Editor's Note: Elizabeth Gilbert's book, Eat, Pray, Love, which came out in 2006, chronicled the author's physical and spiritual journey through Europe, India, and Southeast Asia after her painful divorce. The book stayed on the best-seller list for more than 155 weeks; the movie version opens in mid-August. WebMD the Magazine sent the acclaimed author questions recently -- about her relationships, her healthy-living philosophy, even her greatest fear -- and she wrote her responses, with the same insight, humor, and perspective that have made her books so popular.
Q: Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India, and Indonesia sold 7 million copies worldwide, and the highly anticipated movie based on your best-selling memoir hits theaters August 13, starring Julia Roberts. Why do you think the book touched a nerve with so many readers?
A: It's hard to know for sure why something like this goes viral, but -- from what I hear from readers -- it seems like the book has been a giant permission slip for a lot of women to allow themselves to ask questions about their own existence along the lines of "What happened to my joy?" and "What do I really want to do with my one wild and wonderful life?" The book seems to remind people of some divine and glorious aspect of themselves that they had forgotten to take care of as they moved through life -- or perhaps had never been taught how to take care of. And then slowly, delicately, they dare to explore that. I find it incredibly moving to be part of that exploration in other people's lives.
Q: What was your first reaction when you heard Julia Roberts would be playing you?
A: Slack-jawed wonderment. A sensation that has not yet passed, by the way.
Q: What self-revelation did you offer to help Roberts really "get" you on-screen?
A: I didn't offer her anything except permission to have fun inventing her own version of the character, and to feel free to run wild with it. I believe my exact words were: "Jump up and down on my story all day long if you wish -- it all belongs to you now."
Q: What's your healthy-living philosophy?
A: I have a list of 10 things, which I have found keep me happy and healthy, that I try to do every day. I can't say it's a prescription for everyone, but this is what works for my particular organism - - mind, body, and soul. When I take care of these things, everything else takes care of itself. Here is the list:
1. Take a walk.
2. Write something.
3. Read something.
4. Don't eat too much.
5. Spend some time in silence.
7. Send a message of love to somebody.
8. Drink water.
9. Mess around in the garden.
Q: What's your best health habit?
A: Walking. I come from a family of passionate walkers, and I bless my parents every day for instilling the love and habit of wandering into my bones. I don't think a day goes by in my life where I don't head off on some exploration of my habitat on foot -- wherever I am.
Once in a while, I'll go for a jog to try to stay in better shape, but I'm not sure I believe in running. Certainly my knees don't believe in it! I think everything you need for total heath (cardio fitness, muscle stretching, blood pressure reduction, meditation, interaction with beauty, time to reflect, a pause for problem solving, spiritual reflection) can be found at some point during a long walk.
I love the feeling of moving at a human pace -- the pace at which our bodies were designed to move -- and experiencing weather, animals, new cities, familiar faces, all from the vantage point of my own two feet rather than seeing the world zoom past from the window of a speeding car.
I specifically decided to live in a small town (designed in the middle of the 19th century, with no suburban sprawl) in which everything can be reached on foot. And so I spend most of my life walking from place to place. Whole days go by when I never go near a car, and I love that. I love my small and human-scaled town, and my small and human-scaled life. My dog loves it, too: He comes with me everywhere.
Q: Your worst?
A: Overeating whenever I am in the company of other people. Celebratory bingeing, I guess you could call it. I seem to always get overexcited when I'm around the festivities of sharing meals with others, and I lose control of my fork. When I'm alone, I have no trouble eating small portions of healthy food and never crave anything more. When I eat with my husband, I eat about twice as much food as I would eat alone. Add a few family members and friends into the mix and I really start to pack on the calories. It does seem to be a mathematical equation for me that the more people who are at the table, the more I stuff myself. I've never been quite able to figure out how to control this, but I'm working on it.
Q: What do you fear most?
A: Conflict, misunderstanding, severed relationships -- losing somebody because of hurt feelings or irreconcilable differences. Nothing causes me more anxiety. I am haunted by every friend I've ever lost and spend a great deal of my life tending to the relationships I have. I have a large network of people in my life, and I feel the tremors very deeply when somebody falls out of that circle. I do a lot of nurturing to keep that garden of community healthy -- but of course, there are always problems anyhow because we are human. But nothing breaks my heart more, and nothing causes me more distress.
Q: Eat, Pray, Love covers your experiences living in Italy, India, and Indonesia. Which of these three "I" nations' cuisine is your favorite?
A: It's funny -- as much as I praised (deservedly, of course) Italian cuisine, the truth is that I prefer Indian. Italian food is a representation of pure decadence to me, but Indian food is a marvel of complexity, a health-mind-body-spirit alchemy -- and the most amazing flavors. I was spoiled because I spent four months in an ashram where 10 middle-aged Indian women in a beautiful kitchen worked together the entire day -- while singing sacred chants -- to make the most amazing and healthy food I've ever experienced. Each meal was a revelation, and all of it was good for me. I'm not sure a mere civilian like me could ever learn how to cook anything close to what those angels turned out on a daily basis, but that is the food of my dreams.
Q: What's your guilty-pleasure, your oh-I-really-shouldn't food indulgence?
A: Anything that combines peanut butter and chocolate. That combo is pure crack cocaine for me. Just mentioning peanut butter and chocolate makes me want to run out and pawn my jewelry in order to buy some.
Q: What's the best health advice anyone has ever given you?
A: My friend Suzanne once told me, "Remember this forever, Liz: Just because you can do anything does not mean you can do everything." I have never forgotten it. I think it's something every woman needs to hear. It's time to back off from the crazy-making expectation that we should be able to do 7,000 things at once. Back off. Drop most of it. Let it go. It's an inhumane pace at which most of us live, and it will make you sick -- and make everyone around you sick, too.