5 Weight Control Lessons from “Born Round”

August 25, 2010

As I mentioned recently, I listened to the audiobook version of Frank Bruni’s memoir “Born Round” during our summer vacation.

I liked the book, but even better I saw several lessons on weight control (and weight loss) that struck me as particularly interesting. I’ve set up each of the lessons as a compare-and-contrast between book author Frank Bruni and blog author Sarah…

Lessons learned from Born Round by Frank Bruni

1) Exercise.  A Lot.

Frank is a star athlete in high school.  Sarah almost fails gym.  Frank controls his weight most of his life by running.  Sarah needs a lion chasing her as motivation to run.  Frank pays over 500$ a week to go to personal training sessions in Washington when he first becomes a food critic.  Sarah thinks paying for Parisian gyms is enough of a rip off….   Frank mentions running 6 and more miles, and triathalons as part of his way to manage his weight.  Sarah will find another path, or another weight…  Sarah does, begrudgingly, admit that her experience is that intense exercise does help to manage weight.  Sarah could learn a lot from Frank about the role exercise plays in successfully managing weight…

2) Learn to eat like a European (for Frank: Italy, for Sarah: France)

Frank writes “A sense of adventure and discovery replaced the abandon of overeating.  I didn’t feel the urge to eat so much when what I had to eat was so excellent.”   This was the first of several “stop the tape, I want to write that down!” moments I had as I listened.  Frank spent a few years in Italy and spent some time understanding Italian eating styles (and how the Italians stay thin) much as I have spent the better part of the last 8 years among the French trying to do the same.  One thing in both cultures is that food is often Art, and it’s respected, celebrated and studied, but in details and refinement much more than in the US focus on abundant cheap quantities.

One of the things I learned after many failed attempts at dieting in France is that strict diets really feel like terrible deprivation to me now, which has pushed me to find other more “moderation” based approaches where I’m still able to enjoy the wonders of French cooking and artisan production (cheese!).   I think more than just expats can relate to what Frank comes to in Italy, however – anyone who moves their awareness and appreciation of food from beyond the cheap quantities of the mainstream to focus on small farmers, local foods and other areas of the high-quality food movement can relate to what he grows to appreciate.

3) Listen to Hunger

Near the end of the book, almost as a throwaway, Frank writes “This was the regimen that wasn’t a regimen at all.  Maybe I’d eat breakfast, maybe not.  It depended on hunger, not on any foreordained, inevitably-doomed script”.  Frank mentions that he no longer eats regular breakfast and lunch just because he’s been told to, that he now eats when he’s hungry during the day.  Sarah does this more and more when she is at home or otherwise in control of her environment (which, alas, isn’t so often…)  I still eat by the clock or “regular meals” more often than not, but that’s because a lot of the time I’m not sure that decent choices will be available at the next meal, which means I’m eating defensively.  When I’m home, I don’t need to do this.

4) “Leave Something Uneaten”

Do you wonder how Frank manages to eat 7-10 restaurant meals per week and maintain his weight?  Guess What?  Frank practices what Sarah is trying to learn, to “leave something uneaten”.  I was thrilled. [pullquote]”the most time-tested and most widely-accepted, least-flashy method of all…”[/pullquote]

I know that I consider learning to “Think While I Eat” to be a Key Skill which will help me maintain a lower weight in the future (and hopefully it will help me get to that lower weight in the present).

Frank talks about a change in his approach much like I’ve come to a change in mine.  What he introduces humbly as “the most time-tested and most widely-accepted, least-flashy method of all…”

“The only real option for keeping at least some cap on the calories I ingested was  the most time-tested and most widely-accepted, least-flashy method of all.  The one on which the truly enduring diet organizations were founded. The one too unimaginative and incremental in it’s impact to ever foster the kind of short-lived cults that developed around the cabbage soup diet, the grapefruit diet and their ilk.”   That method : leaving things uneaten.   Frank goes on to explain how he uses this technique in 4 star restaurants and fast food joints.  In short, he tastes, judges, appreciates.  And stops.  This is what I’m shooting for with my “leave something uneaten” goal. (Which, by the way, has NOT been a success this vacation…)

5) When life changes, find a new path to managing weight

Frank realized he had reached a happy equilibrium in Italy but that his new job as food critic would require a new approach too.  Frank writes : “…Where I’d always gone wrong and what I’d always given in to.  In this new job (as the New York Times food critic) I’d have to watch my portions and stick to regular exercise.  The postponements, the lies, couldn’t be justified, I’d have to be steady, I’d have to be sensible.”

My own change has come from realizing that the patterns of obsessive dieting (and then obsessive eating) weren’t working for me to manage my weight in my new full, rich, rewarding (and married) life in France. My path is leading me to what I like to call “Low Stress” weight loss, where I embrace slow losses, plateau frequently (uh, like this 3 week vacation…) and basically focus on enjoying the process without worrying too much about the destination, as long as the general trend is slightly downwards.

Wrap up : “Born Round”

I found the book likable and amusing.  Not the best memoir ever, but certainly better than many and I really liked that he comes across as a highly normal, humanly-flawed real person.  I like Frank’s ability to see himself honestly, and laugh a bit at himself, and I like that he’s keeping a dialogue going on his website.  I really like that I felt I met someone I’d like to emulate in many areas, including how to eat.

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