Wednesday 24 April 2013

Unbearable lightness

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I read this book about a year ago. It is raw, honest and beautifully written. Most of us women have struggled with body issues at some point in our lives - it is rare to find a woman completely comfortable with herself and her body . This book shows like none other (that I have read so far) how an obsession with weight and being thin can rule and almost destroy a life.

Portia describes the slow slide into anorexia, how she thought she was just eating healthy and being professional by wanting to be her best (=thinnest) possible self. Her weight took priority over any other human interaction; she had complicated rituals revolving around food, ate at times less than 300 calories a day, used only certain bowls and utensils. During lunch on set of her TV show she would go to her trailer and work out excessively instead of eating.
She would even get up in the middle of the night and stand or walk around to burn calories; she was terrified that lying down and sleeping during the night would lead to weight gain.

What spoke to me the most is at the end of the book where Portia describes her new attitude to food and exercise. I wanted to share it here because I find she is so right:

"I have recovered from anorexia and bulimia. I am immensely grateful that the disorders, although robbing me of living freely and happily for almost twenty years, aren't continuing to rob me of my health. Not everyone who has suffered from eating disorders has the same good fortune. The disorders have left me unscathed both physically and mentally. However, having anorexia has left me with an intense resistance to exercise. As well as being resistant to exercise, I have an intense resistance to counting calories. And reading labels on the backs of jars and cans. And weighing myself.

I hate the word exercise. I am allergic to gyms. But I don't think that "formal" exercise in a gym is the only way to achieve a healthy, toned body. I have discovered that enjoyable daily activities that are easy, like walking, can be equally beneficial. I have noticed on my daily walk with my dogs that I rarely see an overweight person walking a dog, whereas I see many overweight people walking on treadmills in a gym. I attribute this not only to the frequency of having to walk your dog, but also the good feeling one has when doing something good for another being. Seeing my dogs' excitement as I walk them around my neighborhood every day makes me happy, and when I'm happy I walk a little taller and a little more briskly. I can only imagine the enjoyment parents must experience when seeing the joy on their kids' faces as they play tag football or shoot hoops with them.
 I also enjoy being outdoors. I like breathing the cold night air deeply into my lungs as I walk up the hills in my neighborhood and smelling the forest air as I walk on hiking trails after a morning rain. Another way for me to stay fit is to do activities where I can learn a skill, like horse riding or tennis or dancing. I find that if I can concentrate on getting better at something, rather than getting fitter or looking better, I accomplish all three things - the latter two being happy by-products of the original goal. Doing an activity to relax is also important for me. I swim to clear my head rather than count laps and burn calories. Swimming slowly is a form of meditation for me.

I have found ways to increase my heart rate, stretch my muscles, and breathe deeply every day in an enjoyable way that I would never label as exercise. I eat every kind of food that I like, moderating the portions using my appetite and not a calorie counter. I love fat and I love carbohydrates. Nothing fills you up and feels more satisfying than a mashed potato or pasta and olive oil. There are days when I eat a large bag of potato chips for lunch and I feel too full and greasy to eat anything else until dinner. It may not be the healthiest, most balanced day in a lifetime of days, but I more than likely won't repeat it the following day.

To say that you can stay at your natural body weight and be healthy by eating what you want and not working out sounds extremely controversial, and yet people have lived this way for hundreds of years. It seems to me that it's only since around 1970 that the concept of diet and exercise has existed in the way it does now, which is based on exertion and restriction being the key to weight loss, and yet since then, we have seen an increase in obesity in countries that have adopted it.
(These are also the countries where the fast-food industry boomed during that time.) The diet industry is making a lot of money selling us fad diets, nonfat foods full of chemicals, gym memberships, and pills while we lose a little of our self-esteem every time we fail another diet or neglect to use the gym membership we could barely afford. Restriction generates yearning. You want what you can't have. There are many ways to explain why the pendulum swing occurs and why restriction almost always leads to bingeing. I was forced to understand this in order to recover from a life-threatening disorder, And in a way, I wrote this memoir to help myself understand how I came to have an eating disorder and how I recovered from it. I really hope that my self-exploration can help not only people who are suffering from anorexia or bulimia, but also the perpetual dieters. You don't have to be emaciated or vomiting to be suffering. All people who live their lives on a diet are suffering.

If you can accept your natural body weight - the weight that is easy for you to maintain, or our "set point" - and not force it to beneath your body's natural, healthy weight, then you can live your life free of dieting, of restriction, of feeling guilty every time you eat a slice of your kid's birthday cake. But the key is to accept your body just as it is. Just as I have had to learn to accept that I have thighs that are a little bigger than I'd like, you may have to accept that your arms are naturally a little thicker or your hips are a little wider. In other words, accept yourself.
Love your body the way it is and feel grateful toward it.  Most important, in order to find real happiness, you must learn to love yourself for the totality of who you are and not just what you look like.

I made the mistake of thinking that what I look like is more important than who I am - that what I weigh is more important than what I think or what I do. I was ashamed of being gay, and so I only heard the voices that said that being gay is shameful.
As I changed, I no longer heard the condemning voices. When my relationship with Ellen became public, I was amazed by how well the news was received. I was still very scared, but I was also very much in love, and love outweighed the fear. I wanted to celebrate our love.
I was so proud to call myself her girlfriend that whatever people might have thought about my sexuality wasn't important anymore. I simply didn't hear a single negative comment.
I began to see myself as someone who can help others understand diversity rather than feeling like a social outcast.

Ellen taught me not to care about other people's opinions. She taught me to be truthful. She taught me to be free. I began to live my life in love and complete acceptance. For the first time I had truly accepted myself."

I really liked this book. If you know the little voice in your head trying to tell you "you shouldn't eat that fatty", "you have to have more self-discipline to be truly happy" - read this book!

xo Miriam


  1. oh my goodness I never knew portia de rossi suffered from anorexia, I've always thought she was absolutely beautiful and it blows my mind that she didn't see the same thing (but we rarely see ourselves the way other people do).
    I've found that ever since I started buying fresh ingredients and making food from scratch I haven't had an issue with my weight. My meals are very vegetable based. When I have those weeks where I eat a load of junk (usually when I travel and don't have access to a kitchen) I notice the difference in my energy and weight almost immediately. I would definitely like to read this book!

    1. Read it, it's awesome! Uplifting and very positive despite the heavy subject. She's a great writer.
      Fresh ingredients and homecooking are the key! It's healthy and satisfying and you don't have to worry about counting calories.
      I used to be on different diets in my late teens/early twenties; there were days when all I could think about was food, what I wanted to eat but wouldn't allow myself, how much I was craving something. I never listened to my body, gave myself strict rules. And it doesn't work! I was 25 pounds heavier and miserable.
      Once I stopped "dieting" and started listening to my body, the weight started to come off and now I never wanna go on a diet ever again!


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