The Great Binge

Oprah's raw confession (she gained 40 pounds!) strikes a chord with a nation reeling from the consequences of overindulgence and excessive consumption.

Oprah is technically always the cover subject of her magazine, O, but rarely does she reveal anything more than a bright new twin-set. In her newest issue, however, she acknowledges what anyone watching her show has probably noticed. She’s gained a few. Well, more than a few. Forty pounds, to be exact. And in a rather raw article, she admits that when she reached her goal weight a few years ago, her cockiness about her diet led her to feel invincible.

Oprah having a muffin top is not the same as a family losing their home—but the cravings that caused her to overindulge on éclairs are not so different from the ones that led us to binge on SUVs.

Oprah's story of overindulgence strikes an eerie chord in a nation struggling with the consequences of a massive credit binge. Oprah isn’t seriously damaged by the economy of course; the O empire is probably one of the few left in this country that John McCain could have legitimately referred to as fundamentally sound. But “just like us,” as Us Weekly would say, she’s spent the last few years gorging to the detriment of her overall health. While we we’re buying Jimmy Choos and Rolexes we couldn’t really afford, Oprah was apparently chowing down on carbs and sugar she didn’t really need.

It crept up on her, Oprah explains, after a thyroid imbalance made working out more difficult. Anxious and depressed about a couple of extra pounds, she spiraled into a familiar cycle. “It seemed as if the struggle I'd had with weight my entire adult life was now officially over. I felt completely defeated. I thought, ‘I give up. I give up. Fat wins.’” And isn’t the feeling of “screw it” you get when you find you can’t stop on a can of Pringles you’ve popped pretty much the same as the “screw it” feeling you experience when you’re at the counter of Bloomingdales buying a $500 red Blahniks? You know, because you already maxed out that other credit card buying the red Chloe bag? And so, what difference does it make now? Whatevs…

Every one of us, regardless of fortune, is subject to a personal economy of guilt and pleasure, and the laws of supply and demand are not so different from the dynamic of calories in-calories out.

Oprah explains that “Falling off the wagon isn't a weight issue; it's a love issue.” The point is, that despite her money, her mansion in Maui, and the lifestyle that has made pumping gas a mystery (she admitted on her “Road Trip” special last year that she hasn’t had to do it for herself since 1983—but who’s counting?) Oprah has an emotional void. And like Americans from every walk of life, she’s learned to substitute stuff for love. While the middle class spent the last few years trying to self-soothe by buying cashmere-iPoddy things that should have been off limits, Oprah, who has all that crap, had to reach for something else.

For Oprah, the damage was ultimately forty pounds, as she now admits to feeling “like a fat cow” at over two hundred big ones. For us, the numbers went the other way, but with no less shame. Bloated debt turned into lost life savings. The results are obviously different in scale—Oprah having a muffin top is not the same as a family losing their home—but the cravings that caused her to overindulge on éclairs (I’m only guessing on that detail) are not so different from the ones that led us to binge on SUVs.

Oprah concludes that her latest chub-battle has led her to adjust her weight objective. She’s no longer striving to be thin, she says, but simply to balance health with giving herself “the love and care” she needs. So 2009 finds Oprah and the rest of the country adjusting to a new resolve. None of us, no matter what the size of our wallets, can be perfect. But when we waver from our budgets, we’ll be downsizing our indulgences. For Oprah, that might mean a cookie instead of a whole cake; for the rest of us, perhaps a movie instead of an Escalade.

Jessi Klein is a writer and comedian who has frequently appeared on Comedy Central, CNN, VH1, and the Today show. She is currently writing a screenplay for Universal Studios, as well as occasionally drawing animals for her best friend's letterpress card company. She also likes to think she has value as a human being aside from her numerous credits in the entertainment industry.