hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


News April 2015


Start of a transformation: Accepting all 300 pounds of me

New Manchester library points a way forward for rural communities


Stacey Morris


There I was, on line at Albany International Airport, waiting to board a plane for Nashville on my maiden voyage as a freelance travel writer.

I’d recently departed the safety of a 9-to-5 job because I wanted more freedom. Now that I had it, I was terrified. It wasn’t flying I feared, but the dreaded task of squeezing my 330-pound body into an airline seat.

It was December 2006, and I was making good on the vow I’d taken to not let my weight stop me from living life. Looking back, I’m in awe of my bravery, because life at 300 pounds wasn’t easy.
The flight was predictably uncomfortable. I sat for most of the journey with my hips twisted at an angle to conform to the parameters of traveling coach. I was most grateful for the kind-hearted gentleman seated to the left of my aisle seat. If he minded that I spilled past his armrest, he was discreet about it.

A lifetime of dieting and failing at it prompted my live-your-life-anyway vow. As a child, I was mildly chubby but was teased for it anyway. I soon found myself using food as a comfort and escape. At home, safely away from the Greek chorus of insults, I ate out of shame and unexpressed rage.

Using food to soothe a throbbing emotion was a survival skill I acquired before I reached double digits in age. Because it was a skill interwoven with relief and enjoyment, it was easy to cultivate, and by age 10, I weighed 120 pounds.

That revelation was followed by a visit to a doctor who prescribed for me a crash diet consisting mostly of stewed vegetables and broiled protein. I felt my heart sink as he slid the typewritten list of permissible foods across his desk. It was a short and sterile itemization, and nowhere on it did I see butter. Ten days later, and much to my parents’ disappointment, I could take no more and retreated to the comfort zone of scrambled eggs with buttered toast.

It was the beginning of an on-again, off-again cycle of dieting and overeating that repeated throughout my school years. At age 17, I left the pain of school behind for good in a billowing yellow graduation gown and a weight of 230 pounds. During my 20s, there were two 100-pound weight losses induced by a toxic combination of white-knuckle willpower and self-loathing. Both times, I regained the weight, plus more.

Looking back, my cardinal mistake was in buying society’s hype that happiness equaled being thin. I had only fixed the “problem” externally. The excess weight was gone, but inside I still felt like the inadequate fat girl.

By age 30 I tipped the scales at 306 pounds. I was both horrified and worn out by the revelation. So what was a hardcore overeater to do? I gave up, took myself out of the race and decided I’d have more overall peace if I simply accepted myself.

Not only had I reached my limit with dieting, but my reserve of tolerance for size bigotry had been sucked dry by years of snide remarks and degrading comments. I began to question the entire equation and realized I deserved respect no matter what I looked like, no matter what the scale said.

On that voyage to Nashville I took in the Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Hall of Fame, Parthenon, and all the soul food I could get my hands on. Other travel assignments had me brazenly splashing on beaches in Puerto Rico and slathering myself in mud at the Dead Sea in Israel, and preparing French food at a cooking school in Wisconsin. At a pricey West Coast destination spa, I proudly took my place in line at Zumba class and shimmied side by side with picture-perfect housewives plus a celebrity or two.

The adventures were exhilarating, but the truth was, my weight was a burden. Walking, carrying luggage, taking stairs, climbing in and out of tour vans, and seating myself at restaurant banquettes were all more difficult thanks to schlepping nearly 200 extra pounds on my 5-foot-8-inch frame.

But I carried on this way another three years, until life delivered an unexpected wake-up call on Jan. 5, 2009. Through a serendipitously timed television show, I learned of the existence of a former professional wrestler by the name of Diamond Dallas Page who had morphed into a fitness guru to help out-of-shape people reclaim their lives and health through clean eating and his take on power yoga known as DDPYOGA.

Seeing the YouTube transformation of his most famous success story, a formerly obese and injured Gulf War veteran, Arthur Boorman, was all the information I needed.

