As probably everyone in the Western world knows by now, Oprah has gained her weight back. The January issue of O Magazine features what could only be called a mea culpa; a confession of sins ranging from tumbling from the wagon, to depression, self-loathing, and lack of willpower. “I felt like a fat cow” confesses Oprah. Friend Marianne Williamson confirms that Oprah’s regain must be tied to some deep emotional yearning. “Your overweight self doesn’t stand before you craving food,” she says, “She’s craving love.” From this, Oprah concludes that her failure to maintain is not a weight issue, it is a “love issue.”
Now I don’t know Oprah and I likely never will. Perhaps emotion is indeed the core of her weight problem, but I wish she would look at it another way. Here’s what I would say to her: “Oprah! Have you ever considered the possibility that your weight problem is nothing more than a biological sensitivity coupled with a destructive food environment? Has it ever occurred to you that trying to keep weight off under such circumstances is a really tough battle and that you may falter repeatedly? Please! Take a break from all the self-flagellation. You don’t deserve it.”
In her article, Oprah describes a grinding work schedule that leaves her depleted. She escapes from it by eating---the world’s oldest story. Eating is joyful. Sometimes girls, particularly ones who are overstressed and overscheduled, just want to have fun. But Oprah punishes herself in the harshest terms for this departure. “When you believe that you’re worthy of the space you occupy on the planet,” she says, “you demonstrate that by insisting that every last one of your choices—from the food you put in your mouth to the commitments you put on your calendar---moves you toward the life you want.” My goodness. What a high bar!
We also get the sense that maintaining weight isn’t much fun for Oprah. She describes a regimen that seems to lack pizazz. Just “work out harder and eat less,” she advises, while admitting that “okay, I’ve never loved daily exercise.” When she retreats to Hawaii overweight and exhausted, she regroups with a daily menu that seems virtuous but extremely boring: soy milk, vitamins and flaxseed. You get the distinct feeling that there is no joy in Maintenance-ville. Similarly, now that Oprah is back on the wagon, she seems to be proceeding with the same grim determination. Her program is to to remain “fully conscious and aware, of every bite, of taking time and chewing slowly.” This formula seems less a joyful embrace of the universe than a militant exercise. “I have to focus on being fully alive, awake, present, and engaged, connected in every area of my life. Right now.” she says. Wow. Seems like a lot of work. Oprah’s emotional weight regain saga begins on page 148 and concludes on page 151. Curiously, a small item appears in a single corner of page 147, just one page earlier. It refers to smoking cessation and I reproduce it here:
“In many cases, the more times you try to change a habit, the more likely you are to ultimately succeed. …. it does take the average smoker eight to ten attempts before being able to quit, according to Steven Schroeder, MD, director of the Smoking Cessation Leadership Center at UCSF.”
Please notice how dispassionately this information is conveyed. Smoking is a bad habit. It can kill you. It takes many attempts to put it aside. Smokers are not known to go on at length about the fact that they are bad, weak people who hate themselves. They realize that they have an addiction and by and large blame the right parties…the people who make and promote tobacco. Oprah says that she’s realized that “no self-care means no self-love.” Does that mean that smokers don’t love themselves? No. It’s clearer when the substance is not food. Sometimes an addiction is just that. An addiction. And often that addiction is caused by a biological sensitivity to the addictive substance.
So to you Oprah, and to all of you who have lost weight only to regain it, I want to convey this New Year’s message. You are heroes. You are warriors in a world that is out to overwhelm you. The battle is not fair and is hugely weighted against you, yet you persist. If you have regained your weight four times, five times…are you any different from the smoker who has relapsed only to find that repeated attempts finally do the trick? Don’t add to the forces arrayed against you---the producers and marketers of unhealthy foods, the advertising industry, the prevailing culture---by saddling yourself with beliefs about yourself that bring you down. I’m here to tell you that you’re tough, you’re strong and you just need to get up off the mat. Most of all, you need to look for a way to find joy in your maintenance life. Dance! Yell! Eat an enormous turkey burger with salsa! Eat huge pieces or fruit and enormous bowls of salad!
And Oprah, there are hundreds of readers here to support you anytime you’d like to pay a visit.