#8: The (Too) Skinny

How do we stay on the safe side of skinny?

I caught Portia De Rossi (now Degeneres) on Oprah the other day. She was discussing her new memoir, called Unbearable Lightness. Who knew she’d had such a desperate relationship with food not so long ago? Well, okay, we all did, if we watched Ally McBeal, but I didn’t understand that the actresses we rolled our eyes at, saying they were too skinny, actually had serious eating disorders. When Portia hit her lowest point, she was 82 pounds!

It struck me as I listened to her talk how very hard it is, for a lot of people, to watch what they eat and stay mentally healthy about it. Once you’re “watching what you eat,” maybe counting calories, it’s not terribly difficult to see how you might get a little too into it, and start flirting with bulimia, deprivation, or at least obsession. I realize I’m lucky because it isn’t hard for me to be moderate in most things I do. I have pretty fierce willpower, so I can say no to dessert if I want to. But what makes it so much easier is that I usually say yes. I just stop after one cookie instead of eating two or three or a whole box. It sounds so easy, I know.

I think I’m mentally healthy about eating and exercising, but then I realize that I do think the occasional, “I’m going to have to work out extra hard tomorrow after that dinner.” Is that obsessive? See what I mean? It’s a fine line we walk between knowing how to do it right and obsessing about it. Suddenly I am seeing how agonizing it must be for chronic dieters to find their “happy.” When are they at peace with themselves? Ever? Do they thrive on the quest for their goal weight, and so inevitably gain it all back once the goal is achieved? I would welcome your comments if you are responding to this as you’re reading.

So how do we stay on the safe side of things? I think you have to stop counting calories and just start eating (mostly) healthy things. If you’re eating fruits and veggies, grains and natural flavorings—and the occasional ice cream sandwich—you don’t have to count. As for exercise, make it your rule to be active at least 30 minutes—an hour if you’ve got the time—most days of the week, varying the activities. If you find yourself removing sesame seeds from your bread or staying at the gym for two hours several days a week, check yourself. Remind yourself that the quest is to get healthy, not skinny!