d o c t o r a n d m a m a

Linda Shiue

Linda Shiue
San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA
December 31
I am a physician and spend my free time with my husband and kids, reading everything in sight, eating, traveling, and cooking meals inspired by my travels. These days I'm spending more time at my food blog, spiceboxtravels.com. Please visit me there and follow me on Twitter @spiceboxtravels. Disclaimer: Health information presented here is not intended nor recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions. © 2010-12 Linda Shiue. All Rights Reserved.

Linda Shiue's Links

Editor’s Pick
MARCH 10, 2010 9:05AM

Don't Let Them Eat Cake: Jenny Craig Goes to Paris

Rate: 24 Flag

via Wikipedia 

Chic and svelte Mireille Guiliano, who was for many years the CEO of the US branch of Champagne Veuve Clicquot, became a household name when she wrote the runaway international bestseller, French Women Don't Get Fat (2005).  In it, she credits the French traditions of eating for pleasure and savoring meals in preventing obesity in French women.

"At the outset, let's state that French women simply do not suffer the terror of kilos that afflicts so many of their American sisters. All the chatter about diets I hear at cocktail parties in America would make any French woman cringe. In France, we don't talk about "diets," certainly not with strangers. 

French women take pleasure in staying thin by eating well, while Americans typically see it as a conflict and obsess over it. French women don't skip meals or substitute slimming shakes for them. They have two or three courses at lunch and then another three (sometimes four) at dinner. And with wine, bien sûr. How do they do it? Well, that's a story. That's the story. One hint: they eat with their heads, and they do not leave the table feeling stuffed or guilty.

Learning that less can be more and discovering how one can eat everything in moderation are keys. So are exertion in proportion to calories consumed and a much more plentiful intake of water."

She guides her reader to develop

"a cultivated respect for freshness and flavor that unlocks the world of sensory delights to be discovered in presentation, color, and variety. What you do you will do for pleasure, not punishment."

But perhaps things have changed.  Nestlé, the Swiss based food conglomerate, has announced this week that they are about to introduce the Jenny Craig line of pre-packaged diet entrees to France, starting March 9.  The UK is next on the list in Europe, and the company also plans to make inroads in Asia, including India and China.

Europe is right behind the US in obesity rates, according to a Jenny Craig executive:

“We’ve done lots of research on different countries’ rankings of obesity, and Europe just jumped off the map,” said Patti Larchet, Jenny Craig’s chief executive. “It’s right behind the U.S. and Australia in percentage terms. People are really searching for an answer.” 

In medical terms, "overweight" is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of >25, and "obese" is a BMI>30.  In the US, about 1/3 of adults are obese, and another 1/3 are overweight, according to CDC data.  According to the New York Times, a study published in January by Inserm, France's national health research institute, showed that 31.9 percent of people over 18 were overweight in 2009, up from 29.8 percent in 1997. This is similar to the percentage of US adults who are overweight. In addition, 14.5 percent were obese, up from 8.5 percent in 1997.

What happened?  The French government has been alarmed by the growing problem for at least the past four years.  Contrary to what Ms. Guiliano writes about in her book, French culture just may be getting to be more American.

Instead of the traditional image of French families spending hours sitting at the table for a leisurely, multi-course meal, a study in 2006, which filmed family meals, found that many French families ate

"in front of their television sets, while on the telephone and even alone. In fact, the average French meal, which 25 years ago lasted 88 minutes, is just 38 minutes today." 

As another indicator, while McDonald's profits in the US were slightly down (-0.7%) in the US in January 2010, European profits increased by over 4%, led by France.  In fact, in recent years, France has been the second most profitable market for McDonald's, after the US.

Theories of cultural change aside, it remains to be determined if the French will be willing to buy a packaged and portion controlled entree to replace their wonderful gastronomie.    The Jenny Craig France website lists some sample menus, which do sound enticing, especially in French.  These include such dinner entrees as "navarin d'agneau velouté tomate (velvety tomato lamb stew), thon basquaise et son blé (Basque tuna), and poulet et ses légumes en tagine (chicken and vegetable tagine)."  But they still come from a box.

