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Excerpt from "Ravenous: A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom"

by Dayna Macy

The following excerpt is taken from the book RAVENOUS: A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom by Dayna Macy. It is published by Hay House (February 2011) and is available at all bookstores or online at: www.hayhouse.com.  


I’m in a gourmet food store near my Berkeley, California, home. White serving dishes, filled with a dozen kinds of olives, gleam behind the counter. The variety is dazzling—bright green Cerignolas, pinkish-brown Hondroelias, and almost-black dry-cured Moroccans.

The olives are for a dinner party I’m giving later in the week. I choose several varieties, scooping them into a container. When it’s filled to the brim, I pay and leave.

I love olives. But I tell myself not to eat any: They’re for the party. Also, they are little caloric bundles. And at 48, 5'6" and a size 18, I shouldn’t binge.

I get in the car to drive home. I try to ignore the container on the seat next to me. But I can’t resist. I taste a Cerignola first—it’s large and piquant. I eat a Hondroelia next—meaty and satisfying. And the Moroccan? The salt bomb of my dreams. I eat a couple, then a few more, and then a few more.

By the time I get home, the olives are gone.

* * *

For as long as I can remember, I’ve turned to food for comfort.

I am ten. My parents have had another fight. My father packs his bag and says he’s leaving.

“Where?” I ask, crying.

“Anywhere but here,” he replies.

He grabs his suitcase and walks toward the door. Terror overrides my pride and I grab onto his pants leg and scream, “Don’t go! Don’t leave us!”

He continues walking, dragging me with him, the burnt-orange shag carpet chafing my arms. He gives his leg a final shake. I lose my grip, and he walks out the door.

I lie on the floor for a few moments. Then I pick myself up and make my way to the kitchen. I open a can of black olives and put one on each finger of my left hand. One by one I eat them off each fingertip. When all five are gone, I pop another five onto my fingers, and repeat the process until I’ve eaten them all.

But I’m not done. Next I heat up a package of 15 frozen assorted mini-pizzas in the oven. I eat the plain cheese, my least favorite, first; then the sausage; then the pepperoni. I’m stuffed, and I finally feel safe.

* * *

It’s five years later, and I’m 15, babysitting for the nice family around the corner from my house. The kids are sleeping, and I start trolling around their refrigerator for something to eat. Then I spot it, the Holy Grail: a package of ham, which, because it’s pork, I’m not allowed to eat at home.

I take out a slice of white bread, slather it with mustard, and throw on two pieces of ham. I gobble it quickly, as if expecting to be caught at any moment. When I’m done, I clean up, go back into the

living room, and try to read a magazine. Two minutes later, I again hear the siren call. I go back to the kitchen and eat another sandwich.

Hoping they don’t discover my crime for at least a few days, I finish the last of my neighbors’ ham.

* * *

From 18 to 26, my weight stays a stable size ten. Through college, where I fall in love with a long-haired boy, and during which time my brother has a mental breakdown and my father has a heart transplant; through graduate school, through a move to Switzerland for a romance, through my father’s death at age 56, and through several years of living in New York before moving to California. Still not the size four of my skinny, flat-chested sister, but good enough.

* * *

I’m 28 and eating lunch at the iconic Chez Panisse restaurant, in Berkeley. I moved from New York to California earlier that year, ostensibly for a guy, but really for the freedom that a new place promises. New York felt too choked with expectations of who I was supposed to be and who I was allowed to become. Many people come to New York to write. I left.

I order a dish of melon wrapped in prosciutto and sliced figs. It’s served with a small mound of arugula topped with shaved Parmesan.

I have not yet heard the words “organic” or “sustainable agriculture.” I only know that this food, which dances in my mouth, tastes vibrant and alive, and I want to eat more of it in the future.

* * *

It’s love. We lie in his bedroom in San Francisco and watch the fog hovering low, like some soft, downy blanket. I’m now 30. I know one day we’ll marry. I can’t quite accept that I am meant to be this happy, and though I don’t understand it, I’m willing to take a leap of faith.

We celebrate our happiness with much food and drink. When we get married, I’m 33 and wear a size 12. If Scott notices, he doesn’t say anything.

At our wedding reception in Napa, I eat the gorgeous roasted chicken and vegetables the restaurant has prepared. I wash it down with some great Cabernet—silk wedding dress be damned.

We cut our wedding cake: apricot eau-de-vie with buttercream frosting. It’s perfect. And though brides’ appetites are often depicted as demure, I eat the entire slice.

