If I’m being honest, I know very little about Portia de Rossi other than she is Ellen DeGegenere’s wife. I really had no real reason to pick up Unbearable Lightless, her autobiographic account of her battle with anorexia and bulimia. Yet, I was at the library, saw it on the shelf, and something drew me to it.
I am so glad. de Rossi’s story is nothing if not compelling and heartbreaking.
Her fight with eating disorders began when she was a teen model in Australia. After moving to America, she landed a plum role on the new hit show Ally McBeal as lawyer Nelle Porter. Trying to establish a career as an up and coming actress on one of television’s most popular shows took it’s toll. It was in this season that her battle truly began as she fought to see the numbers on the scale continue to decrease.
For many years, it had been the binge and purge cycle of bulimia that won over. It was after meeting with a nutritionist that Portia learned that was not the best approach. She took the dietary guidelines handed to her and took them to an extreme. Rather than the 1,400 calories her nutritionist recommended for weight loss, she aimed for 1,000, a number that slowly diminished over time.
She tells one story of sprinting back and forth across a parking garage in platform shoes after binging on a package of chewing gum out of fear that the calories would turn to fat if she didn’t burn them off fast enough. There are numerous other stories that were saddening. Near the end of the book are a few pictures during this time. She was quite literally skin and bones. How could she be anything else exercising obsessively and eating a whopping 300 calories a day?
What I loved most about de Rossi’s story was not the lows she reached. No, that part of the story was hard to read. It was her attitude towards food and exercise today that inspired me. In a time when models are dying because of eating disorders, it is refreshing to hear of someone who not only fought to get her life back, but gained a healthy, positive mindset in the process.
What I particularly loved in the epilogue was when Portia took on an Operation Beautiful tone.
Love your body the way it is and feel grateful toward it. Most important, in order to find real happiness, you must learn to love yourself for the totality of who you are and not just what you look like.
If de Rossi’s story shows nothing else, it is a lovely example of someone who can fight her way back from the brink of death as a result of a lifetime of struggling with eating disorders, and develop a healthy lifestyle and body image.
Although I wouldn’t recommend the book to anyone struggling with or recovering from an eating disorder or disordered eating, I think that it is an inspiring story. It shows the mental and physical toll that comes with these patterns and as she said, it is something that may never completely go away. I think for someone who almost died as a result of her eating and exercise obsessed lifestyle, the 180 degree turn in a healthy, balanced direction is wonderful.