“I think two things saved my life: acting and Pilates. Don’t mind me if I cry.” Actress, author, and speaker Carmela Ramaglia joins Zibby to discuss how she found her way out of the exercise and diet drama-land as she calls it, and steps to help other women get there, too. Carmela shares what she learned from living with an eating disorder, the lightbulb moments that helped shape her self-love journey, and why it is critical to listen to the wisdom of your own body.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Carmela. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight,” a health and wellness show about helping us all feel better in our bodies. Your book is so perfect, Food Is Not A Four-Letter Word. I was like, this is the best title ever.

Carmela Ramaglia: Thank you.

Zibby: Of course, I say that to you and you’re like, which one? I was like, okay. Happy Calories Don’t Count, also a great title.

Carmela: What’s funny is that I actually wrote it a couple of years ago. I wanted this one to actually do something, really transform our whole consciousness. So many of us just have this chronic — don’t feel good about ourselves because of our bodies. I really wanted this one to — I self-published the first one. I’m like, I want it to be New York Times number one, just so out there, make an impact. I actually started looking for literary agents and publishing houses to do the appropriate channels and everything. Everyone I talked to said, “I hate that title. That title’s so dumb. It doesn’t make any sense.” I’m like, okay, you are so not my audience.

Zibby: That’s funny. What did you end up doing?

Carmela: I ended up self-publishing again. COVID hit. I wasn’t teaching Pilates. The studio was closed. I was like, I can’t just sit around. Every time I would see something on social media or hear something on the news about the COVID-19 pounds and all the stuff people would talk about from the perspective of the diet and exercise model, it would just make me crazy. I’d get mad. I decided instead of getting mad at the TV or mad at the computer, I would just publish the book myself. Then at least that way, my message is out in the world. Then if people like it and they want to amplify it, yay, but at least I said my peace.

Zibby: There you go. I love that. I totally love it. In the beginning of your book, you were talking about how for you, the conclusion to your first book is obvious, what to do after the book, how to take what your messaging is and put it into practice. For you, that made so much sense. I was talking to my husband about this yesterday. When people say, this recipe is so easy, I’m like, well, it’s not easy if you don’t know how to cook. It’s really easy for the people who already know how to cook. For them, it seems like it’s totally basic. I feel like it’s sort of the same. You’re like, I knew what to do, but this book is about telling the rest of us what to do or what you’ve learned and all of that.

Carmela: What to do, yeah. It’s really interesting because part of the book, what I really wanted to do — I’ve had so much pain and drama around all of this stuff. I spent so many years in and out of hospitals for an eating disorder. I spent so many years doing the therapy and the law of attraction stuff and the spirituality. I was into A Course in Miracles for a really long time. I would mainline Marianne Williamson tapes before there were podcasts, before everything was streaming. You had to go to a lecture. Then her publishing company would record the lectures and put it out on an audiotape. I would scour the bookstores for these audiotapes I would listen to in my car. What I’ve noticed just through my own evolution and sort of coming through the other side of it, that we all use the same language, but it’s just so nuanced. I think that’s the really hard part in trying to learn how to come to that place. Like surrender, oh, surrender, what does that mean? Oh, acceptance. A lot of these words are tossed around. Love your body. Just love your body. It’s just all about loving yourself. Well, yeah, how do I do that? The nuance in the language about what the intention is, but also the nuance in the language about where the person who’s hearing the message is coming from. If they are in a place of pain and desperation that I was in for a very, very, very long time — I would hear things. Oh, you mean I can just say my mantra and bless my food and then all the drama will go away? Those things are true, but it’s at a deeper level. What I try to do is, step by step, get out of diet and exercise drama-land. Then everything else will make sense.

Zibby: Do you mind telling everybody more about the pain parts of life?

Carmela: Oh, my god, not at all. I think two things saved my life: acting and Pilates. Don’t mind me if I cry. I think this is one reason that I’m so excited to be on this show with you, because you specifically have a group of moms. My mom is awesome. She is the fiercest mama bear around. I love her so much. I love you, Grammy. I do. I love you. There was a culture in our extended family of, you needed to look a certain way. You needed to be a certain weight. There were comments all the time about what you looked like and whether you’ve gained weight or whether you’ve lost weight. It was always when you weren’t in the room. You always knew that it was happening to you because you heard it happen to everybody else, so much so that every woman in my family has some sort of issue with this. I was the one that, I guess I was just stubborn enough to keep going. Rational people, if you are doing a diet and exercise program and it starts to become painful, you kind of quit. I had in my head — I was a kid. As a kid, you don’t really have the nuance of what’s going on. It was just, eat less, move more. I’m like, okay, eat less, move more. I wanted Grammy’s love and approval. I wanted to be the perfect girl. I wanted everything to be okay. I would be okay. That was through my whole childhood, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager and had a little bit more autonomy that — I don’t how my little no junk food diet to look cute in my cheerleading uniform turned into anorexia to the extreme sense.

