Three books about diet and exercise.

My daily schedule is all messed up. There’s no escape from the heat. In the morning, my flat starts out being very hot and clammy, then it just gets hotter and clammier all day and stays that way all night. The bedroom is particularly uncomfortable. I have started going to bed at 9.30 in the evening and getting up at 5am because the oppressive, wet heat doesn’t cool down indoors even after dark. I cannot wait to start travelling again just for the sake of being able to stay in a hotel with air conditioning. If I were working in a hot country and I was this uncomfortable, I would insist on moving to a different hotel right away. Not sure what to do when it’s the country where you live. I am transporting all of my work stuff to the office today because I can no longer work from home.

I for some reason went on a massive food binge yesterday and ate everything I could see. I don’t know why. Maybe I was missing some vital nutrient. I’ve barely had any appetite since this heatwave started so yesterday was quite a surprise. Things I ate included: large burger (did not eat the bun, did eat some fries), dessert (I don’t know why, just wanted sugar I suppose), about a pound of cherries, some crusty bread with Brie and olives, about 5 or 6 ice lollies, a bunch of other things that I’ve forgotten already. I ate so much that my stomach hurt. Won’t be doing that again in a hurry. Am drinking coffee and getting ready to go outside and do my big walk and go to the gym while it is still early morning and the sun isn’t yet making its most serious attempt of the day to kill everyone.

This is Waterloo station the day before yesterday. Waterloo is one of London’s biggest stations, transporting several million people in and out of London all day, every day. It is so important a transport hub that if one train goes down, there is disorder. Below, you see what happens when the heat causes the train tracks to buckle, putting several trains out of action. See those people? They are trying to get home from work. Waterloo station has a glass roof and no air conditioning. They are standing there cooking in their own sweat.


Right, now for a couple of speedy book reviews. I’m still working through Scott Jurek’s book and will review when I’ve finished it. In the meantime, I’ve greedily consumed these, which I’ll review in order of preference.

Run, Fat Bitch, Run. Ruth Field, 2012.

This is a horrible book and I don’t recommend it to anyone. Ruth will tell you that it’s all supposed to be tongue in cheek, don’t read it if you don’t have a sense of humour, it’s just a light-hearted antidote to all the other diet and exercise books out there. Well that’s as may be, but it’s not actually a funny book. There aren’t any jokes or anything. It’s just plain aggressive. Ruth Field is a London barrister and you can really tell. She sounds just like one. She is bullying and nasty about everyone and she assumes that you are just the same. She has no health or exercise credentials. Her book solely consists of her aggressively bullying you, the reader, interspersed with stories about how she has aggressively bullied her family and friends. Let me share with you this story, which opens the book and sets the tone for the entire book. It is the story of what prompted Ruth to become a runner.

You see, one day, Ruth and her work colleagues were talking and one of the colleagues, not one who is particularly svelte or sporty, announces “I’m going to run the London Marathon!” Now, this is a big fucking deal, right? It requires months if not years of training. It is a large physical challenge and a large commitment. It is almost always done for charity – nearly all the London Marathon runners are raising money for some charity or other. I strongly contend that what this woman deserved at that point in the conversation was congratulations and for people to show an interest. It must have been a big moment for her, telling all her friends from work. ‘I’m running the London Marathon!’ You’d like people to take notice of that, wouldn’t you?

Do you know what actually happened? What happened is this. Ruth Field could not bear to be outdone by somebody else, fuck charity, fuck the fact that she didn’t own a pair of running shoes and had never run a step in her life, fuck her friend’s feelings, fuck all of that. Nobody is allowed to say ‘that’s amazing’ or ‘well done’ or ‘do tell us more about it’.  Instead, before anyone else can speak, Ruth jumps in and goes ‘Oh, I’M DOING THAT AS WELL’. Even though she blatantly wasn’t doing that at all until the moment it looked like someone else might get a bit of attention.

So that’s why she went out and bought running shoes and learned to run. Because her friend from work was doing it, and it was either learn to run marathons or let her friend have one second of attention and appreciation that Ruth wasn’t getting. And the whole book continues like that. She bullies her husband, she bullies her sister, she encourages readers to agree that they look at other people and think nasty things about their body shape (Ruth, we don’t all do that, it’s just you). She must have been a nightmare to work with and I bet her publishing team hated her.


