Mireille Guiliano Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Mireille Guiliano
Photo by Andrew French

Mireille Guiliano

Mireille Guiliano: Meer-ray Julie-ano

An interview with Mireille Guiliano

Does Champagne make you slim?

MG: Wouldn't that be wonderful. It seems everyone would like a silver bullet; the magic potion that will melt away pounds. Champagne is a kind wine made from mostly red grapes and is relatively low in histamines and offers some health benefits, but it certainly contains calories, although less than white or red wine. What is distinctive about Champagne is that it is sipped in moderation. It is full-flavored, with bubbly charm and is almost a state of mind. A glass or two -- say, 3 ounces, 5 ounces, or even 8 ounces total -- makes for a full and pleasurable experience. I don't run into people guzzling Champagne like beer or soda. And I don't run into people sipping Champagne unaccompanied by some food, such as hors d'oeuvres or a meal.

So, the direct answer to your question is that while Champagne doesn't make me slim, it gives me pleasure and perhaps keeps me away from some high calorie, liquid overindulgences that would make me fat.

You're warning of pastry, chocolate and ice cream. Don't you have a ravenous appetite, sometimes?

MG: I love pastry, chocolate and ice cream and eat them all the time. How much is enough, though? I believe the first two or three bites provide the most satisfaction. So, again, I indulge but in moderation, and without thinking I exercise a natural portion control. That is one of the key messages in my book. I certainly would not eat four or five scoops of ice cream; one or two scoops are a fully satisfying experience for me -- but not every day or even every week. I guess I have trained myself as a French woman to think in smaller sizes. But if I overindulge now and again, I balance that with more modest intakes over perhaps the next few days.

And yes, I sometimes do have a ravenous appetite. When I do, I drink a big glass of water, which reduces the void somewhat, then wait a while and eat something. Most of the time we are thirsty rather than hungry.

Don't you ever weigh yourself on the scales?

MG: Well, the doctor puts me on the scale once a year when I get a complete physical. Probably two or three times during the year -- usually after I have been traveling for a couple of weeks and eating either irregularly or indulgently -- I put myself on the scale to see how far I have strayed from my equilibrium and if I need to do anything. I rarely vary by more than a kilo or so in either direction, and I am surprised sometimes to see it is minus and not plus. Since my twenties, I have kept basically the same weight. All my old clothes still fit.

Did you invent the zipper-syndrome?

MG: I am sure I did not invent it. After all, it is simply common sense: if your regular clothes feel tighter than usual, you have put on a little weight. If you clothes no longer fit, you have put on a lot a weight. These are wake-up calls. And, of course, if you are swimming in your clothes, that could be welcome news. No one taught me this benchmark substitute for a scale, but I would not be surprised if someone else has used a similar phrase. (I don't recall all that many scales in French bathrooms in the first place.) What gave me the idea is packing my suitcase. When you can't close the zipper, it is a clear sign you have packed too much and have to reduce.

France is well known for its great cuisine. Why do French women not become fat?

MG: That's the question I have been asked for decades, and it took me an entire book to answer, so I cannot give a short answer. In fact, I wrote this book to be read from cover to cover and not thumbed for quick solutions. I can say I tried to offer some of the French cultures most cherished and time-honored secrets, recast for the twenty-first century. What French women do is not about guilt or deprivation but about getting the most from the things they most enjoy. They have their everyday tricks, like fooling themselves into contentment and painless new physical exertions to save exercising. They embrace the virtues of freshness, variety, small portions, balance, and always pleasure.

You say the secret about French women is their will power . . . How can French women stay disciplined?

MG: Something only requires discipline if it is not a natural preference or predilection. French women don't have to discipline themselves about walking up the stairs or not having seconds at dinner. It is natural for them. It is part of their culture. They are not enforcing any special rules. So, developing and embracing a healthy lifestyle means developing good habits as part of your culture.

Do only slim women surround you?

MG: Increasingly not. Being overweight is becoming a growing problem in America and elsewhere. But I can tell you when I am invited to events where there are a lot of, let's say, middle-aged French women, I am impressed by how many appear trim and fit. Certainly that's not my standard experience in America and elsewhere in my travels.

Fast Food is fattening but a three-course dinner is not. Why?

MG: Isn't eating raw carrots fast food? And it is not fattening. Eating jumbo hamburgers with fries and a large soda is fast food and is fattening. So, again, it is all about knowing what you are putting into your body. A three-course dinner can be fattening if the portions are large and the foods are high in calories. I remember those brownies with ice cream for dessert when I first came to America. Generally, good and balanced produce, simply prepared, and served in three courses at home or in a good restaurant just isn't in the fattening league one finds in fast-food restaurants. I have found that people really don't know what they are putting into their bodies and how unusually fattening the food at fast food outlets is.

According to what you said, having a meal with great relish happens at the first bite . . . What do you mean by that?

MG: When we taste wine, we swirl it in the glass, smell it then taste it. The first sip generally explodes on the palate. It is full of flavors and impressions, good or bad. You don't need a second sip to know if you want more, and the pleasure a good wine gives is not increased with the number of sips. The first few sips are generally the most telling and pleasurable. The same is true for food. I may want the fifth bite of dessert, but I get the most pleasure from the first few bites, and I like to stop there. Actually, there's research proving the palate is satisfied after three bites, so who needs 30?

What is the worst mistake about diets?

MG: Thinking that they work beyond the short term. If they did, we wouldn't have so many diet books or fat people. Most will help you shed some weight while you are adhering to it, but following a diet isn't fun and the formulaic approaches are not sustainable for life for most people. So, the weight returns.

