Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
I've been struggling with my weight since I was 22. I'm now almost 49, and ready for the battle to be over. I've lost and gained too many times to count. I've used food to relieve stress, for comfort, and to momentarily stand in for joy.
In 2001, when I was having chest palpitations, I really started to understand that too much weight is too hard on your heart. I took my own advice and made the connection: There is no true love of self if you're abusing your health.
In the past, every time I'd started a weight loss regimen, it was out of vanity. But I'm not a vain person by nature—so it was difficult to maintain a healthy weight just to stay a certain size (preferably 8).
In 1988, the nation watched while I starved myself (using a liquid diet) for four months so I could fit into a pair of jeans. I got down to 145 pounds—and stayed there for one day before the regaining began. I reached my highest weight in 1992, wobbling around at 237 pounds.
I couldn't stand to look in a mirror or look strangers in the eye—I was that disappointed in myself. So I started working out with Bob Greene, who from the beginning told me that my issues were not about weight. Weight was the symptom of a much bigger problem: my unwillingness to fully love, support, and give to myself on a daily basis what I so freely give to others.
We worked out together for a year. I lost the weight. Ran a marathon, and, give or take ten pounds, kept it off for four years. Then came my beef trial and my devastating disappointment over the box office response to Beloved. I emotionally ate my way back to around 200 pounds. That was my weight in August 2001 when I walked into my doctor's office complaining of heart palpitations. My blood pressure was 180/90. My doctor gave me a grave look and said, "You need to lose weight." "Tell me something I don't know," I thought smugly. I didn't take her advice seriously. After all, I'd been heavier and had never felt my heart racing. I'd had perfect blood pressure—110/70—for years, even at my heaviest.
Then I ran across Dr. Christiane Northrup's book The Wisdom of Menopause, which suggested eliminating refined carbohydrates—sugar and all the white foods that immediately convert to sugar in the body. I cut out white rice, white pasta and white breads. I reduced my salt intake. My blood pressure dropped. My heart stopped racing. I could sleep through the night, so I had more strength to work out. And I lost ten pounds almost immediately. At that point, I wasn't trying to lose weight—I was trying not to die.
I talked with Bob, who suggested I take this special time in my life (approaching the Big M) to "nail it for good. You know that two of the most drastic effects of aging are the loss of muscle and bone—and strength training is one of the best ways to counter both of them."
I'd done weight training with him before, but hadn't been consistent, because I'd never really cared about building or preserving muscle. I just wanted to fit into a size 8.
But in January 2002, I got serious about weight-resistance training, and I've watched my body reshape itself. I alternate upper- and lower-body work at least five times a week. Sometimes I do two back-to-back days of full body, followed by a day off to recuperate, and repeat that cycle for a couple of weeks. I also do about 30 minutes of aerobics each day.
I've learned that you can look to other people and programs for inspiration to jump-start yourself, but you have to develop a plan that will work for your life. There are no shortcuts or secrets, no magic patches or pills. If you're reading this article, you've probably dieted and exercised enough to know the truth.
You've got to love yourself and do the work it takes to sustain your most powerful engine: good health. Without it, nothing else matters.
I've gotten a clean bill of health from my doctors—no cardio problems—but I'm still striving every day toward a healthier me. The side effect: I've now lost 33 pounds. I'm on no particular diet—I just eat smaller portions, and I still watch the refined carbohydrates. I favor fish, chicken, fruit, vegetables and lots of soups. And I don't eat after 7:30 p.m. Not even a grape.
I feel great. I'm sleeping well. I'm loving myself.