Portia de Rossi, born Amanda Rogers, recounts her struggle with her weight, self-image, eating disorder, and coming to terms with her homosexuality in her memoir, Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain. The writing is clear, honest, and infinitely relate-able. She proves that feelings of self-loathing and dissatisfaction with one’s appearance have nothing whatsoever to do with the reality of one’s appearance. Because let’s face it, Portia de Rossi is drop-dead gorgeous. But that isn’t what she sees when she looks in the mirror.
Throughout the book, she describes how little she likes herself. She is very concerned about what others think of her and spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about her weight and appearance. She describes her ritual of applying makeup before going to the makeup artist prior to filming because she didn’t want anyone to see her red, blotchy skin. She fears having the media discover her sexuality and imagines that being outed as a lesbian would ruin her career. As she tries to hide her true self, she whittles herself away to a startling 78 pounds through starvation and obsessive exercise – and still believes herself to be fat.
Her family and friends become very concerned, but she does not listen. She still sees herself as overweight. Her breaking point comes when she passes out on the set of a film and is examined by doctors who determine that her drastic dieting has caused her to have osteoporosis, indications of cirrhosis, amenorrhea,and dangerously low potassium and electrolyte levels. She also receives the misdiagnosis of lupus, but finally realizes what danger she is in and begins to try to change.
Her story is an important one because it shows us that sometimes an eating disorder begins as a “harmless” diet. I think a lot of times people imagine that there is a wide gulf between dieting and anorexia. But in reality, there is a large grey area. One of the things she says that really resonates with me as a person who still counts calories is when she talks about dieting:
Dieting, I discovered, was another form of disordered eating, just as anorexia and bulimia similarly disrupt the natural order of eating. “Ordered” eating is the practice of eating when you are hungry and ceasing whne your brain sends the signal that your stomach is full. “Ordered” eating is about eating for enjoyment, for health, and to sustain life. “Ordered” eating is not restricting certain kinds of foods because they are “bad.” Obsessing about what and when to eat is not normal, natural, and orderly. Thinking about food to the point of obsession and ignoring your body’s signals is a disorder.
I am thankful this book reminded me about what “Ordered” eating is all about. For a time, because my eating was so out of control, I needed calorie counting to help me understand what I was eating so I could stop over-eating. But I understand what I should be eating now so it’s time to let go of the security blanket of counting calories. I can trust myself. I know I can.
In the end, she talks about how she came to terms with her sexuality and eating. The two were inextricably intertwined. I think many people with weight issues find that behind the issues of weight and appearance, there’s another, deeper, personal issue that we haven’t come to terms with fully. Whether it’s abuse, trauma, or acceptance of some fact about ourselves. If we don’t tackle the issue behind the weight, we will never find a way to live healthily within a healthy weight.
I enjoyed the book. It was artfully written and a thought-provoking read. It reminded me of some important things. I recommend it to anyone interested in eating disorders or body image, but caution that the book could be triggering to those who suffer from an ED.
Because I knew I could eat pasta and ice cream again the very next day if I wanted to, I stopped wanting it in excess. If it were going to be available to me anytime, why eat like it was the last time I’d ever taste it? The fact that I stopped restricting food made it less appealing. The fact that I stopped labeling food as “good” and “bad” made me just see it all as food. …there was no bad food. There were just bad eating practices.
The China Study is next on my reading list. Look out for related posts soon.