CHICAGO -- Lynn Redgrave -- 5 feet 10, slim, saying she wears a size 8, that she's kept 35 pounds off since 1982, but drawing the line at saying how much she weighs -- is working the room at the Mayfair Regent Hotel.
It's 4 p.m., teatime, and the assembled women (and three men) who paid to listen to Ms. Redgrave are nibbling on crustless little sandwiches, scones and English toffee (everything is low-calorie except the scones), taking pictures of Ms. Redgrave with one-touch cameras, asking her questions about her life, her weight, her diet and her astrological sign (Pisces).
"What you do when you go out to dinner," Ms. Redgrave tells three women at one table, "is ask for the doggie bag first, before you even start eating. Divide the food right then; once you start eating it might be too late, you might not be able to stop. You've paid for the food, you can get the doggie bag at the beginning."
"She's so nifty," says one of the women as Ms. Redgrave excuses herself and moves to another table. "I remember her in 'Georgy Girl.' "
Ms. Redgrave was in Chicago recently to promote her book, "This is Living. How I Found Health and Happiness" (Dutton, $21.95), a book that makes it clear that the chunky Georgy Girl image is an unhappy one she has struggled with most of her adult life. The book chronicles her years of bulimia, of yo-yo dieting, fasts, binges and visits to fat farms. Overweight Georgy Girl was not who Ms. Redgrave wanted to be.
She writes about watching the film at one of the first showings: "It's a hit. They [the audience] love it. I look at Georgy's huge, sweet, smiling face. And for the first time, I see myself as others see me. Not the Lynn I would like to be . . . but an overweight, ungainly, funny creature. The film is a hit, but I feel a little sick."
"I lived with an eating disorder for 20 years," she tells the tea group at the Mayfair. "People would say to me, 'Oh, you're so thin, did you gain all that weight just for Georgy Girl?' and I'd say, 'Of course I did, I'm an actress.' " The truth is, she says, the Fat Ogre (a term she uses frequently in the book) was dictating her life. Her food obsession kept her body on a seesaw between fat and thin; food was the first thing she thought of in the morning and the last thing at night.
Like most women who suffer, or have suffered, from obsessive eating, Ms. Redgrave has given a lot of thought to reasons why food held such power over her. She talks a lot about her childhood and her family, both in the book and in answering questions. "My father [the actor Sir Michael Redgrave] was terrifying to me, it was a terrifying thing for me just to be in the same room with him. My mother would say, 'Well, you must be thin if you want to be an actress . . . here, have a potato.' "
Of the three Redgrave children -- sister Vanessa and brother Corin were older -- she was the shy and sickly one as a child. She compensated, she says, for the emotional void she felt in her life by eating.
"All those years I was struggling with weight, and you know the kinds of things we hear when we're overweight," she said. "Things like, 'Oh, you look so healthy,' and 'What a handsome vTC woman,' and 'What nice bones you have,' and 'How well you carry yourself.' Someone would say one of those things to me and I would head straight to the candy machine."
Ms. Redgrave, of course, is now known as the Weight Watchers spokeswoman, paid for touting the weight-loss organization in her vivid red dress in commercials. She credits the program with helping her change her destructive eating patterns. The second half of her book is virtually a Weight Watchers testimonial, complete with menu plans and recipes.
"My message is not just how to control overeating," she says at the conclusion of the tea, "but of finding strength within yourself to be your own person. I feel so released now from the Fat Ogre, and I'm grateful."
Following are two recipes adapted from her book:
Legume and vegetable saute
Makes 2 servings.
Ms. Redgrave says this is a speedy favorite when she comes home exhausted from a day's rehearsals. Several tasters commented they would have liked a little crushed red pepper for added oomph.
2 teaspoons olive or vegetable oil
1 cup diced onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup canned Italian tomatoes, seeded, diced, liquid reserved
1/2 cup rinsed drained canned pinto beans
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon salt
Heat oil in a 10-inch, non-stick skillet; add onions and garlic; saute over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, for 1 minute (do not brown). Add spinach and saute, stirring frequently, until spinach is wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is heated through and flavors blend, 3 to 4 minutes.
Makes 4 servings, about 3 tablespoons each.
Ms. Redgrave says she eats this instead of peanut butter; it satisfies the same taste buds, she says, but is lighter. She recommends spreading it on mini rice cakes.
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
1 tablespoon each: sour cream, toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
L Mix all ingredients in small bowl until thoroughly combined.
L Cover and refrigerate until flavors blend, about 30 minutes.