It was actually interesting. I was talking to a client the other day. I didn’t realize it at the time, it’s forty, fifty years later I’m realizing it, that the anorexia piece was a way to spite my dad. I am going to starve myself. I am going to commit suicide in front of you. You can’t do anything about it because I’m a really good girl. I’m not doing anything bad. You’re supposed to look good. You’re supposed to eat healthy. You’re supposed to be in shape. I’m doing all of those things. I ended up in the hospital. I spent about ten years on that track of going in and out of the hospitals because the doctors — what they did do was a very important job. They kept me at a medically stable weight. They kept me alive. That was a very important thing to do. They kept me alive. The thing that they did that was very painful and not helpful at all was try to heal an eating disorder from within the context of the diet and exercise model. That was the piece that it took me a really long time figure out. Hey, I’m at this medically stable weight. Hey, I’m doing all the therapy. How come I’m still in pain about my body? Then in my mid-twenties, I don’t know why, I shouldn’t have, but I started gaining weight. If you’re looking at that math equation of calories in, calories out, I shouldn’t be gaining weight. I’m being really careful about how much I’m eating and how much I’m exercising. I don’t want to gain weight and get fat, but oh, my god, if I lose weight, I know I’m back in the hospital. Can’t deal with that. I was really careful about it. I just started gaining weight.

That was really hard because I felt out of control. With the anorexia, when it was working, I had some sort of control over my body and my life. I felt like, hey, this is completely out of control in the scariest way possible. What would happen is the doctors would send me to therapy. The therapist thought I still had an eating disorder mindset because I was too focused on my body and my weight and I had body dysmorphia and all of this stuff, the stuff that would warrant a legitimate conversation in today’s society. Yeah, we all know about health, but how come we all feel like crap all the time? How come we have this anxiety, this monkey on our back all the time? No matter how much hair and makeup we put on and put on the fancy clothes and try to play the game, there’s just that whisper in the back of your head about, you’re not quite good enough. It took me a really long time to figure out because the doctors would bring it back to, well, just eat healthy. Just eat right. Exercise right. What really transformed me was — if you have an eating disorder, there are two parts of an eating disorder. There is the personality type that would cause the crazy dysfunction, like you’re going to kill yourself to begin with. There’s a subset of the population that has that. Then there’s everyone else, every other woman in the world. You might not be crazy enough to be like me, but you still have all of the junk that you have to deal with. What happened to me is, okay, I’m healing all of the mommy issues and the daddy issues, but I still got to deal with the junk. You’re not telling me how to deal with this. Here I am at a medically stable weight, and I’m still stressed out and anxious all the time. If I want to talk about this stuff that we all experience, because of my history, I’ve been labeled as body dysmorphia or having an eating disorder mindset or something like that when I’m legitimately saying, look, you’re telling me the rules of how to play this health game. Eat certain foods, do certain things, and you’ll be healthy. I am doing those rules, and I’m not getting the results.

I had a couple of dark nights of the soul. I think what really saved me from the anorexia piece — this is for people who are dealing with that kind of dysfunction. If you’re someone who loves them, there’s nothing you can say or do to make them change their mind. What needs to happen is from within them. They need to have something that they want more than the eating disorder. For me, that was acting. I wanted to be an actress more than I wanted to be the skinniest person in the room. I wrote about it in the book. I couldn’t take a freaking bite out of a lettuce burrito. It’s a lettuce burrito. There was another story where I was in college. I came home for spring break. My agent called and said, “Hey, they’re filming this movie called Singles in Seattle. They’ll be doing it while you’re home from spring break. Do you want to just go in and be an extra?” I’m like, “Sure, that sounds fun.” I’ve never been on a major movie set before. Call time was six AM. You never want to be late. I got up at two AM so I could work out for two hours, then an hour to do my hair and makeup, and then leave and get to set. For anyone who doesn’t know about what film sets are like, they’ve got tables and tables of food and drinks. I’m starving. I am seriously physically starving. It took every ounce of energy that I had to not eat.

