Oprah Win­frey How I beat yo-yo di­et­ing

Af­ter a life­time of bat­tling weight, Oprah Win­frey has dis­cov­ered the se­cret to eat­ing what you want and stay­ing healthy and happy. Here in an emo­tional ex­tract from her book, she shares her epiphany with The Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - THE BODY SPECIAL - AWW

Maya An­gelou, my won­der­fully wise mother-sis­ter-friend, once said, “When you know bet­ter, you do bet­ter.” Well, I thought I knew all there was to know about los­ing weight. Over the years, I’d in­ter­viewed every ex­pert, I’d tried every diet. For one brief mo­ment, back in 1988, it seemed like I’d found the se­cret: af­ter a four-month liq­uid diet (which is a nice way of say­ing “fast”), I prac­ti­cally leapt onto the stage of my show to re­veal my brand-new body in a pair of skinny min­nie Calvin Klein jeans. To prove the point, I hauled out a lit­tle red wagon loaded with ac­tual fat rep­re­sent­ing the pounds I’d starved my­self to lose.

And then – no pun in­tended – fell off the wagon. As, of course, I was bound to do, I started eat­ing again. I lied to my­self. I broke prom­ises to my­self. I beat my­self up. I let my­self down. I felt like a spec­tac­u­lar fail­ure.

And the worst part was I did this over and over again. My low­est mo­ment came the year I was afraid to win an Emmy; I couldn’t stand to think how fat I’d look to all the pretty soap stars in the au­di­ence if I had to waddle up to the podium. It didn’t mat­ter that I’d be wear­ing hand­tai­lored cou­ture. In my mind, to my shame, I’d be dressed in fat.

If Maya were here right now (and, as I sit writ­ing this, I like to be­lieve she is), I’d say, “Okay, if any­one knows bet­ter when it comes to di­et­ing, it’s me. So how do you ex­plain my end­less strug­gles with weight? Why is it that, with all this ex­pe­ri­ence and in­for­ma­tion, I haven’t done bet­ter?” My guess is she’d prob­a­bly smile and, in that com­mand­ing voice un­like any I’ve ever heard, she’d say, “Well, my dear, when you’re truly ready to know, you will.” And, as usual, she’d be right.

You can tell your­self to eat less and move more, you can cut down on carbs (so long, lasagne) and salty snacks (good­bye, Mr Chips), you can prac­tise por­tion con­trol and be­gin the day with a bal­anced breakfast – at this point we all know the drill. But it’s one thing to be able to re­cite the rules of di­et­ing and quite an­other to fully in­ter­nalise and know the truth of main­tain­ing a healthy weight.

The re­al­ity is that, for most of us, di­ets are a tem­po­rary so­lu­tion at

When you eat con­sciously and well, you feed your body and your spirit.

best. They last as long as our willpower holds out. But how long can any of us hold our breath be­fore we need a gulp of air? I’ve fallen into every trap, from “The diet starts first thing Mon­day morn­ing” to “I’ll have the cheese­burger and fries with a diet soda, please”. Yes, I’ve made every ex­cuse in the book.

That’s where I was in the sum­mer of 2015 when Weight Watch­ers called. Seven­teen pounds be­yond my al­ready steadily over­weight weight. And yes, you read that right – Weight Watch­ers ac­tu­ally called me!

For years, my daily prayer had been, “Lord, what should I do next? I’ve tried ev­ery­thing al­ready. Twice.” So I not only took the call from Weight Watch­ers, I de­cided to take it as the an­swer to my prayer. The call came and I was ready to lis­ten. Some­thing in­side me shifted. The need to see a cer­tain num­ber on the scale, to wear a spe­cific size, had some­how fallen away and re­leased me. How ex­hil­a­rat­ing to sud­denly think I might be able to stop be­ing a slave to yo-yo di­et­ing, that I might be able to live freely and in­de­pen­dently, eat­ing the way I chose in or­der to fuel my life! I could be free from the bur­den of stress­ing out over what to eat next, free from the guilt of re­gret­ting what I’d just eaten.

Some­where buried be­neath the decades of trial and er­ror – the see­saw­ing be­tween fat and fast­ing, feast and famine, the shame and fear and frustration – was a be­lief that I could find bal­ance and sat­is­fac­tion with food with­out hav­ing to de­clare war on my­self. I dreamed of de­tente, of eat­ing with plea­sure, ease and maybe even a hint of joy.

