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Reader’s Guide

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  • What was your first impression of the title Magnificent Obesity? What sort of book did it suggest to you?
  • Did you find the use of the word obesity uncomfortable or off-putting?
  • What is your impression of the title now? (Return to this question when done.)

I have always tried to make room for anything that wanted to come to me from within. Carl Jung

  • Although influenced by external factors, the book’s real action originates from within and remains a tale of slow, painstaking, personal growth. What are some of the signals, manifestations and messages from her psyche as well as her body that Martha makes room for?
  • Have you had a similar “wake-up” call? What did you think was being conveyed? Did you see it as a mandate or opportunity to make significant changes in your behavior or life choices?
  • In the book Martha tries to understand who she has become in mid-life by connecting the dots between her panic disorder, her reluctant atheism, her addictive behaviors and the unavoidable onset of aging. Can you comment on this attempt to connect the dots?


  • Anxiety has been described as an existential fear of self, of who we are and how we feel as human beings. Have you experienced anxiety as this fear of self?
  • Discuss and share your own anxiety attacks, panic attacks and phobias. Did you ever wonder if they were trying to protect you and if so, from what? How much of your anxiety would you attribute to nature and how much to nurture? What methods do you find most effective in managing your distress?
  • Magnificent Obesity contains many quotations. Which one resonated most with you? Martha manages her anxiety with mantras, rituals, visualizations and affirmations. Which ones could you relate to? What are some of your own? Do you have a favorite quote that you carry around with you or draw strength from in times of stress or need?


  • Much has been made of the distinction between being religious and being spiritual. What does the distinction mean to you?
  • How do your spiritual beliefs shape your life, from living day-to-day to experiencing overall purpose and meaning?
  • What does Martha mean when she says she is fighting for her soul?
  • Discuss the role of community, or lack thereof, throughout the book. Consider family, friends, best friends and “gangs,” and the sense of belonging to a “tribe’, from the town or city where one lives to church, clubs and organizations.
  • How did the behavior of Martha’s parents, her mother in particular, contribute to her persistent fear of abandonment?
  • How does her community offset that fear and where does she find her most effective support systems? Where do you?


  • How does Martha’s fear of abandonment contribute to her addictions?
  • If you feel comfortable doing so, discuss your own addictions, past and present. How have they affected your ability to achieve your goals or to be the person you want to be?
  • Have you ever participated in a Twelve-Step Program? What was/is your experience?
  • More specifically, have you ever participated in a weight loss program or tried to observe a strict diet? What was/is your experience?
  • Have you ever been fat shamed? Do you consider it an effective tactic in encouraging a person to appraise his or her weight? Or do you see it as harmful?
  • Have you ever been bullied? How do you protect yourself (or your child) from the experience?
  • Discuss our culture’s war on obesity, its unrealistic ideals of beauty and its interference with the development of one’s body image. Discuss how one’s body image effects self-esteem, behaviors and performance in life.
  • What does Alec mean when he tells Martha, “The food is your way of keeping God out?”

The last great freedom of man is the freedom to choose his attitude under any given set of circumstances. ~ Victor Frankel

  • Discuss the pros and cons of being single. Do you share Martha’s concern that marriage would interfere with the ability to live her own life?
  • If interested, find out more about the “second brain” and discuss.
  • Do you agree with Martha that the only way to truly heal and become whole is to grieve, to fully experience the pain of one’s past and that the best way out is through?
  • Martha lists four kinds of pain. Can you relate to them? Can you elaborate or add to them?
  • Can you follow Martha’s progression from being ruled by a victim mentality to experiencing the freedom to choose her attitudes?

What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it. ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez

  • In discussing her childhood trauma and experiences, Martha reflects on the dichotomy between This is What We Did and This is How it Felt. Do you agree with her therapist when he tells her that her relationship with food will remain disordered until she can relinquish the illusion of the happy family?
  • Do you agree that relinquishing the illusion of a happy family is the same as acknowledging the trauma of abandonment and that Martha’s healing rests in that acknowledgement?
  • How has Martha’s obsessive fear of death shaped her life?
  • The book’s key relationship is that between Martha and her mother. How does it resemble your relationship with your mother/parent, how does it differ? How do these relationships change over time?

Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out. ~ Vaclav Havel

  • Do you agree with this statement? Do you think that by the end of the book Martha has managed to make sense of her mid-life crisis? Has she managed to make sense of her life?
  • Do you consider the baptism a fitting way for Martha to celebrate her sixtieth birthday?
  • How do you deal with life’s uncertainty?
  • How do you explain the fact that within three years of making her wish list, Martha achieves every single item on that list?

We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say – and to feel – yes, that’s the way it was, or at least that’s the way I feel it. You’re not as alone as you thought. ~ John Steinbeck

  • What did you think of the book? What have you learned? Has it broadened your perspective about a difficult issue or changed your opinion about a particular topic?
  • Talk about specific passages that struck you as significant, interesting, illuminating, disturbing, sad, etc.? What was memorable?
  • What in the book can you identify with? What can you not relate to?
  • Do you find the book in any way healing?

If you remember it, it’s true. ~ Joan Didion

  • Discuss.

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About Martha Moravec

Martha M Moravec is the author of the memoir Magnificent Obesity: My Search for Wellness, Voice and Meaning in the Second Half of Life, (Hatherleigh Press/Random House). She is also the author of two novels: an epic historical fantasy, The Secret Name of God; and a sci-fi eco-fable for young adults, The Odd Body Vanity Squad. Before committing to prose, she wrote the book and lyrics for five original full-length musicals, all of which were successfully produced in southern Vermont and Boston. Martha blogs at Mad Genius Bohemians about the mysteries of the creative life and the persistence of one's dreams. She also blogs at Magnificent Obesity about the hazards posed by anxiety, addiction, aging and agnosticism to personal growth and transformation. She can usually be found at home in Vermont working on her next seven novels, four novellas, second memoir and a sweeping revision of the five musicals. She is currently seeking further publication opportunities, a hundred more years and God.