Author Gives Herself One Year To Change Habits
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
You may have noticed that NPR has been taking a look at the obesity crisis. Programs across the network have been exploring how the growing number of Americans who struggle with their weight is affecting them and the country.
We decided to call sociologist and author Bertice Berry because she lost 146 pounds in less than a year. And she says those results are not the result of diet and exercise per se, but something more. She says the focus has to be not on getting thin, but on getting well.
And Bertice Berry joins us now to tell us more. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
Dr. BERTICE BERRY (Sociologist, Author): Thank you.
MARTIN: So, how did this start? How did your decision to, well, you don't call it a weight-loss plan. What do you call it? You call it a...
Dr. BERRY: No, no, I call it a wellness program. And it's a year to wellness, because, you know, six weeks, eight weeks, nine months, it takes so much longer to even change your mind and your thinking about how you feel. So for me, it started as a result of illness.
And a lot of times, when we're looking at weight, we're already looking at the illness manifesting itself. And so we don't think of it that way. We think of the weight as the problem, not the illness. But I knew I was sick, I knew I had some health challenges.
And so on Inauguration Day, I was watching President Obama's speech and I said, this is my day, I'm going to start getting well. And I was...
MARTIN: Really, just like that? You just sat there saying, this is -
Dr. BERRY: Just like that.
MARTIN: You immediately went from, if he can do it, I can do it?
Dr. BERRY: He said something about, no, he said something about, you know, America's got a lot of work to do and you can't expect the government to do it all. Individuals have to do it. That's what this country is founded on. And I was sitting there crying. My daughter was like, yeah, yeah, yeah, I know you're happy because a black man is finally president. And I'm like, no, I'm crying because this is my last bowl of popcorn with M&Ms in it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. BERRY: And I felt that if he was going to do something about health care, then I should meet him halfway with my own wellness. So that was it. If Barack Hussein Obama can be president, then Bertice Bessie Berry can get well.
MARTIN: Yes, ma'am. Well, you, I understand that you've had doctors tell you that you have to lose the weight to feel better mentally, but you decided it's the other way around.
Dr. BERRY: Yes. It's absolutely the other way around. And I - my daughter's pediatrician was the one who kind of enlightened me. She was large. He looked at the back of her neck and said, you see this row of dark bumps? That's a sign that she's genetically obese. And I said, what? You mean, you know this? And he said, yeah. I said, so what should I do? He said, do nothing. You just want her weight to stay the same and then it will average out and she'll be just fine.
He said, but if you start her on crazy diets and programs and this, that and the other, she's going to start yo-yoing like we've all done. And you're going to destroy the part of her mind that is healthy about her self image. And so he said it's a lot easier to heal the body when the mind is healthy. But if you destroy the mind, then the body is going to follow.
And so I got to thinking about it and I started researching, and I found studies that prove that diets don't work, that 85, 95 percent of the people who lose weight on diets gain back all the weight they've lost, plus 10 pounds. And so once I started looking at it and realizing that everybody's goal weight is exactly where they were when they first thought they were fat, you look back at those pictures and you go, well, why did I think I was fat?
And so a lot of it has to do with our perception of weight in this culture. Weight discrimination is everywhere. There's lots of content analysis studies that look at how we perceive fat, how we perceive weight. And so once we start to perceive ourselves as ugly because of our weight, we start this yo-yo effect that only makes us unhealthier.
It causes the metabolism to shut down. It causes all kinds of metabolic disease and what have you. You know, you starve yourself or over-exercise, then I'll be fine and then I can go back to my normal ways. Well, that just doesn't make sense.
MARTIN: Can I stop you there? I'm going to ask you to walk us through your plan, 'cause you've written a book about it. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Dr. Berry has blogged and given speeches but has not written a book about her wellness plan.]
Dr. BERRY: Yes. Yeah.
MARTIN: But I would like to ask you to go back and tell us why you think you were overweight to begin with.
Dr. BERRY: This is an interesting question, Michel, because I have been a strict vegetarian for 38 years.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Dr. BERRY: And to be obese vegetarian is like, are you kidding me? So I -strict vegetarian, I work out every day. Why am I fat? Why am I getting fatter? And I've come to see that those who care a lot, carry a lot. One day I had this crazy thing happen. And I think the universe speaks to us in all kinds of ways and we have to listen. And for me it was my sewage system kept backing up and then we found out after researching and digging and looking, the backflow valve on the system was not working.
