The European anti-diet

Diet books French Women Aren’t Fat and In Defense of Food show that getting re-aquainted with food is a much healthier option than following fad diets

Image by: Andrea Por

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This is Michael Pollan’s blunt dieting advice in his book In Defense of Food, a new work in the diet literature roster advocating healthy basics rather than fad diets.

In the age of counting carbs and calories, Pollan provides the refreshingly simple prognosis of cutting processed foods out of your diet and consuming wholesome, nutritious food.

For Pollan, the culture of food today is on very unstable ground. We’re constantly bombarded with news of new diets and supplements claiming to be the next revolutionary scientific breakthrough that will redefine the nutritional world. Pollan largely blames the $32-billion food marketing industry for pushing people to buy into the latest dieting craze. He’s also skeptical of the field of nutritional science, which he says is far from perfected and involves a lot more estimation and assumption than food scientists would care to admit.

The traditional role of food needs to be rediscovered, starting with meals actually taking place at the dinner table. Pollan finds that America is now in a paradoxical state, where more people are developing unhealthy habits yet are pursuing a healthy lifestyle.

Following in a similar vein, Mireille Guiliano looks to correct our faltering eating habits not through typical dieting but by adopting a balanced lifestyle in her book French Women Don’t Get Fat.

Growing up in France, Guiliano learned to enjoy the finer things in life with gourmet food and French wine. She later moved to America after finding a job within the UN as a translator. Despite spending the better part of her life within the confines of diet conscious America, she still insists on a glass of wine or champagne to go along with her full course meals.

Guiliano says most diet books are based on radical programs, but the French lifestyle is much more laid back. She takes issue with the extremism of eating pizza three days in a row, but also spending three hours in the gym every Saturday, as is found in North America. Moderation, she says, is key to a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

Guiliano, like Pollan, is calling for a shift towards a European-style relationship with food. While Americans see food and thinness in conflict and obsess over it, French women take pleasure in staying healthy—and thin—by eating well.

Guiliano looks to counteract the lack of moderation in our lifestyles through a series of steps emphasizing the ritualizing, savouring and rationing of the food we eat. Guiliano says the ritual of dinner and taking time out to eat are important because they make us aware of what we eat. Portion control is a big issue in the American diet, as most Americans eat 10 to 31 per cent more than they need to.

University students in particular are products of this overindulgent society. The seemingly infinite availability of processed foods, both in the cafeteria and the supermarket, are gladly gobbled up by students generally on their own for the first time. The “Magical Leek Soup” suggested by Guiliano may seem intimidating to those standing in line at the Lazy Scholar, who think it’s too expensive or fancy for lowly students. But good food doesn’t have to be either.

North Americans could benefit from taking cues from their European friends. Both Pollan and Guiliano emphasize the importance of sit-down meals and taking the time to prepare good food rather than eating on the go. At the core of their argument is the idea that we should all relax a little and eat foods that we enjoy and that are good for us.

The diets they propose aren’t really “diets” as we’ve come to know them but are more like lifestyle recommendations. It seems we were all much healthier when we worried less about being healthy. Perhaps anti-dieting is the best new diet around.

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