Dining Critic Frank Bruni Was 'Born Round' Former New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni has had a lifelong self-proclaimed obsession with food. Bruni talks about his memoir, Born Round, his struggle with overeating, and the eating disorders he has overcome.
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Dining Critic Frank Bruni Was 'Born Round'

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Dining Critic Frank Bruni Was 'Born Round'

Dining Critic Frank Bruni Was 'Born Round'

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Linda Wertheimer in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

For the past five years, Frank Bruni has been the restaurant critic for The New York Times. He eats out, sometimes twice in one evening - good food, okay food and the best food. When he was offered the job, it wasn't an easy decision. He had - you should pardon the expression - reservations. For most of his life, Frank Bruni ate too much and weighed too much. As a toddler, he had a huge appetite. He was born into a family of amazing eaters, preparing and serving feasts. He's a lifetime yo-yo dieter, fiber and fasting, low carbs, amphetamines and, fortunately for him, an obsession with exercise. In his newest book, "Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater," Frank Bruni chronicles his struggle, and he'll join us in just a minute.

If you have an interesting, perhaps difficult relationship with food, tell us our story. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, and our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our Web site. Just go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION. Later this hour, we'll have an exit interview with Joan Claybrook, the president of Public Citizen. But first, "Born Round." Frank Bruni joins us now from our bureau in New York City. It's very good to have you with us.

Mr. FRANK BRUNI (Restaurant Critic, New York Times): Thanks a lot for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Now, first of all, I don't see how you possibly got out of your childhood as anything but round, considering the extraordinary meals that your family served. Your descriptions of Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve are like -even Sunday dinner. I mean, groaning board doesn't begin to cover it.

Mr. BRUNI: The Brunis are a family who really know how to eat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRUNI: And it was a great, great childhood in that regard. I come from the most loving, wonderful family, and it was such a privilege to write this book and be able to pay tribute to the various members of it. But the problem with all of that food for me was that I was also born with an incredible appetite. So for me, it was a sort of perfect storm of circumstances for overeating and for developing the kind of weight problem that I then had for the rest of my life.

WERTHEIMER: You know, your - I wonder which came first, your desire for food or your family's desire to feed you and to make you happy.

Mr. BRUNI: That's the $64,000 question. I think, though, in my case - as in the case of a lot of people - there was a bigger appetite than just a normal one because some of my siblings didn't have the same problem and the same struggles that I had pushing this food away when I was full. For me, there was no such thing as full. There was…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRUNI: You know, there was just more food and more food, and I really was one of those people who just didn't stop until the food was gone.

WERTHEIMER: You know, we don't generally go to callers quite this early in a conversation, but I'm going to do that because we have somebody who's called us up who seems to have exactly - seems to be dealing with something that's almost exactly like what you're talking about: Jenny, who is in Mesa, Arizona. Jenny, you have daughter who is a greedy eater like this.

JENNY(Caller): She is not really greedy eater, but because of her syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, we expect she will be. When she gets in her walker right now, the first place she goes is into the pantry to find the food. She wakes up in the morning, she's finding food because she doesn't (unintelligible). When you're done eating, she continues to find food. So it's a big issue.

WERTHEIMER: Is there any sense that - this is a syndrome. Is it a curable syndrome?

JENNY: There is no cure right now for the syndrome. We are looking for a cure. We actually had another client - or another patient featured on "Good Morning America" this week who is a 29-year-old woman who has Prader-Willi syndrome and still will pick locks and find ways to lie, cheat and steal to get money to purchase food. It is a big challenge for our kids.

WERTHEIMER: Okay. Frank Bruni, I'm - what do you think? What is this sound like? Jenny, I'm hanging up on you so Frank can tell us what he thinks about this kind of thing.

JENNY: Great.

Mr. BRUNI: Well, it was very interesting to listen to that, because when she talked about picking locks and that sort of thing, it sounded like the description of a drug addict's behavior. And I think when you are a compulsive overeater, as I was for much of my life, it does feel somewhat like you're battling a drug addiction. You don't always feel like you're in full control. You're just so tempted and seduced by the substance, that even as it's making you miserable in various ways - including, in my case, going up at one point to a 42-inch waistline - you seem powerless to resist it. And it's the kind of struggle I think that is akin to battling a drug addiction.

