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Listen: Vanderbilt environment shapes Randall’s novel


Alice Randall
Alice Randall (photo by Bob Delevante)

Vanderbilt University Writer-in-Residence Alice Randall credits the school’s creative and interdisciplinary approaches to obesity-related diseases like diabetes with providing “fertile ground” for her new novel, Ada’s Rules (Bloomsbury USA).

The plot revolves around Ada Howard, an overworked preacher’s wife who tries to lose more than 100 pounds before her college reunion. Among her 53 rules (strategies) for losing weight: drink eight glasses of water a day, sleep eight hours a night and walk eight miles a week. Ada’s rules are the ideas of a fictional character, but Randall is grateful for the tremendous support and inspiration that she has received from university and medical center colleagues for her story.

“I love being part of an academic community because it provides access to so many different areas of research, ranging from hard science to literature,” Randall said. “[rquote]Being part of the Vanderbilt faculty and hearing so much thoughtful discussion about issues like the role of personalized medicine in patient care and ongoing concerns about health disparities truly shaped my thought processes for the book[/rquote].” She noted that the United States is spending approximately $174 billion a year alone in diabetes-related obesity costs.

One example is Ada’s decision to have her DNA tested to determine what type of diet would be most effective. Randall emphasized that using a genetic test to figure out what diet works best has not been scientifically proven. “This is a novel – not a health manual – but it’s an area of ongoing investigation for medical researchers,” she said. “It’s certainly part of Ada’s spirit to try many different weight-loss ideas.”

(Bloomsbury USA)

Randall, who has acknowledged her own battle to lose weight, hopes the novel will encourage people to be more open to new ideas on achieving wellness. Another theme is the value of community support for individuals trying to make a health change. “We need safe and nurturing places to achieve change, particularly the most intimate kinds of personal change of the body,” Randall said. “Often, the environment in which transformation is most possible is an exercise class or perhaps a social group like a book club.”

The Vanderbilt Center for Integrative Health was supportive of the Ada’s Rules project by hosting a yoga class geared toward African American women with body types ranging from small to very large. “I had been in yoga classes in other cities where there was not much diversity. I felt like my body was a problem,” Randall said. “Vanderbilt gave us the luxury of creating an environment in which a large, curvy body could feel comfortable.”

In addition, a group of undergraduate women who call themselves “Healthy Curves” has been meeting twice a week to exercise at the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center. Some of these young members of “Ada’s Army” are featured on the Ada’s Rules interactive website, which offers calorie-free inspiration in the forms of poetry, video, photographs, music and more.

Randall, whose faculty appointments are in English and African and Diaspora Studies, centers her work on women’s issues in the African American community. She recently wrote an op-ed for The New York Times titled “Black Women and Fat” in which she argues that sleep deprivation is an unacknowledged culprit in the obesity epidemic and some African American women fear that they will be less attractive to men if they lose weight. This is in sharp contrast to some white women, many of whom grow up idolizing super skinny models and actresses.

Randall is calling on every black woman for whom it is appropriate to commit to getting under 200 pounds or to losing 10 percent of her body weight. However, she said this book can be read by anyone interested in making a change in his or her weight.

Randall’s overall message is …”shape-shifting can be joyful…art can be used to support health changes and health challenges. It is a novel that creates a space for people to learn to play in new and adult ways, without blame or shame and tackle a problem that is actually influencing every single American.”

Barnes & Noble at Vanderbilt will host a book signing and reading by Randall of Ada’s Rules on May 19 from 2 to 3 p.m.