Articles & Interviews with Dr. Judi Hollis

Why Weight Loss Has Little To Do With What You Eat

June 20, 2012

Therapist, author and eating disorders expert, Dr. Judi Hollis makes an attention-getting argument in her new  book, From Bagels to Buddha, How I Found My Soul and Lost My  Fat. She says permanent weight loss has very little to do with what you  eat. Instead, as she discovered personally on her journey to losing 70 pounds  and keeping them off, it’s not about changing your diet at all. Go inward, clean  up your act, and that will clean up your eating, she says.

To find out more, we talked with Hollis, who has also appeared on OprahCNN and Inside Edition.

Congratulations on your new book. It’s interesting how you start out  by stating that Americans are adapting a “more is not enough” mantra in our  lives when it comes to food. Why do you think that is?

Well, the easy answer is because of the large portions we’re served, but the  deeper issue is that we don’t ever want to deprive ourselves of anything. You  can live without excess and you can live very simply, but we’re so programmed to  believe that we shouldn’t suffer any little inconvenience. We want to eat that  last string bean simply because we can. We’re a society of immediate  gratification, so no matter what, we want that last string bean.

So even if we’re full, we still want to eat because we don’t want to  deprive ourselves?

Yes, it’s this notion that “I have to get all that’s coming to me.” And “if I  pile that plate, I must have it all.” Food is really a substitute for not  getting what we really want in our lives, and that is connections with  others.

Do you mean human connections are what’s missing from our lives and  causing over-eating?

Yes, real honest connections and heart-to-heart connections. Attention must  be paid to each other, and it’s not anymore. As a therapist, I give them my  undivided attention to patients. They want my focus. It’s the whole, “I want  people to see me” that we long for. Instead, we are so busy with our lives that  we don’t do this. We keep piling more toys under the tree for our kids, and we  don’t take the time to listen and look at them anymore. Our lives are so busy  and scheduled, so the consequence for losing connections with others and  ourselves is that we self-medicate with food. As a result, we’re getting  fatter.

I love how you say that weight loss has nothing to do with what you  eat. What does weight loss have to do with?

Food does have a little to do with our weight, but it’s not soley about what  we eat. Even if someone gets thin, they get fat again because it’s not always  about the food. They don’t get to the underlying issues and connect with who  they are as a person. That takes having more honesty about who are you really.  Like for me, when I was trying to lose the weight, I had to realize that I’m not  as nice of a person as I thought I was. That was hard to take. You have to be  honest about your behavior too. For example, when you do something mean and  nasty, you must quickly apologize. Once I had to go back to a sales girl at  Macy’s the next day and apologize for my behavior. People ask why I did that,  and it’s because if I do things that make me feel good about myself, then I  don’t have to self-medicate with food. I had to clean up my act, and that  cleaned up my eating.

So you believe diet and exercise are not the answer to our obesity  problem?

It’s an incomplete answer, yes. But it’s not the only part of the story.  Getting your food in order gets you to the starting gate, but you have to do the  work to keep it off. People think that means continuing dieting, but really they  need to change, and that means changing their behavior and doing an in-depth  examination so you can’t live in that fat body anymore.

You talk a lot about spirituality in your book. Do you believe  Americans are lacking in spiritual connection?

Definitely. I’m not saying everyone has to be a Buddhist, but you have to  connect with yourself if you want to lose weight and keep it off. Find one way  of being that works for you. You can’t be willy-nilly running around getting  away with everything. Because after a while, you don’t get away with anything.  It shows up on your hips. Like, when I stopped stealing things, the portions  were big enough. The only way you’re going to be satisfied with food is when you  are satisfied with your own behavior.

When it comes to food, we tend to get the wires crossed between nourishment  and punishment. Instead of using food as a nourishment, we use it as a  punishment. But when you live a more spiritual life, you stop using food like  that.

What do we punish ourselves for?

Dishonesty, competition, haughty bitchiness, feeling better than others,  putting other people down, general drivenness. Instead of gentleness and quiet  in our lives, we have no quiet whatsoever. So someone inside us says, “Stop  that. Enough is enough.” And she needs to get attention with food. That inner  voice is really just asking us to be more real, more human.

By the way, what do you think of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to ban  large sugary drinks?

Well I don’t think much of it, to tell you the truth. Maybe he’s trying to  get people to be mindful, but banning these things is really absurd. If he  really wants to do it, he should ban all sugary drinks. That would be really get  people talking about sugar and addiction. Mostly, I think it’s an empty gesture  though, and I don’t think it’s going to do anything. The punative approach  doesn’t work in weight loss–it never has. We have to ignite the spark within  people who really want to have a better life right now, today–not the goal of 10  pounds from now. You need to think, what can I do today and what can I eat  today that’s going to make me feel better, more alive.

If you had one piece of advice for people wanting to lose weight,  what would it be?

