Finding balance when it comes to food can be tricky, as Dayna Macy discovers in her new memoir, Ravenous: A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom (Hay House). For years, Macy wrestled with her weight, so she set out to untangle the emotional issues around food. Her journey included exploring the foods she found most seductive–sausage, chocolate, olives and cheese–visiting an organic farm, witnessing the slaughter of a steer, and returning to her childhood home.
Ultimately, Macy made peace with food and found her own comfortable, healthy weight. Today she feels better than ever while still enjoying the culinary abundance of Berkeley, Calif., where she lives with her husband and twin boys, and works as a managing editor at Yoga Journal.
Your diet seemed good to begin with–you’d eaten organic food for years and understood the source of your food better than most people. What was missing?
Even though I ate organic, sustainable food, I ate too much of it, so it’s possible to be a fat foodie. Knowledge about healthy food doesn’t necessarily equate a healthy relationship with it.
It’s not that I ate bad food. I simply ate too much for my body to sustain a healthy weight. When I started the journey of writing the book, I was a size 18.
I’m a feminist at root, and fat can be a feminist issue. It’s a health issue, too. I wasn’t happy to stay at that weight because I was experiencing health problems, especially as I headed toward 50.
What kind of health problems?
High cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint problems. As a yogini, I was having problems doing my practice, and I realized I was doing less and less yoga because it kept getting harder and harder.
You originally planned to conquer your trigger foods (chocolate, cheese, olives, etc.) by understanding them better, but it didn’t work out that way. Why not?
I thought I would go on this journey and there would be some kind of magical gift so I would appreciate my food, love my food and intuitively know how much I should eat and when I should eat it, and I would lose weight. That’s not what happened.
It did give me a much deeper appreciation for those foods that I would somewhat thoughtlessly eat before. I got a much deeper appreciation for the abundance of this planet and the hard work it takes to make these foods. It’s a beautiful thing.
So, I was a size 18, appreciating all this wonderful food and love and abundance, but I still hadn’t fundamentally changed. My journey was to find balance and make peace with my body. In my heart of hearts, I knew that balance meant losing weight.
What finally helped untangle your issues with food?
There were a few spiritual-emotional a-ha moments. One was the three-day fast, because I had all these ideas of what would happen, that didn’t, and then when the hunger did hit, it hit me mercilessly.
How did you react?
With complete anxiety. I realized that what I’d been running from was anxiety and fear. But because I’d made this commitment–and a commitment to write about it–I didn’t run from it. I had sky-high cravings for a very specific salami that’s made in the Bay Area. I’m not sure that if I hadn’t made this very public commitment I would have withstood it. I might have given in.
What I noticed was one of these very basic Buddhist teachings, which is that everything passes. Things change. You can know these things intellectually, but it doesn’t mean you understand them on a physical, soul level.
Then there was the nutritionist who called you fat…
She didn’t mean it meanly at all. It was accurate. It was the beginning of what I call “clear seeing.” There’s a lot of wishful thinking around food and body image and weight. Women have an extra burden–aging women have an even bigger burden. We want to still be seen and beautiful. There’s a lot of anxiety and fear around that.
Being called fat–I think was ready to hear it from a kind, trusted source.
Ultimately, portion control and keeping track of what you eat were the keys to finding your comfortable weight. Those are tried-and-true diet strategies. So–and I’m just playing devil’s advocate here–why didn’t you start with that?
I’m a rebel by nature. If someone gives me the “D” word–diet–I’ll tell them to take a hike. I thought portion control reeked of “diet.”I thought I could outsmart it.
There are all kinds of ways to lose weight, but I realized it was my portions. I started doing portion control and decided to make it a practice. I realized that measuring could, for me be a mindfulness practice.
I discovered that boundaries and limits are very freeing. I didn’t see that at the beginning. There was a sense of entitlement–I’m a food writer!–and the whole thing had to be reframed. Now, if I make room for that bread and cambozola in my day, and I account for it, you bet I’m going to enjoy every bite.
I had to do the work–I couldn’t take any shortcuts. I measure my food every day, and I record it. It’s been very powerful for me.
Have you found the balance you craved?
Now I’m a size 12. Some people will think that’s average, some people will think I’m thin. Others will think I’m fat and everything in between. Without being really ill, I’ll never be a size 6.
The most important thing is that I feel strong, I feel healthy, my yoga practice is kicking butt. The poses that had been off limits to me–my inversions, twists, all that stuff–are coming back into my practice, and that’s really joyful. And I’m 50!