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French Diet Secret: Eat Well but Stay Active

French women may have the answer on how to enjoy food without wrecking your waistline.
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When you're being "good," do you settle for cardboard cookies, head for the gym five times a week, and think food is a four-letter word? Eat your heart out, because across the Atlantic French women enjoy rich pastries, loathe exercise, and think food is one of life's greatest pleasures. And they don't get fat.

The good news is that their secret is out, thanks to the best-selling book, French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, by Mireille Guiliano. There's no counting carbs or calories or memorizing the glycemic index. Losing weight boils down to a few simple principles very similar to those in another popular book, The Martini Diet: The Self-Indulgent Way to a Thinner, More Fabulous You!, by California native Jennifer Sanders.

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75 Ways To Be Your Healthiest Ever

From its first year of publication, GH has urged readers to live healthfully — to take "a walk before breakfast" (1885), "eat more fish" (1932), and get "at least eight hours of sleep" (1933). The tips here, whether from our early days or fresh from the latest journals, have one thing in common: They are based on the best expertise of their time.

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"These books aren't intended to be dietsper se," says Cindy Moore, MS, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. She adds that in some ways they are consistent with the USDA 2005 Dietary Guidelines. "They're about making small changes for life. They're not a quick fix but more about changing your outlook on life, your perspective on food, and being active in ways that you enjoy. If you'll take the time to appreciate food with all of your senses, you won't need to have a lot of it."

And although the authors don't advocate counting calories, Moore says, "The bottom-line message of these books is to consume fewer calories and burn more."

'Diet' Is a Four-Letter Word

Guiliano, who is CEO of Clicquot, Inc., says that one reason French women don't get fat is that their sensible approach to eating comes naturally. It's part of their culture.

Adopting their way of thinking and eating will take about three months before becoming second nature. Start by keeping a food diary for three weeks. Record why you want to lose weight, why you've gained weight, and a food inventory so you can identify problem foods that you could cut back on or eliminate. Culprits in the American diet typically include potato chips, bagels, pasta, pizza, fried foods, juices, beer, hard liquor, candy bars, ice cream, soda, and "junky" chocolate.

At this point her approach begins to sound like a diet. For two days, you will eat nothing but leek soup. Hang in. It gets better.

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