I am curious to see how the various planned international rollouts of Jenny Craig will be received.  The combination of individual diet counseling and support and convenient, premade meals has certainly been well received in the US, and effective for thousands of satisfied customers. I imagine that, just as they are serving tagines in France, Jenny Craig will be serving stir-fries in China and curries in India.  But are those countries ready for their meals coming from a box?




Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
I don't know about the BMI, but yum. Great reporting, Linda.
Americanization continues apace.
Next stop, way-out outer space.
Great post, Linda.

Unfortunately French women do get fat. Moving to a Western highly processed diet and eating-on-the-run lifestyle can turn any nation fat—we’re proving that point over and over.

The opening sentence in the New York Times—“Could U.S.-style diet coaching offer a solution to the rising tide of obesity in Europe?” demands some explanation. Have they been successful? Then why are so many people still fat?

Our diet industry is very successful—at making money! I’m quite certain they’ll be successful in Europe too.

Now we’re exporting our fast-food and our diet plans —genius!
Kathy: thank you for the compliment.
Leon: will it go that far?
Ayala: thanks for commenting. Yes, a brilliant business plan, isn't it? Profit by making them fat, then profit by trying to undo the damage. Scary how quickly it is escalating worldwide.
This was informative, and funny Linda! Great post as always!

Great reporting, Linda. I will NOT be eating Le Big Mac in Paris, for crying out loud! (I don't even eat them at home!) Rated.
When I was last in france I counted the number of McDonalds there were in Marseilles. There were far more than we have here in San Francisco... I also noticed the number of other "fast food" places that emerged since the last time I was there. Luckily, none of these were part of my vacation plan and had amazing meals. My friends get their weekly organic baskets and I had the pleasure of eating fresh produce from someone's garden. You can't beat that.
Linda, your posts are great, I love reading them!!
Kim: thanks! Fun to be on similar wavelengths today.
Bonnie: thanks for the info. Even worse than fake food, tainted fake food!
McKenzie: that was the biggest surprise to me- not that McD's was popular in France, but that France is the 2nd largest market.
Carla: welcome! I am so excited to see you here. Now I am waiting for your madeleines, and your blog.
ame i: since composting and recycling have been mandated and made very easy here in San Francisco, we've seen our amount of trash dwindle to a respectably small amount. Everyone needs the convenience of packaged foods sometime, but your weekly trash output is a good visible reminder of what percentage of your food that is. We can all do better. Thanks for commenting.
Great post!

Dr. Ayala makes a great point here:
"Moving to a Western highly processed diet and eating-on-the-run lifestyle can turn any nation fat—we’re proving that point over and over."

Indeed, many, many studies have shown this to be the case: when people are tracked after moving to a western nation with high obesity rates, from a nation with low obesity rates, more often than not they become obese.
In fact, western nations are becoming more and more obese as time goes on - Australia just surpassed the US as the nation with the highest rates of obesity.
Not sure Jenny Craig is the answer for any of this...weight loss is usually followed by weight regain. Probably any changes in lifestyle will surely take as long to implement and reap benefits as the adverse changes to lifestyle took to make us obese in the first place.
Aliquot: great points. As I always tell my patients, it's very easy to gain weight (and for one's body to reset its "set point" at that higher weight) than to lose weight. It's both as simple, and as complicated, as input vs ouput. Jenny Craig and similar systems work for people who have a hard time figuring out portion control, or who may just not like cooking, but I am definitely more in favor of promoting real food prepared at home, mainly vegetables, in small portions, and with regular, moderate exercise. Much easier said than done, but the best way to achieve and sustain a healthy weight. It was simpler when we were hunter-gatherers, but there were other dangers- like getting eaten by a lion-- then.
Thanks so much for this post. Fluent in French as well as Mandarin & Cantonese?
Bon Chance!
And unh English of course.
Linda, thank you for posting this.
These campaigns continue to surprise me, when really they shouldn't, since - as Dr. Ayala points out - the diet industry is a big money maker. Local, organic, healthy eating seems such a trend at the moment but its no match for a complex food, agribusiness, and diet industry. I am reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and was shocked by a note in the first few pages stating that the Sugar Lobby, lobbied the U.S. government to address WHO's recommendation on daily sugar intake - asking the government to threaten WHO funding if the levels weren't increased. Amazing. ( a bit off topic, but in the same vain as big business messing with food, diet, health, tradition.....)
coachcaptain: fluent only in English, I'm afraid, but a dabbler in many languages.
Jenna: it is sad but true that the food business is just as much about the bottom line as any other big business.
Great article! Not to be like those snarky sales people who post their purses and leather goods online, but I'm currently working with a weight management web site: sparkpeople.com. My doctor put the fear of God into me about taking control of my poundage and I found that by using weight management software I could lose weight and still be a foodie.

