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A Timely Read

Carrie Rubin is one of my favorite writer/bloggers.  I’m not sure if the statistics would bear this out, but I feel like she was one of the first writer/blogger I started to follow and who followed back and ever since, it’s been, I hope, a mutually rewarding experience of reading and sharing each others thoughts as expressed through our posts.  So, too, she has published a novel, Seneca Scourge, that was an enjoyable read.  Now comes her second novel.

Eating Bull is Jeremy’s story.  He 15 years old and obese.  As he struggles to deal with his weight and life’s issues — like a surly grandfather who nicknames him Eating Bull, the school bullies who ratchet up their attacks on him, and the stresses that lead him to over-eat — he gets swept up in a lawsuit brought against the food industry.  All while a murderer seems to be stocking the overweight.

Eating Bull is a murder mystery/thriller with plenty of potential suspects and questions along the way.  It’s well-written with characters you want to cheer for, but not necessarily in an uncomplicated way.  Even the heroes have their flaws.  And it passes the key test of such a story … it’s a page-turner, pulling the reader along to the finish.

It also deals with a social issue that continues to grow in this country and I think Carrie pulls it off well.  While one or two of the characters gets preachy and holier-than-thou about the issue of overeating and the food-eating industry’s role in the obesity epidemic, the book itself isn’t preachy.  Those characters who are preachy — well, it fits their character and fits the arc of the story.  It would be somewhat odd to have characters in their roles who weren’t somewhat over the top in their views of the issue.  So, well done, Carrie, well done.

* * * * *

Which leads to why this book is timely for me.  I’m 51 years old and while I’m not obese, I’m about 10-15 pounds above what I’d like to be and I’ve battled that weight for a handful of years now.  I remember back in my 30’s working with a few people who were older than me, who looked enviously at what I consumed and nodded knowingly.  “Don’t worry.  It’ll catch up to you when you’re 40.”  Or 50.  I shuddered at the thought that I would one day have to watch what I ate and swore that I would remain active enough through running and cycling and other activities that I would continue to be able to eat without care for years and years to come.

Well, yeah, maybe not.  I have spoken these words:  “I had a big lunch, I’d prefer something light for dinner.”  My god, what happened to me?  In addition to the inevitability of age, I tore a groin muscle a few years ago and it knocked me back a bit.  My regular exercise routine took a big hit and it’s been a struggle ever since.  For a lot of reasons and because of that, I’ve known I need to change my eating habits.  And, damn, if that’s not ridiculously difficult to do.

Here’s the other thing … I have long said I really have only one ism.  It’s ageism.  I have long struggled with older people.  I’ve struggled the patience needed because they move slower, think slower.  You know, patience is not one of my virtues.  Reading Eating Bull, I realized I’ve been wrong all these years.  I have another ism.  It’s weightism.  While I would never call somebody fatso, or pig, or ridicule them for their weight, I have no patience for people who are excessively overweight.  I’ve struggled to understand “how they can let themselves get that way.”  Why can’t they control their eating?  What is wrong with them?  Don’t they realize what they’re doing to themselves and their families?

And I realized something reading Eating Bull — as Jeremy struggles with those life stresses and finds release in food time and time again — that I am no better and no more in control.  I have my food/drink addictions and let them control me no matter how much I know not to.

For years I have battled to stop drinking soft drinks.  And the battle goes on.  Every morning, I say to myself “No Pepsi today.”  And as the morning progresses, at work this happens and that happens, and rather than having the natural lemonade drink in the fridge, I crave the sweet release of a cold, carbonated, massively over-sugared Pepsi and more often than not, I give in to its siren call.

For a couple of years I have battled to stop drinking beer.  And the battle goes on.  Every morning, I say to myself “No beer today.”  And as morning turns into afternoon and evening approaches, my commitment weakens and by the time I get home, well, a couple of beers later, the evening is done.  The reality is that neither of these things is necessarily fatal to my existence, but I do know that my beer consumption has creeped up over the last couple of years and, given my general lack of physical activity (at least in compared to pre-groin injury), the calories are not helping me.

