Updated: May 3, 2021
During the summer of 1990, between my junior and senior years of high school, I flew to Milan, Italy. It was my first-ever flight across the ocean, and my second time on an airplane. I was going to be in Italy for two months, getting modeling bookings through my Italian agency.
I went on this trip by myself. I was nervous, but not scared. I did, however, wonder if I’d be bored during the seven-hour plane ride, and wished that I’d had someone to be with me on the flight.
As I walked down the aisle on the plane and found my assigned seat, there was a girl who looked to be about my age sitting in the seat next to mine. She, too, was by herself. I couldn’t believe my luck – I was hoping she’d be friendly, and she was.
“Hi, I’m Erin.”, she said.
What? We had the same name? I was immediately happier, and any nervousness I’d had was gone. We discovered that we were both going to be seniors in high school that fall, and we both loved art. She loved art so much, in fact, that the purpose of her trip to Italy was to study it in Florence with a group of fellow teens from all over the world. I wanted to follow along with her to study art, but I was committed to going to Italy to model. She was as envious of my reason for going to Italy as I was of hers.
We didn’t stop talking – or laughing! - during the entire seven-hour flight. She had packed a very large and heavy tote bag filled with books. Many of the books were art books which we perused together, ooh-ing and ahh-ing.
The flight attendant came by with packets of honey-roasted nuts. I asked for two, Erin took one. I ripped open the little bag, tilted my head back, and downed the whole packet in a few seconds. As I began to chew, I looked over at Erin, who hadn’t even opened her pack yet. She had a mildly disgusted look on her face as she said to me, “I think you need to learn The Art of Savoring. Did you even taste those peanuts?”
As I finished chewing, I laughed as I said to her, “I was hungry!” She replied, “I doubt you were as hungry as you appeared to be.” We both laughed. She reached down into her bag of books and pulled out one entitled, ‘Full Catastrophe Living’, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. I could see its many dog-eared pages as she flipped through it to find certain parts that she wanted to read to me. The word ‘mindfulness’ kept coming up, a word that was new to me.
Erin asked me to watch her as she opened her little package of honey-roasted nuts. After carefully opening it, she reached in to take out just one nut. When she finished thoroughly chewing and swallowing the peanut, mostly with her eyes closed, she calmly said, “Mmmmm…. I really enjoyed that honey-roasted nut."
As 17 year olds, we both chuckled. In all seriousness, however, it was a solid first lesson for me in both mindfulness and savoring. It was also my introduction to learning about and searching for mindfulness experts, scholars, and wise people such as Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, and Pema Chodron, to name a few.
What it mainly introduced me to was the fact that I needed to have a relationship with food. Everyone needs one, really, but when you’re a model, your body is your business - literally – which makes it crucial. Whether plus-sized or not, maintaining weight and keeping in shape is still a focus for every model. Eating disorders are rampant amongst models. There are severe cases, and not-so-severe. In my opinion, eating is 'disordered' when we don’t have a conscious relationship with food. (*article continues below photo)
As I continued year after year as a model, being aware of my health and my physique became more and more of a focus for me. A few years into modeling, I became a Vegan. I was a Vegan for four years (*and then stopped in 1994 when my obstetrician frowned upon that sort of diet for a pregnant woman, simply because he didn't know enough about it). During those four years, I thought about food a lot. It was uncommon to have a Vegan diet at that time, and even more uncommon for restaurants and grocery stores to have food that Vegans could eat which allowed for interesting choices. Mine was a relatively bland diet that didn’t offer much variety. I ate the same things over and over again. I was depriving myself big time, and that’s a great way to cultivate a poor relationship with food, which I did. Fortunately, it didn’t take me very long to realize that I needed to get a handle on my unhealthy focus on food, so I sought out books that helped me alter my focus. It's important to note that many of them were not even food-relationship-based, such as that book that Erin on the plane suggested, for example.
Every lasting love story involves being willing to learn and grow in the relationship. We all know that no relationship is ever perfect, but it is about intention. I, personally, intend to always learn as much as I can about my relationship with food. Below are some books that I have found insightful when it comes to cultivating a healthy relationship with food:
‘Full Catastrophe Living’, by Jon Kabat-Zinn
This is a book that I have revisited over and over again in the thirty years since it was published, and since Erin on the plane had introduced it to me in 1990! It was revised in 2013 with updated information. It’s a hefty book, with just one chapter focused on ‘Food Stress’, but the whole book encompasses Mindfulness, which is the basis of a healthy relationship with food. This book is the reason I became interested in having a healthy relationship with food so long ago.
‘A Return to Love’, and ‘A Woman’s Worth’, by Marianne Williamson
These two books are about self-discovery and self-love, in essence. They were published during an ideal time in my life to have discovered them - when I was entering adulthood / womanhood. While certainly not directly discussing one’s relationship with food, the central focuses are self-love, self-respect, and inner reflection. Cultivating these essential themes into our lives makes a relationship with food – and with anything, for that matter – healthier and clearer.
'Reviving Ophelia – Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls’, by Mary Pipher
Ahead of its time and written in 1994 by clinical psychologist Mary Pipher, the information in this book was as urgently important then as is it today. A revised version was published in 2019, and it discusses many updated topics, such as the impact that social media has on girls’ lives today. In terms of eating disorders, this book is as helpful for young women as it is for their parents. Mary Pipher has a nurturing and motherly way about her that I have found extremely reassuring over the years. This book gives us hope and the comfort of knowing that we’re not alone. Timeless, priceless, and vital information.
‘Ageless Body, Timeless Mind’, and ‘What Are You Hungry For?’, by Deepak Chopra
This brilliant man, an Indian medical doctor who eventually became less-than-enthralled with Western medicine, turned to alternative medicine and his Ayurvedic roots to complement what he had learned in traditional medical school. What I love about these books (and ALL of his books) is that they combine science with mindfulness.
'Savor', by Thich Nhat Hanh
This book is all about your relationship with food. It is best for people who want to lose weight. However, if losing weight is not a goal, it gets into having a conscious, mindful relationship with food, which is essential for anyone.
'Don't Bite the Hook', by Pema Chodron
Not a book about food or losing weight, but so helpful in terms of learning to stay centered and present in the face of our mindless habits (you know - like road rage or impulse shopping...and mindless eating fits into this, too). It's derived from Pema's Buddhist teachings that are designed to teach us how to step out of the "downward spiral of self-hatred", intended to awaken compassion within ourselves. You need not be a practicing Buddhist to glean comfort and knowledge from her books. She has such a down-to-earth way of relating to us all...she's incredible, really.
Geneen Roth has SEVERAL books on weight loss and one's relationship with food (among other topics). With titles like 'Feeding the Hungry Heart', ‘When Food is Love’, and 'Why Weight?', how could we not be curious about the knowledge she has to share, if we want a better relationship with food?
The common message amongst all of these books is that that our inner health and our outer health go hand-in-hand. Some people can learn to effectively manage their relationship with food on their own. Others, however, would feel better with more support. Here are some immensely helpful resources:
• OVEREATERS ANONYMOUS - https://oa.org – a community of people who through shared experience, strength, and hope are recovering from unhealthy relationships with food and body image.
• NATIONAL EATING DISORDERS ASSOCIATION (NEDA) –
support, resources, and treatment options for yourself or a loved one.
• ANAD – National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
They have a Helpline, AND free online support groups. anad.org