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French-born author Mireille Guilliano shares the secrets of her anti-diet book

Daily Record, May 2010

By Samantha Booth

When Mireille Guiliano wrote French Women Don't Get Fat, it wasn't a guide to counting calories.

It was more of an introduction to a way of life, to change the way women and men think about food forever.

As the title suggests, Mireille, who was brought up in France but later moved to the US with her American husband, examined why it is that French women, with their love of good food, wine and eating in general, never get fat.

Now in her fourth follow-up book, French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook, Mireille mixes yet more wisdom gleaned from her upbringing, in particular what she learned from an old aunt, with failsafe, easy recipes to be enjoyed as part of a balanced lifestyle.

There's no holding back on ingredients, going without food you love or abstaining from tasty dishes. Mireille's philosophy is simply to enjoy nutritious, home-made meals while keeping a healthy balance in mind.

She said: "Once I had written French Women Don't Get Fat, I really didn't think I would write another book because I had said everything I had wanted to say. But I got such a tremendous amount of mail from people talking about the book.

"So much so, that a few years ago I started a free website. There just seemed to be so many women all over the world, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries, who spend their lives being unhappy because of their weight.

"They would try all these diets, one after the other, and never find one that really works.

"Then I was giving a series of talks in America. One young women told me that, like many women of her age, she was brought up by a mother who was in the feminist movement and who poo-pooed the idea of staying at home and cooking for the family.

"These girls grew up eating nothing but junk food and TV dinners, so, by the time they left school they, couldn't even boil an egg.

"This particular girl told me she found my recipes very simple, easy and not in the least intimidating. She said she wanted to know more of how to be French, so that's why I decided to write more books."

On the back of French Women Don't Get Fat, Mireille wrote French Women For All Seasons and Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility.

Her fourth book, The French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook, is perhaps closest to the original best-seller in its intent to give people a beautiful, practical lifestyle guide to living well, eating wonderfully and getting the most out of life.

Mireille said: "What I have learned over the past six years, especially through living in the US, where I now spend most of my time, is that people are bombarded daily through newspapers, magazines and cooking shows about food and calories. Everyone has different ideas about what to do and what not to do. I was going back to France every few weeks, where my friends and family simply don't function like that.

"I have been trying to understand this and have realised that people are fascinated by food but they don't know how to connect with food the way people do in France.

"They don't touch or smell food or take time to enjoy what they eat.

"My cook book is about getting people cooking and helping them to be aware of what they are putting in their bodies. Eating is a social ritual which connects people with a sense of conviviality, conversation and relaxation.

"It is also a way to teach children manners and the art of conversation, things they will have for ever."

Mireille is in no doubt that the French wisdom she imparts in her books can work wonders.

She said: "I get so much pleasure when someone tells me how much the books have helped them. One woman approached me recently in tears at a talk. She was about 40 years old and looked beautiful but she told me that, just two and a half years ago, before a friend gave her my book, she was 28lbs heavier, incredibly unhappy and had tried every diet known to man.

"She said when she read my book she knew she could do what I was saying - and that it is a lifestyle choice. It is about learning to eat and cook the French way.

"Another time, a man in his 40s came up and told me that two years after buying my second book, he had lost 48lbs. Then, after he read my second book, he threw his TV out of the window.

"He told me he owed me the new life he had. That is the best possible thank you for writing these books." She added: "We must take a look at our own lifestyles and what our needs are."

MIREILLE'S TOP TIPS FOR ADOPTING THE EATING HABITS OF THE FRENCH

START COOKING
Mireille says: "If we don't cook, we don't understand what ingredients go into our meals. The only way to regain our connection with food is to return to the markets, the kitchen and our tables. Cooking also helps us to avoid a lot of poisons that go into processed foods. What person cooking a chicken at home adds high-fructose corn syrup, margarine, monosodium glutamate and preservatives then injects it with massive doses of sodium? That is exactly what happens with many frozen meals.

START SMALL
Mireille says: "Start with a few things you find easy to change then build it up gradually. There is no need to spend any money to make these changes. Decide to drink more water in the mornings and go for a walk every day and see the difference. Then decide to add more vegetables to your meals."

EAT BREAKFAST
Mireille says: "Quite often, when I give talks, I read the section about my aunt's magical breakfast. This is because I feel people have to understand when they say they don't need breakfast or they don't eat breakfast, that they are like a car without petrol."

THREE MEALS A DAY
Mireille says: "People who eat enough at meal times and train their bodies to eat three times a day don't need to snack. Snacks should be either for medical reasons or the exception, when dinner is unusually late, for example, or meal times are delayed because of travelling."

BALANCE IS KEY
Mireille says: "You can eat anything you want but you have to think about how to balance your life. If I go to a restaurant and have wine, bread and dessert, then I am not going to have two croissants for breakfast. I am going to have yoghurt and a piece of toast. Over time, it becomes second nature and not something we have to think about."

MOVE
Mireille says: "Make it part of your everyday life. Take the stairs and make sure you walk every day. Even walking for 10 minutes can make all the difference to how you feel."

French Women Don't Get Fat Cookbook by Mireille Guiliano goes on sale today from Simon and Schuster for £16.99.