"The French Diet" - Michel Montignac Explains Why The French Don't Get Fat

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 - 1:32pm

What’s the secret? Is there something in the waters of the River Seine? Do the French have a genetic advantage over the rest of us when it comes to staying slim? Seemingly the French are able to regularly dine on fine wines, cheese, and chocolate without gaining weight or suffering from the health maladies commonly associated with being overweight. In his recent book The French Diet, diet expert Michel Montignac explains the secret of why the French don’t get fat and offers a plausible, enjoyable—and permanent—weight loss solution to those of us battling our own ever-expanding waist-lines. Thanks to Michel for chatting with us.

Buy The French Diet

Much of your diet theory involves the glycemic index. How is the glycemic index key to the French Diet?
Calorie intake is not responsible for fat storage. If we put on weight it is not because we eat too much but because we eat wrongly. The nature of the food we eat stimulates metabolic reactions leading to fat storage instead of fat burning. Although this applies to all food categories, the choice of carbohydrates is particularly decisive. This is why the glycemic index is the key of the French Diet since it is the best way to choose the appropriate food.

How can adhering to the French Diet reduce a person’s cholesterol and/or lower their risk for heart disease?
Professor Jean Dumesnil from Québec University did an experiment showing that the Montignac method was not only an efficient weight loss method, but was also the best way to prevent cardiovascular disease. He even showed that triglycerides dropped by 35% after six days on the diet. Dumesnil’s study was published in November 2001 in the British Journal of Nutrition.

What link do you see between the French Diet and type 2 diabetes?
Obesity and type 2 diabetes are both caused by hyperinsulinism, which is a chronic and excessive secretion of insulin. Consequently, the French Diet not only leads to weight loss but also to a decreased risk of diabetes.

The French Diet does not emphasize reducing caloric intake. Why?
During the last 50 years, Western countries have reduced their daily calorie intake by 35%. Paradoxically, obesity rates have increased by 400% during this same period.

These statistics prove that low-calorie diets are a total failure. Low-calorie-diets actually slow down the metabolism. This reduced basal metabolic rate leaves the body vulnerable to rapid and excess weight gain once the person comes off the low-calorie diet.

You spend a lot of time discussing the merits of “good” versus “bad” carbs. How do you differentiate between them?
Bad carbs are those whose metabolization stimulates insulin secretion, which in turn leads to fat storage rather than fat burning. Bad carbs are high glycemic index foods, such as potatoes, sugar or white flour.

Conversely, good carbs are those whose metabolization lowers insulin production, which in turn prevents fat storage and activates fat burning. Good carbs are fruit, vegetables, al dente pasta, dry legumes and integral cereals.

Tell us briefly about the American Paradox.
Americans are the only population in the world that:

  • Fixates on dieting.
  • Follows the most low-calorie/low-fat diets.
  • Exercises the most (2 to 3 times the rate of French people).
  • Consumes the most sugar substitutes.

Paradoxically, they also have the highest rate of obesity in the world—3 to 4 times higher than French people, who eat more and exercise less. All these details are proof that their dieting habits are totally misguided.

What ancillary benefits have people reported after trying the French Diet?
By following the French Diet, people lose weight easily without deprivation; they decrease their risk of cardiovascular problems (e.g. high cholesterol, hypertension, triglycerides, etc.); and they lower their risk of contracting diabetes. In addition, they feel more physically fit.

You break the diet into two phases. What happens in Phase 1? Phase 2?
Phase 1 is the rapid weight loss phase. In this phase, people eat normal quantities of food in balanced meals. However, their choice of foods is restricted low glycemic index ones (which have the smallest impact on insulin secretion). Once they have succeeded in losing weight, they can switch to the Phase 2, which is the weight control phase.

Phase 2 also limits food choices. However, the range of permitted foods is much wider. High glycemic index foods are permitable in Phase 2, provided that low glycemic index foods are also eaten during the same meal as compensation.

The book has nearly 100 pages of delicious French recipes. As the author, do you have any personal recommendations?
These French recipes are very easy to follow. They are designed to teach people that it’s possible to lose weight while still enjoying good food.

What role does exercise have in the French Diet?
The French Diet demonstrates to people that it is illusory to expect to lose weight by exercising more. For example, it would take 18 hours of non-stop jogging for a woman to loose 2 pounds.

However, this does not mean that the French Diet advocates forgetting about exercising. In general, exercise is good for health. It keeps lungs, heart and muscles in good shape. On top of that, it helps to regulate t insulin secretion. Consequently, fast walking is good enough. People do not need to jog for hours (as many of them do).

What differentiates the French Diet from the throng of diet plans currently on the bookshelf?
Because there is no deprivation, the French Diet is not really a diet. It is more a lifestyle. It is designed not only to aid weight loss in the short term, but also to help people maintain their weight loss long term by advocating healthy eating habits, which can also prevent illness and disease.

What is the single dumbest thing you see people eat in the modern diet?
The dumbest thing people do is eat fast-food, processed food, and drink soda. The fact is that it has been scientifically proven—and broadcasted everywhere—that these are the true causes of major diseases in more than one third of the American population, including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Let’s play a little word association. I’ll give you a word and you tell us what you think about it as it relates to a healthy diet.

  • Wine: Red wine is healthy because of its high polyphenols.

  • Organic food: It is healthy because there are no pesticides or preservatives. But we must be aware that this is not enough. If a high glycemic index food is organic, it remains dangerous (as far as metabolic diseases are concerned).

  • Pasta: It is healthy, but only if it is made out of durum (hard) wheat and cooked al dente.

  • Cheese: Cheese is okay—in reasonable quantities. However, be careful with fresh dairy products (especially milk) because they contain whey/lactoserum, which triggers a critical insulin secretion.

  • Oils: Olive oil remains the best oil to consume. Avoid refined oils.

  • Dessert: T he best desserts are those made with high cocoa-content chocolate (at least 70%), without sugar, flour or butter.

What are your thoughts on the “obesity epidemic” which seems to be spreading across the Western world?
The “obesity epidemic” is caused by the globalization of American food eating habits.

Not only does it impact the Western countries but the whole world. Countries which are especially impacted are those that have developed their own eating models for millennia, such as Japan, China and India.

Best part of being the author of the latest best selling diet book:
It may be the latest best selling diet book in the United States only because the Montignac method has been a best seller in more than 40 countries for over 20 years. However, being successful in the U.S. is always rewarding for a French author.