For most of my life, emo­tional eat­ing has been my neg­a­tive be­havioural hot but­ton. I’ve only re­cently learned to process and not re­press with food what­ever I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing that’s un­com­fort­able.

All the years when my reg­u­lar rou­tine in­cluded tap­ing at least two and some­times three shows a day, peo­ple would ask how I man­aged the stress and I’d say, “I don’t feel stress.” I never felt it be­cause I ate it. Just the slight­est inkling of dis­com­fort – a phone call I didn’t want to make, an en­counter that might re­sult in a less-than-pleas­ing out­come – would have me reach­ing for some­thing salty or crunchy and feel­ing im­me­di­ately com­forted and soothed.

Un­wanted emo­tion trig­gers un­wanted be­hav­iour. Now I’ve learned to do so much bet­ter. I not only feel what I feel when ap­pro­pri­ate, I speak it out loud. When I have to make a hard de­ci­sion, I lean right into it, rather than

pro­cras­ti­nat­ing and bury­ing stuff that later shows up in my thighs. For sure, it’s a new way of be­ing.

This new con­scious­ness ex­tends to how I eat – and this is where Weight Watch­ers has been so help­ful. It’s a re­ally ef­fec­tive tool for be­ing more aware of the food I put on my plate and in my mouth. It’s not a diet. You can eat any­thing you want – and I do. I use the point sys­tem like a game. I get 30 points a day to play with as I like. The health­ier my choices, the more plays I get.

As long as I can re­mem­ber, I’ve been the kind of per­son who wants to share the things that make life bet­ter. When I come upon some­thing use­ful, some­thing that brings me plea­sure or com­fort or ease, I want every­one else to know about it and ben­e­fit from it, too. And that is how my new cook­book, Food, Health and Hap­pi­ness, came to be. It’s part of my life story – the les­sons I’ve learned, the dis­cov­er­ies I’ve made – told through food.

What I now know for sure: food is sup­posed to be about joy, not suf­fer­ing. It’s meant to nour­ish and sus­tain us, not cause us pain. When you eat con­sciously and well, you feed your body and your spirit. And that makes all life more de­li­cious!

When I de­cided to write this book a while back, I took a long look at my­self in a full-length mir­ror. From the top of my pony­tailed head down to the bunioned feet I in­her­ited from my fa­ther, I just stood very still, very naked, star­ing in the mir­ror.

Pretty soon a quiet lit­tle mantra emerged: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I be­gan think­ing about all the times I’ve been so crit­i­cal, so judg­men­tal of this body that has car­ried me through nearly 63 years. Thank you, I said. Thank you for al­low­ing me, as the old folks used to say in church, to wake up clothed in my right mind. Thank you. Thank you for shoul­ders that are sturdy and knees that still work.

Thank you. Thank you for al­low­ing me to walk and to stand, and to make my­self fully awake. And thank you for let­ting me share that hard­earned con­scious­ness.

As for food, I eat breakfast, lunch and din­ner, and al­low for two snacks. I track my points. I try my best to re­main con­sciously in the game – mind­ful of what I’m eat­ing, think­ing and do­ing. I weigh my­self pe­ri­od­i­cally, but I’m fo­cused on life be­yond the scale. I’ve lost over 40 pounds since I started Weight Watch­ers. Maybe it’ll be 50 by the time you read this, or maybe it won’t. I no longer have a tar­get weight I’m des­per­ate to hit or a des­ti­na­tion I’m rush­ing to reach.

These days, my goal is a lot more worth­while: to end my bat­tle with weight with­out feel­ing guilt or shame, with­out the critic in my head hiss­ing, “You blew it!” I em­brace my prac­tice of count­ing points as a tool to help me re­frame my at­ti­tude, re­di­rect my think­ing and re­form my old habits. I hold my­self ac­count­able, but I don’t take my­self to task. I’m step­ping up and out of my own his­tory and into the light of self-aware­ness, ac­cep­tance and love. I’m mov­ing for­ward with bet­ter health and a hap­pi­ness so deep and re­ward­ing that I have a new favourite word for it: con­tent­ment.

I fi­nally get to make peace with my story of food. And I wish the very same for you.

Oprah has re­framed her re­la­tion­ship with food and di­et­ing. “Food is sup­posed to be about joy, not suf­fer­ing,” she says.

This is an ex­clu­sive edited ex­tract from Food, Health and Hap­pi­ness by Oprah Win­frey, Macmil­lan. For recipes, see page 124.

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