National Eating Disorders Association
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Embarking on the Long Road to Recovery

Michelle LaBret

I grew up in a very athletic family. Every morning, the first thing we did was go for a run and lift weights. After that, we typically took walks and went water skiing. We were always busy working out and being active. 

Trigger warning: Mentions of eating disordered behavior. 

I also was an actress from the time I was 12. I moved from Florida out to California to pursue my career. I was doing very well booking roles, and everything was going well until I turned 14 and had a cyst on my fallopian tube that needed to be surgically removed from my stomach through my belly button. Afterwards, I found it very hard to eat and I slowly began losing weight. After I had recovered from surgery, I started to like looking thinner. I would get on the scale every morning and hope I had lost even more weight. 

That same year, my grandma passed away from cancer and my father was diagnosed with cancer. My weight began to spiral downward even more. At the time, I was out in Los Angeles pursuing my acting career, and I was actually shunned from the industry for being so thin. Yet, no one said anything about my weight in the industry. No one confronted me about how sick I was. I know that even if they did, I probably would not have listened because I saw a different reflection in the mirror than anyone else saw.

My parents made me move back to Florida after the school year ended in June. This destroyed me even more. I had to leave everything I knew: my passion, which was acting, my home at the time, and all my friends. When I moved back to Florida, my parents started forcing me to go see a psychiatrist. I thought it was useless. Plus, the more they pushed for me to gain weight, the more I rebelled and wanted to eat less. In addition, I was viciously bullied at school and picked on for being so thin. At lunch time, I would sit alone in the bathroom and cry all by myself.

Other students would poke me with pencils. One day, I was in the bathroom and another girl was in the bathroom talking about me to her friend. She didn’t know I was in the stall. My heart was breaking more and more. Every night in my bedroom, I would just cry myself to sleep wishing it would just be over. 

Finally, at the age of 16, I was offered a role in a pilot from a friend I had worked with in the past, but I had to be healthy weight to do it. As a result, I gained weight pretty fast, but it was not healthy. I couldn't stop my addiction to eating, so I continued to gain weight and felt very uncomfortable. I went to the hospital at one point after feeling very sick and even had an internal rash reaction from eating too much sugar.

Eventually, I started to skip school to exercise. I would leave high school after I was dropped off in order to work out. I felt so guilty, but I couldn’t stop. I wanted someone to help me, but didn't know what to do. My mom found out I had not been attending school because the school had called. I finally told my mom the truth about what I had been doing and how I had hated school so much. I was always alone, I had no friends, and was constantly bullied. 

My mom and dad decided to let me to finish school online so I could go to college and start a normal life. In the meantime, I began learning to eat regularly again and stopped obsessively exercising. This gave me a lot of anxiety, but I got through it. My mom was my rock and still is.

I graduated high school in three years instead of four and was accepted to college at Loyola Marymount University. Once again, I was healthy, and I thought everything was going well until my freshman year started. After gaining weight, I was diagnosed with nephritic syndrome, a kidney disease, and continued to gain weight. For someone with a history of anorexia, this was my worst nightmare. 

After being released from the hospital, I had to be on heavy duty steroids and water pills in order to cure my disease. After a year, I was finally clear and free of this awful disease and was off all my meds. Then, after my sophomore year of college, my boyfriend and I broke up and I made a very impulsive decision to move to Miami. This was a brand new start for me, yet it became a nightmare. I was in a whole new environment, and did not cope with it well. 

Finally, my mom and dad decided that I should move back with them to Orlando and work on getting healthy, but it took years for me to reach a stable place. My disease was my best friend. I missed family trips, I missed watching my niece and nephew grow up, I missed being with my sister, I missed family weddings, I missed having a true college experience, I missed having an acting career – I missed so much in life.

Anorexia is a very lonely, isolating disease. More than anything, we need support and a community to help us and support us. We must come together and support each other. Each day, we battle different things and I think one of the most important things is to find someone you can trust. My mom was there for me through the ups and downs. I truly believe that without her I would not be alive today.

Most importantly, everyone must learn how to love themselves. I am still learning how to do this, but I believe that eventually, I will. 

Contact the NEDA Helpline for support, resources, and treatment options for yourself or a loved one: (800) 931-2237