WERTHEIMER: I understand that you discovered bulimia as a little bitty kid.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRUNI: You know, I use that term loosely for what happened when I was a kid, but my mother…

WERTHEIMER: Baby bulimic…

Mr. BRUNI: Yeah, and I don't mean to make light of that term. But when I was very young, for about a year, my mother said whenever she would deny me something, particularly food, I would get so upset I would throw up. And I relate that story in the book in a somewhat humorous way as a bit of foreshadowing, because much later in life, in college, I actually spent a period throwing up my meals by design as a way of keeping weight off and being able to eat more. I mean, my whole story as rendered in the book is about trying for way too long to find cheats and easy fixes and magic bullets for keeping weight off.

And what I learned in the end and what enabled me to commit to a life of professional eating and not get heavy again was that the only thing that works is discipline, moderation, good rhythm, you know, a kind of common sense approach to food.

WERTHEIMER: But it took you a long time to get there. I wonder what was the thing that finally tipped you over and made you think that whatever it may be, I have to find some livable solution.

Mr. BRUNI: Part of it was hitting a rock bottom and part of it was looking up at the age of, I think I was about 36, and realizing that I was 270 pounds, wore those size 42 pants, hadn't been out on a date in five years. It was just taking - you know, it was one of those moments where I realized, well, I'm losing out on an enormous amount of my life by being in prison like this. I also had the very good fortune of right after I lost the big chunk of weight that I needed to going to live in Italy and being exposed to a culture and living in a context where quality of food matters more than quantity. And that adjusts your thinking in a very key way.

WERTHEIMER: And that kind of was the discovery that you made, that you could do that?

Mr. BRUNI: Yeah. I mean, I think it was keeping that weight off in Italy, learning to eat in a joyous but not compulsive way that convinced me I'd solved a lot of my problem and could actually take a job like restaurant critic and be healthy and steady in my eating in it.

WERTHEIMER: We have a question from Ponte Vedra in Florida. This is Mike. Mike, you there?

MIKE (Caller): Yeah, I'm here.

WERTHEIMER: Okay. You have a question for Frank Bruni.

MIKE: I did, just a quick question for Frank. I mean, as a compulsive overeater, how did you develop taste buds and the traits to become a good food critic?

WERTHEIMER: You know, I was very curious about that, as well, because unlike a person who compulsively overeats wonderful food, of the sort of food that your grandmother served you, you would eat anything, everything.

Mr. BRUNI: I would. But the key thing that you just mentioned was there was a lot of wonderful food in the mix. I mean, given my druthers, I would overeat wonderful food over bad food.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRUNI: I just had periods where I was not sufficiently discriminating. But no, I mean, part of my obsession with and just love of eating extended to great restaurants whenever I would travel, and I was fortunate enough to do a lot of it. I would immediately hunt out the good food. And so by the time I was asked to be restaurant critic, I had a pretty broad frame of culinary reference.

WERTHEIMER: And part of that was traveling for the New York Times. Before Frank Bruni was the restaurant critic for The New York Times, he was a reporter and covered - well, I was fascinated to think that you were hunting for the very best restaurants - and what city was it in Turkey that you mention in the book?

Mr. BRUNI: Oh, Diyarbakir, I think.

WERTHEIMER: Yeah, Diyarbakir.

Mr. BRUNI: No, I mean, everywhere I would go - I spent two years in Europe for the Times, and that was when I realized more than ever just how much of my travel time I would end up devoting, just as a kind of default, to finding great food. And so I'd be on the hunt for great lamb in Diyarbakir. I would be looking for the best hummus and the best shawarma whenever I was in the Middle East. You know, never mind if I were there for bombings, I had falafel in mind, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: But the other thing, of course, is that you would - what you had not yet learned was how not to eat all of it.

Mr. BRUNI: You know, that is a lifelong education. I wish I had figured out some of the things I figured out late a lot earlier because I think I could have reclaimed some years of my life that were very sad. But I did eventually realize that if I stopped a kind of embrace-avoid approach to food, if I stopped a binge-purge mechanism and just accepted food into my life in a very steady way, it wouldn't undo me the way it had in the past.

WERTHEIMER: Mike, thanks very much for calling. We have also got a call - here's somebody who I guess is a sort of a soulmate of sorts, Ruth in Tempe, Arizona. Ruth, you had a similar experience to Frank Bruni's?

RUTH (Caller): Yeah, very similar. I have struggled with food my entire life. It's very much - I just wanted to echo, it's very much an addiction and an addictive problem, that it's - you know, I don't want to belittle people who - or you know, the struggle that people who struggle with alcohol and drugs go through, but of course you can't give up food. So that makes it much more difficult, in a way.

Mr. BRUNI: You know, Ruth makes a great point. One of the - when I was getting some early reaction to the book, one of the quotes I got in that I use on the back cover, it was from Augusten Burroughs, and he made the very good point that this is a kind of addiction like no other because what you tell an alcoholic or what you tell a cocaine addict is don't ever go near that again.

You can't say that to the compulsive eater because food is the very source of our survival, and that lends this particular battle, I think, a kind of nuance and subtlety that is its own - that are its own challenge, you know.

WERTHEIMER: But now, Ruth, you said that you were a - you traveled to France, or you moved to France, and that helped you?

RUTH: Yeah, I lived in France for a year, and I worked as a nanny, and I was in charge of all the cooking, and it changed my entire life, and it also - I mean, the French are obsessed with food. They just absolutely love it, and it gave me a way of incorporating food into my life.

I'm sitting here, and I'm actually making a Julia Child chicken recipe as we speak, and I'm still obsessed with food, but it's an obsession that I've learned to channel and live with. And that's what living in France taught me, and it makes me realize how toxic our relationship in this country is with food because it is a spiritual question, and food is a sacred matter, and it's not an industrial process.

So I just - I also wanted to say that it's kind of amazing to hear your story and then also to hear people call in, because when my mother - when I was little and my mother went to the doctor and she was just completely at a loss as to what to do…

WERTHEIMER: Well, we'll talk more about that, and thank you very much for calling. We're talking with New York Times outgoing dining critic Frank Bruni. His book is titled "Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater."

If you have a difficult relationship with food, we'd like to hear from you, 800-989-8255. You can drop us an email at talk@npr.org. I'm Linda Wertheimer, and this is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Linda Wertheimer in Washington. Frank Bruni is with us. Since 2004, he's been the dining critic for the New York Times. Of course we're talking about life as a critic and eating for a living and dining by alias and so forth, but we're also digging into our sometimes troubled relationships with food, which is really what Frank Bruni's book is about. It's called "Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater." There is a bite-sized excerpt at our Web site. You can go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

If you have a difficult relationship with food or a question for Frank Bruni, just call us. The telephone number is 800-989-8255. You can reach us, email -by email at talk@npr.org.

Frank, your very interesting account of being a completely sort of out-of-control eater, you talk - in the beginning of the book, I think it's, you know, very close to the beginning, like Page 11 or something, you're talking about your favorite foods, and so you give a list of your favorite foods.

At age six it was homemade chocolate sauce, and then there's this loving, loving description of what homemade chocolate sauce made by your mother is; and at age seven you found quiche, and that - you didn't particularly like the pastry, but you liked everything else about it. And then at age eight - I wonder if you could just read us a little bit about Frank at age eight.

Mr. BRUNI: Sure, I'd be happy to.

Age eight, lamb chops - musky, gamey lamb chops. Mom served them to us for dinner at the table in the Soundview kitchen about once every three weeks. I ate not just the meat but also the marrow inside the sectioned bone in some chops and, best of all, the curls and strips of fat at the edges of the meat. My brothers Mark and Harry winced when I did that and merely picked at their own chops, wishing aloud that it were steak night or hamburger night or pork-chop night.

We were a meaty family, the chops, strips, patties and roasts filling a separate freezer in the garage. Wherever we lived, we had a separate freezer in the garage. Mom was puzzled by and censorious of families who didn't. How could they be sure to have enough kinds and cuts of meat on hand, enough varieties of ice cream to choose from? Was that really any way to live?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now, the idea of you at the age of eight crunching on lamb bones, did your family ever feel - I mean, did your mother ever look at you and think this could get to be a problem?

Mr. BRUNI: She absolutely did, and that's why - and she was a loving, loving mother who wanted to figure out a way to help me because she could see that it was exacting a cost. People would - my friends, even at the age of seven and eight, would tease that my initials, FB, must stand for fat boy.


Mr. BRUNI: And so what she did in trying to find some way to help me lose weight while not, you know, while kind of working with this enormous appetite was she put me on the Atkins diet right when it came out. So I was probably one of the earliest adherents of no-carbohydrate, low-carbohydrate eating.

WERTHEIMER: Now, your mother's - but I suppose it's also probably fair to say that your mother's interest in diets and in sort of ways of fad diets and diet books and so forth was - sort of fed your own concern with finding a shortcut to not being fat.

Mr. BRUNI: You know, the example I saw from her, and I don't think it was something she was doing deliberately, but it's maybe something for all of us to think, you know, keep in mind as we deal with children, but you know, I watched her do a diet that involved air-popped popcorn. You know, I watched her do the grapefruit diet. I watched her do - I mean all of those things, and the thinking behind those diets was that there was some holy grail of weight loss.

I've come to the conclusion, after a roller-coaster life that finally has ended in a happy and trim place, that there is no one holy grail of weight loss. It's about a steady monitoring of your portions and a commitment to exercise. It's that old energy-in, energy-out calorie counting.

WERTHEIMER: Okay, well, let's check with Amber in Tallahassee, Florida, and you have a question for Frank Bruni.

AMBER (Caller): I do. Thanks for taking my call. I have had an eating disorder for 20 years, and I found that and was told that if I stayed away from certain foods, trigger foods, that binge-purge process would be easier for me. I was wondering if you still have trigger foods that you still can't eat to this day that put you into that binge-purge, compulsive attitude.

Mr. BRUNI: I have foods that I don't know that I'd say they put me into a binge-purge cycle again, but I have foods that, for whatever reason, I have no restraint around. You will never, ever open my cupboard and find peanut butter in there.

WERTHEIMER: Oh, now, let me interrupt you and ask you read to us from Page 111, the Kryptonite section.

Mr. BRUNI: Well, this is when I discovered cold noodles in sesame paste, which you find in most Chinese takeout and delivery places in New York, and as I say here, the dish looked like spaghetti sauced with peanut butter. It tasted like that too, and if chemists had gone into a laboratory to hatch a calorie-ridden Kryptonite just for me, this is precisely what they would have come up with, a sort of pasta, my vulnerability to which was encoded in my genes, smothered with an analog to peanut butter, my vulnerability to which was documented by a trail of empty jars in the cupboards and waste bins of my childhood.

WERTHEIMER: So that - I would think of all of the things that I read about in your book that your ate, and they were considerable…

Mr. BRUNI: There's a lot of eating in the book, isn't there?

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: There is. That was one of the things that got you.

Mr. BRUNI: Oh yeah. You know, but I think we all have - those of us are food lovers and those of us who are vulnerable to consumption and excess, we all have certain things that are more difficult to control than others, and so to get back to the caller's question, I do think it's really important to know where your vulnerabilities are and to try to construct an eating life and a life that keeps you away from those places and those triggers and those pitfalls.

WERTHEIMER: Amber, thank you very much for calling. We are going to go next to Rebecca in Columbus, Ohio, and she has a question - it sounds like a relationship question about food. Rebecca?

REBECCA (Caller): Hello, thank you for taking my call. Yes, well, first of all, I just think it's amazing to hear about your book, Mr. Bruni. I'm really a big fan, but one of the things that I think is really interesting that you've talked about is how your experience in Italy changed your relationship with food.

And I come from a large Italian-American family. There are pictures of me still in my diapers, standing on kitchen chairs in the kitchen with my grandmother, helping her to make spaghetti sauce. And I very much come from a background of food lovers, and I've found, since I've been married to a wonderful man of German descent, not to position the Germans against the Italians in their approach to food, but I find that his relationship with food is completely different than mine.

I am a, you know, I come from a background where, you know, dinner can take four hours, and it's, you know, very, you know, much prepared with love, and I'm a huge foodie myself. I'm a devout baker of artisan breads and love food. This time of the year it's like crack going to the farmer's markets and seeing all these amazing new vegetables that are coming in in the harvest season. My husband is very much a utilitarian food person, like…

WERTHEIMER: Open a can of tuna fish, and that'll do it.


