Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain

by Angela (Oh She Glows) on February 23, 2011

IMG_7263

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

IMG_0974

(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.

20100906IMG_2464_thumb

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.

Let's get social! Follow Angela on Instagram @ohsheglows, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Google+

Previous Posts

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Page 3 of 3«123
Freya February 23, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I totally just printed those quotations out – SO applicable to me right now.

Reply

liv February 23, 2011 at 6:38 pm

I’m really glad you wrote this book because I noticed myself slipping back into old habits while reading it over a few days especially since the way she writes sounded so similar to the voice that used to be in my head (though I was thankfully never as extreme as she was). I’m glad I finished the book because that last chapter, though I agree way too short, did help in bringing me back to reality and then some. After finishing the book I really hoped somebody would make some kind of public announcement that it could be potentially triggering because I think if I hadn’t been in the place I am right now with my recovery it would’ve thrown me right back in. Portia was well-intentioned in writing the memoir (and I think it’s great for people who have recovered or for those close to someone with an ED and trying to understand them) but it needs some kind of warning label on it in my opinion.

Reply

Jenn from Much to My Delight February 23, 2011 at 6:59 pm

This is a really great post. I’ve been wanting to read that book (could there be a more perfect title for a book about eating disorders?).

Reply

Katelyn @ Chef Katelyn February 23, 2011 at 7:06 pm

I purchased this book a while back and it was still a bit triggering (unfortunately), so I am waiting a bit to finish reading it. But those were the best quotes of the book, the deepest, and ring true for myself as well. Portia is absolutely inspirational, and her struggle speaks to the issues found by so many girls – they do not even realize it is a “disorder”. Thank you for this post, Ang! I currently have a Mission: I Feel Pretty movement going on on my bloggy, and I would love it if you would mention it! It has so much to do with disordered eating struggles, and I feel like it could help so many women!

http://chefkatelyn.wordpress.com/mission-i-feel-pretty/

Reply

Nour A February 23, 2011 at 7:13 pm

I want to read this book!! Thanks for your thoughts :)

Reply

Joey February 23, 2011 at 7:51 pm

I read this book shortly after it came out and really enjoyed it…for the most part. I agree the end/recovery portion of the book was sparser than I would have liked. After reading the book, I pretty much chatted with everyone who would listen about how I felt about the book. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an eating disorder, but I do know I can definitely relate to quite a bit of what she spoke of in the book. I think many people can.

Reply

Cindy February 23, 2011 at 7:53 pm

I just finished reading this book and couldn’t put it down. While not having bulimia or anorexia, I definitely know I’ve suffered from disordered eating and identified with a lot of behaviours and thought patterns that Portia had…the compulsive calorie counting, hating to look at myself in the mirror…it was interesting to see really how close I came. I too, like you look at my body so differently now…I like that I’m athletic and strong and have muscles!

Reply

Jocelyn (formerly jocelyn eats fresh) February 23, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Hey Angela… I have really been struggling for the past few months.and i needed to read this! I think I will look for this book :)

Reply

Lily @ Lily's Health Pad February 23, 2011 at 8:49 pm

I’m actually reading this book right now. I’m certainly enjoying it. What I find more interesting than her eating disorder is her behind the scenes look at what life as a star is like. So interesting that she was so talented and successful yet so sad.

Reply

Erin February 23, 2011 at 8:54 pm

omg I did a blog post on the same thing!!!! about a month ago. I could not put this book down. I loved it and hated it… I loved it because it totally described the insanity that you can get while deep in the disease and it explains it in a way that for those who didnt suffer from the disease they can get a real glimpse. I hated it because for a bit i kind of sunk into the deepness of the disease again, not going back into it but the raw emotions came back. But it was refreshing because it was a hard reminder of where I DO NOT want to ever be again!!!! Glad you posted on this as well, I am definitely going to re-read the book again :-)

Reply

Kath (My Funny Little Life) February 23, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Thank you for sharing this! I’ve heard a lot about this book lately, so I was interested in learning more about it.