Running Like A Girl, Alexandra Heminsley. 2013

Another British author. Alexandra seems like a thoroughly nice girl whose dad used to run marathons and think nothing of it. The ‘story’ of the book is a bit repetitive. Alexandra starts running, a bit incompetently at first, then slightly better. Then she starts running marathons like her dad. From here on, the story goes as follows. ‘I didn’t know if I could make it to the end. I felt sick and dizzy and my legs were screaming. But then another kind runner shouted encouragement as they passed me and this little bit of hope carried me across the finishing line, against all my expectations. I swore I would not do this again. Two days later I realised I had signed up for another marathon so I started training. On the day of the big race, I didn’t know if I could make it to the end. Then I made it. Then I realised I had signed up for another marathon’. And so on. In the end, we don’t share Alexandra’s doubts about whether she can make it, because girlfriend, you’ve run half a dozen marathons already and you run up and down hills for fun so yeah I think you are probably going to be okay.

What Alex’s book is good for is practical advice, delivered in the soothing and practical British tones of Mary Poppins. It is full of British links and resources for things like running clubs. Alex says useful things about how to buy shoes, what kinds of shoes you need, why you need running socks and Vaseline, why you don’t need sachets of glucose gel, what kinds of things to take with you in your bag on race days and just for added value she explodes some popular myths about running such as ‘it will make your knees sound like crisp packets’ and ‘it will give you a saggy face’. Very nice, sensible, British advice. I should think Alex is probably a jolly nice friend and a good running companion. I think her advice is best suited not so much for someone whose very first day of running is today, but someone who’s been at it a little while and is starting to wonder if signing up for a marathon is a thing they could do.


The Amazing Adventures of Diet Girl, Shauna Reid, 2008

Shauna Reid is Australian and is absolutely charming and I wish I could hug her.

This quite long book begins in Australia where Shauna weighs 25 stone and is hiding from people she knew from school because she’s fat and her career is going nowhere. She becomes desperate when even the plus-size knickers don’t fit her any more and they don’t make any larger sizes. She starts a secret blog that omg absolutely no-one is allowed to know about. It’s this blog on which the book is based and it is a ruthlessly honest blog where she writes about chocolate and ice cream and how she cries at Weight Watchers when she’s too gigantic for the industrial-strength scale.

Eventually, with the help of her sister who makes her keep on going to Weight Watchers, Shauna begins to lose weight. Then she puts some back on. Then she loses some again. After about two years of this, Shauna has lost enough weight that she’s no longer frightened of not being able to fit into the seat on a plane, so she and her sister go to Scotland for two years on a working holiday. In Scotland, she loses some more weight. Starts going to the gym. Loses some more weight. Suddenly eats piles of chips and cake, gains some back again. Back in the gym, loses some more.

At last, life brings Shauna some rewards in the form of True Love. She meets Gareth the Scotsman and marries him. More anxiety ensues because at this point she’s lost more than half of her original weight and that’s a funny thing to have to tell someone who’s only known you at a relatively ordinary size. Oh yes, and then she writes a book chapter for someone’s book about dieting. And then a national newspaper wants to run a story about her, so it all comes out. Everyone finds out. People at work. Everyone. Big colour photos of Shauna looking immense. Pictures of her now wedged into one leg of her old jeans. Now everyone knows she’s a world-beating ex-fatty. You can feel her embarrassment. Then she gets a book deal and at last her once-secret blog is a secret no more and in fact turns out to be the defining moment of her career, transforming her from an unhappy office drone into a proper Author.

Bless! I love her. Things I especially love about Shauna. (1) This isn’t a story of overnight miracles, it is the story of losing more than half your body weight over about 5 years, with plenty of chips- and cake-related setbacks. (2) Shauna learns to love exercise but in a way that doesn’t end up separating her from the rest of the population. She says things like ‘I learned to love the Body Pump class at the gym’ and not ‘then I ran 5 more marathons but felt slightly uncertain whether I could manage a sixth, at least on the same day’. (3) She can actually write and would be interesting on any subject. (4) She has a self-deprecating charm that is the exact opposite of Ruth Field’s aggression. (5) She doesn’t stop viewing the world as a landscape of food. Places, countries, neighbourhoods are marked out according to the foods on offer. At one point there’s an entertaining debate about the relative merits of mint Viscount biscuits (British) and the clearly superior Australian Tim-Tam. Ruth and Alexandra wouldn’t care about a thing like that.

10/10. Sweet, endearing, makes you believe that anything is possible if you take it slowly enough.

And that’s all for today.

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