This is the first book review I am posting. I am doing so because I feel it is important to warn potential readers.
I purchased this book because I thought it was going to be different from all the countless eating disorder memoirs lining the non-fiction shelves in which the authors essentially compete with one another to tell the most shocking and extreme war stories of starving, exercising, and/or binging and purging-- always under the guise of helping others by "shedding light" on the problem. I had seen Portia in interviews, looking healthy and claiming she was fully recovered (which, as she notes in the book, is something many in the ED community claim is not even possible; the best you can hope for is "active recovery" or "remission"). Most intriguing of all for me was the oft-trumpeted fact that she went from 82 to 130 pounds (though reading the book, you find out that before 130 she went to 168) WHILE on a weekly television show-- very much in the media spotlight-- and without ever getting inpatient treatment. In other words, I was interested in learning about her RECOVERY and hoping that her experiences would be, if not helpful, at least comforting to me, as I struggle to find peace inhabiting my own body as I gain weight.
To my disappointment, THIS BOOK IS NOT ABOUT RECOVERY. This book is a highly detailed narrative about de Rossi's journey from a low-level eating disorder (cycles of binging, purging, and starving, but always staying at about the same weight) to extremely, morbidly anorexic. Like most books of its genre, it details her daily diet and exercise rituals, offering plenty of fodder for "inspiring" readers with eating disorders (as sick as that sounds, it is very common for people with eating disorders, or people who want to have eating disorders-- yes, there are many-- to use these books as research on how to lose weight and be anorexic). It is VERY TRIGGERING, which is a term anyone with an eating disorder will understand.
I literally YELLED at the book when it ended with Portia reaching her "bottom," her sickest. NOTHING about her recovery. And note, the subtitle is "A Story of Loss and Gain." Where was the GAIN? Only when I turned to page to the "epilogue" did I find anything about "gain," recovery. And it's the EPILOGUE-- essentially a footnote at the end of this detailed war story, which you can imagine her publisher told her she should tack on so they could put an "inspirational" spin on it. Or maybe all along she wanted this to part of the story she told-- if so, she should NOT have relegated it to a few pages at the end. Perhaps no so much in the summaries/reviews of this book, but certainly in interviews she gave to promote it, it was marketed as recovery story. It is not.
I would tell people who have or have had eating disorders-- and most everyone-- to steer clear of this book. I don't think it's helpful. Rather, I think it's self-indulgent. There are things for which she deserves credit, and one of those is her willingness to acknowledge how proud she "was" of her anorexia, how strong it made her to have "accomplished" something few people can. Mind you, this is not at all a unique way of feeling-- I suspect every anorexic who has been told they are "too thin" feels the same thing-- but many are not willing to admit this. So appreciated that honesty. I also appreciated the honesty of the epilogue, in which she is very candid about a much less glorified side of eating disorders-- binging uncontrollably and rapidly gaining weight. If there's one thing about this book that I think could potentially be helpful to those with eating disorders it is the exposing of this "flip side." Of how starving is nearly impossible to sustain, and the body will rebel, and binging and rapid weight gain often accompany starving at some point. She spent much of the book discussing measuring ⅔ packet of oatmeal and cooking egg whites; I appreciate that she was honest enough to detail her binges as well, including presenting a day from her food journal from when she was binging, which probably amounted to upwards of 5,000 calories. I appreciate this not because I want to see her shamed, but because people should know that THIS is the flip side of anorexia for many people-- not at all "impressive," the antithesis of "will power."
At the same time, I fear the epilogue itself could be as harmful to people with eating disorders as the main portion of the book that details how to be anorexic. De Rossi's experience, as she tells it, was that she hit a bottom with her anorexia and then "gave up"-- in defeat. And once she gave up, she no longer had the "strength" to restrict, and swung to uncontrollable overeating and excessive weight gain. While this is not uncommon, and I appreciate her honesty, it is the worst nightmare of every anorexic. My fear is that if people read this in the throughs of anorexia, they will see hers as a cautionary tale and her experience will further convince them that they cannot "afford" to ease up on their restricting, less they loose all "control" and can't stop eating and become overweight, which is what de Rossi says happened to her.
De Rossi does not offer much, if any, insight into recovery. She admits she quit therapy prematurely, and ultimately decided one day to copy a "normal" eater and eat whatever she wanted whenever she wanted, and then her weight stabilized. Lucky her. This certainly doesn't seem like a realistic prescription to me. Nor does buying a horse (or a stable full of horses) and spending time riding (equine therapy) or taking helicopter piloting lessons! This is where her "everywoman" perspective is lost. I am truly glad she recovered. The most inspiring part of her story to me is how she came to terms with her homosexuality and finally decided she had to stop pretending to be straight, less her acting career suffer. That, to me, is brave and impressive. Much more so than telling eating disorder war stories.