Book Shelf: Losing It in France by Sally Asher
It is a gentle, personal affair imbued with Asher's wholesome, soothing, well-informed advice as well as anecdotes from her life – more particularly her time in the City of Lights – that will leave you feeling sated at every page turn.
Far from admonishments to curtail one's natural predilection for a variety of tastes, flavours, smells and textures in favour of kilo-crunching tactics, Asher encourages culinary adventure, creativity and the savoring every morsel in the mouth (notably, not necessarily every last morsel on one's plate). This is not a quest for physical perfection but for an agreeable equilibrium of body, mind, soul and lifestyle.
She enjoys her petit gateaux and other edible delights, and desserts get plentiful mentions, but she's no Nigella: her delectable recipes, praise of full-fat cheeses and yoghurt and shopping lists are balanced with sustainable lifestyle suggestions for increasing incidental activity in everyday life (no gyms!). She also has a preference for simplicity over fuss, balancing meals with seasonal selections from the different food groups and entertaining with aplomb by planning ahead.
But her most important message is one of nurturing and refining; of curbing learned consumption behaviours that are not beneficial, including emotional eating, by administering to the other desires of the heart: for beauty, creativity, knowledge, love and spirituality. Practical suggestions are tempered with a compassion for the reader and an understanding that we are not necessarily what we eat, nor what we look like.
After "growing up a glutton" with a single working mother and grandmother who loved her granddaughter with confectionary, Asher found her poor dietary habits were deeply ingrained, not helped by a move to America as a teen where hot chocolate fudge sundaes beckoned and solace for her loneliness was found in the school cafeteria. Though she was eating plenty, she had lost her appetite, "clinging to the deeply embedded, mindless eating habits" she hag grown up with, eating on the run, snacking mindlessly and overindulging in fast foods. It was after her first trip to Paris that she began to see the light.
It is her adopted French mother Josianne – "petitie and glamorous and with an infectious laugh" – who cultivates Asher's tastes and reveals the secret to the "French paradox" via observation and osmosis. "By watching her closely, how she shopped and cooked on a daily basis (even with a full-time job), I learned precisely how the French appear to have their cake and eat it, too – how they stay svelte without ever setting foot inside a gym," she writes.
Deprivation, the elimination of entire food groups and stuffing oneself beyond comfort levels are out, and enjoyment and satisfaction (without distraction) are her new priorities. "Unlike in many other cultures, the joy of eating is still alive and well in France – the pleasures that food brings have not been tainted by fear and worry."
Freed from the vicious cycle of dieting and over-compensating, she is able to listen to her body's natural hunger cues and give herself permission to eat the things she really loved. She writes, "A desire to eat the foods you love is not seen as a weakness of character among the French, as life without great food would be very dull."
There are 17 chapters in total covering eating with awareness, superfoods, self-nurturing, eating during pregnancy and balanced eating for life adaptable to her Australian home. While in some parts repetitive of theme, others covering territory most women are familiar with (i.e. don't skip meals), though Asher covers all bases with authority with empirical evidence as well as a health science degree behind her.
The mystery surrounding the slim feminine French physique has been written about before, too, but the sentiment in Asher's book is so genuine, so heartfelt, and presented so wonderfully, that any sniggering thoughts of "this has been done before" are happily put aside. Calories are talked about, in the sense of self-sabotaging with food without any of the pleasure, but she never talks about the kilojoule content of certain foods... in this context, it simply doesn't matter.
If you have become disconnected from the value of food, dieting yourself into bland-palette oblivion, fearing it as if it were a monster lurking in your cupboard or shoveling it mindlessly in your gob to suppress emotional issues, then Asher is here to hold your hand as you re-learn the joy of eating and intuitive self-care and find the joy in life's petits plaisirs (little pleasures).
Losing it in France by Sally Asher, $29.95, is out now.
Girl With a Satchel