For once, being a food snob is really working for me. I'm heading to Paris for vacation this year and plan to avoid as many fast-food temptations as possible. I'll cook fresh foods in my little rental kitchen and indulge in maybe one or two lush desserts while I'm there.

So...I'll report back on OS about my experiences and I'll be sure to be on the lookout for "Jenny" commercials on French TV.
Linda - I agree with you 100% - very sane and knowledgeable approach to body weight and health.
My favorite:
"It's both as simple, and as complicated, as input vs ouput."

Great line - describes my research to a tee!
The problem is that a lot of American food and the way of eating (in front of the TV, standing up, etc.) has only recently infiltrated the French way of life. Obviously, there is some cause and effect. Snack foods were almost non existent 20 years ago, there. The sizes of chips bags are still significantly smaller there compared to our gallon bag versions. The same for soda can sizes. It's kind of like 60's sizes there. But we all know what happened to those of us who grew up eating and drinking that crap, regardless of the size. It caught up with us. And now, unfortunately, it's catching up with them too. I ate whatever I wanted in France but did not eat snack foods and never had any issues whatsoever. It's the processed crap that will kill you. And what is Jenny Craig? A boxed version of more processed crap. Oy.
I loved this. Rated.
Very informative post. I'm glad I am a vegetarian. But also factor in that in France more people walk than they do in the US. Here we drive everywhere.
I wonder how coffee sales are going for McDonald's in Italy. - Kudos on a wonderful article, Linda!
Linda, I wasn't aware of this development--it's falls into the category of an embarrassing news item for France. Thank you for posting it!
Congratulations on a well-researched, excellent piece, Linda. ~R~
So the French are going to eat BETTER on Jennie Craig than Americans? Because Jennie Craig won't sell them the stuff they sell Americans? This is so unfair.
What an interesting post. I remember reading MG's book. The message seemed to be about moderation. Hmmm, must have shifted.
We are exporting our very worst cultural traits.
Hey, it took the French about 50 years to jump on the American junk food bandwagon. Apparently China is way ahead of schedule. Sickening how it's only the bad habits that catch on easily.
Thanks for all of your comments. It seems we all agree that real food, slow food, is the way to go. But desperate times might call for desperate measures, for some, even in a food paradise.
Yep - once a government lets the likes of McDonalds into the country it's a downward spiral from there on in - look what happened in the far east - one of the healthiest areas of the world until MaccyDs invaded - now they're suffering with obesity and overweight kids like the rest of us.
Thank you for a yummy and interesting post, Linda. I think it's the walking in France, don't you? Michigan is so fat, I think because people hop in the car to travel even one or two blocks.

anyone who doesn't know about BMI should start to learn about it- it's important. pictures can look "yum" but the message is what really counts- read carefully and take it to heart. thank you for this article. it's a great service.
Lorna: thanks for stopping by and commenting. Yes, obesity has rapidly become a global issue.
Patty: lack of physical activity is definitely a big part of the issue. The problem, as you point out with our driving culture, is that now people have to schedule in exercise, whereas in previous times, being active was a normal part of living.
Seafarer: thanks for the emphasis. For those who would like more clarification, BMI, or body mass index, is calculated by weight/(height) squared (weight in kilos, height in meters). To make it easier there are charts here so you don't have to calculate: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/bmi_tbl.htm
It is an imperfect measure, but the most standard one we have. Categories of BMI are as follows: Underweight30. These measures are correlated to risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, among other diseases.
Dr. Ayala's point is well made. Clearly, our style of "dieting" is a huge importable business that is doomed to fail. The most interesting part of the New York Times piece - to me, at least - was the statement made by Jenny Craig's CEO in France. "The French have a negative reaction to American food," said Erick Moreau, "but in terms of weight loss, the Americans have credibility here." So, we may know nothing about food, but losing weight - there we can be trusted! In spite of the fact that if our schemes were efficacious, we wouldn't be the most obese developed nation in the world.