And so all the stuff from everybody else's house was coming to my house. Immediately I looked at this and said, you know, this is what I'm doing in my own life. I'm doing everything I can to be well, but I'm taking on the stress and the problems and the worries of everybody in my life. And the moment I saw that, I was able to start unpacking this need to help everybody else do all their stuff without taking care of myself.
MARTIN: So tell us where you started. You started with a conviction that you're going to do this. Then what?
Dr. BERRY: Yes. Everybody has a conviction that they're going to do it, which is why the weight loss industry is a $30 billion a year industry. I think it takes more willpower to walk around obese than it does to go on a diet. People who are obese have been on every diet. That's why they're so big because they've gained back all that weight plus the weight on top of it.
And I, it's not just something that works with me. I talk to and kind of counsel people daily. The first part of it is I tell people you have to spend three days, however you want to do it, journaling, talking to yourself in the mirror, but throughout your day, think about how you feel about yourself. At the end of the three days they call me and they say, oh my god, I didn't know the things that I was carrying and thinking about myself. I didn't know the things that I tell myself on a daily basis.
MARTIN: So the first thing is, journal... Okay, so then you've done that, and the other thing you say is watch less TV. And then you say eat every two hours, why?
Dr. BERRY: Eat every two hours because, you know, Michel, you probably do it, you work all day, you got to go from this session to the next session to the next session, and you don't have time to fuel your body. And so then by the time you're on your way home, it's, like, please, quick, where's the fastest whatever I can get because I'm starved.
And so you get that meal, that one or two meals that we get during the day and then your metabolism says, hey, shut down because I don't know when I'm going to get another meal. Once I started eating every two hours, after two weeks of doing this, I no longer wanted starches. I no longer wanted fillers. I didn't want craving foods, the popcorn. You know, my pocketbook, if it doesn't have any money in it, it's got tons of food.
MARTIN: Really? Like what? What do you have in there now?
Dr. BERRY: There's an apple, there's a protein bar, there's some protein shake. Oh, there's some gluten-free something or something I'm going to have. There's a little bit of tofu salad that I prepared. That's what's in my bag.
MARTIN: All right.
Dr. BERRY: And there's bottles of water everywhere because a lot of times we're not hungry, we're thirsty.
Dr. BERRY: And if you add Crystal Light, it's no longer water.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Okay. The other thing you say, I think this might be a little tough for some people to hear, is first of all, reduce the stress, but also remove the toxic crazy people. And I think a lot of people might like to ask you how. Are you going to come by and pick them up? How am I supposed to do that, Bertice?
Dr. BERRY: People only know how to push your buttons because they're the ones who put them there. And once we start removing those buttons, they have nothing to push. And so you start to remove the toxic people by not allowing them, there's one woman who's doing the program, she said there is a woman who has called me every day for 18 years and we get on the phone and we would just, you know, just talk about everything that was wrong with the world.
And she said now I don't pick up the phone. And finally after two weeks of not answering her and she thinking that something was wrong, I answered and said, I don't have time. I don't have time. I'm working on something right now. And we find ourselves, it's not that you have to kick them out or send them away, but why is it that we engage? What is it about me that wants to engage in the gossip or talk about somebody else?
When I stopped, you know, watching less television, I didn't know what was going on with Tiger Woods. I was in the airport and he's on every channel and people were standing around. And I said, oh my god, did Tiger Woods die? And this guy goes, where have you been? And I said, the bathroom. You know, I had gone in the bathroom, came back and I thought he, you know, in the time he was gone. So, you know, I have come to see how much we fixate on the mess of somebody else so that we don't have to deal with our own stuff.
Dr. BERRY: And when we stop engaging people with their addictions, and it's -we're addicted to just drama and if the, you know, I say about my family sometimes we create drama so we can have something to star in. Well, if I spend more time with the mote in my own eye, I don't have time to see yours. So the only person you can change is you.
MARTIN: So, bring it all together for us as we, you know...
Dr. BERRY: It's not about looking for me and saying I don't like the way I look, it's saying I know I'm not healthy and I've got to get to the core of what this health is about. And so it's a wellness plan and the body will follow. We've put the onus and the problems of weight on big people. I'm saying it's not about looking somebody else's way of look, it's about getting well for you. Your best possible self.
MARTIN: Bertice Berry is a sociologist and author. Her latest book "A Year to Wellness" reflects on her weight loss journey. She lost 146 pounds in 10 months. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: "A Year to Wellness" is a workshop/presentation, not a book.]
Dr. BERRY: Yes.
MARTIN: And wrote about it. And she joined us from Georgia Public Radio in Savannah. Thanks so much for joining us.
Dr. BERRY: Thank you.