January 24, 2005 12:00 PM

Ah, Paris, the ideal destination for museum-hopping, couture shopping—and quick weight loss? Mais oui, insists Mireille Guiliano. “When you see how people eat and move there, it inspires you,” she says. “After a week in Paris, your pants are going to be loose.”

For those who can’t hop a plane whenever their zippers won’t close, though, Guiliano, an author and business exec, has an alternative: French Women Don’t Get Fat, her new memoir-cum-“nondiet” book filled with slimming secrets behind the oft-noted French paradox—that in the land of wine and Brie, obesity is relatively rare. “The French know you can eat everything; the trick is balancing it and eating small portions,” Guiliano says. “We don’t obsess about food—we’re friends with it.”

Her philosophy isn’t that simple, of course. Among her book’s tips (see box): Drink plenty of water, walk often and savor every bite. “Deprivation is the mother of failure, and so is guilt, two aspects of Americans’ relationship to food,” she says. “The French can’t go on Atkins—they get bored with anything that deprives you.”

The joie de vivre approach has certainly worked for her. At 58, the 5’3″, 110-lb. Guiliano is a size 6, even though her job as CEO of the U.S. subsidiary of Champagne Veuve Clicquot means she and husband Edward, 54, president of the New York Institute of Technology, entertain frequently at home in New York City and Paris. “People would ask me, ‘How are you not obese? ” Guiliano says. “I’d shrug and say, French women don’t get fat. We have our little tips.'”

She decided to share them—and to reveal her own battle with the bulge. As an exchange student in Massachusetts in 1966, “I ate brownies and ice cream, I ate standing up—I lost control,” she says. She came home 20 lbs. heavier and piled on 10 more before a doctor in her small town in France “reintroduced me to eating right.” Losing weight through moderation, she says, was “a piece of cake,” as was keeping it off at the Sorbonne and later when she worked as an interpreter at the United Nations. Since they wed in 1976, says Edward, “I’ve never seen her a different weight.”

The couple, who have no children, enjoy cooking and tuning into the Food Network. “She’d rather watch that than the news,” Edward says. She did catch reports this month about two new studies suggesting commercial diet plans rarely work. Her reaction? Quelle surprise! “If these diet books and products worked, everyone would be fit and happy,” she says. “People are getting smart.”

Kim Hubbard. Debbie Seaman in New York City

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