I’ve been struggling with binge eating and anorexia for a while; if you read my bio on our blog page you’ll see a little more about my history with food. I know a lot of women look up to actresses, and there are plenty of them who are in great shape, healthfully (my co-blogger Christy being one of them). As somebody who has been celebrated for her figure (in my feature film debut I played a ballet dancer AND got naked), I am proof that sometimes it is a false ideal, even when you have all the resources available to you, like a personal trainer, meal deliveries, a shrink, hypnosis coach, a best friend who’s a nutritionist…I felt like I had legitimate reasons to obsess about my weight – after all, my career depended on it.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure, there is no reason good enough that’s ever worth risking your mental and physical health.
The last year has been a big deal for me, as I have successfully quieted the thoughts and behaviors that have taken over me day after day for years. Part of that was taking time away from a business that places a value on superficial beauty and releasing some of the pressure to look a certain way. I by no means have this all figured out – as with any addiction it’s day-by-day, with some days harder than others.
Here are a few things in the last year that I’ve found to be helpful to stop my disordered eating. I know some of it goes against “typical” diet advice you may have heard before, but my situation was pretty drastic. If you or someone you know has been struggling with this type of eating disorder for a while, I hope this is helpful.
1. Don’t set up diet rules. Eat when you’re hungry and try to make it as unprocessed as possible. (Easier said than done.) Forget about what time to eat, how often, how many sugar, proteins, carbs, etc. Eat to feel energized and try to get as many vitamins and nutrients into your body as possible. I take “green pills” whenever I can’t get something green at a meal, and I find that it keeps my cravings at bay. Experiment with your body and how food affects it. This is where years of trying every type of diet under the sun actually came in handy – I now know enough about what kinds of food and how much of it will affect my mood and energy levels.
2. Don’t banish food you want from your house. Your relationship with food can change – even those pesky “trigger foods.” For years, I used to be unable to have ANYTHING snackable in my kitchen – including energy bars, dried fruit and nuts, even carrots (if there was hummus around). This meant whenever I went someplace where that kind of food WAS around (my parents’ house, when I was working on set) I would go crazy – even on “health food.” I decided I should stock my kitchen with the foods I would want to eat daily – I didn’t want to live a life without cereal and bread anymore (my poor husband didn’t either). Initially, I gained about 25 pounds because old habits are hard to break. But over time the novelty has worn off and so is the extra weight, without even thinking about it.
3. Size doesn’t matter. I’ve been everywhere from a 0 to a 14 for months and years at a time. I can’t say I was particularly happier or sad either way; life is still complex and you still have to deal with it. I used to get rid of my clothes when I lost or gained weight, now I just keep my favorites in boxes. Whatever size I wear today, I wear. But I try not to allow it to determine my mood or self worth.
4. Set up an after-meal ritual. For me, this involves a cup of tea, a piece of sucking candy, and an activity. The warm liquid soothes me, the sucking candy curbs my sweet tooth, and by the time I’m done with both I’m not thinking about if I still want more food. Then I do something to keep my mind off of eating. It may seem a little OCD (I do this after every meal, you’ll see, if you read the blog) but hey – a lot better than eating a box of donuts.
5. Move every day. As the music and theater geek who was always picked last for kickball, I have never considered myself an athlete. I have found activities I’m willing to do – yoga, light weights, hiking, and gym. Exercise helps keep away the depression, and keeping depression at bay is key for battling an eating disorder. If I really don’t want to get moving, I’ll do my minimum – an hour walk around the neighborhood. I download podcasts on my ipod to listen to on the walk so I always have something to look forward to. (If you want podcast suggestions, just email me – actorsdiet(at)gmail.com, I have a whole bunch I subscribe to.)
6. Get support. I’ve cultivated a wonderful relationship with my friends, and I know I can count on them for anything. But I’ve made it a rule not to talk about food too much with them when I’m upset (i.e. It’s not the bag of Oreos I ate that I feel gross about, so much that my life feels out of control). My whole family knows about my eating disorder now, and I’m very honest about what I need from them. My husband is my rock – he never judges me, when things are good or bad. I’ve been seeing my therapist, an eating disorders specialist, for over three years now. Results don’t come immediately, but they will, and the hard work is definitely worth it.
7. Stop, for your future health. You would think that getting sick to the point of food poisoning symptoms (numerous times) after bingeing would stop me. Or having to buy new wardrobes over and over again would have. Or having my managers tell me I needed to lose weight because my career was at stake. Nope, probably the biggest motivator for stopping the bingeing was because I found out I had high cholesterol and wanted to lower it. And the anorexia stopped when I lost my period for the second time and wanted to stop messing with my fertility.
8. Find creative ways to release stress and frustration, and banish boredom. Actors have way too much free time, sitting around and waiting for the phone to ring. We’re constantly being rejected – sometimes going years between jobs and auditioning constantly. Instead of turning to food, I now journal, listen to relaxation tapes, go for long walks, practice piano, and of course, blog!