Ravenous: The Practice of Food

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Editor's Note: A few weeks ago, I read an article in Yoga Journal written by Dayna Macy. The recipes, fresh and healthy, with an attention to perfect portions and knowing when to say "enough," appealed to me. But what stood out more was the footnote that Macy had written a memoir about her liberation from a lifelong battle with food addiction. "Ravenous," I typed into the reading list I keep in my BlackBerry. A few days later I was on the phone with our editor at Hay House, going over some deadlines for the cookbook. I mentioned to her that I was looking for some new titles to feature on the blog. The first word out of her mouth: "Ravenous"! By week's end, I had connected with Dayna, fallen in love with the first few pages of her memoir (I finished it in one sitting over the weekend), and asked her if we could feature an excerpt on the dailySpark. Dayna, who's a huge fan of SparkPeople, eagerly agreed. Chapter 14, The Practice of Food, is among my favorite chapters in Ravenous: A Food Loverís Journey from Obsession to Freedom. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

By Dayna Macy

"Am I fat?"

I've never actually asked this question to another human being -- until now.

I'm sitting in the office of Dr. Linda Bacon, a nutrition professor in the Biology Department at City College of San Francisco and author of Health at Every Size. I'm here because I embrace the message of her book: don't wait to live your lifeóthe perfect one you imagine you'll live one day in your perfect body. Live it now.


I want to make sure I've heard correctly. "You just said, I'm fat, right?"

She nods and says again, "yes." I'm silent. My hitherto unspoken weight hierarchy always began with thin, moved on to average, then on to chunky, then on to fat, and then finally, obese. I have always put myself in the chunky category, or its kinder, gentler cousin -- curvy. But never fat. Fat is another country, far away from where I live.

After a pause she asks, "What does that mean to you?"

"Well, what the f*** does that mean to you?" I counter.

She remains calm.

"Fat, you know," and here she grabs her nonexistent belly fat, "adipose tissue. Fat."

That's it? "All you mean by fat is 'adipose tissue'?"

"Yes," she says, "that's all I mean.

"But I know it's a loaded term," she adds.

You might say that.

Bacon tells me that even though she's using the word fat in the most clinical sense, the truth is, labels are always arbitrary. One person's average is another person's fat is another person's curvy. So don't get hung up on the labels.

"So tell me again what you mean by calling me fat?" I ask.

"What I'm saying is you have adipose tissue I might not see on a thinner person." She pauses, and then adds, "And regardless of any of these labels, you radiate health and vibrancy. I think you're gorgeous," she concludes.

I have to hand it to her; in our culture, fat and gorgeous are seldom used together in the same sentence.

Maybe she's using the word fat clinically, but it still stings. What's more, she's right. And I know it.

Couldn't I just accept this? Be fat and be fine with it? It's not that I yearn to look like a model. I'm heading toward 50 and I've had two children. I just know that at this point, for me, being fat doesn't feel good. My fat shows up in lots of ways: when I walk up hills and have to take frequent rests, when I need to buy the next size pants because my current ones don't close. If I'm going to change, I need to see clearly. Bacon's words may cut, but they're helping me do that.


It's one thing to understand something in my mind, and another to understand it in my body. And the only way I've ever been able to move from my mind to my body is through attention and practice. I've been doing yoga for a long time, and thought I knew this already.

I'm fat. My portions are out of balance. After all my explorations of different foods and my trips outward and inward, I still eat too much.

Everything I've wanted in life I've had to practice at. Finding the right relationship with food is no different. I couldn't see that a year ago. Now it's in my face. And there's no room left for me to dodge it.

There's a practice for each of us. As a cook, I've always preferred tossing and improvising to carefully measuring out ingredients. As a person, I've always felt it was my right to eat as much as I want, whenever I want. Now, my practice will be measuring my food.


This is a portion?

