Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain

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IMG 72633   Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain

A couple weekends ago when I was feeling under the weather, I picked up the book Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi.

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(Ok, ok I also bought a new mug…busted!! haha)

In Unbearable Lightness, Portia talks very candidly about her struggles with an eating disorder, being a ‘closet’ lesbian, and the pressure she felt from the modeling and acting world to have the perfect body. The book is beautifully written, heartfelt, and honest. I ended up reading the book cover to cover in one evening. It completely sucked me in and I found myself crying, smiling, or laughing right along with Portia. I commend her bravery for sharing her story in such an honest way. I know she will help many women.

My only small complaint was that Portia didn’t go into her recovery as much as I hoped she would. In just a small chapter at the end of the book, she talked about some of the things that helped her recover- such as horse-riding or her relationship with Ellen. I finished the book wanting to know much more about her recovery. I really hope that she writes a second book as a follow up!

I also think the book could be triggering for some people who are currently struggling with an eating disorder. Portia is very specific and detailed about numbers and behaviours while she was suffering. This book is definitely a read at your own risk. I personally was not triggered by the material, but if I had read this book 3 years ago, it would have been another story.

Given that it is Eating Disorder Awareness week in the US, I thought it would be a good time to share some of my favourite RECOVERY quotes from the book. The last chapter is so inspiring and I found myself highlighting much of what Portia wrote.

"Do I love myself the way I am? Yes. (Well, I’m working on it!) But that doesn’t mean I love my body just the way it is. People who recover from eating disorders can’t be expected to have higher standards than the rest of society, most of whom would like to alter a body part or two. The difference now is that I’m no longer willing to compromise my health to achieve that. I’m not even willing to compromise my happiness to achieve it, or for the thought of my thighs to take up valuable space in my mind. It’s just not that important.

“I’m very grateful for what [my body] does. I thank my thighs for being strong and allowing me to walk my dogs around my neighbourhood and ride my horses."

"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.”

"The fact that I stopped restricting food made it less appealing. I began tasting food and listening to my internal nutritionist as it told me that I truly wanted to eat a crispy salad rather than fries. When it told me that fries were what I was craving, it said, ‘Eat as many as you want knowing that you can always have them again tomorrow.’ So I’d eat just a few or I’d rat the whole damn serving until I couldn’t eat anything else on my plate."

"I stopped weighing myself. I simply didn’t care about weight anymore because it was always a comfortable good weight for my body. As I listened to my internal nutritionist, I stopped wanting to eat eggs, meat, and dairy. While I have never felt more healthy and energized, the most important thing that happened to me when I stopped eating animals was a sense of connectedness. When I was suffering from an eating disorder, my life was solely about me. I was living through my ego. My decision not to eat animals anymore was paramount to my growth as a spiritual person. It made me feel like I was contributing to making the world better and that I was connected to everything around me. Healing comes from love. And loving every living thing in turn helps you love yourself."

"I made the mistake of thinking that what I look like is more important that 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."

"Ellen taught me to not 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 met Ellen when I was [at my heaviest] and she loved me. She didn’t see that I was heavy; she only saw the person inside. My two greatest fears, being fat and being gay, when realized, led to my greatest joy. It’s ironic, really, when all I’ve ever wanted is to be loved for my true self, and yet I tried so hard to present myself as anything other than who I am."

I get chills reading those quotes…many of them really ring true for me.

It is long overdue as women, we start embracing our bodies instead of holding them up to some unattainable ideal. A big part of the battle is learning how to re-frame our negative thoughts.

Instead of cursing my thighs, I now thank them for being strong, powerful, and for helping me run in races.

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For me, happiness and self-acceptance does not always come easy. The difference between now and then is that I am now willing to put in the effort if it leads me in a positive direction, rather than a negative one.

There is no ‘happiness finish line’ in my world. It’s an on-going effort requiring daily work, love, and attention. I know if I put that effort in each day, I will be in a good place.

Thankfully, I’ve never minded a good challenge.

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{ 141 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura February 23, 2011

I am actually reading this book right now! It’s a great perspective on “the otherside” of the modeling and acting industry, too, and makes me wonder how many other celebrities are as scared as she is going on set, on the red carpet, etc.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) February 23, 2011

I also thought that it was really interesting how she described the cast of Ally McBeal as being so closed and standoff-ish. It portrayed an image that was quite sad, but also very telling (the treadmills in the offices, no eating lunch together, etc)

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Baking 'n' Books February 23, 2011

Have you read “Hungry” by Crystal Renn??

That is a very interesting take from the modeling world.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) February 23, 2011

I haven’t read it, but I have heard it is a great book.

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megan @ blackberries for jam February 23, 2011

Thank you for this beautifully-written post. I’ve been contemplating reading Portia’s book for a while, and now I’m definitely going to download it to my kindle for my all-day flight next week.

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Jenny February 23, 2011

Thanks for sharing!

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amanda February 23, 2011

I read this book earlier in the year and I loved it as well. I originally picked it up just because I think she’s awesome (Arrested Development remains my favourite show ever) but I was so glad to read through the book. I completely agree with you that it could be triggering to someone in a vulnerable state with an eating disorder, but I admire her current attitude that you highlighted above where she says, “Eat as many as you want knowing that you can always have them again tomorrow.” Giving herself permission to eat the foods that she was afraid of was partially responsible for her healing … when she allowed herself to eat all the french fries she wanted, she found that she didn’t want them nearly as bad.

Thanks for posting this and reviewing the book – I think it’s an important read and I definitely recommend it.

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Ashley February 23, 2011

Happy Wednesday from Reno, Nevada Angela! Thanks for this post, because I’ve always had a nasty relationship with my body and my food– I was raised in a family that would go on “diets”– restricting and cutting out all sorts of foods which only ever led to well, disaster later. We were always focused on what was wrong with our bodies and not focusing on the power of our bodies and the positivity surrounding that idea. I’ve only recently begun renewing my relationship with food– since I work from home, I’ve been able to have time to prepare healthier meals, and other quicker ways to prepare those meals if I have to go into the office someday! Again, thank you for always sharing your thoughts! Have a great day!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) February 23, 2011

Thanks Ashley!

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lauren @ spiced plate February 23, 2011

thank you for this, both the review and quotes — powerful stuff, and so true.

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Allie (Live Laugh Eat) February 23, 2011

I read that book last month and literally could NOT put it down! I agree it can be a bit triggering but it showed me just how far I’ve come when I thought her ED habits/concerns were crazy and extreme. Isn’t it great to look back and realize how being healthy means being happy? I think the book ended too soon too. Hopefully that means book #2 is on the way.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) February 23, 2011

That is a great way to put it…the fact that I was not ‘triggered’ by it showed me how far I have come. It made me happy to be in a healthy place.

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Julie (A Case of the Runs) February 23, 2011

I LOVE Ellen, so by proxy Portia. I think I’d read this book at some point (once I’m done w/my dissertation and get myself a Kindle as a gift!). I’m glad she was able to come out of her illness and find happiness.

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AllieNic@ Frisky Lemon February 23, 2011

I read this book a few months ago and found it incredible– It was painful to read, but it made me so grateful for where I am today. I really appreciate that Portia took the time to share this very personal story– although it might be a trigger for some, it will also let people who have gone through similar situations know that they’re not alone.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book!

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Megan (The Runner's Kitchen) February 23, 2011

I have this book on hold at the library – can’t wait to read it! Whenever I get down on myself for eating too much ice cream or having an imperfect (??) body, I remind myself of what this body can DO. It can run marathons, carry heavy shopping bags to my 3rd floor walk-up apartment, laugh, love, etc. Great post! Thanks for the quotes :)

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Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg February 23, 2011

I’ve been wanting to read that book!! So glad you enjoyed it– although I can see how it might be triggering for certain people.

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Allison @ Food For Healing February 23, 2011

so touching. the best stories are those recovery stories people tell. it shows really how strong someone is! it is not an easy thing to go through; been there, done that, and still struggle a lot of the days. But you learn from your mistakes, your accomplishments, and others.

