Marie Antoinette, the colorful eighteenth century French Queen, notorious forever for saying, “Let them eat cake,” certainly lived by the maxim which came to define her, even if its attribution remains dubious. But hey, when did such trifling historical concerns stop today’s diet publishing juggernaut?
In The Marie Antoinette Diet: Eat Cake and Still Lose Weight, author Karen Wheeler says Marie Antoinette enjoyed a pastry with coffee or hot chocolate for breakfast, gorged on typically lavish palace cuisine—which included pate, oysters, and lobster as appetizers, followed by scallops, duck, salmon, breaded fois gras, or hare stew as a main dish—and snacked throughout the day on the likes of cheese, macaroni, and vegetables cooked in cream. Plus, with her sweet tooth, the Queen couldn’t resist the selection of petits fours, crystallized fruits, and wafers offered for dessert.
“In Marie Antoinette, the movie,” Wheeler observes, “director Sofia Coppola depicted the French Queen’s life as one long cake-fest, gorging on macaroons and fondant-filled pastries, washed down with a river of champagne.”
Yet somehow, despite Marie Antoinette’s seemingly overwhelming calorie intake, she was able to maintain a very trim 58cm (23 inches) waist, Wheeler notes, according to her seamstress Madame Eloffe. Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution, even wrote that she was “slim enough to wear her formal gowns without the stiff whalebone corsets that were compulsory at the French court.
But how did she do it?
“[Antoinette’s confidant and first-lady-in-waiting] Madame Campan’s memoirs suggest that Marie Antoinette instinctively knew what 21st-century science has shown—namely, that it is not what you eat, but when you eat it,” Wheeler writes. “And the more I looked into the Queen’s diet, the more I became convinced that it held the key to the so-called ‘French paradox’—the question of how the French eat rich, fatty food yet still manage to stay slim and avoid coronary heart disease.” Wheeler, however, isn’t a dietician or medical expert. She’s a fashion journalist now living in France, who, after a longtime career in the fashion industry, has become way too familiar with fad diets—think ‘The Drinker’s Diet’ or ‘The Wine and Eggs Diet’—and fat shaming. After relocating to France, Wheeler learned that French women don’t get fat. While reading a biography on Marie Antoinette, Wheeler found that the former Queen may have been on the perfect diet all along, without even knowing.
The smell of Versailles—which lacked modern plumbing—most likely served as an appetite suppressant, while having to dine, dress, and undress in public may have led Marie Antoinette to also watch her weight. But it was her light dinner—typically a broth with vegetables and either chicken or guinea fowl—that Wheeler saw as key. Soon after, she realized that her modern day French friends too ate le souper—or a light evening meal—rather than a calorie-packed dinner.
The “Marie Antoinette Diet”—also referred to as MAD—focuses on meal timing amongst other factors: indulging on sweets with breakfast may help with curbing your appetite for them later on in the day; eat soup—dubbed “a miracle in a bowl for fat loss”—either before dinner, or as dinner; only use food that is au natural (no over-processed junk, trans-fats, or vegetable or polyunsaturated oil; and not drinking your weight in sugar (or alcohol).
Although many fad diets come and go—and are proven ineffective as quickly as they’re claimed effective—some of Wheeler’s claims (supported by Dr. Mabel Blades, a registered dietician and nutritionist in England) actually seem useful and easily attainable, like not eating past 8pm or focusing on portion control, rather than food control. The only thing totally out is fried food.
Wheeler’s best tip? “Only eat dessert if it’s amazing.”