novels where protagonist gets in shape
August 27, 2012 5:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for novels where the protagonist loses weight / gets fit. This doesn't need to be the central thing in the book, but while the protagonist saves the world from the zombie apocalypse, finds true love or destroys the ring in the fires of Mordor, can s/he also get in shape?

I've found it's easier for me to overcome the odds if I'm currently reading about somebody who is doing what I want to do.

I have an aversion for books with depressing endings, but otherwise I'll read pretty much anything: YA, contemporary, historical, romance, fantasy, scifi, mystery
posted by uncreative to Writing & Language (44 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
She's Come Undone comes to mind.
posted by gwenlister at 5:40 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I found this book more than a little offensive insofar as it seemed to equate her gradual weight loss with her increasing happiness, romantic and otherwise, but it certainly fits your bill:

Jemima J, by Jane Green. (Chick lit.)

I vaguely remember that the heroine of Halfway to the Grave has to do some major training to become fit enough to slay the baddies. (Urban fantasy.)
posted by artemisia at 5:50 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Zodiac and Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson; both have a dorktagonist who loses weight. They're both pretty readable, although the latter definitely seems to have an unpleasant subplot (among many) that makes you wonder who the gender studies grad student was who dumped Neal in college.
posted by samofidelis at 5:51 PM on August 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't know if it's a book and she wasn't the protagonist but I often return to Bette Midler's character in Ruthless People, in which she played a kidnap victim who exercises to pass the time and demands healthy food, losing 20 pounds by the end of the movie.

Sorry for an comment that didn't answer your question. Can't wait to read real answers!
posted by Jezebella at 5:57 PM on August 27, 2012

The first novel that came to mind was Judith Krantz's Scruples. Very good, trashy read.
posted by Stephanie Duy at 5:58 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle.
posted by Fichereader at 5:58 PM on August 27, 2012

Stephen King's short story Stationary Bike
posted by trialex at 6:04 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came in to say Jemima J, but it's a pretty unhealthy/eating disordered book so I'd actually recommend against it.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 6:10 PM on August 27, 2012

The main(ish) character of Stephen King's IT is a fat kid whose coming-of-age horror apotheosis inspires him to diet ("eat rabbit food" if I recall correctly) and become a slim teen / young adult.
posted by MattD at 6:17 PM on August 27, 2012

2 Stephen King suggestions but nobody has said Thinner!?
posted by mannequito at 6:25 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Scruples is WAY MORE FUN than Jemima J, which just made me mad. In Scruples, it does happen pretty quickly, though --- the heroine isn't losing weight throughout. She is, however, awesome throughout and wears a variety of hilariously 80s outfits and has trashy and exciting adventures....
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:25 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

2 Stephen King suggestions but nobody has said Thinner!?

I totally came in to chide people for this too. However, the weight loss is likely to be as motivating as reading about an anorexic protagonist - which is to say not at all.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 6:28 PM on August 27, 2012

Lady Oracle is absolutely fantastic. Gut-wrenching, moving, dark but uplifting... one of the most underrated books by one of the best living writers.
posted by lewedswiver at 6:31 PM on August 27, 2012

Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 6:32 PM on August 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

The main character in The Girl of Fire and Thorns does exactly this, plus it's a really good book to boot!
posted by meggan at 6:34 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fat Cat by Robin Brande is a super fun YA novel where the character embarks on a scientific study to "live like a caveman" and loses weight in the course of the novel.

150 Pounds by Kate Rockland isn't amazing by any means, but the main character writes a fat-acceptance blog and then finds herself losing weight by accident. The other protagonist writes for a super-healthy-eating blog and finds herself gaining a (healthy) amount of weight at the same time. Kind of interesting...
posted by itsamermaid at 6:44 PM on August 27, 2012

I loved the book Jelly Belly as a kid. It's about a boy wil goes to fat camp - he and some of his bunkmates wreak hilarious havoc. Good book.
posted by Elly Vortex at 6:48 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Glasshouse by Charles Stross is excellent science fiction, and the main character gets fit and kicks ass.
posted by fullerenedream at 7:39 PM on August 27, 2012

Are you a fan of Nero Wolfe mysteries? In the book "In the Best Families", Wolfe loses weight and gets into decent physical shape.

Larry Niven's novella "What Good is a Glass Dagger?" includes a character losing weight.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:53 PM on August 27, 2012

Radix, by A.A. Attanasio.
posted by bigbigdog at 8:18 PM on August 27, 2012

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
posted by PaulaSchultz at 8:38 PM on August 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best Friends Forever also by Jennifer Weiner and In Her Shoes (though she does not become super fit)
posted by saradarlin at 8:51 PM on August 27, 2012

The Hobbit.