I'm weighing out three ounces of salmon. It's about the size of my palm -- excluding my fingers. I'm cooking dinner, and while Scott makes tortellini for the boys, I'm making baked salmon topped with lemon and dill for myself, along with brown rice and heaps of sautťed kale. I measure out a cup of rice, which, by the way, is about the size of my clenched fist. The three ounces of salmon seems small compared to what I'm used to, but what I'm used was too much.

As my family chows down their tortellini (topped with excellent parmesan cheese from The Cheese Board), I eat my wild salmon. It's fresh, and the oily flesh is satisfying. I eat my cup of nutty brown rice along with my kale. When I'm done, I'm neither hungry nor full. I'm satisfied, and that is unfamiliar.

My routines are changing now. When I make a salad, I take five olives out of the jar, and add olive oil by the teaspoon, instead of pouring it on. I sautť greens and top them with four ounces of grilled chicken. I take one square of chocolate, not the entire bar. I treat myself to a small piece of Acme baguette with an ounce of triple cream Cambozola cheese, not the wedge. And I still eat the most delicious yogurt in the world, from Straus Creamery, but now I have a half a cup, not a heaping bowl.

And I follow the advice of Linda Prout, a nutritionist based in Eugene, Oregon, whom I interviewed for a magazine piece many years ago. I add Celtic sea salt to my food, because it's full of minerals such as iron, magnesium and potassium. I eat small, oily fish, like sardines, herring, and anchovies because of their high levels of Omega-3 oils, and make sure to eat lots of cooked vegetables, especially leafy greens.

I not only measure my food, I also write down everything I eat. It is the only way I make sure I don't trick myself, and that I'm accountable. I've stopped fantasizing I can find balance without paying close attention to quantity. Maybe one day I won't have to measure and record, because understanding what a reasonable portion is will be second nature. But not now, and maybe not for a long time.

I pay attention to words, because words have power. I don't say I'm on a diet; rather, I think of measuring as a practice. Just like going to my yoga mat is practice. Practice is what you do every day to achieve what you desire. To write a book, you practice writing. You sit down each day and you do the work.

It is no different with losing weight. One ounce of triple cream Cambozola may be a small amount, but an ounce is an ounce. A cup of rice is a cup of rice. This is what the singer in my dream meant, when she said, ďThe secret is, there is no secret.Ē A portion is a portion, and practice is practice. There are no shortcuts.

Measuring, by its nature, requires me to pay attention to every portion. Measuring forms a container for my longings and boundaries for my lust. Without boundaries, I cannot find balance. Without limits, I cannot hope to be free.

And I begin to lose weight -- five pounds, ten pounds, twenty, then more. I start buying clothes one size, then another size smaller.

Even at this stage of my journey, I can see that being in a lighter body is complicated. Weight can obscure many things, including lust, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, and anger. As I lose weight and my buffer loosens, I am forced to grapple with these states more directly. I practice patience -- it takes the body and the mind time to learn to move through the world in a different way.

I know that my practice of food measurement is hardly an uncommon approach. I compare notes with friends, and I visit some of the different groups that support people who are trying to eat more carefully. I go to a Weight Watchers meeting and I hear a 300-pound woman start to cry, saying she can't bear to go to her high school reunion because she's "larger than a whale."

I sit in an Overeaters Anonymous meeting and hear a 120-pound woman cry about her imperfect body. She ate chocolate the other week and, that night, rammed her stomach into a banister to try to force the food up.

It is a revelation to me that a 120-pound person and a 300-pound person can each be similarly sad about their bodies. The thinner person may look like her act is more together, but pain is pain. Regardless of the number on the scale, few of us are truly happy and at home in the skin we're in.

In our culture, the number on the scale enforces a cruel hierarchy. Weight separates the worthy from the unworthy. But the truth is, it's difficult to be in a body, period. Witnessing this in myself and in others, I've begun to see through the delusion so many of us share -- that when we reach a particular weight, we will automatically be happy.