Reply

Lisa February 23, 2011 at 9:29 pm

::lurker comes out:::
I just read this book on Sunday. Yup, the whole thing, start to finish. On Sunday. I absolutely loved it (although do wish she chronicled some of her recovery- while recovery is intensely personal, it’s important to reiterate that it’s not always pretty and doesn’t always feel good.) So many “experts” (doc, psychologists, therapists, etc) do say that an ED is something you have to live with, and they pass that down to their patients- SO WRONG. I had a life with my eating disorder 8 years ago and I can confidentaly say I am 100% recovered.

The saddest thing for me, with Portia’s book, wasn’t about her eating disorder- it was her intense self-hatred for being gay. Perhaps I was raised very liberally, and live in a liberal area, but it makes me SO SAD and feel such pain for homosexuals who don’t feel that they are “right” or that their sexual preference is “wrong”. I guess I live in a bubble where it doesn’t matter to me what sexual orientation people are- the fact that she had such intense self hatred about being gay not so long out really upsets me- I wish we were past all of this homophobia.

Reply

Angela (Oh She Glows) February 23, 2011 at 10:23 pm

I too thought that was so sad, especially when her mom told her to hide it from her family.

Reply

Angie February 23, 2011 at 9:40 pm

I just love how inspiring you are! I agree that there is no happiness finish like, we should always strive to do more, get stronger and become better people in this world! Just love your posts Angela! I’m Angie and I have a blog of my own. I’ve tried your pumpkin butter recipes and pumpkin bread (the bread where you put the pumpkin butter inside the loaf…genius by the way!) It’s nice to “meet” ya!

Reply

Angela (Oh She Glows) February 23, 2011 at 10:23 pm

heeeeeyaaaaaaaa!

Reply

SaraD February 23, 2011 at 9:55 pm

I read this book a few months ago. As someone who struggles with health and wellness from the opposite enf of the spectrum (obesity) I was amazed at how the inner workings of our minds were still so similar. She did speak quite candidly about her habits and I thought the same thing about triggers for those who are battling an ED.

I also have that same mug! It makes me smile whenever I drink from it. :)

Reply

Rebecca February 23, 2011 at 10:25 pm

I’m so comforted by the fact that you and others recognized the potential for the book to be a trigger. While I very much enjoyed reading the book and being able to identify with someone so closely, it did trigger me. I kept thinking, “what’s wrong with me that I’m reading this inspiring story about survival and victory and it’s making me want to take 3 steps back?”. In the end, I’m glad that I read the book because the short part about her recovery was encouraging. With a background in clinical psychology, I know all about the clinical side of treatment, but nothing compares to hearing someone who has recovered tell you about the process. I’m comforted to know I’m not the only one who had a mixed response, though.

Reply

JenATX February 23, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Yep, I feel ya on this one. When Portia spoke on the Ellen show about how she posted her goal weight on her walls & then would take down those weights once she achieved them I was actually jealous of her self determination. And then I thought “oh my gosh, how awful that I’m jealous of this woman when she was suffering.” I think it just goes to show how restriction & weight loss is about so much more than food.

Anyway, thanks Angela. I love the part at the end about happiness having no finish line. There probably won’t ever be some day that I’m completely OK with everything but its comforting to know that it doesnt have to be :)

Reply

Richelle February 23, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Great post, I love it when you write abou this topic. Thanks.

Reply

Jen February 23, 2011 at 10:46 pm

I had my first support group for people with BED and bulimia. I am tired of having disordered eating and binging, feeling bad, binging some more, feeling bad. I need to get off of this cycle and away from the control the scale has over my life. Thanks for inspiring me.