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Valerie @ City|Life|Eats February 23, 2011

I have read several articles on this book and would love to read it, but I was afraid of how the book might trigger something in me. Thank you for the great review. I may give it a try in a few months.

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Marina February 23, 2011

I will read this book, but not yet, because I’m afraid I’m still not strong enough. Thank you Angela for this post, and for continuing to inspire me in my recovery and my path towards happy satisfied life.

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denise February 23, 2011

Thank you for such an honest post. I am 45 years old and can honestly say, I still don’t like my body. I am not overweight and my body has been strong enough to give me five beautiful children. Yet, after all these years, I still struggle with my body image. Thank goodness I have been blessed with a daughter, so in my effort to make her love herself, I am learning to do the same for me.

I enjoy your blog so much and admire that you have been wise enough to start this journey of self-love at such a young age. You are a wonderful inspiration for women of all ages!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) February 23, 2011

Thank you for your honesty Denise! You are certainly not alone…hopefully by talking about it, we can all help one another grow.

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Kathi February 23, 2011

Denise,

Like you I am 46 years old and have had trouble with loving my body for a long time. I have recently been told I have a eating disorder and I guess I knew something wasn’t quite right but was not quite ready to accept it. Angela blog has truly inspired me even at 46 it isn’t too late to start loving yourself one small step at a time.
Thank you so much for sharing it really help me today knowing that I am not along at my age.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) February 23, 2011

Totally agree ‘at 46 it isn’t too late to start loving yourself one small step at a time.’ it’s never too late. Thanks for the comment!

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Marit February 24, 2011

I am not overweight either, i’m “athletic” build albeit with a bit of a belly…. (yes… it’s my body-issue..).
I am 32 and although i absolutely HATE my loose belly-skin, I know it’s loose because i carried my daughter in there. She was my third pregnancy after i miscarried twice and when she was 18 months i had an ectopic pregnancy.
Now, when i look in the mirror and hate the loose skin and scars, i force myself to change perspective and I tell myself that a bit of loose skin is the price I’ve paid for the most wonderful precious girl on the planet!
And when my daughter hugs my belly and tells me she wishes her pillow was as soft as my belly (seriously… she does..), it does remind me that there are much more important things in the world than how you look…
My body image doesn’t seem like a big deal from that perspective.

Angela, Thank you so much for the bookreview. I’m on amazon right now…
I love Ellen. She is so natural in everything that she does. I’d love to have her as a friend!
And Portia… i was watching Ally McBeal back in the day and i could not imagine how come this beautiful perfect looking woman always looked so sad! I know her character was supposed to be a mean cow but somehiow she always came across as sad…

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Megan @ Healthy Hoggin' February 23, 2011

I read that book right after Christmas, and many of her struggles rang true for me, too! I was afraid it might be a trigger, as well, but fortunately that didn’t become an issue. I wish she had talked more about her recovery, too! I actually re-read the last part of her book again, because I wanted more! ;)

Thanks to her book, I’ve really been inspired to give up the idea of “dieting” in general– it’s done me NO GOOD up to this point, so I figured I should try some self-love for a change! In fact, I just enrolled in nutrition school so I can learn more about how to care for my body and “share the health” with others!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) February 23, 2011

I was thinking about re-reading the last chapter too. :)

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Lindsay @ The Reluctant Runner February 23, 2011

I spotted this book a few months ago and have been meaning to read it. It really is amazing how different life feels when you stop struggling against your body and start working with it. I’m working my hardest at accepting myself and doing things because I know they will be good for me mentally and physically, such as eating well and exercising. I’m also being more forgiving when I really want something indulgent, because it’s not often, and I eat it without judgement. Definitely knowing that you can have the fries makes them less appealing than if you tell yourself you can’t have them!

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Liz @ Tip Top Shape February 23, 2011

I wanted to read this book whenI first heard about it, but never actually went out to buy it. These quotes have renewed my interest. I think it’s so brave of her to write about her struggles. I don’t know if I would be able to after going through what she did.