Now I have an answer to the question that yoga teacher Patricia Walden asked me a decade ago. "Why are you in this body? What does it have to teach you?"

Iíve learned that my mind and my body are equals, that they are completely entwined, and that each needs the otherís intelligence and wisdom to be whole. And Iíve learned that consciousness may be the beginning of transformation, but consciousness in action continues it.

My friend Timothy told me that it is possible to achieve absolute transformation very slowly. I believe him.

So I'm taking the long view. I have no goal for my weight. I spent so many years out of balance that it's hubris to believe achieving a number will mean I've found it. I am curvy by design and praise that! Iím not trying to look like anyone else; Iím trying to become more myself.

I am in a bardo state, as Bo Forbes earlier described. I'm in the process of letting go of old patterns, with new ones starting to emerge. I'm not sure where I'll land. But I keep measuring my food, and slowly, Iím waking up, meeting myself as I am, not who I wish I was.

I do my practice. I keep showing up.

Excerpted from Ravenous: A Food Lover's Journey from Obsession to Freedom by Dayna Macy. Published by Hay House.

We'll be giving away copies of Dayna's book later this month--details coming soon!

Measuring portions and journaling her food helped Dayna lose 30 pounds. What tools have you used to help you lose weight?

Being called "fat" was Dayna's "A-ha" moment. What was yours?

How does your story relate to hers?

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Got this as a freebie on my Kindle and read it this weekend- it was a great read! Report
My moment, a horrifying epiphany, really, was when I was in the car lamenting to my boyfriend about feeling unattractive. All my clothes were too tight and leaving me gasping for breath. "You're Rubinesque," he told me brightly, as if this was what I wanted to hear. Immediately, hugely plump, dimply, cellulite-riden bodies filled my vision. Is that really how I look?, I thought to myself, bile rising into my throat. I could barely look at my boyfriend and wanted to bolt out of the passenger seat of the car. Speechless, I told him that was the worst that he could have possibly said to me. But, it turns out, it was the best thing, of course. The next morning at 5:55, I was at the gym waving a three-day trial membership I'd printed moments before. I wasn't supposed to enter without a membership advisor giving me a tour and signing the form, but I begged the greeter, telling him I needed to take the spinning class at 6. I labored through the class, then followed it with a yoga class at my nearby studio, which happened to be a class for women over 50. They gasped during my story and hugged me after class, asking if my yoga practice had calmed me.

I've lost about 30 pounds now and have 15 more to go. Up until now, I've relied mainly on exercise, spinning, walking, a little jogging, yoga, some strength training. It's worked but now it's not enough if I want to reach my former weight. It's time to take to the measuring cups and to write down each meal and snack before I sit down to eat. I read this trick in cognitive therapist Judith Beck's weight loss book, and it's time to listen, finally. I love food and aspire to make a living writing about food, among other things. But now I need to love myself and my body even more. Dayna's book sounds like a fascinating story and I can't wait to read it and be inspired by her journey and career.

Many, many thanks for calling our attention to this book, and to the knowledge that food is a practice. Report
Very informative Report
I love the comments here almost more than the excerpt from the book. Report
wow. i haven't heard of this book yet but now i want to read it. thank you for this blog. i may not be called fat but i too am unhappy in this skin and resonates with me. plus this is so well written and will be a good read. Report
wonderful questions, wonderful answers. and how funny that the doctor's name is bacon.... i can't wait to read the whole thing! Report
What a great and well-written blog! I weigh and measure my food to make sure that the calories and portions are right. How else would I know? Eventually I'll be able to eyeball so that I eat the proper portions. Report
I am anxious to read the book. I just downloaded it to my Kindle and will read it with interest. Report
I really enjoyed reading this blog. I will have to find the book. Report
That was the best column I have read to date! I have to get this book! Report
Downloaded this for my IPad after reading the first blog a few days ago and am reading it slowly, savoring every morsel. I love her flashbacks, which have caused some of my own and her humor is wonderful. I wish i had the happy family stories to turn to, but the good moments were few. Like an anorexic, the one thing i could control in my life (away from my mother) was the food i put in my mouth. One of my most cherished memories, because i was out of the house, was my best friend and me walking to The Hub, to get a Winchell's cinnamon roll and a coke. We solved the world's problems and planned our futures over many of those rolls. I often wonder how we would have turned out if we hadn't had to run away to Winchell's every night. We have both struggled with our weight for our entire lives, being fat and miserable. I learned to let my child chose to eat or not and eat what he likes. Imagine my amazement that he loves healthy foods and only eats when he's hungry. i will keep Dayna's story on my IPad and re-read many times in the future. Thanks for the recommendation. Report
My A-ha moment came one day when I was rushing past my huge bathroom mirror (it's the size of the entire wall) on my way from the shower to the bedroom. For some reason I just stopped. I wondered what in the world I was "rushing" for. No one was home. I had no appointment or engagement I had to attend. Was it a habit? Yes. Yes it was. Why was it a habit? Then it hit me...I was rushing past the mirror because I didn't want to physically SEE how much weight I had gained and how it was changing my body. Oh, I knew the pounds had been creeping on. I could tell by the way my clothes fit and how I huffed and puffed when I was playing with my neices and nephews. But to actually see it would mean acknowledging it for REAL and then - ugh! - having to DEAL with it!

Well, I was angry at myself. I pride myself in my integrity and honesty. Why wasn't I being honest with myself? I took the towel from my body and MADE myself stand, fully nude, in front of the mirror. I made myself look. Really look at my own body.

I wasn't unkind to myself, but I certainly didn't sugar coat it either. I was honest. It was difficult. It was sad. It was a little disgusting. I wanted to cry. But since crying doesn't usually solve much - especially not in the weight loss area - I decided I needed to pick myself up by the boot straps and deal with it; make some serious changes to my lifestyle.

Since then I've made a lot of progress. I have more progress to make, but I am keeping my eye on the ball. I've done tons of research and, like Dayna, am a measurer of all things edible. It was annoying and time consuming at first, but it really pays off. Now it's second nature. Even my nieces and nephews measure foods when they come to see me. We talk about healthy portions and healthy food and exercise attitudes. It's good. It's really good. Report
Loved that....thank you! Report
sheesh. that was great. Report
Amazing! I must have the book. My a-ha moment was really looking into the mirror and not liking what I see. I have become obsessed with logging my nutrition and it is helping a lot. I had a friend tell me once to imagine my body as an engine and just feed it what it needs to operate. Report
My ah-ha moment: flying home for Christmas, following a year I thought I'd been "pretty good" in, weight-wise ... and not being able to buckle the belt. Report
Great story. Gave more power in my own battle. Thank you. Report
I was walking into the grocery store when afternoon and saw how HUGE my shadow was at 214# and thought to myself "That is pathetic." Report
Most people aren't real honest with themselves about the level of their "fatness". I'm obese. By any definition of the word, I'm obese. I don't want to be, but I am. And I will say that out loud because it's true. But it's amazing to me how people that hear me say that react. They're either delusional or they really don't understand the definition of obese. If I lose another 25 pounds I'll consider myself just "fat". Report
Hi! My 'A-ha' moment was last year when I went in for a check up and Dr. said that my weight placed me in the obese category. I had always thought of myself as a stocky German build, as that is what my family had always told me. I was the only one in my family with a weight problem/issues. So, I have been learning to accept it and make changes to become the visual person I have always thought I was. One day I hope to be able to say, " I have actually become the person (size and shape) that I had always thought I was. I am now that person." I have 60-70 lbs. to loose. I plan to be there next year in March. I would like to see myself at that weight by Christmas or New Years...maybe sooner, but I do want to loose the weight at a slow and steady pace. During this journey, I am sure that I will learn alot about my self and others, and will come across some new issues to face and overcome during this time. I am very grateful for SP and what it is doing to help me and others. Thanks for sharing this message. Report
Measuring and recording my food, drinking water, recognizing what "satisfied" feels like and that I won't starve overnight, and exercising have been the things that have helped me achieve my goals and continue to keep me moving forward.
My ah-ha moment was going back up the trails in NC at Linville Falls and realizing that it was hard for me to do and I was winded. I love to hike and have outdoor adventures and my weight had become an inhibitor. I refused to stop doing what I loved and not be able to share that joy with my kids. Report
"Without boundaries, I cannot find balance. Without limits, I cannot hope to be free". This has been so important in my life but I, like the author so often fail to live within the boundaries I know will lead to joy in my life instead of that moment of pleasure I have so often regretted. I know using the Food Tracker and being mindful of portions will help form the boundaries I need to find joy and be healthy. Report
Wow! I'm touched to the point of tears - gotta get this book now. Report
Resonated with me, too. I'd love to be able to practice my yoga without my belly or thighs getting in my way. So a-measurin' I will go. Report
Great article!
My ah-a moment was when I, in a moment of delight and spontaneity, tried to go skipping outside, and ended up pulling a muscle instead. I was embarrassed, sure, but also in shock. How had I gotten so out of shape? That's when I admitted to myself that my lifestyle had to change.

I also loved that quote, "Why are you in this body? What does it have to teach you?" These are great questions for everyone, regardless of their lifestyle, to reflect on. Report
Great read!! I typically never leave comments, but this excerpt really resonated with me. Report
A nutrition professor named Bacon, *giggle*.

I don't usually read nonfiction, but I'm looking forward to picking this up. Report
the weight watchers theme for this past week was about portion control -- how timely to see that so nicely reinforced. If we measure, we can lick our plates, ha ha. Report
Why are you in this body? What does it have to teach you ?

Now that is a profound set of questions from Patricia Walden. My yoga instructor trains with her and recommended her class to me. Taking yoga made me aware of how my body is in the space it occupies. However, reading books like the End of Overeating as well as Mindless Eating showed me that the food industry has subtle (okay, deceptive) ways it manipulated me to eat more food. Does this mean I'm not responsible for what I put into my mouth ? Of course, not. But, like Dayna Macy, my portions were pretty out of control and something needed to be done. Changing my portions was one thing I did to help become a healthier person.

Great article ! I'm going to check out her book.
I think a lot of us can identify with her. I am going to have to read the whole book now! My "aha" moment was seeing a recent picture of myself and thinking "whoa, that's not me". Time to take a good look and make some changes. Report
The Nook version is also on sale for $1.99 right now from Barnes & Noble. :) I cant wait to read it. I can relate so much just to this passage. Report
Excellent article! I, too, no longer have a goal for weight. I am working toward eating healthy, exercising consistently, and building lean mass. That probably means that I will weigh more than my original 'goal weight', because of the increased muscle mass, and that's ok. I want to be able to live a healthy life, and be able to be active and enjoy it. I recently downloaded a free copy of Ravenous to my Kindle, and have just bumped it to the top of my 'read this next' list. Thanks for sharing! Report
My a-ha moment, seeing a photo of myself playing with my 2 year old. ugh! My first thought, "Who is that?", followed immediately by sirens going off in my head when I realized that it was ME.

