Monday, November 1, 2010

Unbearable Lightness and Anorexia and the strength of Portia De Rossi

I was struck by Portia De Rossi's honest, open, and candid willingness to share her struggles with Anorexia on today's Oprah.  She was on the show to talk about her new book called "The Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain". The stunning actress, author and activist bravely recollected her struggles living with an eating disorder that almost killed her- revealing the depths and severity of her suffering and the true nature of this deadly disorder.

In an industry fraught with Eating Disorder rumors, the seriousness has been glazed over as a means to gain publicity, and we have become desensitized. Portia De Rossi has really helped take the 'glamour' out of the disorder, and helped people understand it is a cold, brutal, unrelenting mental illness that seeps the life out of you. I cannot imagine how many people she has helped. Her courage and honesty, vulnerability at exposing the depths of her disorder, her pain, and her fears touched me. I am sure so many men and women suffering could relate, and must have felt such relief in knowing that they are not alone. Her willingness to share touched me, because you could see the real person behind 'the actress'- vulnerable, and hurting. Her triumph over the disease is so encouraging, and I admire her so much. Her honesty and sincerity left her humbled. She was frank, humble, and real.

Eating Disorders are one of the most misunderstood, and "mystified" illnesses to date. Portia says she wrote Unbearable Lightness for anyone who's ever struggled with her body image. Brutally honest and at times graphic, she says the book is written from the perspective of the sick person. She goes on to say “I thought it was so important to be honest and to go so deeply...into the crazy part,” says Portia. “Even though I was kind of afraid to do it because I thought maybe everyone would think that I'm nuts. But I think it's really valuable because there is a point where a diet becomes a disorder." I think many people struggling with the disease hide because they have such shame about their compulsions and habits. I applaud Portia for exposing her own stories, and sharing with us her "shame", ultimately helping so many people that struggle with their own feelings.

Her recollection of having a breakdown after eating yogurt touched me so deeply. Her recollection of losing control with sugar free gum after being so starved, that she shoved stick after stick into her mouth, then freaking out that she had consumed 60 calories from gum resulted in her running (IN HEELS on the ALLY McBeal Set) around the parking lot trying to burn in off. The panic that set it, the anxiety, the shame, the fear, the paranoia... Here is a link on her Extreme Exercise measures to burn off the gum.
She shared how when she went home for Christmas dinner and finally had some potatoes with her family at the dinner, from panic she got up mid dinner and started doing jumping jacks MID CHRISTMAS DINNER, frantically trying to burn the "potato" off. Subsisting on no more than 300 calories, and starving herself down to 82 lbs.
Dieting for a large portion of her life, she eventually turned to binging and then purging from starvation:
"I hated purging. It was punishment that I couldn't stick to a diet," she says. "I hated binging, [but] binging momentarily gave me relief, because I'd been starving, really. Psychologically, I just wanted to fill the void. But the purging, the purging made me feel more pathetic than just having failed yet another diet."

We all remember her from her sexy striptease on Ally McBeal, which was one of my favorite shows at the time. In fact, I loved Portia's character! The way Portia remembers that day was characterized by paranoia about her body: '"I was constantly looking for external validation," she says. "'How was it? How did I look?' And one friend of mine, one very good friend, said to me, 'You looked like a normal, healthy woman.' And those three words really sent me into shock."

To Portia, those words translated to robust and curvy—far from the skinny and narrow ideal that she was reaching for at the time. She says the scene sent her into a downward spiral.

When Oprah asked if she felt proud of falling to such a low weight at the time, she answered: "It wasn't that I was proud of it, but it was certainly a recognition for my self-control,” says Portia. “I definitely had some amazing willpower to get down to 82 pounds, and that's what I was holding on to. I didn't think about anything else."

I think the key was that it was THE THING SHE WAS HOLDING ON TO. She felt empty and alone, and Anorexia for lack of a better term, was her true friend and the one thing constant that she could control.

Ultimately collapsing on a set, Portia was diagnosed with Osteoporosis, Cirrhosis of the Liver, and near organ failure at the age of 25. This, my friends, is an Eating Disorder. "At that point, I thought, 'I have a choice,'" she says. "And I didn't want to live like a sick person. I thought that maybe there was something out there that was going to give me joy. I just didn't want it to be all over.

Today she is radiant, happy and free of the demons of her past. She has also overcome her anorexia and chronic dieting. She says she did this by putting an end to food restriction. Of her relationship with exercise and food now, she says: "That really is the only way that food loses its power over you," Portia says. "If you can have something every day, as much as you want, you tend not to want it as much anymore. And after a period of time, you actually eat what you body needs, you eat what makes you happy and you don't think about food ever again.
She is a true survivor, and is going to help so many people not only suffering from it, but hopefully help the misinformed understand the cruelty and horror that this disease brings.

I urge anyone who is struggling, suffering, or knows someone that is: REACH OUT FOR HELP! Love yourself and love the person who is suffering!
As Portia so poignantly put it: "Love save us. Love Heals us".

Her book comes out tomorrow, November 2 2010. Get it on sale here.
I encourage all of you to read it. The more awareness there is on this horrific disease, the more people suffering can feel comfortable reaching out for help and the more lives can be saved. I am not an Eating Disorder expert by any means! But my heart bleeds for those suffering!

From the publisher:
In this searing, unflinchingly honest book, Portia de Rossi captures the complex emotional truth of what it is like when food, weight, and body image take priority over every other human impulse or action. She recounts the elaborate rituals around eating that came to dominate hours of every day, from keeping her daily calorie intake below 300 to eating precisely measured amounts of food out of specific bowls and only with certain utensils. When this wasn't enough, she resorted to purging and compulsive physical exercise, driving her body and spirit to the breaking point.

Even as she rose to fame as a cast member of the hit television shows Ally McBeal and Arrested Development, Portia alternately starved herself and binged, all the while terrified that the truth of her sexuality would be exposed in the tabloids. She reveals the heartache and fear that accompany a life lived in the closet, a sense of isolation that was only magnified by her unrelenting desire to be ever thinner. With the storytelling skills of a great novelist and the eye for detail of a poet, Portia makes transparent as never before the behaviors and emotions of someone living with an eating disorder.

From her lowest point, Portia began the painful climb back to a life of health and honesty, falling in love with and eventually marrying Ellen DeGeneres, and emerging as an outspoken and articulate advocate for gay rights and women's health issues.

In this remarkable and beautifully written work, Portia shines a bright light on a dark subject. A crucial book for all those who might sometimes feel at war with themselves or their bodies, Unbearable Lightness is a story that inspires hope and nourishes the spirit


  1. I am glad that this topic is getting more candid and honest press. I hope that men that have the eating disorder will come clean as well. Anorexia is not just for women.

  2. I couldn't agree more Matt! There are so many men suffering from Eating Disorders! It truly is a devastatingly all-encompassing disease!

  3. WOW i love what she had to say! great post girl!
    and wow, your comment was so incredibly sweet, i WAS having an off day when i read it and you filled my heart with so much joy. thank you from the bottom of my heart!

  4. You did a great job summarizing what must have been an amazing episode of Oprah. I am sorry I missed it but thank you for giving us such a heartfelt take on the show.

    I had no idea that Portia had an eating disorder! She really is an inspiration.