The Fat Fallacy: The French Diet Secrets to Permanent Weight Loss

The Fat Fallacy: The French Diet Secrets to Permanent Weight Loss

by William Clower


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Fat is not the enemy!

Croissants. Brioche. Brie. To the American palate, these foods are fattening and oftentimes “forbidden.” Yet they are the regular staples of the French diet. And though almost half of all Americans are overweight, France’s obesity rate is at a low eight percent, while the French also boast fewer cases of stroke and heart disease. It’s clear that America’s obsession with low-fat and fat-free foods has ultimately failed.

In The Fat Fallacy, neuroscientist Will Clower explains precisely why the American diet sabotages weight-loss efforts and discusses how French eating habits can lead to better health and trimmer physiques. In this revolutionary work, Dr. Clower explains:

• How highly processed “fake foods” are the real culprit in the American diet
• Why it’s not just what you eat but how you eat that makes a difference
• Easy ways to adopt the habits of the French to melt the pounds away, including complete dinner recipes—with dessert!

Finally, here’s a plan that cuts through the high-protein/low-fat debate. It’s not a gimmicky diet program but a way of life that will invite Americans to enjoy food like never before—while being healthier and trimmer than they ever could have imagined.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400049196
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 04/22/2003
Edition description: 1ST
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 607,864
Product dimensions: 5.16(w) x 7.97(h) x 0.66(d)

About the Author

Dr. Will Clower is a neurophysiologist and neuroscience historian at the University of Pittsburgh. He obtained his Ph.D. from Emory University in Atlanta and spent two years as a research fellow at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences in Lyon, France.

Read an Excerpt


The Big Fat Myth

IT WAS A BRILLIANT MORNING. Even by 8:15, the early Key West sun had sunk its deep, touchless massage through my skin and melted me into the wicker weave of my high-backed chair. My wife, Dottie, and I were lingering over our final breakfast at a conference on the neural control of movement (a bunch of scientists, tanning and talking about the brain and how it makes us move). Despite the delicious April sun, the meeting was over and it was time for us to head back home. With our suitcases already packed, we only had to check out and drive to the airport.

After chitchatting with colleagues over our scrambled eggs and coffee, we stood to go. A smallish French physiologist from Lyon, also at our table, got up at the same time. Fate's funny like that. Strolling with us as we left, he tossed his query out there like a hopeful horseshoe heading for the stake. "You Americans wouldn't consider doing your postdoctoral work in France, would you?"

The conversation suddenly turned into a foreign language film, with the picture above and the subtitles beneath. On the screen, Dottie and I stammered appropriate generalities, "Uh yes, very interesting. Well, certainly that's something to think about. Good-bye, we'll keep in touch by e-mail." But the subtitles read, "France!?! Holy Cow, Yes, Yes, Yes!"

We drove to the Miami airport with our heads spinning with the thought. Living in France! This decision was a no-brainer. After many e-mails and two successful grant applications, we boarded a plane with two kids, two cats, my mother, and one-way tickets to work at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences for the next 2 years.

During our wonderful stay, it quickly became clear why Americans are so often confused by French attitudes, which often seem to lurch straight out of left field. I realized, though, when my French friends acted like I was the one from another planet, that my American ways were just as bizarre to them. Being shocked by their strange views—and seeing their reaction to mine—became an exercise in self-reflection. No better example exists than diet.

The French laissez-faire attitude toward fat and weight hit home on one of our first forays. We hopped aboard the bullet train and zipped across miles of the elegant French calico countryside on our way to visit friends near Lille, in northern France. On the first morning of our visit, our friend served the children (including my 4-year-old daughter, Grace) a shredded wheat breakfast cereal with a liberal dose of whole milk over it. "Whole milk!" I mentally winced, "It's got all that fat in it. Don't they have 2 percent in this country?"

