Portia de Rossi proves the very thing I think everyone should know about people suffering from an eating disorder in her book, Unbearable Lightness: eating disorder sufferers are anything but lazy. Just like Portia, they are driven, motivated, exceptionally hard-working, and frighteningly hard on themselves.
Imagine accomplishing any one of the amazing things Portia was able to achieve—getting admitted to law school, becoming an actress, working her way to the States and onto hit TV shows—while running or walking multiple miles every day (yes, miles!), doing hundreds of leg lifts and sit-ups, counting calories, restricting, forcing her body into an unnatural “what society thinks is beautiful” mold. It’s like having two overwhelming full-time jobs at the same time and succeeding wildly at both. Of all the other eating disorder stories I have read, I believe I connected with Portia the most because of her innate drive to constantly strive for a bar she, herself, set so high.
Like I said, the very opposite of lazy.
Portia does an exceptional job of explaining why people become susceptible to eating disorders. It’s often not at all to “be skinny” or simply “lose weight.” No. Often the deep-seeded underlying goal of it all is to “fit in.” In Portia’s case, that meant to literally fit into sample size clothing for modeling and acting. If the sample size was a size 6, which she was when she began, rather than a size 2, I believe Portia, herself, would tell you her entire eating disorder might never have happened.
Portia does an exceptional job of explaining why people become susceptible to eating disorders. It’s often not at all to “be skinny” or simply “lose weight.” No. Often the deep-seeded underlying goal of it all is to “fit in.”
Portia’s goal was not to be skinny it was simply to be normal in her element so she wouldn’t stand out. And, I’ve seen that premise in many other eating disorder stories I have read (which are all absolutely healing—read many!). Tabitha Farrar in Love Fat wanted only to be lighter simply to perform better as a jockey. Kathryn Hansen in Brain Over Binge wanted simply to avoid the “freshman fifteen” so she, too, wouldn’t stand out. Often the entire goal is simply to fit in. But, when we take it too far—because eating disorder sufferers are often Type A overachievers—and it is our body and eating habits that start to make us stand out, we don’t know how to decode the drive and just be normal.
Our eating disorder (because she’s wicked smart and selfish) converts our initial benign goal to simply be normal in our situation to an unearthly drive to be better (nay, the best!), such that a decision to “stop with all this eating nonsense” (as Portia’s mom put it) feels like being lazy. Like giving up. Like laying around as a useless fatty while our peers continue to improve themselves and be more successful.
Does that sound crazy to anyone?
Or dead-on with what maybe you or someone you know, who has suffered with an eating disorder, felt?
That’s the spear that Portia charged through my heart: all of the exceedingly hard work she put into being the best actress she could be. It was likely far more than many actors put in because her efforts required such a huge physical and mental toll. Although it was ill-placed and ineffective, that doesn’t take away or erase any of the enormous amounts of effort and drive she put into it. I can only hope Portia reads these words and knows there are so many others out there who get where she’s coming from. Who, too, would run laps in the parking lot if their brain slipped and binged in the car (even if it was on just 12 sticks of gum). Those calories count to warped hard-workers like us. We don’t give up. We’re not lazy.
We’re just wrong.
And, that’s the sad part. We’re going about it all wrong. We just don’t know it at the time. And doing anything different, anything less, feels lazy, and we just can’t bear that. We can’t be that. Because we are not that. We are driven.
After Ellen Degeneres reads Portia’s book for the first time, she tells her: “You’re crazy.”
Which makes Portia laugh, and made me laugh, too. Ellen is wicked good at that. But, I was able to laugh because the wound has healed. Humor did that for me. If you can finally look back and laugh just a little at the fact that you (perhaps like Portia) did lunges everywhere in your house as opposed to just walking, stood as opposed to sit (because only lazy people sit!), ate less than 400 calories a day for weeks, it does look a little crazy. But, it also shows me a person who is crazy-driven, crazy-motivated, likely crazy-successful because she has a strong, anti-lazy spirit.
Portia, I cannot believe you, too, found savory satisfaction in butter spray. I had to write a whole chapter on it, because when I looked back and realized I ate the stuff until my fingers turned yellow, I realized I, too, was … just a tad crazy.
While I, at first, did not think I would be able to connect so readily with someone of Portia’s caliber—her beauty and success—because my eating disorder stemmed from so much more humble beginnings: the desire to eradicate my embarrassing stocky gymnast body and “stick it” to a boyfriend who dumped me, I was shocked to find Portia and I did many of the same things.
Portia, I cannot believe you, too, found savory satisfaction in butter spray. I had to write a whole chapter on it, because when I looked back and realized I ate the stuff until my fingers turned yellow, I realized I, too, was … just a tad crazy. Plus, her humor and honesty just struck a chord. Portia’s writing is powerful and personal and brings you right into her scene. I often felt like I was standing in the room watching Portia run every morning on her treadmill, inhale yogurt on the floor by her fridge, drinking wine and throwing it up in her hotel room. She puts you there.
Thank you, Portia, for putting this piece out there. For bearing yourself. You, a famous person who had so much to lose by showing your “crazy” past. You should know your sacrifice in the form of your book is doing exactly what you wanted it to: helping others who suffered like you.