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lisa February 23, 2011

I really enjoyed the quotes that you pulled out of the book. I don’t think that I’m at a place in my recovery process where I can read it yet, but I’m going to keep it on my book list for that time when I’m ready.

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Erin February 23, 2011

Thank you for this post! Angela, your blog gave me the courage to make the same change and know that there was hope on the other side. I am definitely seeing light at the end of the tunnel and I’m so grateful :)

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Stacie @ Imperfectly Healthy February 23, 2011

I feel like so many of the posts going up on all my favorite blogs today are there just for me. I am definitely struggling with self-acceptance this week (which I blogged about today) and on trying to keep myself going in a positive direction even though it’s REALLY hard right now. Thanks for always being an inspiration and for posting your review of this book. I’ve been wanting to read it ever since I saw Portia on Oprah talking about it.

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Elizabeth@The Sweet Life February 23, 2011

Good for her for sharing her story–it’s a powerful message!

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Lisa February 23, 2011

I’m happy that she’s sharing her story. I’ve always loved her as an actress and the fact that she can be open and honest about this stuff is wonderful. I remember reading a long time ago that she felt pressure on the Ally McBeal set to be super skinny. I’d love to read this book. THanks for the review!

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Amy February 23, 2011

I have never been heavy, but I remember vividly in dance class (ballet for 13 years) my teacher telling me not to wear a certain color of tights because it made my butt look jiggely. It stuck with me for years, it ultimately is why I quit dancing. It is amazing how as women we take one little comment and dwell on it. I am always aware of my comments, I never want my daughter to feel that way. Since becoming vegetarian last June, I did gain a little weight. I don’t know how much because I don’t weigh myself. My clothes fit and I am comfortable with who I am. The nice thing is that my husband loves my curves. He loves that I have a little weight on me. I see some women that are so skinny, no butt, no thighs not womanly at all and it makes me sad. I am thankful that I have my strong legs, thighs and rear end. I am a busy working mom and I need all that strength! Thanks for doing a review on this book – I think it is one that I will pass on, but I am glad that she is now in a good place!

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Lizzie February 23, 2011

Hey Angela:

My apologies for the totally unrelated comment on this post, but my husband sent me this, this morning and I thought you might be interested in a quick read: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/22/how-to-make-oatmeal-wrong/?hp

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Angela (Oh She Glows) February 23, 2011

Interesting read, thanks!

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Andrea B. @ Vegvacious February 23, 2011

I haven’t read the book, but it’s something that I plan to read in the future. I love the quote “healing comes from love” – it seems like such a simple ‘no brainer’ but it’s not is it? This is a lovely and inspiring post.

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Angela (Oh She Glows) February 23, 2011

yea that one really hit home with me…she has a great way with words

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Jessica @ How Sweet It Is February 23, 2011

I read this book. It was SO hard for me to read. It made me physically ill at times. It really opened my eyes.

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Katie February 23, 2011

Wow. She pinpointed exactly what I try to tell others when I attempt to explain how becoming vegan helped me recover from bulimia. When people hear that this relation exists, they assume that I overcame an eating disorder simply by restricting my diet even further (which in their eyes is merely another eating disorder).

I find it really hard to explain that my recovery is because of the harmony that I made with myself and with the earth that I live in…it is because of this harmony that I have learned to truly listen to my body and enjoy food in a completely different way.

“Healing comes from love. And loving every living thing in turn helps you love yourself.” I know this sounds crazy, but I’ve been wanting a tattoo (in my mom’s handwriting) but was waiting for the perfect quote…one that just “clicked”. I think this may just be it.

Thank you so much for this post, Angela!
I’m going to have to read this book!

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Angela (Oh She Glows) February 23, 2011

I have had the same question when I decided to go vegan too. When I read Portia’s quote it was exactly what I had been trying to convey (but couldnt put into words) for such a long time.

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Andrea February 23, 2011

1) I just discovered your blog and it’s been amazing! I’ve struggled with bulimia in the past and it’s great to hear your story and read your inspiring posts.