I’m watching everything that’s happening. I’m like, there is no way I’m going to be able to hit my mark and say my line with any kind of authenticity or any kind of acting chops if I am working so hard just to not eat. In my acting classes, we’d have to create these scenarios. I’d be listening to what was going on in the head of this person. It seemed so deep and meaningful. The thing that made me upset was that I didn’t get my workout in that day. I’m like, girlfriend, you are crazy. We need to work on this. If you want something else, we need to work on this. That was the thing that I wanted more than the eating disorder. It will be different for everybody. It might be a relationship. It might be a child. It might be whatever, but you want something more than what this is giving you. No matter how they will try to diagnose and psychologically heal all of those issues, those issues are still there. Then you get to a point where, yeah, it’s a daddy issue. So what? This is serving me. You have an eating disorder because it is serving you in some way. You need something that you want more than that to be willing to give it up. Then the other piece was Pilates. I was very fortunate. It’s funny how they dovetail together because I found out about Pilates from a girl I was in a play with, so acting and Pilates together.

In Pilates, I hit it at a time before it was super popular, so there was only one studio in Seattle. There weren’t YouTube videos. There wasn’t a studio on every corner. I had no idea what it looked like. It was a really small studio. There weren’t any mirrors. All I could do was just go in and do what my instructor told me to do. Doing what my instructor told me to do, it was crazy, this thing where my body’s moving and it doesn’t hurt. She’s making me connect with my body. This is wild. Until then, working out was a way to beat up my body or to punish my body or to be mean to my body, hate myself, to try to burn off all those calories and all that stuff. With Pilates, I know if I would’ve tried to start Pilates today in the mindset that I was in before, I would’ve looked at it and said, that is so easy. That is not hard. I would’ve been a CrossFit girl. Then what’s funny now is that now in the place that I’m in, there’s no way I would even go close to CrossFit because I know that in my body, I can’t hold the alignment and the proper muscular engagement that I need to do to be effective and optimized in that kind of environment, that hardcore and that fast-paced. I’ve gotten a little wiser as I’ve gotten older.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, Carmela, what a story. Wow. In your plan for the layperson, what are some of the most important things? What seems so easy to you now in retrospect that might be challenging? What should we do?

Carmela: What I want you to do is something that I want you to not do, but you can’t do it if I don’t give you something else to do. The to-do is not going to make any sense until I tell you what not to do. What you got to do is you got to get out of diet drama-land. You’ve got to get out of thinking in terms of the diet and exercise model. I think everyone knows what I mean. You eat this. Exercise that. Balance it out. Eat good food. Exercise good ways. You’ll get your results. Got to stop thinking in those terms because, number one, it doesn’t work. Number two, it disconnects you from the wisdom of your body, which is really the key. Follow the guidance of your body. You don’t realize, and I didn’t realize until I kind of looked at it as a character study, we just think this on autopilot. It’s literally like being in the matrix. I need you to take the red pill. That’s what I need you to do. Every time you have a thought, every time you have a conversation, every time you read a magazine headline or you see the little “coming up next” on the screen about the little hook to keep you coming back after the commercial, every time you see something that has to do with weight, food, exercise, look at it critically and see if you don’t see how it goes into that diet and exercise model. It’s like, oh, emotional eating is bad because then you’re eating to upset this caloric balance sheet. You don’t want to do that. Oh, this is going to be a great workout because it’s going to burn so many calories, or your friend saying, oh, I really shouldn’t eat that, it’s okay I’ll run it off later. All of those kinds of things that we are living in, when I say it’s the matrix, I’m not joking.

I don’t think that there’s some wizard behind the green curtain. I think it’s organic evolution that has happened that we have this cultural idea. Then everybody uses this to market their products and services which then reinforces this idea because then we get this in our head. The entire fitness industry is like that. It’s interesting because I’m in the fitness industry. I just have to tune it out, tune it out, tune it out. To do a geeky Star Trek reference, shields up. You create your little bubble that that is not real. It’s not real for you. Then it sounds all woo-woo and metaphysics. What do you mean it can’t be real? This is hardcore 3D stuff. It’s like, no, it’s not. I am sure everyone, if you really stop and think about it, has had some sort of experience where you weren’t focused on your body and or weight for some reason. You were excited about a job promotion. You started a new relationship or something. You just weren’t thinking about it. The weight kind of came off a little bit. You don’t know why or how. Then there are times where you actively really try and really give it your best, that diet, that exercise program, whatever, and you don’t get any spectacular results. You might lose two pounds, if that. Then everybody’s thinking that you’re cheating. I’m like, no. The best metaphor I can generally say to people — hey, think about this. It doesn’t have to be woo-woo spirituality. If the diet and exercise model and how trainers and how the world is thinking about it in terms of, food is fuel — this is the new thing.

