Beloved for her countless roles in Hallmark Channel and Lifetime movies, and for playing Marilyn Monroe in HBO’s The Rat Pack, actress Barbara Niven is no stranger to the spotlight. But before she hit it big, she lived in the shadow of a terrifying secret. Here, how she set herself free to live the life she dreamed.
Wise Words From Barbara Niven
Having just returned from filming Hallmark Channel’s Chesapeake Shores in Vancouver, Barbara Niven unpacks her luggage as her rescue pups yip happily at her side. “I’m known for bringing lots of suitcases with me when I travel,” she shares with Woman’s World. “I need to have my things around me or I find myself just waiting to go home.” Those home comforts include pictures of her family, her pillow, blanket and two glasses. Holding one glass up, she explains, “out of tradition, I always drink to my dad.”
Barbara says that her father, who passed away 11 years ago, is her guardian angel. “he’s always with me. I have white butterflies in my yard that have been around since he died. Every time I see one, I think of him and say a prayer for those I love.”
Little moments like these bring peace to Barbara’s days, but things were not always so calm for the star. In fact, for decades, Barbara secretly suffered from bulimia. “We all put pressure on ourselves to be perfect,” she confides. “But in the 40 years I struggled through my eating disorder, I never felt perfect or good enough. I only felt afraid.”
What turned things around? “I gave my secret away,” she says. “I grew out of that bubble of fear with help from others and now, I give that freedom to others.” Today, the 68-year-old has added motivational speaker to her resume, sharing her story to bring hope to others. “Don’t give up,” she encourages. “you may be 5 minutes from your miracle!” Here are Barbara’s tips for staying positive, healthy and blissful — in mind, body and spirit.
Find peace with this bedtime ritual.
“Someone once told me that before you go to bed, count the blessings you had that day,” Barbara suggests. “I’ve done it for years, and it helps me sleep really well. I think constant gratitude for my wonderful family and loved ones and how blessed I’ve been is so key, especially in challenging times. We can all go down that depression rabbit hole, but counting blessings instead of sheep before we head to sleep at night can be a powerful way to usher in peace.”
Find bliss with furry friends.
“Animals are my passion!” Barbara beams. “I foster pups and have two dogs, both of which were strays: Brando and Norma Jean. I also have rescue cats. I can’t tell you how much joy they bring me. I find that if I focus on treating furry friends and others with kindness, it can turn on the light of goodness in others too.”
Live your dreams.
“In the most difficult times, I find strength in my family, friends and faith,” Barbara confides. “I also find it in doing what I love every day. I knew I wanted to be an actress since I was 5 years old, and living my passion has helped me make a difference in the lives of others. So, I always encourage people to live their passion. Anything is possible. If I could become an actor as a single mom at 30, anyone can fulfill their dreams at any age!”
Focus on three P’s.
To help keep a healthy lifestyle, Barbara focuses on three things: protein, physicality and positivity. “Protein is BIG—I aim to get 50 grams a day and eat lots of fish to do it. I also work out three times a week and make sure to get 10,000 steps in each day. It not only helps my body but also my mind.” To accomplish this goal, Barbara walks on the treadmill while watching TV. “I keep the Hallmark Channel on. I only want positive energy in my house — it helps me stay stress-free!”
Break free from fear.
“I think secrets and fear keep us sick in life,” Barbara says. “My eating disorder did that to me for decades. But one day, my daughter fainted during cheerleading practice, and it turned out she was struggling too. I’d seen my mother do the same thing and in that moment, I knew it had to stop with me. I called a hotline and though it took me two days, when I finally got the words, it took all the pressure of keeping that secret off [of] me. And it was such a relief.”
Beauty is in the simple things.
“One of my favorite beauty tips is to just keep it simple,” Barbara shares. “I wash my face with warm water and Dove soap with aloe a few times a day, and then I use L’Oréal moisturizing cream. And sunscreen is an absolute must. I don’t spend a lot of money on beauty products. I think if you look for the beauty around you, you automatically shine from the inside out.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.