Plus ça Change

What a great truism. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And is there any area in our lives where this is more true than for diet?  A generation ago, American families were much thinner than they are now–even though they were served eggs, breads, butter, fruits, and vegetables. In other words, natural foods. Then they embraced the advice to eat low-fat processed foods, pressed orange-colored slices euphemistically called “cheese food products,” and that much-touted heart-saver, margarine.  Meanwhile, the French never stopped eating real foods and looked at the American dietary changes with a mix of fascination and dismay.  Now, after 30 years of the low-fat dogma, Americans have turned their backs to embrace its equally bizarre twin sister, the “low carb revolution.” Shoppers rush to the store to buy all manner of new food products that are just as oxymoronic as fat-free Half-n-Half, such as “low carb” pasta and carb-free bread.  When seen from a distance, the wide swing from low-fat eating to low- carb eating reveals an American attitude that suffers from a sort of dietary Bipolar Disease. We’ve simply moved from one extreme position to another one just as marginal. And the lengthy failure of fat-free eating seems only to have frothed the low-carb frenzy that much more.  But is it a dietary Bipolar Disease, or just Myopia?  Maybe it’s not a cultural brain disease we’ve contracted, but simple near-sightedness. Maybe we just need some new glasses that put ourselves in relationship to the rest of the world. After all, we’re not the only culture around, and we could use some corrective lenses to see a wider perspective out there.  This myopia produces a narrow perspective that would never work in the business world. Think about it: What would a business do if they struggled with a problem for 30 years and suffered disastrous results? What if all their people got together and agreed on a strategy, followed it for decades, and then failed with flying colors? Would they rely on the same group to come up with some other idea? Of course not.  They would look outside their own people for answers. They would open their eyes to ideas from the outside. They would pick the best ones, and then act accordingly.  The traditional culture of eating in France provides a perfect example of a dietary lifestyle that works. Sure, we can scratch our heads, wonder why, and call it a “paradox,” but the bottom line is that it worked while we were eating cheese food and Cool Whip. And it still works while people avoid carb-laden fruits and vegetables and munch on carb-free breads.   Thus, dietary advice has gone from one extreme to the other, but the eating habits of successful cultures have stayed the same. Plus ça change…  The point of this article is not to spell out the exact differences between the French and American dietary attitudes, only to agree on the big picture. If you see something that works, and you want to have that success, do what they are doing.  For one’s diet, find thin, healthy cultures with fabulous food: Asian, French, Indian. Use their cultural habits as a model. If you do what they do, you’ll get their results. And, not only is the French diet a perfect model for eating, but those fresh baguettes, sumptuous cheeses, and luscious sauces don’t hurt either.  You can find out more about applying the French Diet to the American Lifestyle (called The PATH) at
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