Sunday, July 8, 2012

Book Review: Eat & Run

My head knows that running well and eating well go together. My heart would rather this weren't so.

Unfortunately my habits tend to follow my heart rather than my head.

This is why, despite a profound disinterest in cooking and meal planning, I'm attempting to embrace both. It's also why I picked up Scott Jurek's memoir. Jurek attributes his years of ultra-running dominance, in part, to his careful vegan diet. He's confident enough of the connection that there's a recipe at the end of every chapter of this book.

A plant-centered diet isn't totally foreign to me. Before I got pregnant with my twins in 2006, I had been a vegetarian for five years. Becoming one wasn't a hard transition for me. My husband, Dan, had been veg for a few years and easily converted me: I am an animal lover (and not someone who could ever hunt or in any other way imagine killing my own food), and I've never been a big fan of meat anyway. I resumed eating chicken and fish because I wasn't getting enough protein for the pregnancy and felt instantly better as soon as I added those things back. I think I grew my kids on scrambled eggs, in fact. After they were born, I never went back to vegetarianism, but someday I might.

Going vegan? More of a stretch. I love dairy. Ice cream is probably my single favorite food. And despite Jurek's assertion at the big book signing I attended the other week that ice cream made with almond or rice milk is just as tasty as the real thing, I am dubious.

This isn't to say that I doubt what he says about the benefits of a vegan diet are true. His running results, his clear good health, speak for themselves. He backs up his position with a lot of real science. Even my instincts tell me that he is right (and I think your instincts will, too, should you read this book). Moreover, the recipes sound tasty. I know I'd like all of them.

But as convincing as Jurek and the evidence are, I have no plans to go vegan. There are two big reasons why I don't have time for a diet like his, and won't have that kind of time for years, if ever:

1) Running (unfortunately but understandably) is not my job. The job I am lucky to have takes up 30 hours of my time each week in actual face time at work, plus another five hours factoring in my commute. That's 35 hours of waking time that I do not have to make rice milk from scratch, haunt the bulk aisles at Whole Foods, soak beans for hours, construct beautiful meals that are two hours in the making and chop endless quantities of vegetables these meals require--or plan for all of those things.

2) I have children. Outside of the hours required by my paid job, I am responsible for caring for them. This job is not limited to my waking hours. And it is even more unforgiving of the elaborate kitchen activities Jurek practices daily (including the aforementioned making of vegan milks from scratch, bulk shopping, bean soaking, vegetable chopping, multi-hour meals and planning). This is because the modern world provides many tempting shortcuts for busy parents trying to get meals on the table, especially parents like me who don't enjoy spending lots of time in the kitchen. In order to make time for running, reading, hanging out with my husband, blogging and having some fun with my kids, I frequently and unapologetically take many of those shortcuts.

Yes, I do try to make our meals as healthful as possible (and happily I have a husband who works harder on this than I do). Yes, I'm trying to do more planning and to avoid things that are processed. But I'm not above feeding the kids a box of Annie's boxed mac and cheese, and throwing chicken on the grill is much easier than hand-assembling lentil burgers.

Enough about me, though. You're probably wondering: what about the book? Isn't this supposed to be a book review?

The book is good. You learn a lot about the ultra-running psyche, which is endlessly fascinating. Jurek had a tough childhood, has been through a nasty divorce and endured years of sadness watching multiple sclerosis make his beloved mother sicker and sicker. Though he never says so explicitly, these are probably also big reasons he's so tough and gets so much out of painful activities like running through Death Valley. As with the Kenyans, whose hard lives contribute to their ability to run fast and far, Jurek's circumstances aren't easy to mimic (nor would most of us choose to mimic them, if we're honest with ourselves).

I came away from this book with a lot of respect for Scott Jurek. I'm glad it's a bestseller, too. It may well make many people's lives more healthy.

That said, I'm looking forward to the sequel. You know, the one he's going to write when he and his now-fiancee have kids. I have no doubt they'll solve the kitchen conundrum that I'm too lazy to deal with. Oh, and it's Sunday, my Sweets R OK Day. I'm going out for some Dairy Queen ice cream. The kind made from REAL milk.


