By Juli Herman
“I can’t even open my mouth big enough to take a bite!” This was my mother’s remark about the size of Big Mac in America during her visit here. You have to admit that almost everything about America is huge, from the roads to the food. It’s little surprise that visiting foreigners who have been slim all their lives balloon up once they adopt the typical American diet. This was exactly what happened to Mireille Guiliano, a French who married an American and thus has adopted America as her residence. In French Women Don’t get Fat, Guiliano reveals the secrets of French women in maintaining their svelte and slender figures.
According to Guiliano, the French emphasize on small portions, presentation, and pleasure when it comes to food. Eating is treated as an event, not something done to fill a psychological void. One should chew slowly and savor the taste. This in itself would prevent over eating. It should be done sitting down. In other words, she advocates mindful eating as opposed to mindless eating that people do while watching TV or when stressed out.
I remember a fellow Southeast Asian asking me, “How come the sisters at the masjid eat standing up? Shouldn’t they know better?” In Malaysia and Indonesia, from a young age, we were taught to always sit down when we eat or drink. Each part of the Muslim world has its particular strength in following the sunnah, and manners of eating and drinking happens to be the strength of Southeast Asian Muslims. Unfortunately, we do see a lot of eating practices that goes against the sunnah in our masajid, from wastage of food to eating while walking. In fact, we seem to have adopted the ‘party’ manner of eating in which a group of people talk and eat while standing.
The sunnah of eating is pretty comprehensive and accounts for all possible problems that comes from food. The one-third rule takes care of overeating. In fact, the health benefits from that alone are many, one of which is making sure we drink enough water. Guiliano stresses the importance of water to the point that she recommends drinking water before going to bed and upon waking up. Dehydration leads to poor sleep, and just like a plant perks up after being watered, water would also do wonders for our skin.
Guiliano makes the argument that there is wisdom behind seasonal produce; we don’t indulge on one particular produce all year long, but rather, we have the experience of variety in our fresh produce intake. This brings to mind the blessing Allah has bestowed on us in making it possible to have seasonal produce all year long through import and export. Yet, like any blessings, moderation is in order. He has created so many different kinds of fruits and plants for us that it would be foolish to partake of only a few kinds. He has also distributed the nutrients and benefits among these many varieties. So it makes sense to take advantage of them by trying out many different things. In fact, the distribution of nutrients in produce is such that they even cater to the latitude and changing seasons. Produce rich with vitamin A are abundant in the fall so as to equip us for the dark winter times where night blindness is more likely to occur.
Even the freshness of food can be tied back to tauheed. Guiliano compares the deep orange of fresh eggs to the pale yellow of old eggs. The organic eggs I buy at the farmer’s market initially perplexed me with their deep orange hue, because I was so used to the pale yellow of supermarket eggs. But if you think about it, this rich, deep hue does signify more life than would a pale deathly yellow, doesn’t it? Subhanallah. Even in an egg yolk, we are reminded of the power and wisdom of Allah.
A deed, even if it is little, done consistently is more beloved to Allah than a big deed undertaken with zeal but then crashes to destruction. This seems to be the concept strewn in the book whereby Guiliano recommends eating for pleasure but with moderation. Apparently, the French women hate gym and sports, but walking is their forte. They indulge in their pastries and desserts, but in piece-meal sizes and sparingly. It’s a common sense solution compared to the diet binge followed by burnout and crash that is so prevalent in America. The concept of consistency and moderation is the underlying teachings of living Islam. It should be applied to every good deed we do, and eating is definitely one of them. Now that, is food for thought.
Guiliano compares the American habits to the French, but you can clearly see the teachings of the Quran and sunnah in most of her recommendations. You don’t have to be French to be svelte. If you have had negative encounters with crash/fad diets and crash workouts, reading this book may give you hope for a better, easier, less stressful alternative to losing or maintaining a healthy weight while also making you realize the wisdom that has been conveyed to us by our prophet Muhammad sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam.