Renowned author and nutritionist Natalia Rose was plagued with anorexia and bulimia during her teenage years, and with related challenges during her early twenties.
I interviewed her last year and in part one of that interview she talks about the wisdom she has picked up on her journey of physical and spiritual healing.
“I was raised not to share this kind of stuff,” Natalia Rose tells me at the start of the interview during which she has agreed to talk, publicly and in detail, for the first time, about her struggles with disordered eating. But she is ready to tell this very personal story now, to offer hope to the many who are going through similar challenges.
She tells me that she remembers wondering, at the tender age of 15 – by which time she was already in the grips of anorexia – “‘What’s so great about life? It feels like it’s all about food and restriction.’ I was going to an amazing school and I had an amazing future ahead of me but all I could think of and see ahead was a future of having to restrict myself.”
And six years later, having left the more dangerous forms of disordered eating behind, but still waging a daily battle with her weight, her prevailing thoughts were, “If it’s this bad at 21, what will it be like at 35? After I’ve had kids I will feel matronly and so unattractive. What’s the point when it’s only going to get worse from here?”
Well, Rose is 36 now, and she has two children – 11-year-old Thandi and 9-year-old Tommy. She has the figure you see in the photo above, and depriving herself of anything she wants to eat is but a distant memory. It’s just that, with a clean body, she now desires only clean foods.
“We’re bombarded with the spoken and unspoken message, ‘Have this slim, sexy body’ but also ‘Eat this [processed] food,’” she observes. “You can’t do both.” And on the subject of life, she now has this to say, “It’s so liberating to have the path lit up. I feel like every day is a chance to make sense of more; to log more miles on this path of discovery. Life is just really, really fun.”
Her stunning transformation was thanks not only to adopting a cleansing diet and lifestyle, but also to a parallel voyage of spiritual discovery. “Yes, I changed my diet, but there was a huge leap between there and coming to consciousness. I was trying to make the life I was living work. That life doesn’t work.
“So yes, change your diet from mainstream to natural foods. But while you’re doing that, see if you can spot all the other things that need to be changed from dysfunctional to functional. This is not just about the food – this is about bringing us back to our humanity. In my case, ultimately it was a shift, on every level, from a life-deteriorating paradigm to a life-generating one that transformed me”.
Rose was raised in the affluent Los Angeles district of Encino. Her father, Ben Barrett, began his career as a heavyweight champion and then found even greater success as a recording studio contractor who worked with many of the music industry’s greats during the 60s, 70s and 80s. He was 64 when he met Rose’s mother – many years his junior – and 69 by the time his daughter was born. “I attribute the fact I have to put a lot of effort to get the health I would like to the fact I was born to an older father,” comments Rose. “This wasn’t the springy DNA of a twentysomething.”
Nonetheless, food at home was at least healthy (relatively speaking) and Rose remembers frequent trips to “70s-style, oldworld health food stores – the kind that smell of B12!” adding that she, “had exposure to consciousness about food from my mother.”
Rose suffered from digestive problems as a child, and recalls stopping on street corners clutching her mid-section, doubled over with the pain. “My mother at least knew to give me acidophilus rather than go to pharmaceutical drugs, and my girlfriends came to know me for my unusual pharmacopoeia of vitamins and other remedies.”
Rose recalls that she and her mother would spend every Saturday shopping on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. “I had beautiful clothes and a willowy figure and it was a constant fashion show. It was nice but I never took it that seriously.” It was when she went to boarding school at 13 to escape LA – a world that was by then starting to confuse her – that food first became an issue.
Back home, the only treats in the pantry were raisins and, occasionally, corn chips. But at school, much of the fare was processed, laden with sugar and salt, and pastry-encrusted. “I had fun, but after four months it was time to go home for Christmas break and I couldn’t get my jeans on,” she remembers. “School was a safe environment to be plump, but home wasn’t. I was going back to fashion central. That’s when I lost my innocence about food.