I enjoyed the chapter in this blog and am adding it to my Must Read list. Report
I cannot wait to read the entire book! I absolutely can relate and I have to read this book, immediately :-) Report
Exactly what I needed this morning! Thanks for being so timely and motivating!! Report
The e-version of book is on sale right now on Amazon.com - "read on your PC", kindle, ipod, etc. $1.99 Report
Wow...she has a very powerful way of writing. It touched me deeply. I went over to Amazon and was happy to see that the Kindle edition is only $1.99 right now, so I got it! Can't wait to read it. Report
I really loved this and I think I'll read her book.
My 'aha' moment was really LOOKING at myself. REALLY LOOKING. I always knew I was fat, but I had to force myself to realistically look at myself in the mirror. Past the 'pretty face' and see what my body really was. Report
Enjoyed the excerpt. Journaling is hard. I use the spark people tools but at times I hate thinking about amounts eaten. Always want it to be less. Tracking exercise...always wanting that to be more...aaaargggghhhh! But I do it and it makes me conscious of ME and that's not a bad thing. Report
Really liked this. I love that she faced things head on and recognizes that it is a slow process.

I've had many aha moments, but most vividly being on vacation at the beach this summer and just feeling like I was in someone else's body.

And I struggle with any amount of success. I've lost five pounds and am already finding myself doing silly little things to sabotage any further weight loss.

I am trying to find out what this body and the excess fat means to me and why I feel a need to hold on to it. Report
She has said what I have felt for a long time. This journey is not a means to an end but a practice to make healthy living (eating, exercise, viewing myself) a habit. For me, the aha was almost dying because I had treated myself so badly. I'm 40+ pounds thinner and finally accepting that I am worth the effort. I love the benefits of being healthy and fit. Report
I love the idea of looking at the journey as a practice. Report
Wow! I really identify with this. Portions, measuring and recording everything I eat and drink has become my way of life. A long way to go still, but slow is okay. I didn't gain all this in a couple of weeks so it takes time, dedication and practice. Body image issues affect everyone. As a teen at 117 lbs I thought I was fat. In fact my mother always said I was fat then so you can see why I felt that way. As a teen my dance teacher wouldn't allow me to dance en pointe unless I was under 100 lbs. Needless to say, I never got toe shoes!
My "A-Ha" came in January 2011 when some one told me I looked like Rosanne Barr. (and it wasn't meant to flatter). Thanks for an inspiring article. Report
My aha moment was when I applied for life insurance and was given a more expensive policy because of being overweight. But it took my husband becoming serious about weight loss for me to join sparkpeople and set goals for myself. Report
I enjoyed the excerpt. I track my food and my fitness, not because I am fat, but because I was recently diagnosed with cancer, and then chronic heart failure because of my cancer. I have always been the skinniest person in my family. I was the healthy eater, while my brother and mother were not. So I must say I was pretty upset when I was the one who got sick. Now I have to watch what I eat because high blood pressure doesn't help my condition. I enjoy tracking food and fitness, because it really makes you accountable for your choices. Report
I coundn't relate to her story at the beginning of this chapter because I've never seen myself as anything less than obese... even at a "normal" BMI weight. It also angered me to see yet another person delusional about being fat... only because bullies use this as an excuse to continully point it out. That said, she pulled me back in with the rest of her story. I really appreciate that there's a lot of truth in it. I look forward to reading the rest of her book. Report
Beautifully written ... this captures so much of what it feels like to wrestle with body issues physically, mentally, and spiritually. Looking forward to reading her book. Report
Wow! This is exactly where I'm at. Last week I started to worry that I wouldn't like the person I am striving to be. As she says, I;ve got to let go of who I want to be and just be who I am.

My "aha" moment was almost a couple of years ago when my midwife gave me some vouchers for a slimming world group to help me not put on the vast amount of weight I usually did in pregnancy. I hadn't realised then that it would be such an emotional journey. Report
I've been using the trackers as well and they have really been a great help especially the final, end of day nutrition tracker. I particularly like the idea of "practice". That is a concept I will meditate on. Report
I have been practicing yoga for a couple of years now...and I love it...not only the health benefits, but I love I have begun to think differently about 'stuff'... however, until reading this today - I never thought of 'eating' as a practice. I have been struggling with overeating 'junk' food - even though it's not as bad as it was when I first joined SP - and I think this article just helped me overcome that hurdle... I'm going out to buy the book - thank you so much for this post! Report
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