Think about food as fuel for your body. It’s this combustion engine. The exercise is the heat. You’re going to have this fire for your metabolism that’s going to burn really hot. You’re really going to burn all these calories. Anybody who’s been a Girl Scout or a Campfire Girl knows that you can’t make a fire with just fuel and heat. You need oxygen. Fire can’t be created in a vacuum. In that diet and exercise model, all anybody’s focused on is the fuel and the heat. What you think and feel and believe about things also really matters. If you’re miserable eating the salad, stop eating the salad, but you’re going to fight yourself on that because you’re in that diet and exercise model. That is going to be the hardest thing to do, but once you get out of that, you start to see things in a different perspective. It’s just practice, every time you have a thought. Here’s the other thing. This is why we all feel so awful. The diet and exercise model says that if you’re not the size or shape you want to be, you are unmotivated, undisciplined, or bad things. You’re lazy. You’re stupid. If we’re not the size or shape we want to be, we feel bad because we’ve kind of internalized this thing. That is a big fallacy.

Yes, you are responsible for what you eat. Yes, you are responsible for what you do for exercise. The fact that you’re responsible for what you eat and responsible for what you do for exercise does not mean that you can control the outcome. I see that in different industries in my own path of trying to figure this stuff out, attorneys, surgeons. An attorney can do everything right and make every perfect argument, and it’s up to a jury. Who knows what the jury’s going to do? They can’t control the outcome. A surgeon can do everything right by the book and still have a bad outcome. You are responsible for what you do, but you’re not responsible for the outcome. That creates two situations. One is like, oh, glory, hallelujah, it’s not my fault. Thank you. I’m not bad. The other one, if you’re like me, it would’ve totally freaked you out. Don’t tell me that. Don’t tell me that. I want to control my body. Don’t tell me that. If this is a group of moms, you already understand that on some level. Your body went through all of those changes as you were growing the babies and then having the babies. Now it’s a different kind of body. Also, you can do everything right as a mom, and you can’t control your kids. Be happy with you doing your best. Let everything else kind of fall away. That’s the first thing.

Zibby: That is so important to remember for every part of life. This applies to everything, not just eating. All we can do is work hard and do what we love and do as good a job. Everything else, it’s not up to us.

Carmela: Right. We forget that. We forget that, but then also, we fall victim to that. Again, nobody’s the bad guy. Because there’s an industry, there’s a weight loss industry, there’s a fitness industry, they’re going to use that idea that you can control the outcome if you just do the things we tell you to. This is the diet that’s going to help you control the outcome. This is the workout that’s going to help you control the outcome. It’s like, no, you got to remember that you can’t control the outcome.

Zibby: It’s so true. Carmela, I could talk to you all day about this stuff.

Carmela: I could too. I love this.

Zibby: I’m so sorry. I feel like we’re only scratching the surface here. You have such great ideas. I love your enthusiasm. I love that even in the book you’re like, I’m going to write the way I talk. Forget about pronouns. This is it. Enjoy my book. It’s open and honest the way you’ve been here today. All it’s going to do is just help more and more people. I’m glad you didn’t wait. It’s so great that it’s out there. I happen to also love this cover. I think it’s fantastic. Congratulations on this book. I encourage everybody listening to go get it, Food Is Not A Four-Letter Word, and get inspired by you and just get shifted back into a mindset that’s so easy to slip out of over the years. Thank you for sharing all of your great stuff. I’m sorry for the pain you’ve been through in your life, but thank you for turning that into something to help other people.

Carmela: Thank you. Thank you for having me. It’s been so much fun. I just love you.

Zibby: Aw. Thank you so much for coming on. I’m sorry it went by in two seconds.

Carmela: I know. It feels like it.

Zibby: Thank you.

Carmela: You’re welcome.

Zibby: Stay in touch.

Carmela: All right, you too. Bye.

Zibby: Bye.



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