Dayna Macy C’81 found a satisfying, lasting way to call a truce with food.
[This is an expanded version of the interview that appears in the Fall 2011 issue of Drew Magazine. See below for a link to an excerpt of Macy’s book.]
Dayna Macy is communications director at Yoga Journal as well as the managing editor of the international edition. She’s the author of Ravenous: A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom. She lives in Berkeley, Calif., which she describes as an artisanal food capital.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
Many of the books that I read treated issues around weight and food as simply a matter of willpower. I’m a very willful person. If it were simply a matter of will, it would have been done. If it’s not just a matter of will, what else is there? And, of course, the rest is understanding and all that other good stuff like acceptance and kindness that I had to make my journey through. And the book is about that journey.
One of my big aha moments was on the yoga mat when I realized that everything I’ve wanted to achieve has taken commitment and practice. You have to show up every day. Why would my relationship with food and my body be any different?
You talk a lot about your “practice.”
I use the word practice because it means that I show up, that I do some work. This is where willpower comes in. You wake up, you commit yourself to your practice that day. Even if there have been times when I have truly overeaten, I still own it. I write it. I measure it, and I move on. One of the amazing gifts of this particular practice that I’ve come to is that a lot of the noise around weight and food decisions has been quieted down. I don’t go through gyrations every time I bite food because I know the range of calories I want to eat today. Within this range I need to make healthy choices. I have a piece or two of dark chocolate almost every day—really good French chocolate. I drink a cup of chai tea with it, and I’m really happy and I feel very satisfied.
What did you learn about being satisfied?
I wasn’t really with the food that was on my plate or in my mouth because I was always figuring out what was next. What am I going to eat next? What am I going to shop for next? I didn’t give myself the time or the space to be satisfied with what I was actually eating. And sometimes to even ask the question was I really enjoying it? So I practiced slowing down. I started looking at what it meant to be satisfied in terms of the taste of the food.
The chapter on fasting was so interesting.
It was a strained vegetable broth fast. The first day and a half I thought, oh, I’m good at this. And then the bottom fell out. The thing I learned is so basic that the Buddhists call it one of the four noble truths: Everything changes—contrary to platonic ideals, which I learned in college with Hans Morsink. Everything changes, and so cravings pass. But until you commit yourself to a practice that allows you to witness that, you might not know that. The big thing about practice is that it can allow you to take a step back and increase the space between impulse and action.
Cravings is an interesting word and an interesting energy. I used to have a craving for salami. Berkeley is one of the artisanal food capitals of the country, and needless to say there’s really good artisanal salamis out here, and I have one very particular favorite. So I was really hungry. But more so than hunger, anxiety was arising. I was craving that food. It’s a fatty, salty food, and it’s a good plug. Had I not been committed to observing it and writing about it, I might have gone out and dealt with my hunger that way. And I didn’t. It allowed me to experience that hunger is like waves. They come in to shore, they go out, come in, go out. And they go out—and stay out for awhile. That was important for me to experience.
You describe yourself over and over as an overeater. But you’re an overeater of such wonderful food. There aren’t any Little Debbie’s or Ding Dongs in this book.
I’m here to say, yes, it’s perfectly possible to get fat on fabulous food. There was this disconnect. Why was I eating all this wonderful food and still eating too much? That led me to do an inquiry on satisfaction, and I learned to be satisfied with less.
There’s an amazing dairy, an organic dairy out in West Marin. And they sell the most beautiful, dense, organic cream that you can imagine. Do you know what that’s like on top of Chez Panisse granola? With fresh berries? It’s an astounding thing. I don’t really eat that anymore. But if I were to eat that, I’d have a very small amount, and that would probably be my dessert for a couple of days.
I love the triple cream cheeses, and I also love the blues. Before, I would take a big piece of baguette and slather it with triple cream cheese and it is, I promise you, the most delicious thing ever. Now what I’ll do instead is make myself a big salad and sprinkle a tablespoon of blue cheese over it. Really good blue. I get my fix. I just get it differently.
What is the relationship between yoga and food for you?
I could have intellectually told you that the practice of yoga doesn’t end when you get off your yoga mat. But I was living it as if it did. And I realized you do the practice, you are present with what is on the mat. I realized, take that same awareness that you experience here and go forth into your eating life.
The more you work in your body and hold your positions and do your breathing and feel the movement of what could be called chi through your body, then what you also realize is you have to be much more aware of the food that you take into your body. I don’t eat much sugar. Certainly if I had anything sugary for breakfast, I would be a cranky, cranky girl. And I would also be a girl who would binge that day. I know this. I’ve lived it. And so now I do something different. That’s also the effect of my practice.—Sally Ann Flecker
Read an excerpt from Macy’s Ravenous: A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom.