I’ve been smitten with food—for better or worse—for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the South, where food was elevated to a quasi-religion. Every day was a food-drenched event, starting with hot biscuits and homemade butter, and ending with the inevitable peach cobbler.
Sunday afternoons, our post-church ritual centered on “dinner,” as the mid-day meal was called; friends gathered around tables groaning beneath baskets of cornbread, platters of fried chicken, pies and cakes by the dozen.
Most of the food came from our backyard: the beans and corn from the fields, tomatoes from my grandmother’s garden behind the kitchen, eggs from the chicken pen and baskets of blackberries and pecans gathered by my small cousins and me.
Inspired by the magic of growing plants, and having watched one chicken too many meet its demise in my grandmother’s kitchen, I became a vegetarian at the age of 11. I started reading and learning more about different diets—and doing way too much experimenting with my own body. Simultaneously, in the fiercely competitive environment of ballet dancing, I discovered starvation as a dieting tool. So by the time I was in college, the effects of years of erratic eating took their toll in a nearly devastating illness. That experience, coupled with the chance meeting of several deeply influential people who helped me heal my body and taught me about spirituality, health and the power of food, changed my life forever.
I spent the next 20 years devouring information about food and eating with the same enthusiasm I’d once reserved only for my grandmother’s blackberry cobbler and homemade peach ice cream. And through the fabric of my learning was woven a thread of spirituality.
I studied nutrition and culinary arts while living in ashrams and practicing pranayama; I traveled with famous musicians while writing my first books on food and nutrition; I started and sold companies while researching the psychology of eating; I appeared on nationally televised cooking shows and taught nutrition classes around the country while getting professionally certified in five different body-mind therapies. I walked on fire, did dozens of sweat lodges and sat for hundreds of hours in silent retreats, while trying to heal my own relationship with food.
And you know what?
I found a path, one that led me to a vast field of peace and acceptance. I learned that numbers don’t work, whether it’s the number of calories in a donut, the number on the bathroom scale, the number of crunches you did or miles you ran. I learned that I don’t have to be a certain size or shape to be happy, right now. And I learned that, when I stopped using food as entertainment, or pain relief, or spiritual fulfillment, I got better. And so can you.