When Hungry, Eat


By the time my fortieth birthday loomed, I'd married, had two kids, left the

country of my birth for another and picked up plenty of baggage along the path.

I was long overdue for a spiritual spring-clean. But I couldn't very well take

a year off to meditate in an ashram. Who was going to make the lunch boxes?

So instead, I opted for doing something about the fatty

deposits on my rear end before they fossilised.

And that's where this story begins. Or so I thought.


A photo of herself in a bikini on her son's fifth birthday led Joanne Fedler

to take stock of her life. How had she reached a point where she

could barely look at her own body without cringing?

Armed only with the certainty that she did not want to be

'fat and forty', Joanne decided it was time to get rid of the

excess weight she'd been carrying for far too long.


While on a strict new eating plan in which she radically changed her relationship

with food, Joanne began to see it wasn't only kilos she needed to lose, but the

weight of the fear, guilt and anxiety she was lugging around in her heart.


In making friends with hunger and dropping a few dress sizes,

Joanne found greater peace not only with her body, but with herself,

her life and her adopted country. What began as a msision to get

back into a bikini became a journey towards acceptance.


When Hungry, Eat is a celebration of unexpected

spiritual insight, small portions and the gifts of hunger.


"Having fought her way out of painful and plainly very tough circumstances in her own beloved country, I am overjoyed to hear a story such as Joanne's struggle then eventual triumph. That a woman of such obvious character has embraced the wide brown land that daily nurtures my own soul is doubly satisfying."  

Bryce Courtenay


'Someone should canonize this book. 'The perfect combination of health advice and spirituality' is still a pathetically inadequate description of this offering by Joanne Fedler, author of Secret Mothers' Business. It is a golden nugget of autobiography, spiritual wisdom and health. Think Eat, Pray, Love but less self-centred. For the reader, the story begins when Fedler visits the Food Fascist, a personal weight loss manager who kickstarts her journey to lose the kilos acquired during her life as a South African human rights lawyer and mother of two children. For Fedler, the story begins when she is eight years old, pleading with God to bring her parents home safely in a storm. As the author leads the reader back and forth through moments of enlightenment, burden, devastating terror, genuine humour and everyday life, we being to see that weight loss - and spiritual enlightenment - has more to do with letting go of a life of accumulated hurt and untruth than detox diets. This book will appeal to women of all ages - and body-conscious young women should take it to heart. If Fedler's wisdom doesn't sell this book, her humour and charm will.'

                                                Rebecca Butterworth, Australian Bookseller and Publisher




Take a look at the third picture.

Yeah, that's me.

I'm healthy, got a great head of hair, two ridiculously gorgeous kids, a great husband, but the bikini?

I looked at that photograph and I said aloud, ‘that is not me' as if someone else were wearing my blue bathing suit and lighting my child's birthday candles. And I tore that photo up. Into tiny bits. (How fortunate I'd had doubles made to send to my mum. This picture just won't die).

How could a single photograph make someone who'd been a CEO of a not-for-profit organization and debated politicians on national television, feel like such a sunken human failure?

It had been a lethal cocktail of early motherhood, immigration to a new country, homesickness, housework, no friends and family, lots of laundry, no work and financial stress.

All I knew is that I didn't want to be fat and forty. I'd been to Weight Watchers and tried a dozen diets, nothing seemed to ‘work.' What had I been doing wrong? What piece of the personal transformation puzzle was I missing?

 So I muscled up and made an appointment with the Food Fascist.

She called me ‘obese.' She told me I was eating too much.

She told me to stop thinking about food and to make friends with hunger.

She was a bitch.

But - take another look at that picture - I knew that if I wanted things to change in my body, I had to try something different.


So how much did I lose and how long did it take?

After two years, I'd lost sixteen kilos and dropped 3 dress sizes. I could run, row, climb and lift heavy things without putting my back out. But the best part was how I felt. I felt strong, sexy and well.  


How did I do it? What's my secret?

I know you want to hear some little trick that just makes the weight fall off. I don't have one of those. What you don't want to hear is that it takes discipline and willpower and smaller portions to lose weight. But we all know this right? So there must be something else at play. And this mysterious ‘something else' is what I explored in When Hungry, Eat.

There is an engine that fuels discipline and willpower to eat smaller portions, and contrary to popular belief, it's not the mind. The mind is unreliable and a fabulous bullshitter and self-justifier. We have to move from a deeper place, somewhere in the region of our hearts.

The best analogy I can offer is to think about how we recover from loss. When someone we love leaves us or dies, it's terrible and painful and we grieve and hurt. There isn't a fast-forward button. We have to allow for the suffering and hold it. That takes a while. After some time, we are able to live without them, though we miss them and pine for them. And after a longer while - maybe years - we are able to think of them with fondness and are grateful we knew them. This is the journey the spirit needs to go through to be released.

Losing weight for me was about letting go, like leaving a country you love and all your best friends, and slowly making a home in a new place.


What do I suggest for people who want to effect dramatic change in their life?

‘Wanting' change is not the same as ‘making change.' You can't stand on the platform of ‘wanting,' and never get onto the train. To change our lives, we have to embody the change by putting our bodies where our mouths are. In my case, I had to feel hunger - literally. Hunger opened me to a new relationship with my body, where I learned to listen to it. To make change, we have to empty ourselves of what we want to let go of (an addiction, a bad relationship, the death of someone we love) and create space for something new. In spiritual terms, this is sometimes called ‘the dark night of the soul.' It hurts which is why most of us resist ‘making' change. But this emptiness (whether physical or spiritual), allows us to start again.


Can you still love food and lose weight?

Hell, yes. It's a fiction that the more we love something, the more of it we have to have. Imagine if you could only kiss the person you love ONCE in this lifetime. How would you take that kiss? Fast and furious, or would you stretch it out, slow and endless, would you taste it with every cell? That's how I eat these days. It's very passionate.


Am I happy with my body now or do I still want to lose more weight?

Funny how it's not about my body anymore. I know I'm in control of everything I put in my mouth. I'm not scared of hunger. I'm at home in my body.


Is that you on the cover of the book?

Sure it is. Okay it isn't. Take a look at the last picture - that's what the cover would have looked like if it was me.





Here are some of the principles I've learned in the course of my journey, reminding me that how I do anything is how I do everything:

1. When hungry, eat: Let your needs guide you.

2. Always ask: Make no assumptions. Come with a beginner's mind. Be open to what is strange and uncertain.

3. Make healthy choices: There are consequences to what and how we choose.

4. Thank the food: Everything we have is the result of sacrifices others have made. We can practice gratitude for whatever is in front of us.

5. There is always enough: Have faith that everything you need in this moment has been given. Trust that there will be more when you need it.

6. Savour the taste: Taste, like the breath, happens in the present moment. Celebrate every mouthful with the question: How is it for me?

7. Slow Down: The spaces between mouthfuls, the hunger between meals, grows our awareness of our true nature.

8. Digest: The body knows what to do. Trust it. Give it time.

9. Flush and Wash: Let go of what you don't need to hold onto anymore.

10. Begin Again: Come back, return, recommit.