To casual viewers of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, cohost Mika Brzezinski seems the ultimate in newswomanhood: sharp, sleek and always at the top of her game. She’s written best-selling books for women about balancing career and family and getting the paycheck you deserve. And now a book about . . . compulsive eating? Wait. What could this overachieving size 4 jock possibly know about the average woman’s struggles with food?
Plenty, it turns out. In the new book, Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction—and My Own, published by Weinstein Books, Mika reveals that since she was a young girl, food has been her best friend and her fiercest enemy. Growing up in a family in which intellectual rigor and self-discipline were the norm—her father is political scientist Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was Jimmy Carter’s national security -adviser—Mika believed that her compulsion to overeat and overexercise were “too trivial to mention” to her family. So she didn’t, choosing to fight her demons privately. Still, viewers watching her primly lecture her Morning Joe cohosts and guests on the importance of exercise and nutrition may have gotten a clue that there is something a little, well, restrictive about her attitude toward food.
But it was an off-air conversation, during Labor Day weekend 2011, that would change Mika’s life and that of her friend of 18 years, TV and radio personality Diane Smith. The two women, who are too busy to spend much time together, were out boating on Long Island Sound with their husbands. Diane, who then weighed 256 pounds, complained that it was hard to cook for Mika because she’d become too much of a “food Nazi.” What Mika heard Diane say was, “Things are so easy for you when it comes to food, and they’re not for me.” Mika then confessed that she secretly struggled with the desire to overeat. But that revelation was just the beginning of an honest exchange: Mika had long been concerned about the health and career consequences of Diane’s excess weight, and she picked that moment to tell her so.
Now imagine how this would feel: Your thinnest, most seemingly perfect friend says right to your face, “You are fat.” And the biggest surprise? A positive outcome ensued. After a heartfelt discussion, both women decided to change their approaches to eating and to document their metamorphoses in a book. Here are their stories.
MORE: Before writing the book, did you ever talk about your food struggles?
Mika Brzezinski: Never. It was too embarrassing. Here I was, the youngest in this brilliant family, always feeling like I couldn’t keep up—and I had this problem with thinking about food obsessively. No one else in my family had this problem; my mother would always say, “Have some self-discipline, Mika!” I thought eating was something I could control, unlike what I felt was a lack of intellect.
MORE: In the book you describe taking a sleeping pill and later eating Nutella with your hands in the middle of the night. But generally your bingeing had nothing to do with drugs.
MB: My specialty was eating entire boxes of cereal. My husband [WABC news reporter Jim Hoffer] would call me Jethro [from The Beverly Hillbillies] because he would watch me just devour a salad bowl of Cap’n Crunch. And I’d still be hungry after that. At work, if someone brought Dunkin’ Munchkins, I’d eat an entire 25-piece box. At a hotel, while traveling on business, I’d order room service for three people and eat everything. And I had all these weird ways of convincing myself that what I was eating was OK—like, I’d go for just the icing off the cupcake.