Avoid cellophane. Meaning, eat regular whole foods and avoid anything that’s  in a package, box or wrapper. That should be your first step. When you start  eating more natural, you’ll feel more natural. That’s the whole premise of my  book. You want to move from that doughy place of being of overstuffed like a  bagel and to your Buddha nature, which is gentler inward  approach.


Online Articles:

“Feeding the Hole in the Soul” via The Huffington Post 

“Betty’s Gone…and with Her, a Call to Effective Treatment?” via


Below is a recent interview from the Fat Fallacy Website.

Sensible Solutions for Health in the Real World

Dr. Judi Hollis has been a pioneer in the war against obesity. Her best-selling book, Fat is a Family Affair, shed light on the way family relationships affect food obsessions and vice versa. Fat is a Family Affair is about to be re-released in a new, expanded edition, and Dr. Hollis took some time to talk with us about food, fat, and families.

Dr. Hollis, how did you get involved in this sort of work?

I wrote Fat is a Family Affair as a Ph.D. dissertation after founding the first eating disorders unit in the country. I saw the book as my swan song; I said what I had to say and was ready to change careers. Much to my surprise, however, the book took off and became a best-seller.

What’s changed in this new edition?

I’ve added a big section about mothers and daughters. This was the focus of my book Fat & Furious, and I felt it was important to include it here as well. Mother/daughter relationships are very significant-even when it’s a son who’s overweight, the relationship with the mother is very important. Occasionally the son will be filling in as a surrogate husband for the mother.

There are also updated “DOs” and “DON’Ts” for families. I see a lot of families, even more now than when I first wrote the book. Why did you shift the focus from food “addiction” to food “obsession”?

The first book was responsible for getting a lot of people to go to OA [Overeaters Anonymous], but I found they took the kernel of what I was saying and kind of made that a god. People decided to focus on the addictive aspect. Food is not the enemy; we are the enemy. We have met the enemy and he is us.

Also, when people talk about addictions, they get hung up on labels. They’ll look at a list and say “That’s not me” or “I don’t do that” and think they don’t need treatment.

I wanted to focus on dealing with the use of food as a drug of choice-the obsessional nature of food. Cravings, withdrawals, trying to deal with more. Some of the groups were getting hung up on things like the addictive nature of sugar to the exclusion of the whole picture.

What about sugar?

Watching out for sugar is important, but you have to downplay it a little-there are people who are completely sugar-free but who gain a hundred pounds because they eat a side of beef for dinner every night.

Atkins is great in that you need the satiety aspect of facts-but if any of these things are eaten in massive amounts, you’re in trouble. The other day at the store I actually saw sugar-free Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for sale!

What is your advice for new clients who have a lot of weight to lose?

At least in the beginning, I advise clients to stay away from sugar, as well as anything that boosts glycemic index, such as white flour-I know Dr. Clower and I disagree on this point.

After the initial period, is it possible to re-introduce some of these formerly forbidden foods?

Yes, I advocate re-introducing these foods in a limited way. Some of the groups I’ve helped to create have become very fanatical now, as if these people were alcoholics, saying that one bite of something is off the wagon and dangerous. And that hasn’t been my experience, or the experience of people I’ve worked with.

Your book focuses on the importance of mentoring.

Yes, the partnership with another person is very important. As you’re re-introducing foods, you might want to call your mentor and say, “I’m going to try having a dessert tonight. I’ll call you tomorrow and tell you how it went.” These choices need to be handled with a bit of respect, at least initially.

It’s important that people don’t find themselves in full-blown bingeing again. I’ve kept off 70 lbs. for 27 years now, and it’s all about how you get back on the horse. I still use a mentor occasionally. I tell my clients it’s like a rubber band-you let it stretch out a little, but then you need to tighten it up a little. Working with another person keeps you honest-you can call them up and say, “This is what I’m thinking of doing; is this a bad idea?” And they might tell you, “Tha”s a terrible idea.”

As AA says, an addict alone is in bad company. You can talk yourself into anything-even I do this sometimes. And it’s important to realize that it doesn’t matter how smart you are. You need guidelines so you don’t blow it altogether.

What’s the very first step in the weight loss journey?

Go to OA. It’s a chance to be in the company of people who understand how hard it is. It’s so hard in our society-people put down people who have problems with food and then say they should just learn to eat less. People keep saying how easy it is. It’s an illness, and it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done, and you have to do it without your best friend-food. You need to make a new best friend, and I recommend a sponsor or mentor in OA.

The second step is to walk around the block. None of this big join-the-gym stuff. Just lacing up your shoes is a miracle. And once you start moving, your body sends signals to your appetite about wanting to be healthy.

