Mika Brzezinski, co-host of Morning Joe, released a book this week, Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction and My Own.  It made me want to tell a personal story.

Like most Americans, my relationship with food is complicated.  I once told a friend that if I won the Nobel Prize, my first thought would be about my weight.  He was shocked.  If you are a woman and don’t understand that feeling, I am jealous.

When I was a child, my abusive father used to call me fat.  He would “jokingly” poke at my stomach and call it “jellyroll.”  My two ways of dealing with the troubles in my personal life (you can read about some of that here) were books and food.  I ate a lot.  When I look back at the few pictures I have from then, I don’t see a morbidly obese child but that’s what I saw in the mirror and my self esteem was in the toilet.  I may have gotten a little chubby but nothing like what I thought.

In junior high school, a girl in my class spread a rumor that I was pregnant.  I was 14.  One morning on the bus she said, “We’ll know when you start gaining weight.”  One response I had was good — I played tennis for HOURS a day after school, it was a great stress release.  I also stopped eating.  One of my roles was to make sure we had the right food in the house and I just stopped. My father worked at night and he would get us dinner at a deli each night and most days that’s all I ate.  Unless I was at my grandmother’s house, I just didn’t bother.

Then I learned about bulimia.  Have all you want and lose weight!  That’s awesome.  I can write you a manual about what to eat or not eat if you are planning to puke later.  For instance, chocolate ice cream tastes the same coming up as going down but pizza is a killer.  This is NOT a “pro-ana” site so please don’t think I am telling people to gorge themselves on anything.

The year I turned 14 was a big one for me.  I discovered two things; beer and boys.  That just made the desire to be thin more intense.  My stomach was flat but it never felt flat enough.  A few years later, the crowd I “ran with” was much more interested in being thin than being healthy (if you read the piece above you’ll see we were also more interested in drugs and alcohol).  We congratulated each other for not eating or for purging if we did.

This attitude towards food, that eating was more of a reward than a life sustaining thing lasted until less than ten years ago.

There were two exceptions; Everest and Kilimanjaro.  When I trekked to the former’s base camp, I was in terrible shape (from campaigning).  One day we were climbing a hill and had to stop every five minutes.  After lunch, everything changed.  Breaking news! Food is fuel!On Kili, I had a similar experience.  Every day when we stopped I become colder than I have ever been in my life for about fifteen minutes.  I think it was when my body went from burning carbs to fat but that may be crazy talk.

In 2004, my life changed.  I had major stomach surgery.  It was not gastric bypass, it was a Billroth II (partial gastrectomy).  In English, that means the bottom third of my stomach was removed.  That completely changed my relationship with food because eating isn’t pleasurable anymore.  It also put me on a path where eating is not always necessary.  In 2004, I found I could literally go weeks without eating anything.  It’s true.  I spent most of that year in the hospital “NPO” — it stands for the Latin “nil per os” or in English, “nothing by mouth.”

Ever since then eating has been a challenge. Even if I enjoy while I am doing it, it hurts later.  That’s a problem I have now.  A few years ago, I took a really stressful job and found the way to deal with it was to do the opposite of what I did as a child. Rather than run to food,  I ran away.  The result has been weight loss.

The irony is that I look lighter than I am (the same person who told me not to lose weight, took my weight and didn’t tell me, per my request, but put it on the prescription she gave me — was that really necessary?).  I have to use a belt with pants that used to be too small for me to wear.  A medial professional told me on Thursday that my weight is “perfect.”  She said, “Don’t lose any more weight.”

The upside is that I have a new wardrobe.  The downside is pretty much everything else.  My physical health is terrible.  I am much better person when I weigh more.  I have seen sides of myself this year that I never knew existed.  I am not blaming my behavior on my weight loss, my actions are my fault and I take responsibility but the obsession with looking a certain way has done nothing good for me.

We live in a strange time.  We spend less of our income on food than ever before, yet the quality is lower than it has ever been.  Do we need endless pizza for $5?  No.  That’s not remotely good for us.  And don’t get me wrong, I love Egg McMufffins.  LOVE THEM.  We are addicted to food that is bad for us.

At the same time, we practically worship thin people.  Look at any woman’s magazine.  Girls are taught that’s what you should look like. Fat people are discriminated at work. I have noticed that all I have received about my weight loss is praise (ironically from some of the same people who want me to eat more can’t help but tell me how great I look, I still think I could lose 20 lbs but I think my brain is set on that you need to lose 20 lbs mindset, am working on changing that but it’s a process).

How are things today for me?  I bike almost every day.  This week I am going to add weights and yes, I still exercise during Morning Joe, which I do watch every day.  I am working on eating five or six small meals a day.  I don’t always succeed but I am working on it and I do eat every day (that’s a big deal for me).  Again, this is a process.  I am even eating meat (per doctors’ orders), though I suck at cooking it.

This is a hard thing for me to talk about but Ms. Brzezinski’s book and the discussion it has raised is important.  Thank you for starting it.