WERTHEIMER: Uh-huh. Well…

REBECCA: So I just think that - yeah, exactly, that sort of relationship where I think that if you're a food lover, I mean, I wouldn't say that I've ever struggled with my weight. My husband, on the other hand, has definitely struggled with his weight, and having been married for a little over a year now, and having dated for eight years, that's one of the big things that I see as a difference in terms of why maybe I haven't struggled with my weight and why I think he has, is that he can just go to, like, the fast-food place and get the hamburger, and that's satisfying to him because at a point he gets full, whereas myself, I couldn't imagine doing that. If I'm going to invest 800 calories, I want it to be in something delicious, so…

Mr. BRUNI: Well, you sound like a much more conscious and aware eater, and that can also mean, you know, a much healthier eater, you know, because you're actually thinking hard about what you're eating. And I think part of what I learned and what I describe in the book is that if you do - an earlier caller talked about channeling your obsession.

If you do channel your obsession the way that you have, into the quality of what you're eating, the variety of what you're eating, it can be extremely healthy, and a love of food does not have to land you in a bad place at all.

WERTHEIMER: Now, let me - I think we have somebody here who actually knows you from a former life. So let's take that call. It's Bill, and he is driving across Iowa. Bill?

BILL (Caller): Yes, hi, thanks for taking my call. Frank, I was a former member of the swim team, where you went to high school, and I was just kind of curious. I knew quite well the heavy workouts that we used to get on the swim team, and I'm curious to know about how much did you use athleticism and working out to counterbalance your addiction and need for food, because I certainly remember finishing those morning and afternoon practices, two-a-days, just totally exhausted. So I'm just very curious about how athleticism and working out has worked its way into your relationship with food.

Mr. BRUNI: Well, that is a terrific and insightful question. When we were all swimming four hours a day or whatever it was…

WERTHEIMER: Getting up at 4:00 in the morning, I might add.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRUNI: I mean that essentially kind of - that got rid of the problem for me for a while. I mean, I was a heedless and reckless eater, but there was so much exercise going on, an amount that could never be sustained later in life, that I didn't have to deal with my consumption problems or work on my willpower.

WERTHEIMER: This was Loomis High School, is that right?

Mr. BRUNI: It was a school called Loomis Chaffee in Windsor, Connecticut.

WERTHEIMER: I see. Okay.

Mr. BRUNI: And one of the reasons, I think, my period of bulimia came right when I went to college is because I gave up swimming, and I was very conscious of the fact that now I had to find some other solution to this big appetite because the one thing I never, ever, you know, buckled down and did was dealt with the appetite itself. I was always looking for, you know, something that would solve it for me, be it Atkins, be it four hours a day of swimming or be it throwing out meals.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Bill.

BILL: Thank you very much.

WERTHEIMER: But one of the things that is clear in the book is that when, as a kid, you were willing to get up at 4:00 in the morning and swim like a maniac for hours, you won a lot of prizes, it was important to you at that time. But you had, and you still have, I believe, an appetite for exercise, so that when you need it you can call on it.

Mr. BRUNI: Yeah. No, exercise has really saved me. And I came to the conclusion about, you know, seven years ago - which is when I finally got myself on the straight and narrow-ish - that I could only restrain my eating so much during the day. I mean, I've never, ever been able to stick to a 1,200 or 1,500 or 1,800-calorie diet. You know, I'm lucky if I can stick to 3,000. But the one thing I can do when I need to slim down or when I need to maintain is I can up my exercise. I do have a capacity to do exercise, a facility for it that has turned out to be usually to my advantage, so long as I stick with it. And I'm very, very disciplined now.

WERTHEIMER: Well, you describe all the - you tried almost as many exercise regimes as you did, diet regimes. What are you…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRUNI: I'm a great little human test case, aren't I?

WERTHEIMER: So what are you doing now?

Mr. BRUNI: You know, now I do a combination of running, of weightlifting. I do some Pilates. I try very hard to mix up my exercise routine within a week and within a month, because I think if you don't build - or at least for me, if I don't build a lot of variety in, I won't keep at it. And I want to emphasize the words for me, because I think that we all know if we're really - if we take honest stock of our lives and our past and where we've gone wrong food and when we've gained weight or when we've been fit, we all know what works and doesn't work for us. We all know the truth about ourselves. We just sometimes don't want to accept certain things and commit ourselves to the hard work that follows. But we know what's best for us. We know what works for us.

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

So, when you are eating a lot, as you do when you're working as a restaurant critic - have you stopped, by the way?