Reply

Erin @ WholesomeRD February 23, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Thanks for sharing! So inspiring! :)

Reply

Jolene (www.everydayfoodie.ca) February 23, 2011 at 11:41 pm

I am reading the book right now!! About half way through :-)

Reply

Casey Thomas February 24, 2011 at 12:41 am

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long while but just haven;t picked it up yet. Thank you for sharing so much of it. I had tears reading about Portia’s journey.

I found becoming a vegan to be a hue part of my healing from emotional and disordered eating. That connection with a bigger meaning and seeing food on a more spiritual level was a huge element in my own healing.

Thanks Angela!

Reply

Lynna February 24, 2011 at 12:52 am

“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.” I love how you said this at the end of the post. I’ve been feeling the same way lately but couldn’t quite articulate it (I’ve struggled with depression and binge eating in the past). While I still have things to work on, the way I respond to bad feelings now is much more positive than before. It’s so important to take action and make a positive choice when you’re feeling down (i.e. going to the gym, talking to a friend, writing etc.)– for me, that’s the best way to stop negativity in its tracks. Thanks for this post!

Reply

Ryan @ Aloha Appetite February 24, 2011 at 1:02 am

I love the statement about cursing the thighs and then thanking them; my thoughts exactly. Amazing how transformations come about!

Reply

Juli February 24, 2011 at 7:22 am

Beautiful post, Angela. Just beautiful.

Reply

Allison February 24, 2011 at 8:12 am

I love your closing comment & had to share it… “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.”

Thanks for your inspiration.

Reply

JT February 24, 2011 at 9:38 am

I have not read the book. I found your blog last year and have been an avid follower ever since. I was very moved by your story but it devastates me everyday to see some of the beautiful souls who also follow your blog and HOW MANY suffer with an eating disorder. WOW! I had no idea there were so so so many out there. I have two daughters and I am now so so scared for them to grow up surrounded by this fear and the perception of perfection.
For all of you out there, you are so worthy of life…and a happy, healthy one at that. You are all beautiful and are all Creators perfection at this exact moment (and every other moment as well). Bless your hearts! Love yourself, every body part and every flaw are your perfection!!!!

Reply

Leah February 24, 2011 at 10:48 am

Did you see Portia on Oprah when she was discussing this book? What a POWERFUL show. At one point she talked about her mother on Christmas Day and how she said to her “I accept you for who you are”…because obviously she hid that she was gay and had an eating disorder. That crushed me and made me pick up Sophie off the floor from where she was playing and I just hugged her. I cannot imagine Sophie ever feeling that she would have to hide something from me like that. I hope she grows up knowing that I accept her no matter what. From the excerpts that were read on the show it sounds like quite the book. I learned so much about Portia from that show. I loved how at the end she said that a key to her recovery was not restricting anything from her diet and allowing herself as much as she wants of anything. She believes that the more you allow yourself the less you want it and the more you just listen to your body. Eventually everything evens out.

Reply

E February 24, 2011 at 1:14 pm

This is so wonderful. I’m in recovery for an eating disorder (bulimia) and lately have been feeling overwhelmed by the fact that while my physical symptoms have more or less stopped, I am going to have to mentally wrestle with food and weight every day for a long, long time. I love your blog because it’s empowering to see what a happy eater you have become post-ED, but it’s also reassuring in a way to know that even someone as seemingly grounded as you are now still considers it a daily process. I think reframing this struggle in my mind from a life sentence of mental anguish to a daily opportunity to grow in my commitment to health and happiness will help me keep in a positive frame of mind about my recovery and prevent me from falling off the wagon. Definitely considering making some inspirational signs of these quotes for my bedroom walls!

Would you say the book is more or less triggering than Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted (if you’ve read it)? I thought that book was brilliant, and particularly helpful to hand to my family and say “This is what I’m going through,” but it sent me into a two-week-long tailspin the last time I read it (at a point several months into recovery when I thought I could handle revisiting the material). I really want to read Portia’s book, but I’m not itching to relive the Wasted experience. Any insight would be so very much appreciated.

Thank you for always being so candid about your experience! I look forward to the day I feel brave and secure enough to blog about my own eating disorder and recovery. For now though, I continue to lurk behind my quasi-anonymous initial.

x
E

Reply

E February 24, 2011 at 1:15 pm

This is so wonderful. I’m in recovery for an eating disorder (bulimia) and lately have been feeling overwhelmed by the fact that while my physical symptoms have more or less stopped, I am going to have to mentally wrestle with food and weight every day for a long, long time. I love your blog because it’s empowering to see what a happy eater you have become post-ED, but it’s also reassuring in a way to know that even someone as seemingly grounded as you are now still considers it a daily process. I think reframing this struggle in my mind from a life sentence of mental anguish to a daily opportunity to grow in my commitment to health and happiness will help me keep in a positive frame of mind about my recovery and prevent me from falling off the wagon. Definitely considering making some inspirational signs of these quotes for my bedroom walls!

Would you say the book is more or less triggering than Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted (if you’ve read it)? I thought that book was brilliant, and particularly helpful to hand to my family and say “This is what I’m going through,” but it sent me into a two-week-long tailspin the last time I read it (at a point several months into recovery when I thought I could handle revisiting the material). I really want to read Portia’s book, but I’m not itching to relive the Wasted experience. Any insight would be so very much appreciated.

Thank you for always being so candid about your experience! I look forward to the day I feel brave and secure enough to blog about my own eating disorder and recovery. For now though, I continue to lurk behind my quasi-anonymous initial.

x
E

Reply

Angela (Oh She Glows) February 24, 2011 at 1:19 pm

I would say that it is on par with Wasted…Portia holds NOTHING back in the book. I commend her for that, but at the same time, one should take caution when reading it. All the best, Ange :)

Reply

Jenna February 25, 2011 at 10:24 pm

I think “Wasted” is a separate genre on its own. “Wasted” really chronicles the madness, the depression, the depth…the true depth of one who not only engages in ED like behaviors, but also cutting, manic behaviors, etc…If you’ve read her other book “Madness”, you’ll see this girl faced (faces?) deep challenges.
Much different from Portia’s story altogether…very different since Portia’s has a lot to do with modelling, hollywood, being skinny, etc…of course, it stems from her insecurities, etc…but completely different in my eye.
That’s the thing: I see you and so many others go on and run and run and thrive in life. I’ve ruined my body. I’m done. More than just an eating thing; its a deep, deep darkness. I find these things to be completely separate. Together. But individual experiences are so different —like no one could ever know what its like for me daily to perservere (just as I would never be able to know what another lives with).

Reply

Natalia - a side of simple February 24, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Great review, Angela. This is such an important and delicate topic, and I really appreciate how you’ve articulated your thoughts and perspective, as well as chosen ideal quotes from the book. I think I’m definitely going to put this on my reading list!
As always, thanks for sharing your glow :)

Reply

Paulina (One Smile Ahead) February 24, 2011 at 8:06 pm

I would love to read this book, but to be honest I’m not really sure if I’m ready for it yet. I think I need something which would cover recovery more.. Do you have any suggestions? :] It’s such a delicate topic and I really admire you for talking about it so openly. Thank you for all the everyday inspirations!

Reply

Dori February 24, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Thank you for this wonderful review. I wanted to read this book, but now I absolutely can’t wait to go out and get it. I just finished Wasted by Marya Hornbacher, have you read? It is very intense and would be very triggering for those who have suffered, but it was an amazingly honest account of her eating disorders.

Reply

Aska March 23, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Hi Angela,
Have you read the book “Eating in the Light of the Moon”? My counselor recommended it to me and I’ve been awed and inspired by every chapter of the book so far. It’s a great way to discover ways to reconnect with yourself. If you feel like picking up another book, I definitely recommend it! Thank you again for being who you are.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: