The most radical thing I ever did …

was not to live in India, write a book when people told me I couldn’t, or tell Robert Oxford that he was wrong when he called me fat. It wasn’t even that I stopped dieting when I was sixty pounds over my natural weight. The most radical thing I ever did was believe that I could be my own authority about my body. Yes, food was how my extreme lack of trust and self-loathing expressed itself but it was never about food. It was never about eat this or don’t eat that. It was about a radical willingness to say, “Yep, I hear you. I hear that you think I’m a bit mad, and my weight seems to back that up. But there is something in me that isn’t mad and I’m willing to take a chance here and see if I can listen to that.” It was terrifying.

When I stopped dieting, it was not because I didn’t like Weight Watchers (which I had been on) or that being a vegetarian or a vegan or a macrobiotic person was unilaterally wrong, it was that I was tired of being told that others knew best, even if that other was Jean Nidetch or Robert Atkins. I had grown up believing that I was damaged at the core, and it made sense to me that whatever I wanted had to be damaged as well—and that I couldn’t trust it. I couldn’t trust my own guidance. It was as if I felt I had a monster inside me that once on the loose, would destroy everything in sight and so I needed to keep her caged.

After I wrote my first book, Feeding the Hungry Heart (in 1982), I was certain I was going to become a poet or a novelist. I felt as if I had said everything there was to say about food in that book and it was time to move on. But then I realized what an incredible doorway food provided into every aspect of my beliefs and feelings and who I took to be myself, so I kept using it because it was (still is) a metaphor for everything. Or, as Zen teacher Cheri Humber says, how you do anything is how you do everything. Also, by that time, I’d started small groups in my living room and I’d fallen in love with the work itself and the women who showed up week after week.

Thirty-five years later, I’m still fascinated with what enthralled me at the beginning: moving from giving ourselves up over and over to diets, programs and people we think know best to turning towards ourselves…because what I’ve found over the last few decades is that avoiding what we know is a deep and unconscious pattern. It’s what we consider normal. It’s not just about food. It’s not just about work or love or money. That basic mistrust of our own wisdom is a part of the air we breathe. We have gotten so used to the search for answers out there that we forget to turn around and look in here. It’s the easiest hardest thing there is to do.

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