Whatever the state of Franco-American relations—admittedly a bit frayed from time to time—we should not lose sight of the singular achievements of French civilization. Until now, I humbly submit, one glorious triumph has remained largely unacknowledged, yet it's a basic and familiar anthropological truth: French women don't get fat.
I am no physician, physiologist, psychologist, nutritionist, or any manner of "-ist" who helps or studies people professionally. I was, however, born and raised in France, and with two good eyes I've been observing the French for a lifetime. Plus, I eat a lot. One can find exceptions, as with any rule, but overwhelmingly, French women do as I do: they eat as they like and don't get fat. "Pourquoi?"
Over the past decade, we Americans have made valuable progress in understanding the French capacity for getting away with murder vis-a-vis food and drink. The cautious acknowledgment of a "French Paradox," for example, has sent countless heart patients and wellness enthusiasts sprinting to the wine store for bottles of red. But otherwise, the wisdom of the French way of eating and living, and in particular the uncanny power of French women to stay svelte, remains little understood, much less exploited. With myself as living proof, I have successfully counseled dozens of American women over the years, including some who have come to work for me at Clicquot, Inc., in New York City. I've also addressed thousands on aspects of this subject in talks. I've been teased by American friends and business associates: "When will you write zee book?"
Well, "le jour est arrive!"
Could it be Nature alone? Could the slow wheel of evolution have had time enough to create a discrete gene pool of slender women? "J'en doute." No, French women have a "system," their "trucs"—a collection of well-honed tricks. Though I was born into it, living happily as a child and even a teenager by what my "maman" taught me, at a moment in my adolescence the wheels came off. In America as an exchange student, I suffered a catastrophe that I was totally unprepared for: a twenty-pound catastrophe. It sent me into a wilderness from which I had to find my way back. Fortunately, I had help: a family physician whom I still call Dr. Miracle. He led me to rediscover my hereditary French gastronomic wisdom and to recover my former shape. (Yes, this is an American story, too, a parable of fall and redemption.)
I have now lived and worked in America most of my life. (I like to believe that I embody the best parts of being American and being French.) I moved here a few years after university and worked as a UN translator, then for the French government, promoting French food and wine. I married a wonderful American and eventually found my way to corporate life. In 1984, I took the leap that has let me live in two cultures ever since. The venerable Champagne House of Veuve Clicquot, founded in 1772, boldly opened a U.S. subsidiary to handle the importation and marketing of Champagne Veuve Clicquot and other fine wines. As the first employee, I immediately became the highest-ranking woman on staff since Madame Clicquot, who died in 1866. Today I am a CEO and director of Champagne Veuve Clicquot, part of the luxury-goods group LVMH.
All the while, I've continued to practice what most French women do without a second thought. And the dangers I have faced for years now are well above average. No exaggeration, my business requires me to eat in restaurants about three hundred times a year (tough job, I know, but someone has to do it). I've been at it for twenty years, never without a glass of wine or Champagne at my side (business is business). These are full meals: no single course of frisee salad and sparkling water for me. Yet I repeat: I am not overweight or unhealthy. This book aims to explain how I do it and, more important, how you can, too. By learning and practicing the way French women traditionally think and act in relation to food and life, you too can do what might seem impossible. What's the secret? First, a word about what it's not.
So many of us do double duty, working harder inside and outside the home than most men will ever know. On top of it, we must find a way to stay healthy as we try to maintain an appearance that pleases us. But let's face it: more than half of us cannot maintain a stable, healthy weight even with all the self-inflicted deprivation we can muster. Sixty-five percent of Americans are overweight, and the fastest-selling books are diet books, most of them now written like biochemistry manuals. No matter how many appear, there are always ten more on the way. Could dietary technology really be progressing as fast as the marketing? Anyway, the demand persists. Why? Why don't the million-copy wonders put a definitive end to our woes? Simply put, unsustainable extremism.
(continued on the next page)
If you’re enjoying this excerpt and you’d like to sample other books, join our Online Book Clubs.