Mr. BRUNI: I stopped - I'm sort of stopping as we speak. I stopped making my seven-night-a-week restaurant visits quite recently, and I'm writing my last thing right now.

WERTHEIMER: Well, I understood that - I figured that you must have because your picture has been all over the place. So, all of the people that…

Mr. BRUNI: I'm unveiled, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: And now we know.

Mr. BRUNI: At long last.

WERTHEIMER: A cute guy.

Mr. BRUNI: Oh, thank you.

WERTHEIMER: What about - how much exercise did you have to do in order to counter that giant amount of food that you eat as a restaurant critic?

Mr. BRUNI: I probably, in a given a week, did, you know, anywhere between five and seven hard hours of exercise, you know, combination of running, mat work, whatever. And on weeks when I knew the eating was going to be particularly heavy, when I knew I was going to go to those sorts of restaurants that serve six-course meals, you know, I would make sure to do a couple of five-mile runs.

I was always just very, very conscious of how much I was putting in and how much that I had to kind of get out, how hard I had to exert myself, how many calories I had to burn. I just - you know, I was a very conscious eater and exerciser and never told myself lies about how little I would eat or how much exercise I could get away without doing.

WERTHEIMER: We have an email here. It's Susie from Mesa, Arizona, who says that she hates celery and seafood. Good thing, she's living in landlocked state.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: She wants to know if there's anything that you don't like.

Mr. BRUNI: There's no broad category of food I don't like. But for some reason, I've never had much of an appetite or taste for sardines and anchovies.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRUNI: I have a feeling I would add various sorts of insects to the list of things I don't want to eat, but they've - I haven't been confronted with that particular challenge in a New York City restaurant to date.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WERTHEIMER: What about - now, here's another email, Pamela from Minnesota who wants to know that - what do people who love overeaters, the loved ones of overeaters, what do they do to say - what do they do or say to help them overcome it?

Mr. BRUNI: You know, I'm not a doctor, but my best piece of advice, my instinct is don't make them any more anxious about it than they are. Anxiety is your real enemy because when you get into a panic mode, you want a quick fix. This takes time. This takes patience. And the more anxiety you bring to it or are made to feel about it, I think the more likely you ought to fail in your endeavor to get back into shape.

WERTHEIMER: I'm really interested to know - I mean, your life has been so round up with food and then this job as a restaurant critic. First of all, you must have been a little - I mean, and you say in the book that you were - you weren't sure that this made sense to do, but then you decided that it did make sense to do it. So, you had some concerns.

Mr. BRUNI: I had some concerns, but there was this confidence - and I didn't know whether it was going to turn to be correct or not. But there was this confidence that not only had I figured out where I'd gone wrong before with food, and not only did I feel like I'd figured out how to integrate it into my life, but I sensed that the structure of having to eat out in a restaurant every night would actually be good for me. Because the one thing that I could no longer do in this life is binge on a given day by telling myself the promise that I was going to be on a fast for the entire next week.

I could never go on a diet. I could never go on a fast. I had to eat X amount every day. And because of that, my only allies were portion control and exercise, and I wouldn't be able to deceive myself that anything else was the truth.

WERTHEIMER: So, what - since food has been sort of woven through your life, especially your childhood and the last five years as a restaurant critic - so what do you do now? Is food going to continue to be woven in?

Mr. BRUNI: You know, that remains to be seen. I think so. I find myself, for example, starting to make plans to remodel my kitchen. I'm going to redouble my efforts to become a home cook. I've never been very good at it in the past, largely as a result of all this. I'm so impatient when it comes to food that I don't like to wait for its cooking. I want it to arrive ready to be ingested. But that was the past. And I think I'm in a different place now, and so I think this next phase may be marked by an attempt to focus on food by becoming actually competent in preparing it.

(Soundbite of music)

WERTHEIMER: Frank Bruni is the author of "Born Round: The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater." We have an excerpt from the book at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION. Since 2004, he's been the restaurant critic. He starts a new job soon as a staff writer for the New York Times magazine. Thank you so much.

Mr. BRUNI: Thank you very much.

WERTHEIMER: As you can hear from listening to him, Frank Bruni's book is a very funny, very engaging account of his life with food.

Coming up, consumer crusader Joan Claybrook spent the last three decades making our cars and our medicine and food safer. We'll talk to her.

I'm Linda Wertheimer. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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