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The Promise

A diet that recommends wine, chocolate, and cheese -- and no calorie counting? Oui, says Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure.

Her recipe for weight loss success:

  • Eat high-quality food in small portions.
  • Prize quality over quantity in the foods you choose.
  • Savor each bite you take.
  • Walk for exercise and do weight training.
  • Eat three meals a day at regular times.
  • Breathe properly.
  • Keep good posture.

You'll go through four phases on this diet:

  1. The wake-up call: Noting what you eat for 3 weeks to see which foods you should add or subtract.
  2. Getting started: You’ll spend 3 months learning about French food, appropriate portion sizes, and drinking lots of water.
  3. Stabilization: Using new tools to use to reach and maintain your weight goal.
  4. The rest of your life: Your lifestyle habits now are permanent.

What You Can Eat and What You Can’t

For the first 2 days of this diet, you’ll go on a semi-fast, eating only leek soup and drinking lots of water.

Afterward, you add vegetables, fish, fruit, and still more water.

Throughout the diet, Guiliano recommends eating a wide variety of fresh, seasonal ingredients with plenty of good seasonings and herbs.

Guiliano recommends eating two servings daily of yogurt, a French favorite.

You can have wine or champagne, but not liquor. Sweets are OK in small amounts.

Here is a sample of a spring menu du jour:

  • Breakfast: Yogurt, cereal with strawberries, bread, and coffee or tea
  • Lunch: Asparagus flan, green salad, cherry clafoutis without dough, noncaloric beverage
  • Dinner: Pea soup, grilled lamb chops, cauliflower gratin, rhubarb compote, glass of red wine

More daily samples are available online or in the book.

There are no forbidden foods in this diet. Once you’re used to your new way of eating, you will be able to have foods like chocolate, wine, and cheese with no guilt. In order to trim your waistline, you will need to slowly curb your food portions.

A reward to help get through the week? Guiliano suggests a weekly ‘‘day of rest’’ when you can enjoy a “civilized” portion of some of your favorite indulgences.

Guiliano says her leek soup -- a crucial part of this diet -- has “magical qualities” to promote weight loss. (There is no proof of that, though.) She also suggests having a little chocolate. But of course, you can't go overboard on that.

Level of Effort: Medium

After 3 months of sticking to Guiliano's formula, your new habits should be set -- you’re ready to live the French lifestyle. This diet may be too simplistic for you if you have a lot of weight to lose.

Limitations: To jump-start this diet, you will eat only leek soup for the first 48 hours, drinking it every 2-3 hours. For flavor, you can season it lightly with salt and pepper, and you can drink as much water as you like. The diet allows more foods later on.

Cooking and shopping: Most recipes are fairly simple, with fewer than 10 ingredients. Cooking times are not listed with the recipes. Guiliano recommends shopping at markets instead of supermarkets to find in-season ingredients. In the U.S. you might go to a farmer’s market.

Packaged meals or foods: None required.

Exercise: Recommended, but there’s no need to spend hours at the gym with this diet. Walking and light weightlifting are fine.

Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?

People with varied dietary needs and tastes can do well on this diet.

Vegetarian or vegan: You'll need to alter some of the recipes in the book.

Gluten-free: This diet doesn't ban gluten. You should be able to adapt it to a gluten-free diet, but you'll need to check food labels carefully.

If you have diabetes, high blood pressure, or other conditions, consult with your doctor.

What Else You Should Know

Costs: None beyond your food shopping. But fresh and local foods can be more expensive.

Support: You can do this diet on your own. The diet's official web site has a community, if you want to connect with other people on this plan.

What Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, Says:

Does It Work?

Absolutely, making small changes is a diet approach that has proven to yield long-term success. But this plan has not been studied, nor is it backed with scientific research to support some of the claims in the book, such as the magic of leek soup or jump-start fasting.

If you adopt the basic premise of the book -- to eat only delicious food of very high quality, in small portions, slowly and mindfully -- you can lose weight. Eating slowly will help you push away from the table because your brain will receive the signal of fullness. Making small changes to your eating habits and getting regular physical activity, like walking, are the secrets to successful lifetime weight control.

Is It Good for Certain Conditions?

Anytime you lose weight, even as little as 5%, you will improve your health by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, and improving blood sugar control.

This positive approach to weight control is good for most people who want to improve their health and lose weight.

But since no food is off-limits and there is not a strict meal plan, it may not be the right diet for people who have diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease, or for people who need to limit certain nutrients, like sodium.

Check with your doctor to make sure this non-diet plan is appropriate for you.

The Final Word

French Women Don’t Get Fat is loaded with pearls of wisdom that can help you become more mindful about eating and be satisfied with eating less without feeling deprived.

The approach will appeal if you don't want to put any food off-limits, and you don't want to count calories.

It's not for you if you want more structure. The book is more of an inspirational guide than a diet.

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