With such casual disregard for this major source of daily fat intake, you might think they'd be as large as cows. Of course they're not. Our friends and their children, like over 90 percent of the French people, are small in size and not concerned at all about the nonissue of their weight. It never comes up because they're too busy enjoying their food. It gets better. On top of the whole milk in the cereal, they add a healthy dollop of pure cream. This happens every day.

It blares with a bullhorn that our cultural training has clumsily failed us. We've had it drummed into our heads in drill sergeant fashion to watch the fats! Back off the carbs! Scrutinize the labels! But even with all this dietary indoctrination, Americans are the ones with tar-baby obesity problems, who fret and worry about each pound, who drug themselves and starve themselves and have surgeons slice out their stomachs, all to help them handle something as basic as their weight and health.

At some point, though, we've got to ask ourselves why on Earth we continue to follow the same dietary creeds that have brought us into this mess. Meanwhile, entire countries scratch their heads and wonder how our constant frenzy to control our weight could produce such abject failure.

After returning to the United States, I met our scruffy neighborhood lawn care guy, who asked me about the French license plates still on my car. I told him we had lived there and his eyes immediately glazed over into a shiny faraway mist. His thoughts percolated around the back alleys and byways of his brain, bubbling into a healthy reminiscent froth.

Then he said, "I went to France...on a ski trip...for a month." He paused for another minute, clearly slashing his way, all sunglasses and ski poles, down the virgin alpine slopes. When he came back to us, out of the clear blue he offered, "There aren't any fat people there. If you find one, they're speaking English." I laughed. Unfortunately, it's all too true.


My mother came to stay with us for several months in France. She helped us manage our kids and home while Dottie and I were busy being overwhelmed with work, deciphering the junk mail from the light bill, and figuring out the tortuous rules (and hand gestures) of driving among the French. Before she left the United States, my mom was struggling to cope with the horror of buying size 14 clothes—doing the psychological shuffle. "It's okay. No, really. This know...just where I am. People get larger when they get older. Right? Besides, I don't need to worry about cramming my fanny into those pants anymore anyway."

With all these rationalizations safely in hand, she resolved to relax about her weight while she was with us. "I'm just going to live my life and love it. And I don't care." You go, Mom. Be defiant.

So we all ate like the French and had daily doses of high-fat cheeses on our high-carbohydrate baguettes. We indulged in creamy this and buttery that, turning a deaf ear to our guilty collective dietary unconscious. No worry, no self-denial, no counting up bits of food and saying, "Oh well, that's all I can have today."

Mom didn't even notice what happened. It was chilly during her stay, so she lived in baggy sweats much of the time. And she never saw it coming because she wasn't "dieting" or even thinking about losing weight. But by the time she returned home, my mom had gone from a size 12-begging-to-be-a-14 to a size 6, dancing around our living room floor with her arms up in the air like she had just won the lottery—in my wife's blue jeans!

If you believe, really believe, our standard American dogma of low-fat weight control (or low-carb weight control for that matter), this will sound like a dream—pure fiction. But it's not. We were shocked. She was shocked. My dad, well, let's say he was pleased with the new developments. She felt great without struggle, ate without guilt, and got thin eating sumptuous foods.

Now that I'm back home, I hear the same story over and over from people who have gone to France for any length of time. My neighbor across the street came over to pick up her daughter, who was having another sprawled-out Barbie-fest on the living room floor with Grace—little plastic hamburgers, refrigerators, and Malibu sports cars everywhere. After my neighbor found out we had lived in France, she offered her own experiences.

"I went there throwing diet to the breeze," she said with a flamboyant wave of her arm and cock of her head. "I ate whatever I wanted and loved it! And you know what? When I came home I had lost 5 pounds!" I'd heard these stories before I left for France, but how can you believe them when the constant chatter all around you warns against the dreadful dangers of this horrible kind of diet?

