If you haven’t heard yet, you will soon—it’s everywhere in the media. Oprah has disclosed that she has regained weight she worked so hard to lose and that she now weighs 200lbs. My heart goes out to Oprah—as well as to the millions of women who struggle just like her. Today, on a morning news show, I watched two reporters banter back and forth about what they believe she should be doing to reach and maintain a lower weight. They discussed their certainty that slower weight loss, smaller meals, and more frequent exercise are just what Oprah needs. They rattled off new behaviors they think she could easily make permanent if she would just follow their advice. My husband just shook his head at them knowingly as my reaction started to show on my face.
It’s not about the food.
I can’t imagine how painful it must be to have the world discussing your weight struggles. As of this morning there were 830 articles on Google about Oprah’s newest admission of weight gain and I have no doubt that the number will more than double quickly.
It’s not about the food—and Oprah knows that. I’ve never spoken with Oprah, but I have worked with enough clients struggling with weight and food and emotional eating to know that Oprah almost certainly knows all those food and nutrition and healthy eating tips. Oprah knows how to exercise and Oprah knows how to lose weight. Oprah knows about the ways the body itself can make weight loss difficult (I understand that she also struggles with thyroid problems which can create havoc with metabolism, weight and energy levels). Oprah knows what she “should” be doing and Oprah might even lie awake at night beating herself up when those “shoulds” don’t come to fruition. That’s part of the vicious cycle. Unfortunately for Oprah, she has an audience of millions as she succeeds and fails and takes missteps.
Oprah is a very savvy woman with incredible power and extensive resources. She has accomplished amazing things. If this was easy, don’t you think she’d have crossed this off her list long ago? It’s not simply about knowing nutrition and exercise facts. Oprah knows that. Oprah acknowledges that she struggles with emotional eating.
Emotional eating is about using food for needs and feelings and situations that really have nothing to do with a physical hunger. Emotional eating is about turning to food because you don’t know what else to do or because the habit is so ingrained, that emotional cravings have become indistinguishable from physical hunger.
Nutrition and weight loss facts are an important part of the weight loss equation, but they aren’t the whole equation. If emotional eating is an issue and it isn’t addressed adequately, any diet or food plan will ultimately fail. Most weight loss plans neglect the issue entirely—or—they point out the problem of emotional eating (like it is a character flaw) and warn the dieter “to avoid it.” What emotional eaters need to know is how to avoid it and what to do instead.
When we approach weight loss without taking emotional eating into account, we’ve failed before we’ve started. No diet in the world is going to help us cope with tough emotions or situations. No food plan exists that will help us face stress or loneliness or boredom. Learning to identify our emotional hungers and respond to them without food is a skill that diets don’t address.
Perhaps the worst thing is that when we approach weight loss with a recipe that is missing a crucial ingredient and we don’t know it, we feel like failures when the recipe flops. When the diet (that never addressed the dieter’s emotional struggles with food) fails, we blame ourselves. We feel guilty and ashamed and awful about ourselves. And with weight, the struggle is all too visible. There is no place to hide. Especially for Oprah.
My hope for Oprah, and the millions who struggle just like her every day, is that they have the courage and the time and the space to take a breath and form a helpful game plan—a game plan that encompasses a lot more than calories and food choices.
Emotional eaters thrive and succeed with a game plan that is individualized and that honors their unique relationship with food, their vulnerabilities, their needs and their strengths. My hope for Oprah and all emotional eaters is that they are working with someone who is able to help them step back from their frustration and shame and self blame and approach this issue with a helpful dose of creativity and curiosity.
There is a way out of the emotional eating trap, but shame and guilt and self-blame will slam the door in your face. I hope that Oprah has a coach or a mentor who is helping her honor the strengths and the abilities and resources she already has and is guiding her in creating new tools and ways of coping.
I hope that Oprah finds a solution that lasts, both for her, and for the many who also live with weight loss struggles and who wake up many mornings mad at themselves and feeling hopeless and like they’ve failed. Whether she likes it or not, the world is watching. I know that Oprah knows that her struggle is not only about food and that focusing on the food is much too superficial. I wish that all the people commenting on it and covering the “story” did too.
Take good care,