After a lifetime of shame and harshness directed at myself in efforts to lose weight once and for all, it actually turned out to be that intangible fuel known as hope that turned me around. Seeing Boorman walk again after being on canes for 15 years signaled that I too could rehabilitate my body – if I was willing to work hard for it.

What I wasn’t willing to do were any of the old tricks that got me in the obesity hole in the first place. I wanted to cement habits I could live with and even enjoy. This new philosophy could in no way resemble a diet.

So I began cooking meals at home rather than living on fast food and inventory from the chips aisle. After 20 years of wearing black spandex leggings and trapeze tops, I was ready to take direction and combine it with my own wisdom. I ate when I was hungry and stopped when satisfied. I built my strength by doing DDPYOGA regularly, and later that year, I walked a marathon in New York.

My transformation also required an honest look at what drove me to overeat. For many years, three main life situations contributed to my misuse of food: a stressful office job, an unhappy relationship, and deep sadness over the process of losing my father to Alzheimer’s disease.
I didn’t deal with all three at once; that would have been overwhelming. But I decided it was time to wake up and face them. I remedied the job situation by quitting it to pursue my passion.
My boyfriend at the time was not a bad guy at all, but it was a relationship of safety and convenience for both of us. We knew it deep down but never touched the truth in terms of discussion. I chose to hide this way for decades, overeating to compensate for the emptiness I felt. In 2009, I finally found the courage to be truthful with him, and we parted as friends.
The last hurdle was the most painful: witnessing my father’s transition, and what a long one it was. He lay in a nursing home bed for nearly a decade, nonverbal and mumbling. My heart ached every time I visited him. For the first half of his illness, I ate myself into oblivion.
For the second half, I stood squarely in reality and waded through the feelings. I was there for my father and for myself like never before. And when his time finally came, I was able to embrace it and be there at his side, fully present with my tears, my sorrow, my gratitude.

I’m revealing all this to show what’s involved in lasting transformation. The diet industry wants to keep people like me trapped. I’m just another average hardcore overeater who made it out of the woods.

I’m living proof that it’s possible. Especially since I was 44 when I began -- the time in a woman’s life when metabolism is alleged to grind to a halt and from which life is said to go steadily downhill. In October I turned 50, and today I look and feel better than I did in my 20s.
I love being a smaller size, but I’m clear that it doesn’t make me a better person. I suffered too much with size bigotry to play that game. What it does make me is free.

I no longer panic when boarding a plane and love shopping for clothing. I wear any color I want and no longer have to settle for what fits. For 20 years it was black, head to toe, even during sweltering summer months. Heat waves, airplane seats, and delicate folding chairs no longer bring me to my knees.

I’m also in a relationship with one of the nicest guys on the planet – who is also a fabulous cook. Bill loves me for who I am and embraces who I was as well. We love creating tasty, healthy dishes together in the kitchen and decided to combine our recipe collection into a cookbook-memoir that tells my story and has more than 75 recipes that are non-damaging versions of some of my favorite comfort foods, such as eggplant parmigiana and chocolate cake.

Since I routinely get questions about how I did it, I mentor others, and I write blogs at www.staceymorris.com, and on The Huffington Post at www.huffingtonpost.com/stacey-morris. I had lots of support along the way during my transformation, and now it’s my turn to give it back.


Stacey Morris, a contributing writer to the Observer since 2004 and a native of Glens Falls, N.Y., is the author of a new book, “Clean Comfort: An Adventure in Food, Courage, and Healing. How I Went from 345 Lbs. to a Size 8 Without Surgery, Dieting, or Losing My Sanity.”

She will be speaking at the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza in Albany at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 25; and at Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls at 7 p.m. Monday, April 27. She’ll also conduct a cooking demonstration at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 11, at Healthy Living Market in Wilton, N.Y.
Her book is available at Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, Market Block Books in Troy, the Book House in Albany, and at www.staceymorriscleancomfort.com.