Skipping Second Helpings with Dayna Macy

The Berkeley author learned that food is not love.

How much is enough? How much is too much? These questions apply to philosophy, but also to eating. They’ve haunted Dayna Macy all her life.

In her new memoir, Ravenous: A Food Lover’s Journey from Obsession to Freedom, Macy describes a night when she was ten and her father stormed out of the house: “I open a can of black olives and put one on each finger of my left hand. One by one I eat them off each fingertip. When all five are gone, I pop another five onto my fingers and repeat the process until I’ve eaten them all. But I’m not done. Next I heat up a package of fifteen frozen assorted mini-pizzas in the oven. I eat the plain cheese, my least favorite, first.”

Decades later, as a married mother of two, she contemplates the olives she’s bought at a store near her North Berkeley home. Although they’re ostensibly for a party — “and at 48, 5’6″, and a size 18, I shouldn’t binge” — she can’t resist them, popping one after another into her mouth.

This is when she realizes that food has been her chief source of solace for too long, and that she must learn some deep lessons about limits.

“We live in a culture that disdains limits. We don’t like to be told ‘no,'” said Macy, who will be interviewed by Will Write for Food author Dianne Jacob at the Hillside Club (2286 Cedar St., Berkeley) on Thursday, February 3.

Striving to change, Macy examined her bonds with certain “trigger foods” such as olives, sausages, and cheese by watching these foods being manufactured. Her day at a slaughterhouse near Mount Shasta is one of the book’s most moving passages. “What I learned is that these foods are not love,” Macy said. “They’re food. One is not a substitute for the other. This realization is allowing me to create a different relationship with them.”

Such epiphanies, along with a rigorous yoga practice, helped Macy lose thirty pounds — but until she wrote the book’s second draft, she had no idea how it would end. “Many of us think that freedom can be found in having whatever we want when we want,” she wrote. “I know I used to. But now I see that with food, drawing boundaries around what and how much I eat keeps me healthy. … I’m freer, but I’m not fully free. I’m a work in progress.”

Another high point in the book comes when a nutrition scholar tells Macy unceremoniously, “You’re fat.” Macy agreed. “She was right, and dragging the ‘f’ word out of the closet was incredibly liberating,” the author said. “For me, freedom does not mean reaching a certain weight. Freedom also means letting go of the idea of perfection. … 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.” 7:30 p.m., $10-$15.


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