It's a real dilemma. What do you do when you see one thing with your own eyes (the French diet just plain works) but hear another from your own experts (the French diet just can't work)? Our first response is typical. When observations don't come out like they "should," and we really can't explain what's going on, just ignore them. That's simple enough.

Blowing off the dietary habits of fat-ambivalent countries like France is a perfect example. That's why you seldom hear reports about how few overweight people there are in France, because the French eating habits are so different from ours. They eat all that fat, all those breads; breakfast is not the most important meal of the day, and they eat their luxurious meals late at night!

Name a rule! The skinny, healthy, French people break it.

How do we respond to their nonchalant Frenchy breaking of our dietary dogmas? Well, since the simple observations don't agree with what we already believe, obviously, there must be some other explanation. It just can't be true.

Notice how many dietician scientists, who cannot begin to explain why the French are thin and we are not, don't even ask what's wrong with our current dietary strategies. We cling to the faith of our dietary creed like an Alabama Baptist at a Darwin convention. It's right. It just is. We hold on and don't question our beliefs because of one critical assumption: Our own theories must, eventually, be able to explain away all those pesky thin French people.

But it's harder and harder to justify the tottering old dogma. The average French life span is longer than ours (2 years for men, and 3 years for women) despite our sterling medical system and despite the fact that they smoke like fiends (see to directly compare the health statistics of the United States and France). The most recent data from the World Health Organization show that we are an incredible three times more likely to get ischemic heart diseases than the French.

Explanations, though, are hard to come by. Maybe it's the cheese they eat after every meal, maybe it's the wine they drink with every meal. Who knows? A close friend of mine, a biochemistry professor, actually offered that it's because the bread is really chewy and requires more calories to eat! We're clearly at a loss.

One scientific paper suggested that perhaps a high "folic acid intake" explained their good heath. Another shot-in-the-dark explanation claimed that their lack of heart disease might be due to "merely the consequence of having longer, warmer, and sunnier days and easier access to fresh fruit and vegetables." The author never mentioned the sky-high heart disease rates in sunny Florida, Texas, and California, where access to warm climate and fresh fruits is unsurpassed, even in France. Here again, our incredible tendency is to make up explanations so we won't have to abandon the ship that has brought us here. And the band on the Titanic played, all the way down.

Clearly, we're stuck in our confusion—so much so that we don't even know where to point a blaming finger any more. Simple exercise has typically been the sacrificial scapegoat for our weight-related problems, but we can't fall back on that anymore. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported the activity and obesity rates from 1991 to 1998. During that time, the number of U.S. states with more than a 15 percent obesity rate jumped a whopping 825 percent, from 4 to 37.

And all the while, we've been riding the low-fat train, only to watch the number of overweight Americans almost triple from 34 to 97 million between 1992 and 1999. Unbelievably, over half of the adult population in the United States is now overweight.

What do you suppose happened to activity rates over this same interval? You might guess that we're getting fatter because we're less active, sitting around on the couch like Jabba the Hut with a remote. But even coming on the heels of the "fitness explosion" of the 1970s and 1980s, this study found that many people were more active than ever. In fact, the percentage of people who were "intense" about their workouts increased from 8.7 to 13.6! But Americans got steadily fatter anyway. The bottom line is that exercise is only one part of a complex solution—one that still eludes us.

Just look at the health club data. Even since 1987, the number of health club attendees soared by 154 percent to 13.5 million in 2000. The New York Times recently reported that "regular attendance" at health clubs (greater than 100 days per year) is at an all-time high of 13.9 million sweaty souls, up an incredible 48 percent in the last 5 years.

The careful reader will perk up here. Ah hah! That's just because those zealots, those bothersome type A people who've blown the curve for the rest of us since fourth grade, work out more often! Okay, they are getting more exercise than before, but what about us mere mortals who can't get to the fitness center because we have real lives? After all, not everyone who works out does so at the gym.

True. But unfortunately, this does not help the argument that lack of exercise is the root of all our dietary dilemmas. Don't get me wrong. Exercise is critically important to your weight and health, but the Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics has shown that the percentage of adults 18 years and over who engaged in regular leisure-time physical activity has remained constant over the past few years (see table below).

I speak to people all over the country who exercise as much as four to six times every week. Every week. And they still can't drop the pounds. Again, you've got to exercise. But this can't be the scapegoat for our mounting weight problems. There's far more to it than that.

What's going on? And why are we so confused about what to do? First, we're not confused because of bad scientific research. We've just been thinking about the problem all wrong.

Let's say you're working on a puzzle that's basically green. If you reach into the bag and pull out a purple piece, you'll look at it like we look at the French diet. You'll scratch your head. You might even suggest it doesn't belong in this puzzle at all. The confusion comes because you have no clue how it could possibly fit into the beautiful green picture you've created. With one purple puzzle piece in your hand and a great big green puzzle sprawled out on the dining room table in front of you, you essentially have two choices. Either throw away this wonderful green elaboration you've invested so much time and energy on, or trash those pesky purple facts that just don't fit.

Our tired dietary viewpoint (whether low-fat or low-carb) cannot credibly explain why the French diet doesn't produce a country full of heart-diseased fat people (like ours); instead, it keeps clinging to the same mantra, disregarding those disagreeable data. Maybe if we ignore the data long enough, they'll go away. But then again, maybe not.

