Friday, January 8, 2010

Dead Dieter Walking

I don’t recommend watching this entire clip, but it’s all I could find on YouTube. A 90-second glimpse is enough to paint the emotional picture of the dread that’s coming. In spades. A clear sense that someone’s life, in no uncertain terms, is on the verge of being brought to an end.

Uncountable times, I’ve lived this dread. Perhaps not quite to the excruciating extent that Sean Penn portrays so brilliantly, but I’m familiar with the soul-sucking rhythms of the ‘dead man walking’ ritual.

It’s the pre-dieting rite of passage that’s every bit as bitter as it is sweet. Card-carrying know what I’m talking about: the last meal. Or, more accurately, the last good meal we’ll ever have…a passionate good-bye kiss to the foods we actually enjoy eating.

Because it’s all about extremes, isn’t it? What else is there? What is this thing known as the middle road? I couldn’t be trusted with food. So lockdown was imposed. The ironic thing about brute force is, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t reform prisoners and it doesn’t cure dieters of what truly ails them.

The groundwork for extremes was laid early for me – at age 10 when I was put on my first official diet, courtesy of our family doctor, whom I’ll refer to as Dr. No. My father loved Dr. No's philosophy because, in addition to a strict, nearly fatless diet, he prescribed a two-day binge to precede the part where we’re stripped of dignity and personal freedom. I lost track of how many times my father and I jumped on and off the Crazy-Wheel. But the bulging paper grocery bags we’d haul home after a visit to Dr. No's office were filled with the building blocks of our two-day farewell feast. Things we promised (more adamantly each time) we would never eat again: pork chops, potatoes with butter, creamy cascades of Stouffer’s chipped beef over toasted white bread, chocolate marshmallow ice cream, crowned with a fluffy head of Cool Whip.

48 hours later, the menu did a 180: dry string beans and a soft boiled egg for breakfast; tuna splashed with cider vinegar for lunch; and a dinner of poached chicken breasts and iceberg lettuce. Halfway through the day I was dazed with both hunger and depression.

Why hasn't anyone been more vocal about stating what's obvious? That diets are just plain mean?

I could recite a laundry list of why dieting hasn’t worked for me, but probably the biggest clue that they’re a monumental set-up for failure is the way they begin: with a ‘life is over’ implication that’s about as appealing as being led to the execution room.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that this method (that is still inexplicably embedded in our collective psyche as a viable answer) is really the definition of futility. If dieting could have killed the part of me that loves food, is drawn to it, wrings pleasure from it, dieting would have done it…the first time around. It wasn’t until after my second 100-pound gain-back that I decided I would not be going back for more. That was in 1990. Not knowing what else to do, I did what I always did when I wasn’t dieting. I ate. A lot. True, I got bigger each year, but not having the schizophrenic agony of the crazed ‘in and out/off and on’ cycles to contend with brought a welcome sense of peace.

So no one is more surprised than I am that this past year saw a torrent of personal transformation that included dropping 130 pounds. This time though, I did it through listening to the intelligence of my body. It's probably hard to believe, but I actually forgot that my body is intelligent. I also did a lot of listening to Diamond Dallas Page of YRG Fitness (, Terri Lange, an amazing woman who has kept her weight off for 8 years, and nutritionist Bernadette Saviano of Atlanta, Ga.

I get asked lots of questions now about how I did it. And last week someone wanted to know if I had a ‘last supper.’ When I began this new way of eating, this new relationship to food, that didn’t even occur to me. In my mind, it would have been too much of an implication that I was beginning a diet. So there was no burgeoning banquet table awash in ‘parting is such sweet sorrow’ sentiment.

That’s because the foods I love have all been invited along for the ride. Yes, I’ve relegated them to a different position in the pecking order...downgraded their ticket, if you will. But they’re still in the picture. It’s a full picture now that includes exercise, feeling the feelings, experimenting with new flavors and textures (mashed rutabaga is actually really goooood), and respecting who I am: someone who loves fried chicken. There I SAID it. Man, it feels good to be out of the closet.