2) I read Portia’s memoir when it came out. I had the same feelings that you did. Totally loved it and then the recovery part was completely glossed over. As someone who is single (and thankfully in a healthy place regarding my ED) I kept thinking that if I were in a bad ED place Portia’s book would not have been helpful. I am sure this was not her intention at all but it kind of reads like “I stopped going to therapy. I found Ellen. She’s amazing. Now I’m not sick anymore.”

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chelsey @ clean eating chelsey February 23, 2011

Great post I’ve been meaning to pick up that book!

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Caitlin February 23, 2011

Thank you for writing and sharing such a beautiful post, Angela! Definitely needed to read that today!

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Erin @ The Grass Skirt February 23, 2011

Awesome post, Angela. I read Portia’s book in January and it really impacted me. It was so sad to read some of her thoughts, and it was even sadder to be able to relate to some of them at one point in my life. I completely agree that she could have focused more on her recovery. She made it seem like her troubles disappeared in an instant, and I’m sure that was not the case at all. It would be nice to hear how long her road to recovery was and what she did to break the cycle of unhealthy thoughts and actions. I think that a lot of women who are suffering could have benefited from that information. Still, it was a beautiful book, and I applaud her for being so open. :)

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jenny February 23, 2011

I loved this post. made my eyes water. I am definitely struggling. I know that I’m beautiful and capable and interesting. I run, I draw, I ride motorcycles,I travel, I read, I cook, I love photography. I am a whole, complete, and interesting woman. so why do I bash myself so much? At certain times of the month why do I hate my body feeling heavier? Why do I feel the need to look like a sexed up bikini model? I have people who love me the way I am. I don’t want to waste my short time on this earth worrying about looks.

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Tiffany February 23, 2011

I read this book when it came out, and was disappointed. Like you, I wish she had gone more in depth with her immediate and continuing recovery. I thought she really glossed over that topic.

I will say that it is so nice to be able to read a self-portrait of someone living with E.D., understand what that person is feeling, relate to their thought processes, reflect back on your time with E.D., and be able to put the book down and walk away from that thought process! Makes me very proud of myself :)

The quotes are great! It is so important to appreciate what your body can do, rather than what it looks like. I find myself still reframing numerous thoughts daily. No, my arms aren’t big, they are strong, and they just lifted a mentally and physically handicapped girl onto the toilet during her work break. Without these arms she would be stuck at home, not fulfilling her individual dreams. These arms are awesome!! My thighs are awesome because they allow me to run fast, ride my bike as long as I want, and play with my dog. The fat on my butt is awesome because it lets me sitdown without pain!!!

It’s so sad how we women pick ourselves apart and fail to see the whole.

side note- Have you read any books about women in advertising/media? It really exposes this method of advertising women in parts…which in turn conditions women to view themselves in parts vs a complete whole. very sad!

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Jacquelynn February 23, 2011

I just got that book from the library the other day… I am going to start it today or tomorrow. I have heard such wonderful things about it, and I love her and Ellen. Does it talk about her becoming a vegan? So many people with eating disorders heal by adapting a vegan diet. I find that so interesting.

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Bronwyn February 23, 2011

Those are some of the best eating disorder recovery quotes I’ve read. They are truly what I need to hear right now. Or read I suppose. Maybe I’ll take a look at this book.

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Jaclyn Trecartin February 23, 2011

This sounds like an interesting read. I will have to check it out. I agree with your comment re: your thighs. Instead of being angry at myself for having thicker thighs (i.e. muscular and not stick-thin) I have learned to love them, as they allow me to be strong and run. Same goes for my hips.

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Ashley February 23, 2011

I love your mug! And thank you for being so inspiring and such a good role model for everyone

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Beach Bum Beauty February 23, 2011

I really struggle with myself and I keep reading pieces such as this post and know I need to take the next steps to change how I feel and what I do but I’m not sure where to start. It seems like an overwhelming task. I know it’s possible because so many people have overcome their own personal battles but I really don’t know where to begin…

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Alaina February 23, 2011

Love your new mug! That’s my mantra through life. :-)

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