Author Alice Randall has no trouble calling folks out. The writer of four books, including The Wind Done Gone, a provocative take on the “classic” novel Gone With the Wind, does it again through Ada’s Rules: A Sexy Skinny Novel (Bloomsbury, $15), a charming novel that’s part love story, part diet guide, now in paperback.
Eyes rolled big time when Randall opined last year in The New York Times that “Black women are fat because they want to be.” If you could get past the offense, you could hear her urgent cry that Black people – women in particular, who have a higher obesity rate than men or women of other races – need an attitude adjustment on eating and living more healthfully.
The larger point, she says: “What we need is a body-culture revolution in Black America.”
She tries to make that point through Ada Howard, the feisty yet vulnerable protagonist in Ada’s Rules. In the course of a year, Ada changes her diet, adds more exercise, spends less time taking care of husband, ailing parents, and everybody else so she can take better care of herself, and encourages her family and friends to improve their health too. And all the while, Ada’s trying to determine whether her preoccupied hubby, pastor of Nashville’s Full Love Baptist Tabernacle, is transgressing with one of the flock. In the end, if you follow even some of Ada’s 53 rules, you will be on your way toward positive changes that you might see reflected on the scale.
Why a Black woman’s weight-loss story when it seems everybody else is struggling with weight? It’s personal, says Randall, who’s dropped 40 lbs. “I’ve said I want to be the last fat Black woman in my family, and that struck a chord in people’s heart. At the rate we’re going, frankly there will be no old Black ladies in the next generation.”
Here’s what else she had to say:
HealthJones: You share your own struggle with weight loss. How did that influence Ada’s Rules?
Randall: I decided to go on a weight loss journey to get under 200 pounds or have the [weight-loss] surgery. I was reading and getting advice and decided that if I wrote a book at the same time, that would help me stay focused on my goals. I wouldn’t do anything a poor woman couldn’t do. No personal trainer, no one to cook in the house. I wanted to identify low-cost and no-cost ways. The rules came to me as I figured out what worked. I consider myself to be an Ada.
I lost about 40 plus pounds. That’s important because losing just 10 percent of your weight leads to major health improvements. I started at over 225, so just 22.5 pounds equals 10 percent of your body weight – you see a reduction in diabetes risk and cancer risk. I want to empower women to aim for that 10 percent in weight loss. For me, I focused on just getting to 200 pounds. That was a good goal – it got me past 10 percent.
HealthJones: You said black women are fat because they want to be. Why do you say this?
Randall: It’s not just about are you overweight because this is what your husband likes. Many Black men and women appreciate larger Black women. It’s not just a sexual or romantic connection. Think about our grandmothers – my grandmother was big as two houses. I say that admiringly. No one can convince me that she wasn’t the most beautiful woman in the world.
Being larger can be the embodiment of political disobedience when your family’s labor has been commodified. Labor and fitness are no longer a simple thing when your fitness has been used for the benefit of others. So the choice can not to be fit can be a political choice.
I grew up in Detroit. My grandmother came up from Selma, Ala. She was born in 1900s. In 1900 Selma, Black women went to the fields to pick cotton from day they were children. If you were a sharecropper working somebody’s land you didn’t get fat. That a Black woman could sit on the porch and get fat was a cultural revolution. We need a new cultural revolution.
HealthJones: In the book, Ada struggles with issues that many may find familiar. What did you want to explore though Ada?
Randall: Low self-esteem; I was was speaking to that. Stress. There are strong relationships between stress, overwork, a history of sexual abuse, workplace trauma and lack of respect. That’s why one of Ada’s rules is massage your own feet. So much is not in our control. You may not be able to control what causes stress but you can control the processing of stress.
HealthJones: How do you address that cultural change in your own home, say when your sweetie thinks you’re fine just the way you are?
Randall: I had to tell my husband [David] if he did not get out of my way … and I really like him! He liked to encourage me to eat something or figure out some reason to not get on the treadmill. He was benefitting when I was overweight – all the decadent meals. But I introduced him to high-protein Greek yogurt, to scrambled egg whites with spinach. He’s now benefitting with a wife who’s healthier and happier and more peaceful.
HealthJones: What do you want readers to take away from Ada’s Rules?
Randall: I want women know they can enjoy their bodies and their lives more if they take care of their health. Even if they don’t lose one pound, just moving, drinking water and sleeping more has emotional benefits, spiritual benefits. And everybody needs to do it her own way. I want them to put themselves on their own to-do list – it’s a way of showing self-respect.