Have you ever had a recurrence regarding your weight?

MG: No, I have been fortunate. A few times my zippers have told me to refocus and eat for pleasure but in moderation.

Your book calls for a bestseller in the United States, doesn't it?

MG: I am not sure what you are asking. I wrote the book to share my experience and to offer it to women who were trying to understand how it is possible to eat and drink for pleasure and not become fat. I certainly did not write it anticipating it would be translated into a dozen languages or become a best seller in the United States. There are women who will benefit from the book -- for example girls going off to college for the first time who tend to gain a lot of weight in their first year away from home. Or the many people in America who are overweight and could use some practical advice rather than another yo-yo diet. In that sense, I hope the book reaches a lot of people because I hope it can help a lot of people find their bien dans sa peau and greater happiness. And the feedback I've received thus far reaffirms that any woman can pick a few secrets/tips/tricks and shed a kilo or two.

Isn't it very elaborate to act on your advice: To shop at a market, to set the table and then to cook so fancy? Isn't this particularly difficult for single women?

MG: Everyone has to find his or her own healthy pattern, and one does not have to act on every one of my suggestions. That's the point. We are all different and we have to find our own way. As a cross-cultural observation, I have pointed out that French women do shop at the market, like to cook and set a nice table. My point about the market, though, is that you should understand what you are putting into your body, and shopping and cooking teaches you that (and can even be therapeutic after a fashion).

Not just single women but also working women do not have the time to shop and cook elaborate meals daily. I don't, so I eat out or eat simply -- and there is a range of opportunities for single women -- but I understand what I am eating, and look forward to the weekends at home to shop and cook. You would be surprised how easy it is to secure quality produce and to prepare it if you want to. In New York City, for instance, you can order organic produce -- meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, fruit and dry goods -- over the Internet and it is delivered to your home the next day. The young people in my office use the service a great deal. That's their marketing. And what they get is fresh and good . . . and probably takes 5 minutes "to market" for them. And the recipes I share are generally doable in less than a half hour. I submit that is a feasible and physiologically and psychologically healthy undertaking for a single or busy woman with a small family.

What do you mean when you say, French women have their children (since they are three years old) eating very "sophisticated"?

MG: Eating is at the heart of the French culture and mealtimes are generally family times. French parents start early on offering their children wine diluted with water, for example. "Just a taste." French families sit down for meals -- generally three-course meals -- and the children learn early both how to dine and to experience a wide range of dishes. Not that they like all of them -- I certainly didn't when I was young -- but they are exposed. If your parents eat pizza for dinner in front of a TV, that's what children learn is acceptable. In France, the TV isn't worth it . . . as for the pizza . . .

The fast food industry has been getting a lot of attention in American media, most recently with films like "Super-size Me". Is there a fast food culture in France, or abroad in general? Or do you think that "fast food" is a purely American state of mind?

MG: Fast food is more than a state of mind; it's a state of affairs. It's now expanding to most developed countries including France. You can go to New Zealand, one of the purest, environmentally conscious countries on earth, and you'll find Kentucky Fried Chicken in many towns. It's a franchised convenience store. In France, nowadays, you can find McDonalds everywhere -- and at the same time people are criticizing it, they are going for it. It's on the Champs Elysees and even in French provinces and towns. Fast food chains are popular because that's where kids like to go -- they are like playgrounds. It's also easy for parents because everywhere in developed countries, mothers and fathers face the same problems -- they need convenience and affordable food -- fast food restaurants seem to fill this need.

The fast food culture is increasing in France, Eastern Europe, and the Far East and the problem with obesity that exists in America is becoming a problem in these places. Fortunately, in France, the government is reacting fast with school programs and education on nutrition.

My point is you have to understand what you are eating and control your portions. I'm not saying don't ever go to a fast food restaurant but if you knew what you were putting in your body, you'd probably go less frequently and eat less when you go. You don't need two hamburgers and jumbo fries -- one hamburger and small fries is enough.

You have a career that requires you to travel away from home frequently. Do you find it difficult to maintain healthy eating while you are away from home? What advice would you offer professionals who struggle to maintain healthy eating habits while in the road?

MG: As I say in the book, I have a system that's part of my lifestyle but I had to develop it because there are always more temptations when you travel. For example, I don't eat plane food -- instead I drink more water. The challenge when you travel is if you are on vacation . . . there is a tendency to splurge -- so one should adjust for a "before" and "after" compensation period. Business travel is easier for me. I'm sitting in meetings most of the day, but make sure I take a walk before breakfast and on my way back to the hotel.

Your company, Clicquot, Inc. produces very fine wines and champagnes. What is it like to work for a luxury brand like Clicquot? Do you feel that working in this type of industry has influenced your attitude towards health and diet? Do you find that your colleagues and clients tend to eat more indulgently than the average person?

MG: To work for a luxury company is all about image, environment, quality, privileges, setting standards for other people (in food, wine, etiquette, style) and eating in great restaurants. It certainly influences eating and drinking habits in the good sense. My colleagues and clients tend to have a greater passion for food and wine. They may indulge sometime but they know how to balance. It's eating for pleasure. When they go to a fine restaurant they don't say I'm not going to have bread, wine, dessert...This is their time to enjoy with all their senses.

Most people have a strong preference for sweet or salty foods. Which one do you crave more? And how do you satisfy your craving without overdoing it?

MG: Like most people, I crave more sweet foods, but satisfy my cravings with a few bites . . . the first few count, then the palate is satisfied. I also try not to have them at home and make them special indulgences for restaurant dining.

Copyright Knopf 2005

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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