Lisette Cifaldi

Finding a Sane Relationship with Food

by Elizabeth Skenes Millen    Photography by Dean Lapham

Lisette Cifaldi

Finding a Sane Relationship with Food


Lisette Cifaldi is a self-proclaimed professional dieter. Atkins, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, South Beach, Grapefruit, Cabbage Soup…you can’t name a diet she hasn’t tried. And, every single one of them worked—she lost weight. The only problem is she would gain it all back, plus some, when she stopped the diet plan. That was ten years ago. Since, she has landed on a different plan, lost 60 pounds and kept it all off.

Lisette was not an overweight child. Growing up on Hilton Head Island, she was a busy bee active in lots of outdoor activities, such as biking, cheerleading, and a multitude of watersports. Weight was never an issue for any of her family members, but somehow she was the unlucky one and fell victim to the infamous “freshman 15,” when she went to college. This proved to be the catalyst to more than 20 years of weight struggles.

Well into mid-life, Lisette found her self yo-yoing up and down the scale. Her closet was filled with a broad range of sizes from tiny to beyond extra-large. At 60 pounds over weight, this small-framed, five-foot one, smart lady had enough. She was worn-out, achy and lethargic; she hated herself. Her pivotal moment came when she was introducing the largest size yet to her closet, which brought on another diet. The problem: This time she couldn’t stick to it.

“I started a diet that I knew worked and I blew it by noon. By nighttime, I had ordered out, was disgustingly full and had a panic attack. Awareness came over me that I couldn’t stick to a diet for one day and it scared me. It scared me enough to do something different,” she said.

“Thinking about food and weight incessantly is a form of suffering,” said Lisette. “I had to find a sane relationship with food.” With a Bachelors degree in psychology and a Masters in social work, Lisette had the wherewithal to find a solution to her ever expanding, tortuous relationship with food. It became more than just an eating problem. “I had all thin friends and family, who all tried to help, which made me hate myself more. It isolates you. As you get bigger physically, your life gets smaller in every way,” she said.

She started researching food addiction and considered seeking out a 12-step program. In her career as a psychotherapist, she had worked with addictions in a psychiatric hospital. The thought of food addiction frightened her, but she was beginning to make the connection. In fact, looking at the science of it helped with the healing process and gave her a solid foundation for hope. She discovered the weight isn’t the problem; it’s a symptom of the problem.

She found she was addicted to sugar, which she likens to having a food allergy. Basically, her body cannot handle sweets—they affect her brain in an unhealthy way. They light up the pleasure center in her brain, which puts the addiction into monster mode, demanding more, more, more. There are certain foods that trigger addictive behaviors. For her, sugar is one of them. She would find herself putting a cookie in her mouth, as she was telling herself, “NO!” That’s what addiction is: Having the knowledge of doing something harmful to yourself, but doing it anyway.

Lisette decided to intern and train at the Harvard Mind/Body/Soul Institute. This enhanced everything she already knew and taught her so much more. “Our body isn’t who we are. It’s where we live,” she proclaimed. What a powerful lesson. When you can separate your body image from your self-worth, value and inner being, it becomes something much easier to cope with. Which is exactly what catapulted Lisette’s new career path.

After serving as Behavioral Health Director at The Hilton Head Health Institute, Lisette decided earlier this year to start her own coaching business, Eating Sanity. She now combines her education with her own journey to help others get food and weight under control. “I despise the suffering and toil being overweight takes on us. Developing a sane relationship with food is the beginning of getting it off and keeping it off,” said Lisette.

Her coaching helps people define the real problem and break it down into achievable steps. Lisette did this herself and finally won the overwhelming, all encompassing, never-ending battle. Ten years ago, Lisette got real and admitted her addiction, and it’s the best thing she’s ever done. It was the winning step to victory.

Up Close:

Love’s being a mom: Has two daughters: Gabrielle, 15; and Delaney, 12.
Not so sweet: She hasn’t eaten cake, candy, cookies, brownies, etc. in 10 years. No trail mix, either. Nope, she doesn’t miss them.
Totally conquered: Emotional eating!
Preach it: Lisette is a public speaker. Her favorite lecture is “How gratitude improves your health.” She also speaks on body image and emotional eating.
Favorite food indulgence: One of my mom’s delicious Italian meals!
Tedx Talk: Find Lisette’s Tedx talk, “Obesity=Unplugging,” on YouTube. It is excellent!
Most insightful line from her Tedx talk: Emotions have a life expectancy.
Contact her: