I just finished reading “Unbearable Lightness” by Portia de Rossi, the actress from one of my favorite shows ever (Arrested Development) and wife of Ellen DeGeneres. It is the story of her struggles with anorexia and food, the struggle to love herself for who she is. (As a side note, anyone who thinks that gay people just “choose” to be gay or could “choose” to not needs to read any memoirs of an actual gay person. Their struggles to love and accept themselves are heartbreaking.) I picked it up on a whim at the library, it had been faced out on the shelf and looked interesting. But it was fascinating in a horrible kind of way, and it really spoke to me a lot about myself and women in general.
In a nutshell, the story of her anorexia is kind of insane. It’s amazing to me that a person could be as tightly in control of their eating, their exercising, as she–and others who struggle with eating disorders–was. It controlled her, really. It took every waking (and sleeping, even) effort to maintain the self control and discipline it took to get her down to 82 pounds. 82 pounds! As an adult woman! That’s only 12 pounds more than my 11 year old daughter weighs! It wasn’t until her body started failing her that she was forced to receive treatment, and even then for her it was a long, difficult road to recovery.
Obviously, this wasn’t the first time I’ve been exposed to anorexia. Actually, when I was in 5th grade, my best friend Amy was hospitalized for a year at an eating disorder clinic. I remember it came as a complete surprise to me, when she wrote me a letter from there, explaining why she wouldn’t be in 6th grade with me that fall. I can still picture her neat handwriting, even the stationery it was written on as she explained to me what anorexia was and how, at one point, she could count all her ribs. She told me what she was doing in treatment, the meetings she attended, the special shakes she had to drink. It was so confusing to me, as an 11 year old. It initiated a long conversation with my mom. I was so worried about her, and just wanted her to be ok. It was the first time it occurred to me that someone my age could die, and die because of something they were doing to themselves.
But time and aging take their toll on the most secure of us, and while I read this book I realized that, while I may not be as extreme as Portia and others who struggle with eating disorders are, I still have a very unhealthy relationship with food. And I think the majority of us women do. Almost every friend I have or have had…there are always conversations about working out, how much weight we want to lose, how we shouldn’t be eating these fries or that cake. We compare ourselves and critique ourselves and are on a constant quest to improve ourselves, and weight is an easy target. If we just exercise enough, eat less, it should be easy to fix, right?
Even at the wise old age of 40…I look at my muffin top when I button my pants and suck in my belly a little more. I wish I could look like _____(insert sexy celebrity name here). I tell myself that if I can just lose another 5, 10 pounds, I’d be “just right” (whatever that is). I worry that, because I’m getting older, my slowing metabolism will be something I have to constantly fight against to keep from getting doughy. I hate my flat “mom” butt. I hate my fleshy, dimpled abdomen. I hate how my chin looks. I hate I hate I hate.
And I try to control what I eat. I force myself to see how long I can go without eating. I’ve tried in the past to make myself throw up, I can’t do it. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to “be anorexic”. Those thoughts have actually crossed my mind! That is terrible! Of course I don’t happen to have the will power to do those things, so I always end up eating again. Randomly, unhealthily. I’ll be “good” for a while and then revert to weird cycles of not eating, eating healthy, and then just eating crap. I don’t think I have an eating disorder, but I definitely do not have a “healthy” relationship with food, and I would bet that most of my female friends don’t either. I mean, I almost always, always feel guilty for eating something I really want to eat, whether it’s cheesecake or a steak or pasta or whatever. And I try and figure out some way to compensate for it the next day. Skip breakfast, make sure I go for a run…
What if we could just love ourselves the way we are?
What if we could just be free to eat food we wanted and enjoy it without the guilt?
I’m not talking about overeating…that’s another food disorder in itself. I’m just talking about listening to our bodies and trusting that it won’t let us down. It would be so freeing to be able to just eat and not be afraid I won’t fit into my pants. To not even worry about what size my pants are. To be healthy, yes. To be fit, yes. But to not be obsessed with it. Portia calls it “Ordered” eating (as opposed to an eating disorder): “Ordered eating is eating for enjoyment, for health, to sustain life.” What a concept!
I know this is something all my girlfriends have and do struggle with. I read this book thinking I’d read an interesting story. I had no idea it would tell me so much about myself and kind of reveal to me that I have my own “disordered” way of eating and looking at food. Thankfully, I’m not anorexic or bulimic…that doesn’t mean I have a healthy relationship with food. But I’d sure like to. It sounds like life is so much more enjoyable when you do.