I recently watched the co-host of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Mika Brzezinski, discuss her new book about her secret struggles with food and it made me think of Miss Elegant.
I refer to her as Miss Elegant
because she used to come to our sessions directly from her job at a stylish boutique wearing chic, size two outfits. She wore lots of big jewelry and tailored white shirts and she had impeccable taste.
But even now this woman’s story tugs at my heart. Miss Elegant was a third generation eating disordered woman who grew up watching her mother leave the dinner table each night to “use the bathroom,” which was code for throwing up.
Except no one dared talk about this secret in her family.
After all, her grandmother had been anorexic.
One day she asked me, “Leslie did you hear from my insurance company yet? They have to approve my treatment. They have to!”
When I told her I’d be advocating her case with a mental health reviewer the next day, she told me what I should emphasize. At five feet four inches she was worried that her current weight of 102 pounds might be mistaken for health.
“Can you please explain it? Tell them I’ve weighed 140 pounds and I’ve weighed 80 pounds, and nothing changes, not-inside-me! They have to know it’s not about my weight. It’s what’s going on in my head, can you please make sure they understand this, Leslie?”
After she said these words I remember pausing. It such a riveting moment of truth and I suddenly wished other women could hear this; even though Miss Elegant was still vomiting several times a day she realized there was no magical number on the scale anymore.
I share this story because this morning when I listened to Mika Brzezinski and Diane Smith discuss their latest book, Obsessed: America's Food Addiction -- and My Own, I was reminded of how easy it is to become fixated on a certain dream weight. And how common it is to keep this obsession about weight a secret.
I’ve been watching Mika’s news show for years now and her rants against junk food are legendary. She talks openly about her physical work-outs and her dedication to running and jokingly complains about the eating habits of her co-hosts. But until this book, I didn’t realize she had a secret obsession with her weight and food. From the outside, she looks like the epitome of physical health.
Of course eating disorders are tough to spot from the outside. In fact, one frustration for women who are at a low weight, is how many compliments they receive from those around them. They can be vomiting like crazy, abusing laxatives, running ten miles as punishment for eating a piece of pizza (Mika’s example) and filled with shame,
but as long as they’re thin, they continue to get admiring comments.
Mika and her co-host Joe Scarbough
On the show Mika shared her struggle to maintain an unhealthy weight of 118 pounds (she’s 5 feet 6’½ inches ) but talked openly about all the compliments she got when she was “too skinny.”
Eventually her close friend Diane Smith confronted her on Labor Day weekend 2011.
Diane, who was 5 feet 8 inches and weighed 250 pounds admitted to Mika that she never knew what to cook when Mika was a guest, calling her the “food police” and admitting how self conscious she felt about her own weight problem around her. Diane’s honesty led them both to an in-depth conversation that prompted Mika to share the truth.
“You really don’t know how much I struggle with food?” she asked her long time friend.
“You’re fat. I’m skinny. But we have the same problems.” Mika told her.
And although initially it was hard for Diane to believe that someone who wore a size two could feel a similar torment over weight and food, it was this discussion that led to their collaboration on this book.
During the writing process Mika offered Diane the advance money of the book to finally get help and lose her weight. And to deal with the emotions that were being masked by the focus on food.
And at this time, Diane has lost 70 pounds and is still losing more with the help of a personal trainer and healthy eating. And Mika is now 132 pounds and a size six.
Mika and Diane in the studio
Together they’ve written a book that includes some of the latest science on sugar, salt and fat, and how these three substances promote an addiction to unhealthy foods.
I’m definitely adding this to my book list.
can you relate to having a love-hate relationship with the bathroom scale?
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