I’ve lost 10 pounds this month. I haven’t been eating all that healthy, and outside of a few hikes in the canyons of LA, I haven’t been working out much. I attribute the weight loss to the progress and the transparency I’ve embraced about being open about my struggles with an emotional binge eating disorder and a warped sense of body image.
In large part, this came about thru a recent panel at Wonder Con that I put together called “All Shapes and Sizes Welcome: Body Image and Women’s Issues in the Entertainment Industry”; which featured Helenna Santos-Levy, Adrianne Curry, Amber Krzys, Lynn Chen, and Miracle Laurie.
However, the body image struggle has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and long before I found myself in the most body-obsessed industry and city in the world. I’m not exactly sure what happened or what triggered it. I was a happy, fairly active child, participating in dance, gymnastics, cheerleading, and other sports.
When you look at the above photo, what do you see? I see a little girl with a belly sticking out. And it was about this age, approx age 10, that that belly started to take center stage in my mind. Truth be told, I was born with a tiny bit of scoliosis, nothing that could be fixed, but enough of an issue that it caused me to hunch over, be a tad lopsided, and thereby cause my stomach and butt area to stick out slightly.
Somewhere around age 12, I began to feel more and more self-conscious, and although I had been an avid swimmer and loved pools, lakes, ponds, and oceans, I started to shy away from wearing bathing suits, and by age 16, you’d be hard press to find me in anything that didn’t cover my stomach area.
Now, I know as a logical human being that the child and teen in those photos above is in no way, shape or form overweight, but that’s just it, when it comes to body image and eating disorders, there is no logic.
It wasn’t anything major, nothing that kept me from having a happy and social teenage life, as long as swimsuits weren’t involved, but some time in my college years, is when the over-eating really began to take shape.
I had always used food as a way to bond with family. As a child, I would have competitions with my Pop-Pop to see who could eat more mashed potatoes or Chinese food (Pop-Pop a former Navy man, was fit and athletic, and the mashed potatoes didn’t show up on his hips or thighs.) But by college, there was a drastic change.
My face had started to get rounder, and my frame larger, and next thing I knew, I was at Jenny Craig, weighing in at 186 pounds. After joining Jenny Craig, my mom confessed to me that, she had to hold back the tears just a few weeks prior when we went dress shopping together and she saw me in the dressing room. Isn’t it interesting how those that love us, have a hard time being truthful with us about something so important like our health and weight, yet we have no problems gossiping about celebrities and their weight?
Jenny Craig was successful for me. I lost 62 pounds in 10 months, and was even featured in mainstream magazines like Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan.
Life was good. I was buying shorts, and borrowing clothes off my little sisters. Things were great, my weight issues were gone. Or were they?
Flash forward 10 years, and now I’m a working actress in Hollywood, California on the set of HBO’s Deadwood. I had kept off most of the weight from Jenny Craig,
bouncing around in about a 20pd radius.. but something went awry in my brain while working on Deadwood (a show, cast, and crew I ADORED!). I was introduced to the Master Cleanse. I did it for 40 days straight. No food and nothing but the cleanse drink for 40 days. Looking back, I realize, although I was working on the show, and was hired for the way I looked, curves and all, the lead actresses on the show were much, much thinner. And I wanted to be a lead actress.
At the time I thought that girl was healthy. I look at her now, and can see how tiny her face is, and how her neck and shoulder bones are protruding. I had no idea how tiny I had gotten in just 30 days. In fact, the wardrobe dept on Deadwood expressed their concern as they had to take my clothes in from a size 30 waist to a 23 waist.
That cleanse threw my body and mind out of whack and for the next few years, I was obsessed with cleanses and detoxes. Gain 10 pounds. Do a cleanse. Gain. Repeat. As an intelligent woman, I know this is not healthy for my body, my metabolism, or my digestive system. But I couldn’t stop.
About 3yrs ago, I got it under control, and began using a nutritional program called Isagenix (www.selflove.isagenix.com). These products made me feel healthy, helped me maintain my ideal weight (130pds at 5’6 ½), and were packed full of vitamins. I was also in the midst of the busiest career year of my life, and working out regularly. I felt GREAT.
And then… in 2010 I experienced a bout with emotional binge eating unlike anything I had ever experienced. I found myself going to Starbucks ordering sugary drinks and breads 3-5x a day, AND going thru drive thrus 2-4x a time. I could NOT stop.
I remember thinking that I would like to choke and die on the French Fries as I shoveled them down my throat. My head was saying… you’re not happy… eat… but you’re really not happy when you’re fat… oh well…keep eating.. .maybe you’ll choke.
In a matter of about 3 months, I put on 60 pounds. And a few months later I put on another 20 pounds. I hit an all-time high of 206 pounds.
And here I sit. And have sat, since 2010.
In 2011, I took some time off from LA, and went back east. I started seeing an acupuncturist and a spiritual healer. I used aromatherapy, and yoga to get my balance back. I feel like the happy, normal, productive Leah again… yet the weight hasn’t come off.
And now, it is. Because I am being open about this struggle, because I am talking about it, and involving groups of women at panels, and you here at Ms. In The Biz. And because… I think, I am finally starting to love the little girl inside with the tiny belly that sticks out because of her scoliosis, and the woman who she’s become.
The other night, I was at a charity event, and I walked by this gorgeous mirror. I stopped. I looked at myself. And even though I knew I was tired and hadn’t had time to do my hair or makeup. I looked at myself, and I paused, and I thought, “Wow. You are beautiful. I love you.” And I was filled with emotion and love for the soul in the eyes looking back at me.
It’s a long journey back to self-love and recovery. I am still struggling with binge eating, but I am doing much better, and I have all of you to thank for that. For holding space, for listening, for just being. I hope to keep you all updated on my progress.
*Live Love. Love Life*
A body collage 2006-2012