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The Fat Fallacy: The French Diet Secrets to Permanent Weight Loss 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After battling the same 40 unwanted lbs for the last 10 years, needless to say, I've gone on and off a lot of diets. Couldn't stick with any of them---how long can a person last living on cardboard, anyway? I've visited Paris and I knew what Dr. Clower said about the eating & exercise habits of the French was true. If you do see an obese person there chances are they're American. I've followed every bit of advice in the Fat Fallacy from using whole butter, to dining slower, to eating real foods with ingredients I both recognize and can pronounce. After 3 months following this plan I got up enough nerve to get on the scale and I've lost 15 lbs.!!! The best part of this plan for me is that I've completely lost my taste for all forms of fast food, junk food and the like. It tastes like absolute garbage to me now, so it's no longer a temptation. Neither is snacking. I eat my rich but small three meals a day and I'm more than satisfied. Caution: You WILL become a food snob, but eating will be a great pleasure instead of a great tribulation in your life!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Fat Fallacy is a very funny book.If you read Frech Women don't get fat and did'nt understand it or you did'nt feel like you got all that the writer was trying to say, The Fat Fallacy is a great read.If you compare the two books, you will find that they are both good,but their is something differnt about the fat fallacy. for one, French women dont get fat is very stright forward.We asked the french womam and she told us her secrets to staying thin,but i found more helpful instructions in the fat fallacy.The man who wrote it is very funny and will answer all your questions before you even ask them.The theory of the book works too.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I first spotted The Fat Fallacy in a bookstore at a time when I was feeling frustrated at not being able to shed those last 10 pounds after months of exercising more regularly than I ever had before and trying to eat low-fat. I was intrigued by the idea that I could eat foods I love - cheese, full-fat premium ice cream, and chocolate - all while losing weight. It sounded almost too good to be true, but I'd seen firsthand from a trip to Paris that the French ate very differently from us yet stayed thin. Also, many of Will Clower's comments made a lot of sense intuitively. I decided to give it a try, hoping for the best, but promising to stop if it caused me to gain weight instead. I tossed out the skim milk, 'low-fat' cheese, and processed foods containing high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and other artificial ingredients (you'd be amazed how many things include them!). To refill my pantry and refrigerator, I bought cream-top yogurt, whole milk, cheese, freshly baked french bread, good olive oil, high-quality dark chocolate, fresh vegetables, etc. I loved eating the new foods, found I didn't need to eat as much as before to feel satisfied, and was amazed at how quickly I saw the pounds start coming off. Within just over a month of making the changes, I had lost the 10 pounds I'd been struggling with. Another 5 pounds that I wasn't even trying to lose came off in the following month, leaving me happily surprised to have dropped 3 clothing sizes. Wow! It's so wonderful to be able to enjoy food without guilt, and to be happy with my body at the same time! I've since bought several copies of The Fat Fallacy to share with friends and family who've expressed interest. I'm always happy to be able to tell people about this book, as it encourages a healthy lifestyle rather than a 'diet'. It's definitely worth reading, and the recommendations seem so much healthier than some of today's trendier diets. Hope you'll read it and get as much out of it as I did!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ok, I agree that this book is good, and it has some really good, practical ideas, such as, put your fork down between bites to enjoy your food more and slow down. Eat smaller bites. That is how Europeans eat. I lived in Europe for 8 years, and am actually a bit shocked now that I am back in the U.S., at our consumer attitude toward food. The Europeans view food as part of their landscape, their history, their culture. They sample and enjoy. In the U.S., we consume it. We eat in our cars. We eat on the go. At night, when I watch TV here (occasionally), I see one ad after another of these massive, deep-fried foods. It is literally like being bombarded by the fast food companies. The whole message here is: eat big, eat fast, don't think, consume, consume, consume. That is the stereotype of American eating around the world. Unfortunately, for 80 % of Americans, it is true. The only two things I would add to my review is, this book is great, but, I strongly think that smoking should be a factor here. No doubt, many more Europeans would be fatter if they gave up smoking. Smoking is an appetite suppressant, and it also tends to kill you younger, so your chances of living to be bigger are less. The author should maybe tell that story as well. I knew Europeans who were 'fit' from the outside, but only by being chain smokers. Also, Europeans just walk around more. When I lived in Europe, I walked to get groceries. No doubt, the American lack of walking also makes us fatter.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the most balanced book on getting the 'right diet' that I've ever read. The author has exposed America's unhealthy obsession with 'low-fat' and 'no-fat' foods (which the author refers to as 'faux foods') and the fact that Americans are increasingly fat, fat, fatter! Yet France has an obesity rate of only 8%. After only one week of beginning to modify my diet according to the author's suggestions, I am eating smaller amounts of REAL food and have already lost 2 pounds. And I'm happy! Hey! Anyone who tells me 'Eat chocolate -- it's good for you!' is going to get my hearty recommendation. BUY THIS BOOK!! If you are serious about making a change, this book will not disappoint.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I stumbled onto Dr. Clower in my local Barnes and Noble, THANK GOD!! Buy this book is really the gist of my review, even with your last $10. There was a famous 60 minutes story a few years ago about the 'french paradox' of high fat, wine, and even smoking lifestyles, yet they had better health than many other countries. Dr. Clower lived and worked in France and successfully gives a rather in depth explanation of the 'french paradox', where 60 minutes failed. I have followed Dr. Clower's guide to eating and feel satisfied, have lost weight, and cannot recommend it highly enough. Dr. Clower blows away the low fat and engineered food diets that have been thrust on us by the large food companies.
justmeRosalie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book with a plan for health that actually makes sense. You don't stop eating, you learn to love it. And you allow it to become a pleasure you give yourself everyday. It goes against all the rules and dogmas we've all had crammed down our throat for the last fifty-some-odd years. And can you tell, all that old information has NOT made us a nation of slim healthy people? This book takes away the pressure of counting calories/carbs and denying ourselves everything that tastes good. You can be free to eat chocolate and cheese, and cream. It won't take long for the know-it-alls here to jump on the commercial bandwagon and plagerize the system, selling the same thing in a low-fat version. It has happened already. The Fat Fallacy is the real thing. Don't be fooled by artificial copycat versions.Mireille Guiliano, a real French woman, has also written on this subject from a woman's point of view. Her books are a delightful read on the subject, but read Will Clower's THE FAT FALLACY first for the basics.
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