Easier to be me

I don't usually read news about celebrities, even when it does pertain to eating disorders. But by mistake, I clicked on a link about actress Portia De Generes, who has been in the news about her own eating disorder and subsequent memoir.  It was a very brief article--it covered a book signing--but there was one quote from Portia that really struck me:

I didn’t decide to become anorexic. It snuck up on me disguised as a healthy diet, a professional attitude. Being as thin as possible was a way to make the job of being an actress easier…

It's something I really understood.  I'm no actress, but being anorexic made it easier to be me.

Anorexia distilled all of those nagging doubt, those annoying existential worries, into just a few questions: How many calories did I eat? How many did I get rid of (exercise/purging)? What do I weigh?

That's it.  That's all that mattered.

I went through phases where other questions would branch off from those (How many fat grams? How many pills? How many hours without eating?) but those were The Big Three.

Worrying about my career choice seemed like small peanuts compared to thinking about how to construct a low calorie dinner followed by a brutal cardio routine.  It made life feel manageable.  Those three things were something I could control.*

Like Portia, I didn't decide to become anorexic.  I thought I was exercising more and cutting out extras to feel better and yes, have the five or so pounds I'd recently gained go away.  And I often hid my eating disorder behind the guise of a strange diet, a love of the gym, a need to be "healthy."  It took me a long time to understand that I wasn't someone who loved to exercise, I was someone who was addicted to exercise.  And that "healthy eating" was a big joke--I didn't give a damn about health and I knew it.  But it was something that would make other people get off my back, and for a long time, I honestly thought there was nothing wrong and I had the situation under control.

The rigidity of anorexia fit my persona: the driven go-getter, the ambitious student.  No one questioned that things might be going to far until they were so far gone that I was well and truly f*cked.  My attitude towards life was reflected in my attitude towards food.  Nothing less than the best. Don't play if there's still work to be done. You're too lazy, you need to work harder, you're going to fail.

And that has been the hardest part of letting go, having to give up the one thing that seemed to make life easier.  What has helped was realizing that it didn't actually make life easier, it just made life seem easier.

*I still get skeevy when people say an eating disorder is "all about control."  It's not all about control, but control is a major theme for many people with eating disorders.

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Anonymous said...

"Nothing less than the best. Don't play if there's still work to be done. You're too lazy, you need to work harder, you're going to fail."

Reading this was painful: it's me, to a T. (To the point that I just spent probably a minute deliberating over that last comma. Writing a 3-page essay takes me days.) The perfectionism, doubt, and self-criticism have definitely gotten worse as I've gotten better. I don't know how to find freedom from the stress and anguish--but I don't think I can live the rest of my life like this.

hm said...

"And that has been the hardest part of letting go, having to give up the one thing that seemed to make life easier. What has helped was realizing that it didn't actually make life easier, it just made life seem easier."

Powerful words. Shocking words. I'm still trying to get a grip on the fact that the ED, in fact, steals life rather than enhancing it- or making it bearable. It offers the illusion of solution wrapped in a death wish.

Carrie Arnold said...


Speaking as a writer/perfectionist, the comma could go either way. ;)

And yes, as I tackled the eating disorder, perfectionism, anxiety, etc, got worse in other areas of my life because I wasn't channeling them into the food issues.

That's my next big hurdle to tackle in therapy: perfectionism and black/white thinking.

Anonymous said...

Carrie - another excellent post, it seems you have an insight into how my mind works. Keep blogging, you are a great writer and an inspiration for me to continue the road to recovery.

Dana Udall-Weiner said...

Really like that you are addressing the myth that an eating disorder is a choice. I can definitely relate to the idea that an ED makes life seem easier, but in fact really makes things so much harder.

EmilyH said...

I started to read Portia's book, but I had to stop because she includes a lot of details that, honestly, were triggering to me. She talks specifics about how many calories she cut down to, what sizes she wore, and how much she weighed at different times. I didn't think all those details were necessary. All it did was make my ED voice say, "See, you're not as good of an anorexic as she is. She must be way more disciplined than you. You never got down to 100 pounds like Portia, so she must be a better anorexic than you are."

That's why I benefited more from reading Jenni Schaefer's books because she knows how triggering those details are and left them out.

-Emily H.

Incredible Eating Anorexics said...

I relate to your title and what you write so much. Its like that book "don't sweat the small stuff" but in opposite, i couldn't sweat the big stuff therefore the relatively small stuff for most people became the big stuff...

i hope this makes sense...
your title makes too much sense too me...


Jessi said...

i'm with the last poster!!!

everything that you have said ruminates perfectly with me also.

getting away from the ED is like turning into a person that I don't know and who isn't "me".. The ED does make it easier to be ME!

Anonymous said...

i agree with the control comment it's like, gee, thanks, im a control freak than am i?

HikerRD said...

Even tackling the "black and white thinking' isn't so black and white. Apparently, you're well on your way to tackling it, as you've gotten as far as you have in recovery!


Ashley @ Nourishing the Soul said...

That is a very powerful statement by Portia. A family member is actually sending me her book because she thought I would be interested. I have had many patients talk about wanting to read it and I'd like to have a handle on how Portia presents her disorder. I've heard it could be very triggering to some. Wondering if you've read it or plan to and/or what your experience with ED memoirs has been.

Anonymous said...

Great post Carrie. I read her book and had to constantly remind myself that her life and choices aren't mine and to compare my ED status to her experience isn't rational.
I also agree that my development of my ED was not my choice.

But my recovery is.

And I'm grateful to attempt to reach for that choice each day.

Thanks for the conjuring ideas Carrie.

Carrie Arnold said...

FWIW, I haven't read Portia's book and I probably won't.

I used to devour ED memoirs. Although I still read ED books and such, I steer clear of most memoirs. I know what having an eating disorder is like--I don't need to read about it.

{{And yes, I've written my own memoir, so I realize it's rather ironic that I'm saying this, but whatever.}}

Anonymous said...

I like what you said in your last comment about memoirs:

"I know what having an eating disorder is like. I don't need to read about it."

It's so true....why read a book that could be triggering if you already know what it's like to suffer with ed?

Carrie Arnold said...


I know some people read the memoirs for education and understanding (I'm much more likely to read a memoir, say, about binge eating disorder than anorexia/bulimia simply because I know less about it), and to feel less alone. When I was first diagnosed with OCD, I found tremendous comfort in reading other sufferers' stories because it felt so nice to know other people felt the same way.

I'm not against people reading memoirs--far from it. But I personally am not very drawn to them at this point in my recovery.

Anonymous said...

Again you've written a post that seems to connect your thoughts to mine. My illness was bulimia and control issues and perfectionism are still occasional problems. I find yoga and swimming especially helpful.

I am reading Portia de Rossi's book, and am finding that she is a great narrator and gives her justification for ed behaviors in detail. It is not as if it seems salacious but the story could be told without the calorie counts.

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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