The Empire actress, beloved for her heartbreaking role in Precious, Gabourey Sidibe, hasn't always loved the way she looks. "I was in a war with my body for a long time," the 33-year-old told People. "If I'd started treating it better sooner, I wouldn't have spent so many years hating myself." In her forthcoming memoir, This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare, out May 1, Sidibe outlines her struggle with depression, anxiety, and bulimia, and her path to self-acceptance.
Starring in an Oscar-winning film catapulted Sidibe into the limelight and catalyzed her to lose the weight she'd battled with her whole life. Morbidly obese, the actress spent years working out with a trainer to lose the weight through exercise. "I really, really tried—I gave a valiant try." But after loosing her first trainer to cancer, and hitting a weight-loss plateau, she decided to try surgery. "I truly didn't want to worry about all the effects that go along with diabetes. I genuinely [would] worry all the time about losing my toes. I didn't want to be afraid anymore."
Now Sidibe is all about her new routines. "I eat about five times a day—I use meal plans that are really, really good, especially for when I'm busy. I cook a lot more. I talk to my nutritionist a lot. I tell her all the things I worry about. I have all these apps to help me keep a food diary." And a trainer works with her three to four times a week and an indoor pool in her Chicago apartment building gives her an active way to kick off long days filming Empire. "I have a waterproof swim MP3 player that's filled with all of the songs from the Hamilton soundtrack and the Hamilton Mixtape. So I have a protein shake, I just go down, and I swim for 20 laps, I come back upstairs, I have breakfast." Tracking herself on her Apple Watch, she rides tricycles whether in Chicago or LA to stay active through her day.
When you've lived with life-threatening obesity, old fears die hard. "I still obsess about eating, and I obsess about weight, and I obsess about my body just as much as I did before." But what has changed? "I just trust more. Even though I obsess about everything, and I'm scared, and I'm nervous I'm talking about it—it terrifies me. I still am remembering to have faith over fear because my decision is my decision, and it really only affects me." And Hollywood presents obstacles other than persistent standards of beauty. "I'll forever, as long as I'm an actor, I'll have to deal with craft service tables."
Now her body is changing so rapidly it's been hard to keep up. "I refuse to buy clothes that are a different size. It's almost insane. I have to go to work early because I have to do a fitting. They fit me for every episode now because I keep shrinking out of the clothes. But when I buy clothes and when I wear clothes, I still wear the same stuff. If I'm swimming in it, that's fine. A lot of it for a while was an optical illusion because I didn't want people to realize that I was losing weight before I was ready."
While her body is getting healthier and her career is soaring, Sidibe still has to make the daily decision to choose confidence. "I didn't find confidence one day and I was fine forever: I have to put it on as much as I have to put on lipstick. I have to go through this mantra of who I am and my value, and all of that makes me feel confident. My friends, my humor, all of that makes me feel confident. And I have to keep remembering it to stay confident." High heels, coifed hair, and recognizing the power of her intellect, too, help her stay on top.
Sidibe is looking toward the future in harmony with herself. "I think I saw my body as being outside of myself; it was like an enemy beside me, not in me. And now I've won. Life is really, truly all about choices and decisions. I wish I'd made the choice to love my body sooner. But I finally have."