What’s even worse, however, is my inability to eat healthier.  A few months ago, I set out to eat healthier lunches at work.  Salads, crackers with hummus, carrots, a piece or two of string cheese.  Something better than the pizzas, burgers, Mexican food, and the like that filled my weekly lunch menu.  But, you know …

A couple of weeks ago, I made carne asada for tacos one Sunday night.  There was left over meat, so I used it to make a healthy salad for lunch the next day.  I dutifully packed it up and put it in the fridge at work.  Where it sat for the entire week as those lunch time cravings took over.  Just as Jeremy in Eating Bull did, I found release and satisfaction in the greasy goodness of a cheeseburger, in the spicy bite of tacos and chips and salsa.  All sandwiched between sips — no, gulps — of the sweat, carbonated beauty of an ice-cold Pepsi.

It’s really kind of amazing how food does this to a person.  When I was a kid, my mom packed lunches for us — they always consisted of either a bologna sandwich or a PB&J sandwich, a fruit, and a couple of cookies or a hostess product.  Because of that sweet treat at the end of every lunch, it took me decades to kick the sweet craving that came after every meal.

And why is it that, when under stress, when dissatisfied with life’s events, we find comfort in the greasiest, fattiest, sugariest (is that a word?), most high calorie foods there are?

All I know is this … when I’m at work, and the morning has gone to hell, which it all too frequently does these days, and I’m thinking about lunch, there is a big blinking sign that says “Pepsi, Pepsi, Pepsi!!!!”  And below those words are an image of the greasiest, cheesiest double cheeseburger you can possibly imagine.  That salad in the fridge, the tub of hummus with the crackers?  Nah … absolutely will not provide me with what I feel I need in that moment.  And all too frequently, it is the craving that gets sated.

So, yeah, I get it now.  Jeremy’s inner battles as described in Eating Bull are spot on and describe what many people experience, even if they aren’t obese.  Battles.  Daily battles.



22 responses to “A Timely Read

  1. Carrie Rubin November 28, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Thanks so much for the kind words and for sharing your take on my book. I really appreciate that! So glad you enjoyed it, and I’m also glad it made you think about the issue at large. It’s extremely difficult to drown out those voices of craving, isn’t it? If losing weight was simply a matter of willpower, we’d have much less of a weight problem in this country. But there’s more to it than that. We haven’t suddenly lost our willpower since the 80s (the decades since which the rates of obesity have skyrocketed). There are other forces at play, our food environment and portion distortion some of the biggest.

    Thank you again!

    • kingmidget November 28, 2015 at 2:04 pm

      Yep. Portion distortion. I remember the size of drinks and french fries when I was a kid. I imagine my kids would laugh a lot at what those sizes must look like. It’s a shame. And unlimited refills — which they don’t have in other countries.

  2. sknicholls November 28, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    I’m looking forward to Carrie’s book. My recent research has shined brilliant light on the food industry…1950-60s in particular. It’s amazing the number of poisons we’ve accepted into our food chain for the sake of convenience. The 1980s being the worst years ever with the introduction of GMOs and neonicotinoids. Worse yet, is a medical community focused on treat, not cure…and supporting things like the Jupiter Study that made saturated fat the evil villain, when, in fact, it’s our savior….anything to sell a statin.

    I was hyperthyroid all my childhood and young adult life. I ate anything and never gained an ounce. I was 115 pounds in sixth grade and three years after my third child was born. At 135 from 1988-2008, I never dreamed I would develop a weight problem. People thought I was anorexic, despite eating constantly. Developed some very nasty eating habits. It all came crashing down on me around age fifty. Five years later, and nearly a hundred pounds over weight, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I had known I was pre-diabetic for a couple of years, but even knowing the consequences, chose to continue to “enjoy” eating whatever I pleased. The diagnosis was a wake up call. It CAN be reversed, but not without serious devotion to healthy eating as a lifestyle choice and increasing activity. I’ve managed to lose forty pounds, but I’ve got sixty to go, and I’m not giving up. My Hgb A1C and FBSs are within normal ranges now, but I know it won’t stay that way if I let down my guard. Sugar, refined white flour/wheat products (highly inflammatory) are off the diet now, as are most processed foods. Raw dairy, and only in moderation. The only acceptable oils for cooking are coconut, red palm, lard and butter…the rest turn to transfats when heated, whose fatty acids and phospholipids harden cell walls. After six months on my current diet, bad food tastes dead to me.

    • kingmidget November 28, 2015 at 5:54 pm

      This is one of the problems I have … to truly eat healthy is so difficult in today’s society. And I’m not talking about what you’re doing. I’m talking about something less than that. The problem is that the negative aspects of the food industry in this country are so pervasive, you have to essentially go completely off the food grid to get away from all of the problems and the risks. What’s the point in eating more fruits and vegetables if they have been bathed in pesticides, factory farmed, and more and more seem to be filled with e. coli?