“When I got off the plane, my mother didn’t have to say anything. She wasn’t even reproachful. There was just this look of, ‘What have they done to you?’ My brother and father also gave me disapproval without meaning to. My brother was very ‘cool’ and handsome, with lots of gorgeous girls around and I felt like a pile of lard next to them. So that Christmas break I decided I don’t want this body – I want that body.”
Rose went back to what she then knew about the best way to lose weight. It was 1989, and fibre was the big thing. “There was a cereal called Common Sense Oat Bran. It was really good.” She remembers. “I got everyone in school on it. The amount of gas in that girls’ cafeteria! I focused a lot on cereal and cottage cheese, and I dropped enough weight that I could go home next break and not feel like a beached whale.”
Rose remembers an extended trip to France the following year as, “the first foray into the extremes of my personality. I told myself, ‘You are going to come back super skinny.’ That was the goal. Not to learn French or to find romance. My priority on that trip was not what I was doing but what I was eating, and when I set my mind on something, I go for it.”
This was when anorexia started to exert its insidious grip on her. “It was almost a high, realising that I had the power to push beyond limitations others couldn’t,” she recalls. “Even though that’s because they’re balanced and don’t need to, in the warped mind of an anorexic it seems like a strength.”
Before long, she was existing on an egg for breakfast and a few bites of chicken and vegetables for dinner. Her weight duly plummeted – at 5’6 she soon weighed just over six stone. “The body contracts the most the first time you do something like this,” she says. “Especially a young body that is strong and able to throw off a lot of weight. I was really proud of it and I got so much praise and validation when I returned home to LA.”
Back at boarding school, Rose started to eat again and gained some weight back. Then the following spring, her father passed away. “A few nights after my Dad died I threw up for the first time,” she recalls. “It was International Night at school and I was so sad and frustrated with everything, I was mindlessly consuming all the food I could.
“I got extremely good at purging. Like anorexia, to the person ill with bulimia it can feel like this strange power that nobody else has. What it was really doing was processing my pain in a really perverse way. I was numbing myself with the food, then purging it out in a really big expression that I needed to make, but didn’t know how else to.”
During summer break, the habit spiralled further out of control, going from once or twice a day to five times a day. “I was in the house on my own so I’d eat and throw up. Then I’d feel acidic, and food would calm that, so I’d repeat the cycle. But something happened in my senior year. I was in a good space and I got over it. It just goes to show that happy, whole people don’t need to do that.”
The following summer, Rose left for the East Coast to begin her studies at New York University. Knowing no one in the city and feeling extremely isolated, the twin demons of anorexia and bulimia again became her coping mechanism. But it was a brief relapse, and she soon banished them once and for all. “I was 19 and I accepted I would have to walk through life a little plumper than I would like,” she says. And of those who have suffered with both anorexia and bulimia, Rose was certainly one of the luckier ones – she has no fertility, digestive nor dental issues.
At 19 she was already dating her future husband, Lawrence – 15 years her senior. His was a world of private jets, lavish parties, and the most expensive clothes on the most gorgeous bodies. “I knew I wouldn’t look lean, but I tried to find things that didn’t draw attention to all my wobbly bits,” she says. “I had a smaller upper body and heavy legs. I tried to find black pants that wouldn’t draw attention to the girth in my hip and thigh area. Life became about making sure I looked the part to be his girlfriend.”
So once again, food and body image consumed her every waking hour. “If I wasn’t thinking about what I’d eat for lunch and dinner I was working out on the Stairmaster,” she says. “If I threw caution to the wind and didn’t even eat excessively – just ate what those around me ate – I would be so heavy. I was also sick all the time: bronchitis, pimples, cystic acne and chronic bladder infections. Inside was painful, and outside didn’t look good.”
She adds, “I was living a life of suffering that is familiar to so many – at the mercy of when they’re going to get the next migraine or bout of IBS. I had graduated from NYU, I was engaged to a man many girls would kill to be with, and I had a great bunch of friends. Relative to what we are conditioned to want, I pretty much ‘had it all’. But I’d reached another point of thinking, ‘Life really sucks. I feel like I’m in prison being tortured.’”
For more information about Natalia Rose’s work visit her website, www.detoxtheworld.com.