  1. I'm the one that asked Stacey about the "last meal" before going on her incredible journey of Owning Her Life. Reason I asked is because I too am learning to Own My Life, following the path Stacey has recently and amazingly travelled. She and I share a similar history of food events in our lives and never knew it until a month ago! Even though I had all intentions to feast and gorge myself on pasta, ice cream, pizza, etc before starting, it never happened. For some reason it just wasn't as exciting as it had been in the past. Must be a sign that this time around it's for real and it's for LIFE. I'm excited!

  2. Thank you, Stacey, for your willingness to share your "war stories" so openly. You serve as a source of inspiration, as well as a role model, to so many of us that join you on the diet battlefield.

  3. Yeah! At last a book that speaks to a DO-IT instead of a DIE-IT. No more counting calories and carbs and FAT. It was all a big lie, a guilt trip.

    We are FREE now. Making choices that the acid/alkaline nature of our self healing body. It is about RESPONSIBILITY but that implies the ability to respond. Food as medicine, not entertainment but we can have fun too as in discovering the deLIGHT of mashed rutabagas. LIVE FOOD. A world of wonder in every minute.

    Yeah, my Goddess Stacey!

  4. Keep up the good work, Stacey. You're an inspiration to all of us. Roasted turnips are darned good, too!

  5. I am so inspired to do the a HARD work when I hear my friends stories of weight loss. Now just into my 50's I "get it" why women in their middle ages stock it up in the middle. That said, I'm off to walk up my big hill.

  6. Great blog Stacey... Keep up the Great work... YOU will be an inspiration to Millions!

  7. Stacey,
    Your blog is outstanding. You are zeroing in on very important concepts that will be extremely helpful to those who need to take the lose weight journey. Bravo! keep up the good work!

  8. Your words encourage others to look inward and to seek a relationship with their body, how it functions, their brain and the messages it sends out and of course their relationship with food. Thank you for sharing how one can coexist in a healthy loving relationship with food, all kinds of food and its flavors, textures, color, and memories that it invokes. Thank you for sharing how you are living in a loving relationship with yourself and finally understanding that food is just another way to nuture and love your self because YOU ARE WORTH YOUR EFFORT! Terri "Athena" Lange

  9. Excellent blog piece. Hits home like a motherf@$ker. I seriously could not agree more. I've had more "last suppers" than I care to count, and they've done nothing but detriment to me. You really nailed the psychological element, too. And that’s the part that I never really thought about; the damage/failure set-up that “last suppers” cause in the dieter and instill in the diet. HILARIOUS that yours used to be doctor-prescribed, and let’s be honest…kind of scary, too. Tell me he's not still practicing. Congratulations on your tremendous success, and keep up the great work!!

  10. Stacey you truly inspire me :-). I too started my first diet early - age 9 - the youngest member of weight watchers. I traveled through doctor prescribed diet pills (aka speed) to gastric by-pass that nearly killed me. In the past year I've whittled down 30 lbs by simply stopping the extremes but eating what I want and trying to make healthier selections. This year, I will continue to make good choices and know that everytime I see you my vow is made stronger. Thank you!!

  11. Wow, you have such vivid way of writing, Stacey. I love the picture you paint. I can't tell you how much I identify with your dieting experiences. I have been floored by the changes you have made and knowing that it has to start from within is going to be the biggest challenge for me... but I have looked to you for inspiration and will continue to do so. I have a feeling you will continue to touch many, MANY more people with your powerful story and your further success. You are so inspiring! Thanks for sharing your story. It needs to be heard!!

  12. Stacey, you are a brave person, to come clean, and share your story, so generously and willingly. Thanks.

    I gained 17 pounds between December 15th and January 5th. Eating without thinking. Eating more than I needed. Eating out of greed. Eating because everything was there. And to be honest, eating to forget things happening around me. Did I say that?

    We eat the way we do, because of many reasons. And none of this could be solved in any one way, by a doctor, deitician or a pill. It takes a village to do things, and so it shall take a village to bring about change in our diets.

    We have all become who we are, and we eat as we do, because of the world we live in. Some have come to this world recently, as I did, 17 years ago, and fallen in love with it because of crazy reasons, a blog post in itself, and others have come to it from birth, living the life they were raised in.

    Why then would anyone expect change to happen overnight, is beyond my comprehension.

    Diets are fads. And diets are meant to fail. At least that is how I look at diets. They are not the way to go. What we need is a life lived more meaningfully. And in living a meaningful life, we will find meaning in who we are, and in doing that, we find self-worth, self-sutenance, and also awareness about our own brilliance. When we have that, food is not a crutch, it becomes a joy, one of several tools we emply for our enjoyment and for our more rounded sustenance.

    Food is NOT Fuel. I know we live in a society where that is the easiest way people can justify their lack of creativity in the kitchen, but that tragic reality is exactly what has brought us here.

    Whilst food is necessary for the body, it is important for us to be raised knowing there is fuel, and then there is the premium fuel, that is expensive, takes time, but ensures longeivty, and more personal strength in end. Too many parents have raised children with compromized living standards, feeding them in a way that encourages eating as a fueling of a car. In end people have been educated to eat like vacuum cleaners. Not even look to see what they are eating.

    You are what you eat... who said those words? I have no clue. But my grandparents and parents, said these words more times than I can remember. Always reminding us why it was important to eat as a family, eat at the family table, and eat with plenty of time for conversations and arguments and everything else that kids and adults could ponder over. There were no conversations too difficult at the table. Politics, religion, sex, jokes, testy conversations were all allowed. The elders at the table would play mediators if anything would go too far in any direction. But in allowing freedom of speech, they allwed a growth of the human mind, even in us very young kids, and we found joy in coming to the table. It was a place we thrived, and we learned, and we found freedom even school did not afford us. It was COOL!

    I hope that more kids are raised feeling their dining tables are cool. As then, what they are fed, will be of some value, and hopefully, that will stick for them for a long time.

    I wish you great success with all your endeavors around eating and living. I am sure you will come out with great success. Just be mindful of who you are, and where you live, and how you feel, and what affects you in which way, and you will never be at a loss.

    Wish you many wonderful meals, eaten carefully, enjoyed thoroughly and shared with loved ones. Happy 2010.


  13. Thank You Suvir, Jeff, Gayle, and everyone who shared themselves here. We're all on the journey together. I agree about the importance of connecting at the dinner table, as Suvir mentions. We're a society disconnected from one another and the results may seem insideous, but the damage is staggaring. I was delighted to see Oprah tackle the issue today. Peter Walsh intervened with a family who had become strangers to one another. Banished tv, internet, and texting for a week. Afterwards, they felt reborn. It's a start...Here's to much more eating while connecting (or is it connecting while eating?) this year, and beyond!

  14. Hey, Stacie,
    Love your blog--you are doing an amazing
    job and very inspiring. Go for the book,
    it will be awesome.

  15. Stacey, this is a wonderful post. Your beautifully articulated words are so familiar to me as we both appear to have very similar lifetime struggles with food, weight, fear, etc. A friend regularly tells me that when the pain of where you are now becomes greater than the fear of where you might go then one can take the first steps toward a healthier and happier life. As I reach that tipping point myself, I'm looking forward to following your journey in order to seek inspiration and support you in any way that I can.

  16. I have witnessed your incredible transformation of body and of mind and girl! you look gorgeous and you seem so centered which has me inspired more than anything because what it really comes down to is what is going on inside of us. What struck me most about your blog here is the analogy you make with the "Dead Man Walking" clip". I was taken aback by how you compare your past experience with food and the utter nightmare of a death by execution. I feel like an outsider not to have known the desperate depth that must have existed for you to make such a connection. I look forward to the book which will undoubtedly give words to the many men and women who have been searching to be understood.

  17. Stacey, this is you at your finest! Keep it up - you are going to inspire millions!
    - SerenaK

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  19. Stacey,

    I remember those diets as a teen, and those feelings associated with them.
    A wonderful writing job.

  20. You inspire me my dear friend!