      The other problem I have is that eating healthier means more time towards meal preparations and more advance planning to make sure the things I need/want are available.

      It’s basically a lifestyle change and, again, I’m not even talking about going as far as you have.

      And the other problem is that it really takes the help and support and participation of those you live with. I asked my wife if she wanted to start getting one of those veggie/fruit boxes from a local organic farm. My idea is that whatever was in the box each week would drive our meals until the next box. She pooh-poohed it and although I keep trying to talk about eating healthier, her response is to continue doing what she has always done. Only worse — now that the kids are gone and it’s just the two of us, she leans more towards making packaged, processed stuff for dinner than she used to.

      So, it’s all just a real challenge. What I need to do is plan more, prepare more, and stick with what I take to work for lunch every day instead of letting that craving take over at meal time.

      We shall see.

      • sknicholls November 28, 2015 at 6:28 pm

        I know I wouldn’t have conquered what I have so far without my husband’s support. He was pre-diabetic…so it was a wake up call to him also. His diligence and faith have been marvelous. Although I think I could go vegetarian if he wasn’t so persistent about meat at least once a day. He watched a Ted talk with Robyn O’Brien about GMOs and Monsanto, and a couple of weeks later a British documentary called Statin Nation. The next week (after months of unknowingly suffering from statin side effect, he went to his doctor and got off of them. With my diagnosis of Type 2, Greg suggested we see a nutritionist. She literally changed our lives. We had the Spectracell test, and the Alcat food sensitivities test to learn exactly what was causing inflammation in our bodies and how to correct it. It’s been a very different past four months, but I can’t really say it’s been hard. I see a pizza and think, “wow, that looks delicious!” But I can take roasted eggplant or thin sliced chicken breast, toss on some no added sugar tomato sauce, a few spices, black olives, mushrooms, pepperoni and a bit of mozerella and have the same flavors in my mouth…minus the effects of the white flour…that turns to sugar ten minutes after you ingest it. It’s been a major learning curve for me, being an old-fashioned Southern cook…but I’m getting there.

      • kingmidget November 29, 2015 at 6:56 am

        Yep … what frustrates me is that my wife needs to make this change a whole lot more than I do, but nothing I say or do is going to get her to change her habits. She’s the only person who can decide to do that. I’m happy for you that you have made this change and are feeling and seeing the benefits of it. It’s tough to do, but it sounds like you have definitely turned the corner. Kudos!

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  4. Amy Reese November 30, 2015 at 9:33 am

    You hit it on the mark, Mark! Yes. I went on a healthy diet for 40 days and it was so hard!! When it was over, I just wanted to go back to my snacks and fun food. I think food is a stress reliever for many. I notice I am an emotional eater! I don’t think I am until all that stuff is taken away. I’m a bit rebellious about too, because I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted until very recently. Now, not so much! Whaa!!

  5. Nurse Kelly November 30, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    Hi Mark! I recently read Carrie’s book as well, and greatly enjoyed it! I think it’s great that you were so candid here about your own struggles. I work in health education, and as a matter of fact, will be speaking on eating well and living better twice this week! A big part of the educational piece centers on awareness… not judging, but teaching the difference between physical and psychological hunger, and examining your own “food relationship.” It’s amazing what can be uncovered when someone just takes a little time to put some thought into the “why” aspect! I appreciate the awareness Carrie is creating with this book, just like you, because it really is an issue that needs attention. 🙂

    • kingmidget November 30, 2015 at 12:39 pm

      I can’t tell you how many times recently I have set out to eat right at lunch and when confronted with meal time rolling around have opted for the less healthy approach. Over and over again it happens. Let’s see if my newest effort at changing the dynamic leads to better results.

      • Nurse Kelly November 30, 2015 at 12:49 pm

        I know it’s tough, but your awareness is great. Just take it one day at a time… and soon enough, you will have effected a lifestyle change. That’s what it’s all about.:)

  6. John Callaghan December 1, 2015 at 7:39 am

    I feel your pain. As I creep up on 50 I find it harder and harder to lose weight and soooooo easy to put it on. And we have so much food everywhere. Eating Bull is great book, one I have thoroughly enjoyed.

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