The Fat Fallacy by Dr. Will Clower

fat fallacy
Dr. Will Clower
Pub. Date: April 2003
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group

The French Paradox has made the headlines for several years. How can the French live on buttery croissants, cheeses, heavy creams, wine, and still be thin and and with less instances of heart disease than Americans? At first, the explanation was the wine. A few years ago, Americans rushed to buy red wine, under the impression it would make us as healthy as the French. Newer research has shown that it’s not as simple as a glass of red wine with dinner. The French approach their meals differently than us. Sure, they eat plenty of fat and carb rich meals, but they eat smaller portions than we do. They also carry a different attitude to their dinner tables. Meals are to be savored, enjoyed, and appreciated. While we are reaching for handfuls of sugar free chocolate flavored candies and dreading stepping on the scales, the French are slowly and carefully enjoying pieces of real chocolate, while retaining movie-star bodies. Why can they do it, and we can’t? Several books have been written on the subject, and we’ve read the most notable yet – The Fat Fallacy by Dr. Will Clower.

Dr. Will Clower is a neurophysiologist and neuroscience historian at the University of Pittsburgh. He obtained his Ph.D. in neuroscience and spent two years working at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences in Lyon, France. He took his wife, two children, and his mother with him. With the exception of his young daughter, they all lost weight – without even trying. How could this be? They had eaten as the French do, enjoying pastries, butter, creams, and all of the foods Americans avoid out of fear of gaining weight. Upon their return to America, Clower began his research to determine just how the French lifestyle leads to thinness.

France has a mere 11% obesity rate – the lowest in the European countries. Despite our national obsession with dieting, Americans are just getting fatter. We count every carb, every calorie, search out low fat or nonfat foods that are highly processed and chemical laden, in hopes that these foods will help us lose weight. The French don’t do any of this. They eat real food, not highly processed foods. They don’t make low fat versions of every food, and they do enjoy their carbs.

Clower tells us that the French eat smaller portions than we do, and they take their time to enjoy every bite. By eating slowly, and consuming moderate amounts of fat, their bodies have a chance to become full and satisfied on smaller portions. “Enjoyment and satisfaction have more to do with the amount of time you spend on the meal than the raw poundage of food you eat.”

Eat Slowly Eating too quickly makes you fat for two reasons: 1. The “full” signal is delayed. 2. Your appetite keeps adapting to the larger amounts you eat.

Put less food on your plate than you think will be enough. Take smaller bites. Put the fork down in between each bite. Chew slowly and savor each bite. Love your food. Do this, and you will eat smaller portions and feel satisfied!

Eat Fat! Fat is filling. You can eat a small amount of full fat cheese, or a large piece of non-fat or low fat cheese, and the full fat version will probably be more satisfying. You will be less likely to overeat. Choose healthy fats, such as olive oil, and avoid margarines or most low-fat products with fillers. Consume moderate amounts of fats in your diet, which may be around 35% fat. Some of the ideas in this book will take getting used to. We can understand that butter may be a better choice than margarine. However, we are also asked to give up skim milk and gradually increase the fat level to whole milk. The reason? Whole fat milk stays with you longer, so you are less likely to snack later.

Eat Bread Yep, good old fashioned white bread. However, read the label and make sure it is natural bread without a lot of additives. You can also eat whole wheat bread, but white bread is not taboo in France.

Eat Meat Choose fish first, then chicken, lean pork, and red meat last. Only eat red meat once every two weeks.

Fresh Veggies and Fruits Enjoy fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as nuts, herbs, and dress them with vinegar and oils.

What to Avoid If it ain’t food, don’t eat it! Clower stresses the importance of avoiding faux foods. These are chemical laden, artificial foods that fill the supermarket shelves. Go to your pantry and read a few labels. More than likely, you will encounter a lot of words you cannot pronounce, let alone define. If it isn’t a food, don’t eat it. Natural foods are going to be best for you. Faux foods usually contain things we don’t need, such as excess sugars or trans fatty acids. The French diet is centered around real food, which is what we are after.

Clower tells us that the French don’t focus much on exercise, and this is where he disagrees. He recommends exercise because we need it to stay fit, raise our metabolism, and maintain weight loss. The French may get more daily exercise in the form of walking, where we tend to get from point A to point B in a car.

We can’t always duplicate the lifestyle of another culture. However, we can adapt the healthier aspects to our own lives, and benefit from them whenever possible. The French diet includes more details than we have mentioned in this review. We recommend you pick up a copy of The Fat Fallacy, or another book on the French diet. You may never have to count another fat gram, calorie, or carb again!


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  • Susan

    Possibly the most sensible book I’ve ever read. Right up there with “French Women don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano.

  • Margaret Soboslay

    Hi Dr. Will Clower: You came to our Book Club meeting in Monroeville a few years ago speaking about your Book, The Fat Fallacy, and speaking to us about the proper way to eat chocolate. You had spent 2 years (I think) in France and told us about that. I would like to recruit you to speak to our Women’s Guild, at St. Bernadette’s Parish in Monroeville at some point. Please email me if you are interested in doing so. Our book club was at McGinnis Sisters and our ‘leader’ is Karent Novak. Sincerely, Margaret Soboslay.