"I think a lot of people will identify with it. I went through some extreme behaviors, I threw up some of my meals in college. Some of my binges later in life were just epic, and beyond what most people can imagine. But in all of that behavior is an extreme version of a lot of peoples' love-hate, embrace-avoid relationship with food."
As far back as he can remember, Bruni was trying something -- anything -- to lose weight. His first brush with the Atkins diet came when he was not yet 10 years old.
"I remember Mom bought [the Atkins book] in hardcover, so this was serious stuff," Bruni said. "And I remember leafing through it and learning about ketones and ketosis and, you know, having no idea what that meant -- I was 8 years old -- but I thought, 'Ooh, that's profound stuff. If I can get into this ketosis thing, I'll be home free.'"
He wasn't home free -- not for years. Giant weight swings followed Bruni through high school, college and in his career as a successful political reporter for The New York Times. He tried fasting, he suffered from sleep-eating, he toyed with every diet under the sun.
In 1999, Bruni covered George W. Bush's first presidential campaign. He remembers it as a time of professional accomplishment and dietary failure.
"I mean, I knew I was big," replied Bruni. "I was marching to the Gap store to trade my size 40 chinos for size 42 chinos. I was doing that, but on another level, because you have to get up the next day and keep going forward and not be capsized by it, you tell yourself, well maybe my face doesn't look that heavy. Maybe it doesn't show as much as the size 42 pants suggest it does. You tell yourself a bunch of interesting lies to get from one day to the next."
The campaign was the low point in his lifelong, love-hate battle with food, Bruni said. He never weighed himself, but he thinks he topped 275 pounds, compared with about 190 right now.
"I didn't date for probably five years," Bruni said. "I mean that was definitely the low point. I felt very sad, I felt like I lost a lot of time. And lived a very incomplete life for a period, and I wish I could have those years back.
"[Food] took away years, in a sense. I mean they were not empty years, they were years of professional engagement and some professional accomplishment. But they were years when I was living a very truncated, circumscribed life."
Now Bruni is finishing a stint as one of the most revered, and feared, restaurant critics in America. (Next he's taking on a staff writer job with The New York Times Magazine.) All of which leads to the million-dollar question: Bruni was a short-time bulimic, laxative-taking, amphetamine-using, sleep-eating food fanatic when The New York Times asked him to be their food critic. And he said yes.
What was he thinking?
"I knew that the enforced rhythmic eating of having to go out every night would take away from me the ability to say to myself, 'I'm going to pig out today because I'll diet for the next week,'" Bruni said. "I could never diet for the next week. So I could never tell myself the lie that it was OK to pig out today."
When he started the restaurant critic gig in 2004, Frank had already turned his habits around. He credits a stint in Italy. After the 2000 election, he headed to the Times bureau in Rome. There, he says, he started to figure out how to control his appetite.