Ravenous: Dayna Macy faces her food obsessions

Author Dayna Macy/Photo: Victoria Yee

For much of her life Dayna Macy has had a complicated relationship with food.

An overeater who sought comfort in cheese, chocolate, and charcuterie, Macy watched as her weight began to balloon as she aged:  she went from being a size 10 as a young adult to a size 18 in her 40s.

She felt increasingly uncomfortable in her body, began experiencing weight-related health problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and danced around what she refers to as the “f” word.

The communications director at Yoga Journal didn’t like what was happening to her and wanted to figure out why food had such a powerful hold over her and what she could do about it.


With her longtime background in yoga —  she started studying the discipline in 1995 — Macy searched for balance on food matters. When she began writing for Yoga Journal’s “Eating Wisely” column; the irony was not lost on her: she ate too much and weighed too much.

True to her Berkeley roots, though, Macy ate good food — just lots of it. Dry-cured Moroccan olives, triple-cream French blue cheese, well-marbled, sustainably-raised sausage, fruit-infused bonbons with dark chocolate ganache. These are Macy’s go-to foods. (Locavore alert: She has subscribed to a CSA for years.)

Two years ago she decided something had to shift. So she spent time with farmers, food artisans, butchers, a Zen chef, a forager, and a chocolatier to better understand where her food comes from, why she obsesses about certain foods, and how nostalgia and tradition impact her food choices.

She learned that the foods that triggered overeating incidents were the same foods she’d sought out for comfort during an unhappy and uncertain childhood.

Still, knowledge alone wasn’t enough to loosen their powerful hold.

Macy had to find a mindful way to keep her weight in check and address her self-confessed addictive personality. And she did: to date she’s lost about 30 pounds and wears a size 12. Ravenous: A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom (Hay House) is her account of how she got there.

Berkeleysiders will recognize many characters in these pages; We meet sausage maker Scott Brennan from Cafe Rouge, baker Bill Briscoe of The Bread Workshop, and chocolatier Malina Lopez-Maggi, of The Xocolate Bar. Other local food identities who make an appearance include farmers’ market fixture Judith Redmond from Full Belly Farm, wild man Iso Rabins of forageSF, and cheese-maker Erika Scharfen of Redwood Hill Farm.

Macy, 50, whose essays have appeared in Salon, Self, and Yoga Journal, lives in North Berkeley with her husband, Salon co-founder Scott Rosenberg, and their twin boys.

She will be in conversation with Dianne Jacob on Thursday, February 3 at 7:30 p.m. for her book launch at The Hillside Club on Cedar Street in Berkeley.

We met last week for a chat at the Imperial Tea Court in North Berkeley.

Why did you decide to tell your story?

I’ve wanted to write this book since I was 12. I wanted to learn to eat in a way that would nourish me and keep me healthy but also keep my body in balance. I wanted to make peace with my appetite.

Does the world need another food memoir?

I don’t think of my story in those terms. Food is an emotional trip; it’s a universal experience we all share but we each have our own unique perspective on food and relationship to eating. It has been the biggest and thorniest knot for me to undo in my life, I’ve been overeating almost my entire life. I needed to write this book to free myself from its hold.

What lessons did you learn in writing about your struggles with food?

Food is wonderful and I’m grateful for all the good things I have to eat. But I’m finding the less I eat the more I enjoy it and I no longer attach romantic notions like food equals love to what I eat. My concerns around eating aren’t front and center anymore.

How have you changed the way you eat since writing this book?

I measure my food. I weigh it and then I record it in a journal. This is an approach that different weight loss programs also employ. For some this may feel like a diet or a tedious thing to do but it works for me.

So do you think of yourself as being on a diet?

No, that’s a word I never use. A diet is a temporary thing — something that you go on — which means it’s also something you go off. I’m on a journey and eating to me is a daily, mindful practice. It’s about balance, and balance isn’t something you turn on and off like a switch. I’m not trying to be a size 6, I’m trying to have a healthier relationship with food not only so I look and feel better but so I’ll be around to do all the things I want to do. I have young children. It’s important that I stay healthy.

 

Sea Salt oysters/Photo: Dayna Macy

What kind of relationship to food do your sons have?

They’re fraternal twins and their relationship to food is totally different. One doesn’t care about it and is not a big eater, which can be hard for a Jewish mother like me. The other has an appetite and a palate for food and is very adventurous. He’ll come with me to Sea Salt and eat 40 oysters.

What message do you want readers to take away from the book?

Be grateful for your body, no matter what your size. Our bodies are on temporary loan to us, and we need to care for them because they’re the vehicles with which we move through our lives. Your body isn’t the enemy and this isn’t a battle. Over time and with patience we can change habits that aren’t healthy. And, importantly: you’re not alone. Other people have these struggles too.

What’s next?

At midlife, I’m ravenous for something more than food. I’m hungry for freedom. I feel strong and at home in my body. Food doesn’t occupy the same mental space it once did. My mind is free to think about other things.

Sarah Henry is the voice behind Lettuce Eat Kale. You can follow her on Twitter and become a fan of Lettuce Eat Kale on Facebook.