Photo: Michael O'Neill
I still have the check I wrote to my first diet doctor—Baltimore, 1977. I was 23 years old, 148 pounds, a size 8, and I thought I was fat. The doctor put me on a 1,200-calorie regimen, and in less than two weeks I had lost ten pounds (there's nothing like the first time...). Two months later, I'd regained 12. Thus began the cycle of discontent, the struggle with my body. With myself.
I joined the dieting brigade—signing on for the Beverly Hills, Atkins, Scarsdale, Cabbage Soup, and even the Banana, Hot Dog, and Egg diets. What I didn't know is that with each diet, I was starving my muscles, slowing down my metabolism, and setting myself up to gain even more weight in the end. Around 1995, after years of yo-yoing, I finally realized that being grateful to my body, whatever shape it was in, was key to giving more love to myself.
Although I'd made the connection intellectually, living it was a different story. Then around last Christmas, after six months of unexplained heart palpitations, I finally got it. On December 19, 2001, I wrote in my journal: "One thing is for sure—having palpitations at night makes me more aware of being happy to awaken in the morning, more grateful for each day." I stopped taking my heart for granted and began thanking it for every beat it had ever given me. I marveled at the wonder of it: In 47 years, I'd never consciously given a thought to what my heart does, feeding oxygen to my lungs, liver, pancreas, even my brain, one beat at a time.
For so many years, I had let my heart down by not giving it the support it needed. Overeating. Overstressing. Overdoing. No wonder when I lay down at night it couldn't stop racing. I believe everything that happens in our lives has meaning, that each experience brings a message, if we're willing to hear it. So what was my speeding heart trying to tell me? I still didn't know the answer. Yet simply asking the question caused me to look at my body and how I had failed to honor it. How every diet I had ever been on was to fit into something—or just to fit in. Taking care of my heart, the life force of my body, had never been my priority.
I sat up in bed one crisp, sunny morning and made a vow to love my heart. To treat it with respect. To feed and nurture it. To work it out and then let it rest. Since December I've kept that vow, and my body has started to redefine itself. One night when I was getting out of the tub, I glanced in the full-length mirror. For the first time, I didn't begin my critical speech. I actually felt a warming sense of gratitude for what I saw. My hair braided, not a stitch of makeup on, face clean. My eyes bright, alive. My shoulders and neck strong and firm. Every part of me thankful to be here, living through this body.
I did a head-to-toe assessment, and though there was plenty of room for improvement, I no longer hated any part of myself, including the cellulite. I thought, This is the body you've been given—love what you've got. This is the face I was born with—the same lines I had under my eyes at age 2 have gotten deeper, but they're my lines. The same broad nose I tried to heighten when I was 8, by sleeping with a clothespin and two cotton balls on the sides, is the nose I've grown into. The full lips I used to pull in when smiling are now the lips I use to speak to millions of people every day—my lips need to be full. In that moment, as I stood before the mirror, I had my own "spiritual transformation / a root revival of love," which Carolyn M. Rodgers writes of in one of my favorite poems, "Some Me of Beauty."
What I know for sure is that the struggle is over. I've finally made peace with my body.
More of What Oprah Knows for Sure
From the August 2002 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!