Therapist, author and eating disorders expert, Dr. Judi Hollis makes an attention-getting argument in her new book, From Bagels to Buddha, How I Found My Soul and Lost My Fat. She says permanent weight loss has very little to do with what you eat. Instead, as she discovered personally on her journey to losing 70 pounds and keeping them off, it’s not about changing your diet at all. Go inward, clean up your act, and that will clean up your eating, she says.
To find out more, we talked with Hollis, who has also appeared on Oprah, CNN and Inside Edition.
Congratulations on your new book. It’s interesting how you start out by stating that Americans are adapting a “more is not enough” mantra in our lives when it comes to food. Why do you think that is?
Well, the easy answer is because of the large portions we’re served, but the deeper issue is that we don’t ever want to deprive ourselves of anything. You can live without excess and you can live very simply, but we’re so programmed to believe that we shouldn’t suffer any little inconvenience. We want to eat that last string bean simply because we can. We’re a society of immediate gratification, so no matter what, we want that last string bean.
So even if we’re full, we still want to eat because we don’t want to deprive ourselves?
Yes, it’s this notion that “I have to get all that’s coming to me.” And “if I pile that plate, I must have it all.” Food is really a substitute for not getting what we really want in our lives, and that is connections with others.
Do you mean human connections are what’s missing from our lives and causing over-eating?
Yes, real honest connections and heart-to-heart connections. Attention must be paid to each other, and it’s not anymore. As a therapist, I give them my undivided attention to patients. They want my focus. It’s the whole, “I want people to see me” that we long for. Instead, we are so busy with our lives that we don’t do this. We keep piling more toys under the tree for our kids, and we don’t take the time to listen and look at them anymore. Our lives are so busy and scheduled, so the consequence for losing connections with others and ourselves is that we self-medicate with food. As a result, we’re getting fatter.
I love how you say that weight loss has nothing to do with what you eat. What does weight loss have to do with?
Food does have a little to do with our weight, but it’s not soley about what we eat. Even if someone gets thin, they get fat again because it’s not always about the food. They don’t get to the underlying issues and connect with who they are as a person. That takes having more honesty about who are you really. Like for me, when I was trying to lose the weight, I had to realize that I’m not as nice of a person as I thought I was. That was hard to take. You have to be honest about your behavior too. For example, when you do something mean and nasty, you must quickly apologize. Once I had to go back to a sales girl at Macy’s the next day and apologize for my behavior. People ask why I did that, and it’s because if I do things that make me feel good about myself, then I don’t have to self-medicate with food. I had to clean up my act, and that cleaned up my eating.
So you believe diet and exercise are not the answer to our obesity problem?
It’s an incomplete answer, yes. But it’s not the only part of the story. Getting your food in order gets you to the starting gate, but you have to do the work to keep it off. People think that means continuing dieting, but really they need to change, and that means changing their behavior and doing an in-depth examination so you can’t live in that fat body anymore.
You talk a lot about spirituality in your book. Do you believe Americans are lacking in spiritual connection?
Definitely. I’m not saying everyone has to be a Buddhist, but you have to connect with yourself if you want to lose weight and keep it off. Find one way of being that works for you. You can’t be willy-nilly running around getting away with everything. Because after a while, you don’t get away with anything. It shows up on your hips. Like, when I stopped stealing things, the portions were big enough. The only way you’re going to be satisfied with food is when you are satisfied with your own behavior.
When it comes to food, we tend to get the wires crossed between nourishment and punishment. Instead of using food as a nourishment, we use it as a punishment. But when you live a more spiritual life, you stop using food like that.
What do we punish ourselves for?
Dishonesty, competition, haughty bitchiness, feeling better than others, putting other people down, general drivenness. Instead of gentleness and quiet in our lives, we have no quiet whatsoever. So someone inside us says, “Stop that. Enough is enough.” And she needs to get attention with food. That inner voice is really just asking us to be more real, more human.
By the way, what do you think of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to ban large sugary drinks?
Well I don’t think much of it, to tell you the truth. Maybe he’s trying to get people to be mindful, but banning these things is really absurd. If he really wants to do it, he should ban all sugary drinks. That would be really get people talking about sugar and addiction. Mostly, I think it’s an empty gesture though, and I don’t think it’s going to do anything. The punative approach doesn’t work in weight loss–it never has. We have to ignite the spark within people who really want to have a better life right now, today–not the goal of 10 pounds from now. You need to think, what can I do today and what can I eat today that’s going to make me feel better, more alive.
If you had one piece of advice for people wanting to lose weight, what would it be?
Avoid cellophane. Meaning, eat regular whole foods and avoid anything that’s in a package, box or wrapper. That should be your first step. When you start eating more natural, you’ll feel more natural. That’s the whole premise of my book. You want to move from that doughy place of being of overstuffed like a bagel and to your Buddha nature, which is gentler inward approach.