How the Emmy winner, enjoying the fruits of her work on “Everybody Loves Raymond”
and “The Middle,” balances life as an actress and the mom of four boys.
by Allan Richter
When Patricia Heaton started playing comedian Ray Romano’s wife on the hit CBS sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond” in 1996, she had two boys, 3 and 1—and two more came along within two years. With each pregnancy, she gained 50 pounds. “The biggest challenge for me on ‘Raymond’ was to be able to be a mom, nurse the kids and take care of them, and work on the show while dieting and exercising,” Heaton says. “I really worked hard at it. The weight came off pretty quickly probably because I was so busy.”
For Heaton, that split responsibility between career and family was one of the most pronounced dual challenges she has faced, but it isn’t the only one. She was raised in a Cleveland suburb where her happy childhood and uncluttered life yielded home-grown cures for ailments (ginger ale, saltines and a bucket next to the bed for the flu; “Spit on it and rub,” for cuts and bruises). Those Midwest ideals don’t always jibe with those of Hollywood.
But Heaton says she has managed to strike a balance between the two. “I’m grateful that I grew up in the Midwest,” she says. “I think that always stayed with me, and the fact that it took me a very long time to have a career in this industry made me still feel like more of a Midwesterner than a Hollywood person. That seems to be the kind of roles I’ve been cast in, too. That appeals to a lot of people who watch television, who are from Middle America.”
With nine seasons of “Everybody Loves Raymond” behind her, Heaton is now in her second season of the ABC sitcom “The Middle.” She stars as Frankie Heck, a middle-aged working wife and mother in a middle-class family who live in the small fictional town of Orson, Indiana. The two-time Emmy winner spoke with us from “The Middle” set in Los Angeles, where she lives with her actor and filmmaker husband David Hunt and their four boys, Sam, 17; John, 15; Joe, 13; and Dan, 11.
Energy Times: In your 2002 memoir Motherhood & Hollywood (Villard), you list “Ten Bad Things About Being a Celebrity.” No. 7 is: “If you gain ten pounds, the press will say you have an out-of-control eating disorder. If you lose ten pounds, the press will say you have an out-of-control eating disorder. The only way to keep the press from commenting about your weight is to be pregnant, all the time.” Tell me about the Hollywood pressure to keep fit.
Patricia Heaton: I think I have dysmorphia, in which you don’t have a realistic perception of how you look. I always feel, because there’s too much to compare to, that I’m not where I should be. There maybe was a minute on “Everybody Loves Raymond” where I was really thin and I thought, “I look good right now.”
On the one hand, it’s not a bad idea to want to be in good shape throughout your life. Certainly the pressure here keeps people going to the gym maybe long after they want to be going. But the flip side is that it can lead to unhealthy diets and behaviors. I’m probably always doing some kind of diet, not only because I’m in this business and I have to see myself on television every week, but also because I’m 52 and in menopause.
My metabolism has changed, and I can’t eat and drink the same things I used to and do well. My job requires me to be at work between 5:30 and 6 every morning, and I work for usually 12 hours a day so I really have to look good and be in shape to withstand the rigors of that. “The Middle” forced me to try to really take care of myself—otherwise I wouldn’t get through the day. Not only am I working those long hours, but then I come home with my four sons and have to help them with homework and take them to lessons or whatever they have. It’s a very busy day and I need to feel the best I can feel.
ET: How has your diet changed since the onset of menopause?
PH: I found that having a glass of wine is very difficult for me now because it disrupts my sleep. Even after just one glass I’ll wake up in the middle of the night. I can’t have a trace of puffiness around my eyes when I go to work in the morning, so I had to pretty much cut out alcohol. I wasn’t drinking a lot, but I used to have one glass a night with dinner.
And my metabolism has slowed down. Eating what I normally did is too much food and I’ve had to cut back. Part of the problem is, because my hours are so long, I don’t have time for the gym. If I never wanted to see my family I could go to the gym, but at this point they’re all growing up and getting out of the house so you want to spend as much time with them as you can. If I sometimes have a half a day of work I can work out, but otherwise I just have to curtail the calories because it’s not as easy to burn them off.
[On the set] we have what’s called a Craft Service table, which is laid out with food throughout the day. That is sort of the bane of every actor’s existence because it’s like an alcoholic working in a bar. They’ll have the fruit plate or the granola bars, but then they’ll also have the licorice sticks and candy and donuts sitting there all day. The first season I would have a donut and coffee in the morning, and just pick through the day. I had the summer to sort of wean myself from that, so this season I’ve been really good. I’ve really changed up my diet a lot. I don’t eat anything off of there except maybe some raw nuts like walnuts.
I’ll drink sparkling water with a little bit of cranberry juice in it, just to keep sort of cleansing my body all day. When I want a snack I’ll have that instead or…these spirulina energy bars that have flaxseeds that are kind of sweet and crunchy. I have a lot of [those] in my mini refrigerator in my trailer and I try to munch on those instead of going for the donut or licorice. It’s very satisfying and it tastes great.
ET: In what other ways has menopause affected you?
PH: Hormonally I have not had the horrible, really intense hot flashes. I take hormones to help offset the little symptoms I have, to help try to keep my skin a little more supple and to even out mood swings. It’s a natural process that our bodies go through. Your body does other things, like you thicken at the waist and your energy slows down a little bit.
Here in Hollywood, and I think generally in our culture, people mentally feel younger. They’re really enjoying their lives for much longer and have a more youthful attitude.
Particularly in Hollywood, you’re trying to extend your career and stay young and fit for as long as possible, but the older you get the more time it takes. So it’s this balance: How much time do I want to spend in the gym as opposed to being with my kids, or reading a book or learning how to paint? You have to figure it out. I would rather diet more and exercise less, but there’s the other issue for women: Our bone density decreases as we get older, and exercise really helps with that. It’s a constant battle to keep everything balanced.
ET: Since your focus is on diet, tell me about a typical day’s meals.
PH: If we don’t have time to eat breakfast at home we’ll stop at Starbucks for this great low-fat turkey bacon sandwich, which is just egg white and turkey bacon on a muffin. The other thing they have is a little carton with some apple slices, sesame crackers, some almonds and cranberries, and a couple of slices of cheese. So I’ll eat that in the morning if I’m rushing. Otherwise, I’m sort of a high-protein person so I’ll have scrambled eggs at work with some coffee. Then I just try to eat light salad with protein on it, like chicken. I’ve really cut back on the carbs because I just don’t burn enough to be able to afford too many carbs. Then dinner, again, is usually something simple, some kind of meat and vegetable.
I try to drink as much water as possible. I try to do omega oil flaxseed, and I usually take a calcium vitamin, a multivitamin and omega-3 fish oil supplement. The other thing I take is a colon cleanse pill every night that I get from a nutritionist; it has psyllium husk in it…to keep everything flowing instead of getting a colonic. There are also some Chinese herbs that I take that help flush things out.
Being in Los Angeles I’ve tried every diet and treatment, but the thing that really opened my eyes was when I had a series of colonics. In talking to the nutritionist who was administering them, you see what your colon looks like and all the spaces where stuff can get caught and how important it is to keep it clean and have everything flowing through.
The more raw and fresh your food is the better it is for your system. I think that’s the bottom line: Whether you’re a big meat eater or eat vegetables, everything should be as fresh as possible. I’m fortunate to live in California, where there’s some kind of healthy restaurant, acupuncturist or vegan store on every corner here. It’s very easy to be encouraged to be healthy.
ET: There is also a fast food restaurant on every corner. How successful have you been in instilling healthy eating practices in your children?
PH: About 10 years ago I read Fast Food Nation. Since then we almost never take the kids to fast food places. Once in a while we go to In n’ Out Burger because in Fast Food Nation that’s the one fast food restaurant that actually got a good review. Everything is made in vegetable oil, it’s a well-run company that takes care of its employees, everything is done fresh. But that book opened my eyes to fast food, and the boys never want to go to fast food restaurants.
Once when my oldest was much younger, one of the neighbors wanted to take Sam, who was over at their house, to dinner. When they got back I asked the mom how it went and she said, “Well, we were going to go to McDonald’s but then Sam told us that he wasn’t allowed.”
ET: You have said that you have always been resilient and optimistic. What accounts for that resiliency?
PH: Having a deep spiritual life gives you a perspective on your career and your family, and helps you prioritize what’s important. Life is so short, I learned early on, because my mother died [of a brain aneurism] when I was 12. I had an instant perspective from that moment of the preciousness of life and that you can’t take any day for granted.
Then I had to go through a transition. The acting was very important to me and there were probably 10 or 12 years where it wasn’t really happening. I had to learn to let go of that dream and make peace with the possibility that maybe it wasn’t going to happen and that maybe I would not be able to make my living as an actor. Then as soon as I did that and was able to get that bigger perspective on life, everything kind of fell into place and the acting started coming. I think the process of letting go of it actually brought it into my life. I was more relaxed about it and there wasn’t this strained quality to what I was doing.
What really made that happen for me was that I spent a week at an orphanage in Mexico doing service work. When I came back I felt very fulfilled and at peace. That helped me let go of the feeling of, “I have to be an actress or I’ll die.” I felt that I got so much out of that I could go live in Mexico and work with these orphans, and I would feel very happy and at peace and that was what I was called to do. That just opened the door for me, oddly enough, as an actress. I was able to say, “Let’s just see what happens and let it happen.” Fortunately the acting career happened.
ET: You’re describing the difference between giving up and letting go. Perhaps that’s the power of selflessness or altruism at work.
PH: You know, I didn’t see the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” or read the book, but what I’ve heard about it is that it is about this person looking for who she is by focusing on herself. She probably could have gone right down the street to the Salvation Army and done some work there, and she would have found herself there, too. But it doesn’t make as interesting a movie or book I guess; it’s not quite as romantic. But I really think that’s the answer, to go outward and then you find that everything falls together internally.