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Alexa PenaVega is opening up about why she felt she had to hide her eating disorder when she was struggling the most.
The Spy Kids actress — who just released the memoir What If Love is the Point? with her husband Carlos — spoke to Duck Dynasty alum Sadie Robertson on her podcast, WHOA, That's Good. Like Robertson, who has been candid about her own battle with an eating disorder, PenaVega said she struggled earlier in her career with body image and food issues.
"My biggest fear was that anybody would find out that I had an eating disorder. Because in my head, I'm like, 'I'm still me, I still have my personality. I still have my heart,'" she explained. "But I was living with this secret that I was really, really ashamed of … I was being praised whenever I looked skinnier. And if I didn't look as skinny one day, nobody would compliment me or nobody would talk about how beautiful I was, or anything like that."
PenaVega feared that "if people found out, it would be the end of me."
"I think that was the stronghold the eating disorder had over me," she said.
She encouraged anyone struggling with an eating disorder to seek out even one person to talk to, be it a sibling, friend or an online counselor.
"The second I started talking about it and telling people, I was like breaking off all those chains, and then it just became this thing that no longer consumed me," PenaVega explained.
The 33-year-old also shared that her mother was concerned about her talking about her eating disorder publicly. After Katharine McPhee Foster publicly shared that she struggled with bulimia, PenaVega recalled her mom warning her not to share her own story. The American Idol alum first revealed her eating disorder in 2006 and since has spoken publicly about the ways in which it has affected her life and how pregnancy caused some past feelings about her body to emerge.
“My mom just said to me, 'You know, now people are only going to see her as being a bulimic. So, don't ever let anybody know that you're dealing with this,'" PenaVega explained to Robertson. "And she, I know, she meant it in a way of protecting me, but I really feel like the enemy took those words and just turned it into something that had a stronghold over my life. So I just lived with a secret and it just tormented me for so long."
PenaVega first opened up about her eating disorder on Dancing With the Stars in 2015, where she competed against her husband.
"I never wanted people to associate me with a problem, and that's the biggest fear you have with trying to overcome that. You don't wanna tell anybody because you're like, 'I don't want anyone to associate me with bulimia or an eating disorder in any way,'" she said at the time. "So finally being able to just let it go and say, 'You know what, I know who I am. I know I've gotten past this and I'm proud of myself.'"
In 2016, the Sleepover actress — who now shares three children with Carlos — spoke to Fit Pregnancy and Baby about worrying her past bulimia had affected her fertility.
"I struggled with an eating disorder when I was younger. It was a big part of my life, and I was worried that I wasn’t getting pregnant because of some long-term damage from what I’d put my body through," PenaVega explained. "Even though my doctor said I was healthy, I felt so guilty about it."
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
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