Some of the Narnia books.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:06 PM on August 27, 2012

Physical fitness is a minor plot point in Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, although I don't know if I would use it as a weight loss motivator.
posted by Diagonalize at 9:53 PM on August 27, 2012

The Secret Garden. A child's book, though a classic.
posted by annsunny at 9:56 PM on August 27, 2012

Old school YA novel: Hey, Remember Fat Glenda by Lila Perl

Chick lit: Slim Chance by Jackie Rose
Losing It by Lindsay Faith Rech
(I thoroughly enjoyed both these books)
posted by SisterHavana at 10:08 PM on August 27, 2012

Yukio Mishima's Confessions of a Mask
posted by bardic at 10:47 PM on August 27, 2012

On of my favorite books is Sarah Bird's The Boyfriend School. The main character isn't the one shaping up but one of the key characters does. It is hilarious and has a a happy ending.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 11:13 PM on August 27, 2012

This is not excactly what you asked for, but the protagonists in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings do a whole lot of walking, inspiring several "Walk to Mordor" challenges like this one where you can chart your own walks and compare with the plot in the books.
posted by Harald74 at 1:17 AM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first book that came to mind is The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks.
If I remember correctly, the main character starts taking morning (or possibly evening) walks and after a period of time people around him notice that he has started losing weight.
posted by simplethings at 3:05 AM on August 28, 2012

Slightly tangential but there is a character in Footfall by Larry Niven/Jerry Pournelle who is a very overweight biker who over the course of the book becomes much fitter and eventually helps saves the world.

He's by no means the protagonist, but is one of an ensemble of central characters.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:39 AM on August 28, 2012

The Music of Chance by Paul Auster sounds like it may be down your alley. A couple of dudes get in way over their head with regards to gambling debt and enter a sort of indentured servitude.
posted by mr. digits at 5:29 AM on August 28, 2012

Wildside by Steven Gould (not Stephen Jay Gould). I loved this book, and it fits your description to a T.
posted by Kriesa at 5:53 AM on August 28, 2012

He Loves Lucy by Susan Donovan is one.
posted by cecic at 6:12 AM on August 28, 2012

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card has a fascinating section about an already in-shape guy trying to learn a new set of physical skills and to suceed at new physical challenges (trying to avoid spoilers, here).
posted by LeeLanded at 6:37 AM on August 28, 2012

So maybe not what you are looking for, but the Grapes or Wrath mentions people losing weight, but it is because they are starving (literally).

Similarly, Unbroken is a non-fiction book about Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who becomes a Japanese POW during WWII. A lot of the book talks about his training, both before the war as he gets in shape for the Olympics in 1936 and after the war as he tries to break a 4:00 mile. It also talks of him getting in shape while at the POW camps, and also of his near-starvation in them. But it is a fantastic book, very inspirational.
posted by I am the Walrus at 7:06 AM on August 28, 2012

Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.

Kathy Bates played the character, Evelyn Couch, in the film.

Weight loss is part of Evelyn's "journey of change."
posted by jaruwaan at 9:25 AM on August 28, 2012

Elegance, by Kathleen Tessaro. The main character only loses ten pounds or so, but she does work out more and get a new wardrobe and then proceeds to change her entire life.
posted by orange swan at 9:30 AM on August 28, 2012

Stanley Yelnats in Louis Sachar's Holes loses weight and grows strong as he "builds character" by digging holes in the desert.

It's interesting that this factor isn't brought out in the movie, given how much America seems to think losing weight goes hand in hand with building character, but Stanley was played by Shia LaBeouf and he has no discernable weight problem. (No criticism of him--I thought he was good in the part and that the movie itself was awesome.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:40 PM on August 28, 2012

Also, as I think about it, possibly Quoyle in The Shipping News? The thing is, I can't quite remember whether he actually did lose weight or he just massively improved his self-image so that he could see himself as large and powerful rather than blubbery and ineffectual. He absolutely improved both his physical and mental capabilities throughout the book, so that might be enough for your purposes. I admit it's one of my favorite books in the world and the ending makes me weep with hope every time I even think about it, so I'd recommend it anyway.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:47 PM on August 28, 2012

I don't think anyone's mentioned In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner. The main character loses weight when she takes a job as a dog-walker. I very rarely read chick lit (or anything where romance or falling in love or very literally trying to finding oneself is a main theme -- I'm not knocking it, it just isn't what I go for). This book was given to me as a gift and I was surprised at how much I liked it.
posted by alittlecloser at 1:02 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your recommendations. I finished She's Come Undone, and I'm starting on Halfway to the Grave. I'll continue to read through all the novels in the list.
posted by uncreative at 7:08 PM on August 29, 2012

but while the protagonist saves the world from the zombie apocalypse, finds true love or destroys the ring in the fires of Mordor, can s/he also get in shape?

Apropos, I always thought that the exertion of Frodo, mind and body, after FOTR was a rather prominent part of Lord of the Rings.
posted by ersatz at 6:37 AM on September 1, 2012

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