* * *

While I work in book publishing by day, I begin writing essays for Salon.com and other magazines. In my spare time, I also take up yoga, which I find so difficult I hate it for the first six months of my practice. As my body begins to open, I get my first glimpse of its innate intelligence and begin to understand that it will tell me what it needs if I learn to listen.

From a co-worker, I hear about a Community Supported Agriculture project run by Full Belly Farm in Guinda, California. For ten bucks a week I get a box of buoyant organic produce, usually picked the day before delivery.

I begin eating organic vegetables—kale, fennel, rutabaga, and more. Something in me gets happy when I eat this food.

I am 35 and wear a size 14.

* * *

It’s the call I’ve been anticipating but also dreading, because I don’t know what the news will be. “You’re pregnant,” the kind nurse says. “Twin boys, both healthy.”

After I call Scott at work, I put on Dusty Springfield and start dancing around our living room.

I gain only 30 pounds during pregnancy—perhaps the result of being on bed rest for almost two months and delivering my sons at 32 weeks. When they are born, one weighs 5 pounds 3 ounces, the other 4 pounds 13 ounces.

“Linebackers,” the neonatal nurse says.

“It’s all that meat you ate,” my doctor tells me.

After delivery, I’m 39 and wear a size 16.

* * *

I’m 41, and Matthew and Jack are almost two. I leave my job as head of publicity for Salon.com because I’m having a hard time juggling a heavy workload and raising small children.

I get a job at Yoga Journal magazine, running the communications department, and have the good fortune to be hired on the threshold of yoga’s American renaissance.

While at one of the Yoga Journal conferences, I have the opportunity to practice with Patricia Walden, a master teacher. As she helps me move into a backbend, she asks, “Why are you in this body? What does your body have to teach you?” I wonder if she senses that this will become a defining question for me, one that I will wrestle with for much of the next decade.

I begin writing about food and spirituality for “Eating Wisely,” the magazine’s food column. I write on topics such as heirloom seeds, foraging, and Zen eating practices.

Over the next few years, I keep writing about eating wisely, but I can’t help noticing the irony: while I am beginning to eat more wisely myself, I still eat too much and weigh too much.

* * *

I’m now 48. My husband Scott and I have been together for nearly 20 years. Our children are nine. I’m a size 18.

My relationship with food still doesn’t work. Now I overeat daily, and overeating has become a habit.

In many ways, I have an addictive nature. In the past, I’ve dealt with my addictions by quitting them cold turkey: when I was 18, I put down my last cigarette. All or nothing always seems to have worked for me.

But I can’t just give up food. And that makes things more complicated.

What should I eat? How should I eat it? How much should I eat? What does it mean to be nourished? How can I, a food lover, learn to eat in a balanced way?

I need to lose weight, and that usually means going on a diet. But I’m not going to do that. For starters, I’ve never wanted someone else telling me what to eat and when to eat it. But even more important, diets have always felt temporary to me. We talk about “going on” them, and that means we go off them, too. There’s no middle ground. I want to find a balanced way of eating that I can live with for the rest of my life. If I can find that, my body will find the weight it wants to be. Balance, by its nature, cannot be all or nothing. Balance is not something you switch on or off. Balance is something you discover through experience—and continue to discover and hone as you move through life.

I’m not looking for a perfect body or a perfect way to eat. I am searching for a relationship with food that brings me greater health, peace of mind, and ease in my skin.

At midlife, I’m ravenous for something more than food. I’m hungry for freedom.

Dayna Macy was born in Rockland County, New York. She graduated from Drew University and received her graduate degree in philosophy from Brown University. Dayna landed her first publishing job in 1986 as a publicist at Ten Speed Press in Berkeley. After Ten Speed Press, Dayna continued her career in public relations, handling campaigns for various Bay Area media companies including, Collins Publishers San Francisco, and Salon.com. In 1995, she began studying yoga, which changed her life, and in 2001 Dayna joined the staff of Yoga Journal as the Communications Director, and is now also the Managing Editor for International Editions. She was a publicist by day and a writer by night – writing articles for Self, Yoga Journal, Salon.com, and other publications. Soon, her essays were published in anthologies… but she never forgot about the book she dreamed of writing since the age of twelve. Today, Dayna lives in Berkeley, California with her husband, the writer Scott Rosenberg, and their sons, Matthew and Jack. She has been interviewed by The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Denver Post, and Boston Globe.

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