Mika Brzezinski, co-host of MSNBC’s hit show Morning Joe, has long since had it together. Each morning at 6 a.m., she looks every bit the picture of perfection with her power pixie cut and a sleeveless dress to show off toned, Michelle Obama-like arms. And we can’t help but mention the stern smarts that typically outwit her cohort of male cohosts.
But for years, Brzezinski, 46, kept a secret bottled up: a 30-year battle with eating disorders. In her new book, Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction—And My Own, she recaps her struggle with food and health while shedding light on America’s obesity problem. We spoke to Brzezinski about her experience, what helped her most, and how she’s found peace with her new outlook.
SHAPE: You discuss the prevalence of disordered eating in the book. How many women do you think it affects?
Mika Brzezinski (MB): I think anyone who has a distorted view of themselves and a distorted view of the word "fat" has some sort of an eating disorder, and it’s more women than you would ever imagine. There’s a real problem with our environment because I think women are like, “I can’t have that, I have to have that, I feel fat.” I think our food is making our bodies respond so extremely that it’s creating extreme behavior and, for some, it’s over-dieting, which I did, or too much control.
SHAPE: You reveal you were diagnosed with orthorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that means you have a fixation with healthy eating. How did you come to this diagnosis and what did it mean to you?
MB: I suffered from a number of different eating disorders for the past 30 years, and I was making myself unrealistically skinny. People would tell me how great I looked, and I felt like a liar because I was doing not-so-amazing things to get myself there. For this book I sought therapy, and about halfway through it I was diagnosed with this and I thought, “So now I eat too well?” But her point was really important—that you can control the way you eat to the point where you’re just as obsessed as when you’re out of control.
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SHAPE: What is your advice to women who feel like they fall under this umbrella or something similar?
MB: I suggest finding a way to have an honest conversation with yourself and others around you. I felt like, with this, I needed to come clean about what really feels good versus what looks good.
SHAPE: How do you think we define what looks good?
MB: I weighed 118 pounds when I started writing this book, and now I am 133 pounds and I’m two dress sizes bigger—I can eat like a normal human being and I can stay here comfortably. I have to teach myself, and people with eating disorders know how hard this is, to stay here.
SHAPE: You write about how you’ve changed your wardrobe for your new body. How have you been dressing to feel better?
MB: I’ve gone from tight sleeveless dresses to loose sleeveless dresses. Today I wore a sleeveless Milly dress and it’s baggy and comfortable; my stomach doesn’t feel like it has a girdle on it. I don’t know why I found myself always feeling like my clothes had to look like they were glued on, which tends to happen in the business I’m in. You start thinking that you have to look a certain way and you just don’t.
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SHAPE: How have you changed your fitness routine?
MB: I was running really long distances, but now I’m running two or three miles a day maybe—sometimes the last half mile I’ll walk and chat on the phone with friends. I’m trying to look at exercise as something that is really fun. Sometimes I feel like if I haven’t completely exhausted myself after running, I haven’t had a good run. Now a good run is I come home and I still could run a little more.
SHAPE: What’s your advice for talking to a friend about her weight, whether she’s too thin or too heavy?
MB: There’s no easy way at this point, and my book talks about the difficulty that one can confront in a friendship. But the bottom line is that you’ve got to say it, but you have to back it up with some sort of support and a lot of love. You say it with love and concern without judgment.