It’s been a decade since Oprah Winfrey released her first book “Made in America.” Since then, the media mogul and billionaire philanthropist has published 18 more books, headlined four best-selling miniseries, and established a production company that’s brought her more than 300 episodes of her hit TV show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” While she may still grapple with her weight, the 79-year-old media mogul has kept busy in other ways.
Winfrey’s star has dimmed a bit in recent years. Sales of her most recent album, “Oprah’s Favorite Things,” were slightly lower than those of her previous album, according to Billboard. In 2018 alone, Forbes estimates her net worth to be just over $12 billion.
But the weight problem hasn’t gone away. In fact, as the New York Post’s Page Six blog noted, it’s been a decade since Winfrey released her last album and almost as long since she last graced the cover of a magazine. As she hits the high notes of her 20th book, “My Sister’s Keeper,” premiering April 19 on Netflix, she opens up about how she finally got her weight under control and why she thinks the rest of us should try it too.
The Low-Carbohydrate Approach
Winfrey’s story is quite the diet fable. She told Oprah’s Deep Dish correspondent, “If I had to do it all over again, I would probably try to limit the carbohydrates in my diet, because that’s what I think was the biggest problem, to be honest with you,” she said. “I felt like I needed to cut back on the carbohydrates, and so when I really did that, a lot of other things happened automatically, and it just took me a while to figure out how much I actually need.”
Cutting back on carbohydrates doesn’t mean giving up on good food entirely. Rather, you simply have to be smart about what kinds of carbohydrates you’re eating, explained Kelly Mercer, RD, a dietitian at the Mayo Clinic. “Even people who follow low-carbohydrate diets should still eat vegetables and fruits, which are fiber-rich carbohydrates. These are the carbohydrates our bodies need to function,” Mercer said. “If you’re not getting these vitamins and nutrients in sufficient amounts, you’re at risk for diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.”
As for the source of Winfrey’s carbohydrates in the past, she admits she wasn’t necessarily proud of them. “I would get most of my carbohydrates from stuff that was fast and easy — from white bread, pasta, and potatoes,” she said. “And then I would eat the dessert as a consolation prize, because it was something that was easy and convenient. But you know what, I actually really liked sweets as a kid, so it didn’t feel like a treat when I had a brownie or a cupcake.”
According to Mercer, this kind of behaviour is common among people who struggle with their weight. “They might overeat a little bit just to fill the void of not feeling loved and accepted enough by other people,” Mercer said. “Or it could be that they have an addiction to food that they really need to work through, or a psychological issue that they need to address.”
The Key To Breaking Addiction
Winfrey’s experience is similar to what many others go through when trying to kick a food addiction. When she was in her early 30s, she revealed in her 2004 autobiography, “Speaking Out”: “For years I punished myself with food. When I was feeling sad, I would overeat; when I was anxious, I would binge; when I was feeling bored, I would lose track of time eating. And then, when I was finally diagnosed with binge-eating disorder, I had hit rock bottom.”
Breaking Addictions, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of people with eating disorders, notes that one of the most vital things you need to do if you’re looking to lose weight is to make sure you address your addiction to food and replace it with a healthier, more sustainable habit. “The most important piece of advice when it comes to losing weight and eating healthily is to make sure you tackle your food addiction. This might mean you have to try a new way of eating or it might mean you have to cut down on the food you’re already eating,” said Erin O’Brien, co-founder and CEO of Breaking Addictions.
O’Brien advises anyone seeking to improve their health to look into holistic therapy, a type of counseling that considers not just your weight but also your mental and emotional state. “We’ve all heard of folate, which is good for the heart, and B12, which is good for the nervous system, but there are also other supplements that can help with a broad range of disorders. Some people feel that a deficiency of ferulic acid, a substance in the wall of plant cells, can contribute to a heart condition. There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that ferulic acid supplements can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease and improve the function of the blood vessels. So it’s important to look at what our bodies require and not just concentrate on what we want to avoid.”
How Oprah’s Changed Since Her Last Visit To The Doctor
When it comes to her weight, Oprah’s had a lot of ups and downs. As a child, she would periodically binge and purge. She remembers feeling frustrated when her weight would fluctuate between extremes, telling her parents, “I just don’t want to be fat.” In later years, she would work to build a healthy relationship with food and exercise, which largely consisted of taking classes at age 78. In 2014, she finally reached a place of acceptance with her body and reached out to her fans to ask for their support.
“I’ve been asked if I’ve ever felt better than I have now. And the honest answer is, no, not really. I still have days when I feel a little weak or tired. But the difference is, now when I do feel bad, I know why I’m feeling bad, and I can address it,” she said during her visit to Oprah’s Deep Dish in 2018. “I’ve always been embarrassed by my body, and I’ve never been comfortable with what it has to offer. But since my lowest weight was 200 pounds, I know there’s no sense in avoiding the fact that I have an extraordinary body just because it doesn’t conform to the stereotypes of the ‘perfect’ woman.””
“When I was 24, I weighed 400 pounds. I was so unhappy with myself that I made myself a promise that if I ever got divorced, I would commit suicide. I took all of my clothes off and laid in bed, and for the first time in my life, I looked at myself and was like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing! What a wonderful body!”” she continued. “It was like someone had switched on a light. From that moment on, everything changed. I decided that if I was ever going to be happy, I had to be able to accept myself, whatever my weight might be. And that’s what I’ve been working on, little by little, for the past 10 years.”
These days, Oprah eats a variety of fruits and vegetables, along with some grains and dairy, and takes an hour-long walk every day. She also tries to keep her social media posts positive, sharing inspiring stories and images of people who reflect her own positive attitude. “I think what helped me the most is seeing other people,” she said. “On social media, I’ll see somebody who has an amazing smile, and I think ‘Well, I could have something like that’ and ‘I could make my life like that.’ So it’s not so much about what I want, but more about what I can do and be that something positive for somebody else.”
The Ultimate Self-Care Regimen
While many people try to lose weight as a way to better health, creating a healthier environment for themselves, the 78-year-old media mogul has gone the other direction, using her health problems as a catalyst for change. In 2019, she released an album of cover songs titled, “Songs From the Summit,” featuring musicians including Leonard Cohen, Chris Stapleton, and Alicia Keys.
The music industry veteran credits her daughter Shania Twain for encouraging her to “follow my heart and my instincts.” As she noted in a tweet at the time: “Shania always believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself. She gave me the confidence to follow my heart. And when I did that, everything changed.”