILIANO: Surveys are coming out on how people are getting sick because they're depriving their bodies of needed nutrients for weeks or months at a time -- all kinds of deficiencies. Very imbalanced, I think it's terrible.

ZELMAN: It is a crazy way to eat.

GUILIANO: Even my dentist tells me that people who go on certain diets have all kinds of plaque and teeth problems, and who knows diseases we might not discover for awhile because it is so unhealthy.

ZELMAN: I think your book would be wonderful for women going to college. Young women have terrible eating habits and need to understand lifestyles, not diet.

GUILIANO: I must say I have a lot of young women come to my events. I agree, for girls in senior high school, but most important for young college women -- they need to understand. I am trying to do my quiet, non-violent revolution and I hope to continue. I have already changed quite a few women's points of view.

ZELMAN: It is a great revolution and the women who listen will benefit.

GUILIANO: Thank you.

MEMBER QUESTION: There are over a hundred different yogurts out there. Which one is the best to eat?

GUILIANO: The ones you have to look for are the most natural possible, with less sugar. Make sure you do not buy yogurts, which I call poison food, with preservatives, artificial coloring, concentrates, and a huge amount of sugar, sweetness or jam in it.

A yogurt machine is really a great investment because you make eight yogurts for the price of one and the machine does the work for you.

ZELMAN: You give an excellent method in the book to make yogurt without a machine.

GUILIANO: That is if you have the time, but the machine is really amazing because all you do is boil your milk, put the starter in, mix it, put it in the jar and plug it in, and that's it.

MEMBER QUESTION: At what part of the meal do the French eat salad? What does the salad contain? What is a typical serving?

GUILIANO: After the entree, at the end of the meal because we have wine with meals and salad tends to have vinegar with the dressing and that upsets the wine and food. It's also a refreshing course, like a pause, to have something light and green and something like almost a palate cleanser. We eat small salads, about one cup, not like here, and put on a very small amount of dressing.

ZELMAN: In this country we substitute low-fat, fat-free and light products to help save calories. What are your thoughts about these products?

GUILIANO: We are against all that. We want the real thing, the right product, the "real McCoy", but in moderation. If you read the labels, most of that stuff is even worse than regular stuff -- it's a trap.

MEMBER QUESTION: Bread is my downfall. It makes me blow up. How much bread do you eat in a day?

GUILIANO: You probably eat too much and bad bread. If you have a slice -- that's why the little scale is important -- one piece of bread is one ounce.

MEMBER QUESTION: How can I get your book?

GUILIANO: It's available on and at bookstores.

MODERATOR: Before we wrap things up for today, do you have any final words for us?

GUILIANO: Just do it. You will feel better, not only with your body but with your mind, with the people you love and with your work. Take it easy and do things for yourself. Walk, walk, walk, and if you can, when you can, give your body and mind a Paris vacation.

Two days ago at a reading in Manhattan, a woman came up to me and said her husband was so happy she had lost 15 pounds. Obviously he was unhappy about her weight and so was she. When she lost it he was so happy that for her birthday he gave her a weekend in Paris. She told me that she will never be overweight again. That's the most gratifying thing for me.

ZELMAN: If more people would walk and get exercise we could make a difference in our obesity statistics. I love your advice; it really makes a lot of sense and mimics what we advocate in our program. Learning portion control, drinking more water and slowing down when you eat are all fundamentally important to weight control that lasts and the cornerstone of our WebMD Weight Loss Clinic.

I plan on giving my 18-year-old daughter a copy of this book for graduation. Even though she eats healthily, you never stop learning how to improve your lifestyle and to be healthy and have good weight control; it must be a commitment to lifestyle.

My thanks to Mireille for her time and her sage advice. I am on my way to buy a yogurt machine and I love the advice about going to Paris!

MODERATOR: Our thanks to Mireille Guiliano and Kathleen Zelman for joining us today. And thanks to you, members, for your great questions. I'm sorry we couldn't get to all of them. For more information, please read French Women Don't Get Fat. Please check out the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic. For more discussion on this topic, be sure to visit the WebMD message boards to ask questions of our online health professionals and to share questions, comments, and support with other WebMD members.

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