C’est Magnifique! Some Books On French Cooking You Should Check Out

Nutrition Add comments

One of the biggest reasons behind the “obesity pandemic” in the US is the lack of a traditional food culture.

See, America is the forerunner of new foods and styles of eating that we don’t have traditional rules for.  Big sodas aren’t an old-school food, and being handed a meal via your car window isn’t a way of eating that can be guided by passed-on wisdom.  It’s all so new that our bodies and minds are thrown into a tizzy and we don’t have any traditions to guide us through.

fat flag stomach

The lack of a food culture first came to my awareness a few years ago when I read Michael Pollan’s excellent book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. Pollan’s premise is that culture has a lot to teach us about how to choose, prepare and eat food.

Instead of deferring to science and industry for recommendations – where you can never be sure of the accuracy of the information or the motivation behind it – learning traditional ethnic eating habits can guide you with wisdom gathered over generations that has been proven time and again.

It’s only since losing these traditions that our health has spiraled downward and our weight has rocketed upward.

 The French Paradox

The French Paradox is the observation that traditional French cuisine is deliciously rich, yet the French have lower risks for heart disease, diabetes, strokes…. and they’re much thinner, too.

And we can’t claim it’s somehow genetic, French people in larger cities that eat more like Americans have the same weight and disease problems Americans have.

eiffel tower

So, there’s something valuable we can learn from traditional French food culture.

Below are some great resources that compile the cultural rules of French eating.  They are a must-add to your healthy eating library.

French Women Don’t Get Fat

I held off on reading this book for a long time.  I figured it was just another gimmicky fad diet with some magic secret like “drink a glass of red wine before dinner each night.”  Bleh.

Instead, it turned out to be a marvelous collection of the French food rules.  Literally a handbook of French food culture.  What a find!

Mireille Guiliano

Mireille Guiliano

There is a strategic weight loss strategy in this book that a few of my clients have tried.  Nothing gimmicky about it.  You just kick off your journey into traditional eating with a weekend (or even just a day) where you eat nothing but leek soup.

This is actually a great strategy for many people, the soup is very filling for being so low-calorie, and it will help rid you of water weight in the first few days so you’ll be starting your new food journey off with a great big win.  Plus, it serves as a “Reset” button on your current eating plan (or lack of a plan) so it breaks bad habits quickly and effortlessly, instead of small changes that take forever to make a difference.

The book continues to give French guidelines for meals and snacks and cooking and drinking and exercise and social events and and and pretty much everything else.  For a hardcore nutritional science guy like me to be so blown away by a “popular” book is quite rare, and I constantly recommend it to all of my health and fitness colleagues.

(For delicious recipes that fit this healthy style of eating, also check out the The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook)

The Dukan Diet: 2 Steps to Lose the Weight, 2 Steps to Keep It Off Forever

The Dukan Diet is a phenomenal plan by Dr. Pierre Dukan.  It’s sensible, simple, and most of all… it works!

Pierre Dukan

Pierre Dukan

One of the best features of the Dukan Diet is that it focuses on what to do after you’ve lost the weight.  So many diet plans are effective in the short term, then totally drop the ball on the follow-through – which leads to rapid rebound weight gain.

Not so with Dr. Dukan’s plan.  There are four distinct stages: Attack, Cruise, Consolidation, and Stabilization.

In the Attack phase, it’s a high protein, low fat, and low carb blast that lasts for a few days and can create a shocking amount of weight loss.  I’ve detailed it here: Scale Shocker Program

(Important Aside:  The main criticism of this phase seems to be that a lot of the weight lost is only “water weight.”  That’s great!  If your body is holding on to excess water it leads to higher blood pressure, swollen joints (ankle edema afflict anyone here?), disturbed metabolic function, and bloating.  When something in your body is going wrong, it holds on to as much water as it can.  Make thing go right for a change, and your body will gladly release the burden of all the extra water weight.)

The Cruise phase consists of alternating protein days with protein plus vegetable days.  You just go back and forth between the two until your reach your goal weight.  Dr. Dukan makes some great points about what a sensible goal weight should be and let’s you know that the weight loss will not be instant, figure on at least three days for each pound you want to lose: 20 pounds to go?  Figure on 60 days for the Cruise phase.


The protein plus vegetable days are a perfect time to eat some of the delicious leek soup detailed in French Women Don’t Get Fat ;)

Consolidation is the phase that makes the Dukan Diet really stand out.  Your body has a tendency to rapidly regain weight but this phase allows your metabolic functions to normalize at the new weight.  It also keeps you at your new weight while your mind adjusts to the new you – this is as important as the metabolic restructuring if you want to keep the weight off.

Plus, the Consolidation phase has a definite timeline: 5 days for every pound lost.  If you’re now 20 pounds lighter, stick in Consolidation for 100 days.

During this phase, you slowly reintroduce previously “forbidden foods.”  This slow reintroduction allows you to gauge how you feel with each addition, and to see how your body responds.  As an example, a client decided to re-try almond butter for the first time in months, and she literally put on 4 pounds from just two servings in one day.  The calorie math doesn’t add up, it was her body bloating up very quickly from the stress of a food she reacted badly to.


You also get two “celebration” meals each week.  Not to go hog wild, but to celebrate everything you’ve achieved.  The final piece of the Consolidation phase is that you have one pure protein day each week.

Finally, the Stabilization phase.  You’ve re-trained your body and mind on what’s good for you and what isn’t, plus you know what a satisfying portion will be.  You can eat most foods following YOUR personal guidelines, and you take one pure protein day each week.

In short, the structure of the Dukan Diet makes it very effective and simple.  It can be adapted to paleo incredibly well too.  (If that’s your thing)

My Life in France

Ahh, Julia Child is awesome.  I thought so before I read her biography and even more so now.


She became a master French Chef and worked incredibly had to put together the outstanding Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

And guess what?  Despite being very tall and cooking (and EATING!) rich French foods all day, every day; Julia didn’t put on any weight!  She cooked delicious foods from fresh ingredients and practiced self control.  That’s the kind of plan outlined in French Women Don’t Get Fat, remember?

Reading Julia’s biography has stirred me to experiment and enjoy myself more in the kitchen, I hope it will do the same for you.

I find that if I just taste everything and eat small portions I maintain my weight. – Julia Child

Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously

This is the story of Julie Powell, who spent a year cooking all 524 recipes in Mastering The Art Of French Cooking.  This one definitely isn’t a diet or health book, it’s just a fast fun read of kitchen adventures.

French stew

It inspired my family to try a similar trek, we’ve since cooked every recipe in Everyday Paleo, The Primal Blueprint Cookbook, Everyday Paleo Family Cookbook, and we are now working on the recipes from Paleo Comfort Foods.

Even if you don’t get a wild hair to cook every recipe from a cookbook, Julie Powell’s story is well-worth reading.  (Skip her second book Cleaving though, it was horrible)

Going Forward With French Cooking

Is the French way of eating the be all, end all of diets?  Nope.  But if you’re ready to develop your own healthful food culture, it’s a wonderful and delicious place to start.

You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients. – Julia Child

 Bon appetit!

Comments are closed.