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An Interview with Dayna Macy, Author of "Ravenous"

A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom

by Staff


1. Why did you write Ravenous?

I wanted to learn to eat in a way that would bring my body into balance and health.

2. So how did you do that?

As a food writer, I know a lot about food. And as a longtime yoga practitioner, I know a lot about yoga. But this knowledge did not translate into weight loss. I kept gaining weight steadily, year after year. It was not until I replaced the very American notions of diet and willpower with the idea of eating as a “practice” that things began to shift.

3. How do you approach eating now?

I measure my food. I weigh it, and then I record it in a journal. This is not unique – there are different weight loss programs that use this method. The difference for me is that I view this not only as a practical method, but also an emotional one. Underlying the notion of sane portions are the questions of “what is enough?” “Can I learn be satisfied with less?” And finally, “what does it really mean to be nourished?”

This is awareness that comes from the inside out, helped along by the practice of measuring. This is not typically what one thinks of as a diet, which is a word I never use.

4. Why don’t you use the word diet?

Words are important, and for me, a diet is something that you go on, which means it’s also something you go off. Like flipping a switch– you’re either on a diet or you’re not. And that all or nothing approach isn’t real life. It’s based on some misguided idea of perfection -- if I eat only this and not that I’m going to win. But life is not a game. You don’t win or lose. It’s a journey.

5. In your book, you write that, “One needs limits to be free”. That sounds contradictory. Can you explain what you mean?

We live in a culture that disdains limits. We don’t like to be told “no”. But this is also a mixed message. More is better when it comes to many things, so the typical portion size in America is pretty gigantic. But we’re also told that fat is bad and that you are more valuable as a person if you are thin. It’s hard to be moderate in a culture that lauds excess, offers cheap processed food filled with fat, salt and sugar that’s been engineered to be addictive, and then tells you that you have to be skinny to be worthy.

Many of us think that freedom can be found in having whatever we want when we want. I know I used to. But now I see that with food, drawing boundaries around what and how much I eat keeps me healthy. And, as an added bonus, I appreciate my food more too.

6. What has most affected what and how you eat?

My yoga practice. If you practice yoga for a while, you begin to realize that the body is really quite eloquent in expressing its true needs. Yoga forces you to slow down and teaches you to pay attention – to the physical body, and to your breath. So I learned to pay attention to myself around food.

The foods I cover in the first section of my book-- chocolate, sausage, cheese and olives – are trigger foods for me. All I know is “I want that and I want that now!” Yoga though, helps me take a step back, and see that I’m in that state, and to just take a moment and pause. When I can do that, I have a greater chance of avoiding overeating.

7. So if you know that you have a problem with certain “trigger” foods, why did you spend so much time working with food artisans who specialize in those foods?

The foods that I cover in the beginning of the book have had a visceral hold on me since childhood. I wanted to delve more deeply into these foods to see if I could unlock their hold on me. They became a springboard for examining the roles these foods played in my childhood. It turned out that every one of these were my comfort foods, foods that felt like an embrace, like love. They steadied me during my chaotic childhood.

What I learned is that these foods are not love. They’re food. One is not a substitute for the other. This realization is allowing me to create a different relationship with them. I can occasionally eat them and just enjoy them for what they are -- delicious food -- and not a lover, a mother, or a long-lost friend.

8. How did you feel when the nutrition professor you interviewed in your book called you “fat?”

Dr. Linda Bacon is a writer whose work I admire and trust. I asked her if I was fat because I have been dancing around that word for years. But when she said, “Yes, you’re fat,” I both

wanted to smack her and simultaneously burst out laughing. She was right, and dragging the “f” word out of the closet was incredibly liberating.

9. How was it liberating?

It was the start of what I call, “clear seeing,” which forms the basis for true transformation. Change that comes from deep within cannot begin from a state of illusion.

I want to be clear. I make no judgment of who should lose weight. These are individual choices and I have a lot of respect and admiration for what is called “fat acceptance”. Everyone has the fundamental right to be proud of their body and the skin they’re in. But I felt uncomfortable in mine. My excess weight showed up in joint pain, in my yoga practice – it tired me and started wearing me down.

10. How much weight did you actually lose?

About thirty pounds.

11. What surprised you the most in the course of writing your book?

I became less romantic about food, but much more grateful for it. And I learned that it’s easier to lose weight than our judgment about weight.

I thought the journey I was going on was only about food, but as my eating issues have become quieter, I realize how much time I’ve spent fretting about my body, and that there are so many other interesting things to pay attention to! I needed to go on this journey because I need my body to be healthy, but I need it to be healthy not only because I want to feel and look better, but because there’s so much more I want to do in the world.

12. The subtitle of your book is “A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom.” So are you free from your obsession with food?

I’d say I’m freer, but I’m not fully free. I’m a work in progress.

And for me, freedom does not mean reaching a certain weight. Freedom also means letting go of the idea of perfection.

13. What is it you hope readers take away from “Ravenous”?

I now wear a size 12 or 14. In other words, I’m a typical American woman. And I like my body. I may not love that my belly still looks pregnant, but it’s this same belly that carried my twin boys, and how miraculous is that? I don’t yearn to be a size 6, because my body would not get there without doing some serious violence to it. And that’s a non-starter.

I want people to know that when it comes to finding a balanced relationship with food and reaching a healthy weight, struggle may be part of the journey but doesn’t need to define it.

This is not a battle and your body is not the enemy. Your body, mind, and spirit are all equal partners.

I want people to know that habits can change, slowly over time. Have patience, and take the long view.

But mostly, be grateful for your body, no matter what your size. Our bodies are only on temporary loan to us, and we need to take care of them because they are the vehicles with which we move through our lives. Be grateful right now for the skin you’re in. There is no time to waste. 

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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