The Good, The Bad, & The Oprah

I often start my keynotes with a story about my first professional acting audition. I totally blew the callback because I couldn’t bring myself to take a bite out of a burrito shell filled with lettuce. I didn’t know how many calories were in a lettuce burrito – and if I didn’t know how many calories I’d just consumed, I wouldn’t know how many extra minutes I’d have to spend on the treadmill to burn them off.

Most people admit to finding that a bit crazy. But after about 15 minutes, once I’ve demonstrated that – on some level – we all fundamentally believe we have to pay a price to eat (the price being exercise or weight gain) – most people reverse their opinions of my mental state. I was not crazy, just extreme perhaps. After all, it was lettuce – and it was just a bite. Which begs the questions – what if it wasn’t lettuce? And what if it wasn’t a bite? What if it were pizza? And what if, after a day of shooting, it ended up being an entire pizza? Where’s the line?

I’ve written extensively on how embracing a body-centered, relationship-based approach to health, weight loss and well-being (i.e. Happy Calories Don’t Count), frees us from these issues. There is no “line” to cross because there is no “price to pay” to eat. So this post is about something different.

Oprah Winfrey is easily one of the most famous and influential people in the world. And one of the things that contributed to her fame was her very public and very human battle with her weight. So I would think that someone with Oprah’s resources would be able to find freedom and peace from body image issues – to be able to create a body she loved with a lifestyle of freedom and joy around food. Now I don’t know Oprah personally and I cannot speak to any peace and freedom she may or may not have around body image and weight issues. What I do know is that her actions do not contribute to the healing and transformation of these issues on a cultural level – for the 93% of women who suffer deeply and painfully from weight and body issues.

When Oprah bought part of Weight Watchers, she aligned herself with a company that perpetuates the cultural dysfunction surrounding food and exercise. Rather than counting calories, participants count “points.” And as one Oprah commercial states, “You can turn it into a game.” Now of course, the company has tried to evolve with the times and create “flex” type programs and more “body positivity” and “lifestyle” plans. But the core dysfunction is within the name of the company itself! Weight Watchers! It’s the idea that you even need to “watch” your weight – that if you’re not careful, you’ll get fat.

Now Oprah has gotten into the food business. I just saw a commercial in which Oprah was pitching her latest venture, “Oh that’s good” Pizza. I find it interesting that out of any food item Oprah could launch, she chose pizza. It’s the exact same “bad” food I use as an example in my keynotes. (What if I’d been asked to eat pizza for my audition rather than lettuce?) But Oprah’s pizza isn’t “bad” – it’s “good.” It’s “good” because the crust is made out of cauliflower. And so it’s “loaded” with veggies. And even though they’ve “tweaked” traditional “bad” (yummy) pizza to be “good” for you, it tastes “Oh so good” you won’t even notice.

So this leads me to the conclusion that regardless of whether or not Oprah has found peace and freedom surrounding food, exercise, her body or her weight for herself, she certainly isn’t using her power or influence to heal these issues on a cultural level.

We live in a culture that suggests that we can – and should – control our body and our weight by controlling what we eat and controlling what we do for exercise. And none of Oprah’s ventures question that underlying premise.

Yes, we are responsible for what we eat. And we are responsible for what we do (or don’t) for exercise. But the fact that we are responsible for what we eat and what we do for exercise does not mean that we can therefore control our body and our weight through diet and exercise – that is a fallacy. This is the fallacy upon which the diet, exercise and fitness industries (including Oprah’s) base their business models. And it is the fallacy that is at the base of our body image shame and pain.

When we recognize this fallacy for what it is, we can release the pain and shame we feel around our bodies. And with the pain and shame gone, we can find peace. And in that peace we can begin to hear the wisdom and guidance of our bodies. And when we follow the wisdom and guidance of our bodies, we naturally optimize our health, vitality, well-being and joy. We create a body and a life we love.