You also need to remember that family members fall into roles, positions they take to help them out. The whole family needs to see that there’s something for them in the current arrangement and develop a new style of relating. If the problem isn’t fixed, it will just keep repeating. For example, I know one woman who married seven alcoholics. I also work with a family that has three daughters-as soon as one is cured of her anorexia, it filters down to the next one. Everyone in the family needs to work together so that no one needs to stay sick.

How should people approach their relationship with food?

I believe it is self-indulgent to be guilty about your eating-it’s like wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Eat it and enjoy it, or feel bad and stop. People who binge and feel guilty are not enjoying it-this doesn’t let anyone be here now. Those people are already into tomorrow, thinking about how many miles they’ll have to run. I preach mindfulness and slowing down with food-guilt is just an indulgence.

Any final thoughts?

People need to realize that this is the world’s last great prejudice-you can’t call someone the “N-word,” but you still hear “you’re a big fat this, you’re a big fat that.” The fat person is already suffering. Treat them with love, support, and respect.

Consider asking the person, how it does it feel to be in that body? How is it for you? This is what you do in OA-people get a chance to talk. It’s good to just listen-we’re giving solutions. Encouragere all so busy t their struggle, and treat them with compassion.


The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, CA) | May 13, 2007, Section: Local, Page: 4B

Authors give to nonprofits

Judi Hollis,who wrote “Hot and Heavy – Finding your Soul through Food and Love.” Hollis, who is trim and attractive after overcoming a serious weight problem, compares food and sex addictions to alcohol. She has set up eating disorder clinics in hospitals and has appeared on “Oprah,” teaching families how to “make food consumption mindful, especially the first bite.” She also compares it to sex, saying the first 10 minutes should be savored, not rushed through. Hollis’s appearance was arranged by the Visiting Nurses Association’s nonprofit auxiliary, “The Nightengale Society,” which is seeking volunteers to help them grant specific, practical wishes to selected low-income families. The wishes range from clothes suitable for wearing to a funeral, to raising funds for a burial, to medical incidentals, or a fan for the bedroom of a sick child. Sometimes the family just needs new tires for their car, so they can make it to their doctor’s appointments. For more information on the Visiting Nurses Association call 773-6260 Then it was on to the O’Donnell golf course in Palm Springs where guest author, Stuart Woods,author of 34 books, signed copies of his latest, “Fresh Disasters.” The signing, sponsored by the Palm Springs Rotary Club,was tremendously successful and raised money to buy shoes for any child in the district who is unable to afford them. Over 23,000 pairs of shoes have been purchased and over $200,000 has been raised to keep the program going. Woods resides in New York and credits his work to his “wild fantasy and vivid imagination.” For information on Palm Springs Rotary Club: 323-8311.


The Desert Sun (Palm Springs, CA) | May 4, 2003

Food addiction is a family issue | Author: Pamela Henry; Freelance OK

“You are as fat as you are dishonest.”

This is the intriguing opener to Judi Hollis’s “Fat is a Family Affair,” a book first published in 1985 and reprinted by Hazelden this April. Hollis is a part-time desert resident and a pioneer in the field. She spoke recently as part of the spring “Alcohol and Other Drugs Awareness Hour” sponsored by the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage. She said the resurging interest in her book has to do with increasing national attention to what she calls America’s drug of choice: food. Our societal abuse of food brought another ominous warning last week when a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine linked obesity to more than 90,000 cancer deaths each year in America. One of the lead researchers, Eugenia Calle, told the Associated Press: “Until we accept that it is a bigger problem than one of individual discipline, we probably won’t be too successful in turning it around.” Hollis’s book is not a diet or weight-loss program for the family. Nor is it like the seemingly countless diet or weight-loss programs that fill bookstore shelves and paid programming TV slots. Rather, the book looks behind the food to family relationship dynamics and to recovering from addiction. “Fat is a family affair, because we’ve all been living with a dishonest person who sought to survive by living a lie,” she writes. “To win love and admiration, we acquired an `as if’ personality, becoming what others needed and losing a sense of inner self. When that true person cried out to be heard, we drowned it out with food.” To give up the love affair with food requires discovering new ways to love and be loved by others. Personality change is the only reprieve from food addiction, Hollis writes. “It is no accident that we see an epidemic of eating disorders in an age when youngsters are given so many conflicting messages about growing up to be responsible and at the same time remaining dependent and irresponsible,” she writes. “Eating disorders are the new way to remain a child and stay at home. Those who don’t remain dependent by abusing hard drugs find a more acceptable method in being addicted to food as their drug of choice.” Understanding and acceptance of the seriousness of an eating disorder as a lifelong chronic illness help the sufferer take necessary steps to recover. “You have to relate honestly or return to food addiction.” For local help with eating disorders, a convention open to the public will be held June 20-22 at the Palm Springs Hilton Hotel. “Oasis of Recovery” is sponsored by Region 2 of Overeaters Anonymous. For information, leave a message at 773-9173 or find a printable registration form online at .

Copyright (c) The Desert Sun. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.

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