In 1988, totally frustrated and up to 212 pounds, I turned to Optifast, a liquid diet supplement program. For four months, I ate not a single morsel of food. I lost fat—and muscle—and I dropped to 145 pounds. Now I know that it's impossible to starve your body for four months, then feed it, and not expect to regain the weight.
It would take seven more years of gaining and countless attempts to follow diets that I wasn't really prepared to stick to before I discovered the truth. In the meantime, I was racing through 200 shows a year, leaving my apartment at 6 a.m. and getting home at 10 p.m. My entire life was work.
In 1992 I won another Emmy for best talk show host. I had prayed that Phil Donahue would win so that I wouldn't have to embarrass myself by rolling my fat butt out of my seat and walking down the aisle to the stage. By now I'd reached the end of believing I could be thin, though I was scheduled to leave for Colorado the next day to visit yet another spa. At 237 pounds, I was the heaviest I'd ever been. I had filled journals with prayers to God to help me conquer my weight demon.
Bob Greene was the answer to my prayers. When I first met Bob at that last-ditch-effort spa in Colorado, I thought for sure he was judging and labeling me as I had already judged and labeled myself—fat and out of control. Bob, it turned out, wasn't judging me at all. He really understood.
But he did have some tough questions for me. One of them was the hardest question that anyone had ever asked me: What is the best life possible for you?
"You of all people in the world can have your life be what you want. Why don't you do it?" he asked. "What do you really want?"
"I want to be happy," I replied.
"Happy isn't a good enough answer. What does that mean? Break it down for me. When was the last time you were really happy?"
"When I was filming The Color Purple, seven years ago."
"What about filming The Color Purple made you happy?"
I didn't have to think to answer. "Doing that work filled me up. I was playing a character who was meaningful to me, surrounded by the brilliance of Alice Walker, Quincy Jones and Steven Spielberg. I was so charged and stimulated every day, I just wanted to do better and be better."
"So what would it take for you to have that feeling again?"
In answering that question, I realized that the show had gotten away from me. In order to stay competitive, we had become more and more salacious, covering topics like "My sister slept with my husband" and "Is my husband or my boss my baby's father?" I didn't want to put junk on the air that perpetuated dysfunction instead of resolving it. It wasn't who I wanted to be.
And so, while I worked out and changed what and how much I ate, managing the rest of my life became my real focus. I started asking myself the same questions Bob had asked me. For every circumstance, I asked myself:
"What do I want?"
"What kind of show do I want?"
"What kind of body do I want?"
"What do I want to give to all the people who are asking me for my attention, my time, my money?"
I finally made a decision about that last one. I set up trust funds with a finite amount of cash for the people to whom I wanted to give money. And to those with whom I had no connection, I said no and meant it. And just to be sure, I changed my home phone number. I've never visited a psychiatrist, but working with Bob has been priceless therapy.