  1. This is on my must-read list.  Maybe we can swap... I'll send you a book and you send me this one?  :)  I'm fascinated by the vegan-running connection, and would love to see some of his recipes.
    And ultra-running psyche is a re-occuring theme, I was intrigued by that in Running on Empty as well. 
    Enjoy your ice cream!! I agree that almond and rice milk ice cream don't quite cut it, but coconut milk ice cream is pretty good- much higher fat content helps!

  2. If I had big bucks, I'd seriously hire a nutritionist/chef to cook for me...I am the world's worst meal planner and absolutely hate spending a lot of time trying to feed my family.  Sad, I know, but I just never got the cooking gene.  Organic fruit chews are good for dinner, right?  :)  I would love to read the book, but I definitely don't think I could do it either, for the same reasons as you.

  3. Oh, no - I could never go vegetarian, let's not even consider vegan.
    But your post came just at the right time - I'm thinking a lot of all the wrong things that I incorporate regularly into my diet (oh, wrong foods, why do you feel so right???)
    I definitely need to really start thinking ahead to summer training not just exercise but DIET CONTROL. 
    Sigh .... that's even harder for me than running. 

  4. I find it all so difficult to decide on--I've tried vegan but I did miss my dairy! And then my kinesiologist, who I think is one of the wisest people out there, is really opposed to veganism in athletes. So? What to do? Obviously it has worked for Scott...

  5. I LOVED this book!  I am also a vegan ultra runner so I love to read about it :) Convinced someday I will be that good ;)  HAHA I don't think veganism takes that much longer I rarely have time to cook but I make it work.  His hummus, cheese and granola are AMAZING.

  6. Thank you, Terzah, for giving us permission to not try to pack more into our already packed and tiring days and then feel guilty if we don't milk our own almonds and coconuts, soak the beans, then make the burger patties, chop piles and piles of veggies, and so on.  It's all good but for the average person, like you and I, the time aspect is overwhelming.  Like you, too, I LOVE my dairy.  Give me cheese, a little chocolate milk, eggs, and yogurt.  Yum.  Despite the bad rap that dairy sometimes get, I still feel there are great benefits that come from it.  We eat meat but in very small quantities.  You mentioned needing a bit more protein during your pregnancy and we have discovered we, too, feel better with just a bit of meat source in our diets, particularly when we are doing heavier periods of running and riding.  I still like the old adage, "Everything in moderation."  Thanks for keeping it real!  :-)

  7. Yeah - I'm looking forward to the sequel too!   Remember how Anton said he goes to their house for dinner @ 6pm and they finally eat at 9pm??  That "works" really well when you have kids. ;)   Oh and we were at friends house on Saturday (they are Paleo) and we tried coconut ice was very coconuty and to me didn't taste as good as the real thing.   Hope you enjoyed your DQ ice cream!!!

  8. Oh, I'm going to have to pick this one up.  It's funny...I was just rereading Born to Run and wishing he had written a memoir (although it's kind of ironic because one of the things in BTR about him was how he DIDN'T write a memoir like Pam Reed or Dean Kar....I'm too lazy to look up how to spell his name) with some recipes.  I can't see becoming vegan EVER or even vegetarian, partly because I like meat and partly for the reasons you mention, but I'd like some less meat-centered, healthier options for our meals as well.

  9. i listened to an ultrarunner podcast last week and they interviewed scott about the book.  it was a good interview and i totally respect him and think the book idea is great but i most likely won't read it.  i have no plans to go vegan and i don't cook (husband does the cooking and is a hardcore meat eater).  i think i got all i needed from the interview.  

  10. Jessica HofheimerJuly 10, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    i really can't wait to read this book!!! i enjoyed your review, too :O) 

  11. Great post!  I'm completely with you on the endless time in the kitchen problem. I ate the healthiest when I went to a health spa for a week and they made all my meals (but even they didn't go vegan).  Too bad financially that is not an option for more than one week!  I may have to add this book to my reading list!

  12. I love cooking from scratch like he describes, but on a Wednesday night, no way. Um, that's why I subscribe to Real Simple Magazine. Quick easy recipes. But, I do try to cook one complicated from scratch meal a week. Almost always on Sundays. I also try to never plan an activity on Sunday evenings.