Last note:  Dear guys, this is not about you.  I have a lot of guy friends and my boyfriends have all told me the same thing, “Guys don’t want super thin women, you don’t have to lose weight.”  This isn’t about what you or anyone else sees when they look at me, it’s about what I see.  It’s called body dysmorphic disorder.  I have never been officially diagnosed with it but when I am wearing clothes that didn’t come close to fitting me before and I see a whale, there’s a disconnect.  I am working on it.  It’s still a process.

My “Morning Joe” week & my monthly call for civility in politics

I write posts like this often enough that I feel a bit like a broken record but I am not going to be deterred.

This morning, someone sent me an article that lambasted Bruce Springsteen’s “41 Shots” and said he supports the killing of cops.  He continued to say “IF YOU LIKE KILLING COPS, YOU ARE A LIBERAL DEMOCRAT.”  (Emphasis HIS)  As a liberal Democrat, who does not support cop killing but lived in NYC at the time of the incident that inspired that song I think the writer has really misunderstood the situation (in the interest of full disclosure, I will blog about my thoughts about that sometime this week).

If we are going to succeed at turning things in this country around, both parties need to stop seeing each other as adversaries and more like partners.  If our economy tanks this summer, for example, it won’t be only blue or red states that are hurt; it be all of us.

While this is not solely the media’s fault, it isn’t helping.  Shows where people yell over each other or merely wait for their turn to talk without listening – these are not discussions, they are debates.  And no one really learns anything.  That was my problem with “Crossfire.”  I knew where each person stood on each issue and it became a huge waste of my time.

One thing about the popularity of some shows now that baffles me is that I hate being yelled at.   I don’t want other people’s opinions screamed at me (after admitting my political affiliation, it should be a given that I am not a big fan of FOX News) but I don’t need to have my own yelled at me either.  I am pretty clear on where I stand; I don’t need Ed Schultz to holler it at me.  And for the record; Keith Olbermann makes my ears bleed.  When my TV yells at me, I end up yelling back and I really don’t need my neighbors to think I have lost it.

Joe Scarborough

And now we come to the “Morning Joe” portion of my point.  I love this show.  LOVE IT.  It has even eclipsed “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” (love that, too but I don’t watch it for three hours a day, five days a week.)  This is something that I never thought I would write.

The show’s creator, Joe Scarborough, is a former politician.  He was elected in 1994 to represent Florida’s first congressional district and was part of the “Republican Revolution” that year.  This was not a freshman class of moderate and liberal Republicans.  It was a bunch of fire breathing conservatives.  My first job was for Senator Feinstein (D-CA) and that’s where I was working when he took office.  From my side of the aisle, he looked a bit fringy.   I am not alone in this theory – he has said it, too.  One of my friend – a former Congressman himself, one who was the only member of the Conservative Party when he was in the House asked me, “How can YOU like Joe Scarborough he was a right-wing nut job in Congress!”

One belief that I will surrender only upon my death is one of the reasons I like Scarborough.  When I meet someone who is active politically, either on a professional or volunteer basis, I assume (until/unless I am given reason to think otherwise) that they are in this business for the same reason I am – to make the country and world a better place.  If you start conversations with people who disagree with you assuming that makes them Hitler, you are never going to get anywhere.  If you start from the position that your disagreements are more akin to having differing opinions about the route you should take to the same destination, you can have a real discussion.  Have you ever heard of someone thinking someone else was evil because you thought you should take one road to the grocery store and they thought you should go another way?  No?  Right, because it is a ridiculous thought.

Mika Brzezinski

“Morning Joe” provides these kinds of discussions.  From the hosts themselves – Scarborough, Mike Brzezinski and Willie Geist – to the guests they bring on, the topics they discuss and the atmosphere they provide, real ideas can be exchanged and I learn something every morning.  I have not been keeping track of how often I agree with Scarborough on his politics but it’s not often but then again, agreeing with me has never been a prerequisite for me liking someone.  I have no patience for that sort of thing.

Willie Geist

So why was this week more of a “Morning Joe” week?  Well, I’ll tell you.  (My job does require me to keep up on the news but even if it did not, I am a total political/news junkie and all around nerd, I know this already, no need to tweet me about it.)

On Wednesday, I went to a Politico event on Capitol Hill.  Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough were doing a book signing for her new book, “Knowing your value.”  I have never recommended a book as much as I recommend this one.  At first, I thought that I wanted to buy it for all the women I have ever – or will ever – meet but now I just want to buy it for the entire planet.  I was able to talk to both and it was really fun.  So when I was thinking about writing my monthly plea for people to remember we are all really on the same side, “Morning Joe” seemed like a good example of a way we can communicate and not just yell.   You can download part of the book from iTunes here.  You can also buy it from Amazon here.

As cheesy as this feels to end with, I often think about President Clinton’s line that “There’s nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what’s right with America.”  I think we can say the same about our political system.