Eating disorders can be incredibly difficult to talk about, but the more visible we can make people who have had eating disorders, the more we can normalize how many people go through them. Bulimia is a common but incredibly isolating eating disorder, which is why a number of celebrities who have this condition have spoken candidly about their struggles.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, bulimia, or bulimia nervosa, is an eating disorder characterized by uncontrolled episodes of overeating and purging food. This overeating is sometimes called bingeing or binge-eating, and it consists of consuming unusually large quantities of food over a short period of time. Afterward, people who have bulimia will purge the contents of their stomach by inducing vomiting or using laxatives. They typically do this out of fear or anxiety around gaining weight.
Anyone can develop bulimia, but this condition is much more prevalent in women than men, per data from the National Institute of Mental Health. Other mental health issues — including anxiety, mood disorders, and substance use disorders — are also common in people with bulimia.
Like all eating disorders, bulimia can be deadly if left untreated. It can also cause lasting health issues, such as fatigue, throat inflammation, and dental problems due to the erosion of tooth enamel from vomiting. But there are treatment options available. Treatments like therapy, anti-depressants, and anti-anxiety medications can be incredibly helpful in aiding a person’s recovery.
Many people who have bulimia suffer silently because they feel ashamed of their behavior, but there’s nothing shameful about being one of the 28.8 million Americans who have an eating disorder each year. It’s simply a health issue that requires treatment to resolve.
Advocacy has improved thanks celebrities who’ve struggled with bulimia have used their platforms to demystify the condition, and to encourage others to seek help. Read on to learn more about nine celebs who have bravely opened up about having bulimia, from Demi Lovato, to Elton John, to the late Princess Diana.
Portia de Rossi
Portia de Rossi began modeling in her youth. By the tender age of 12, she’d developed an eating disorder to keep up with the industry’s stringent demands of her body.
“I was put up on a catwalk. My modeling agents had told me to go on a diet, so I didn’t eat for 10 days before then,” de Rossi revealed in a 2015 video interview for the documentary series It Got Better, per Daily Mail U.K. “And then I get up on this catwalk, and I’m a little kid and I’m posing and trying to be sexy and strutting around, and all the other models are making fun of my bushy eyebrows.”
“[I’d] erase the feelings with food, erase the food by vomiting. But you’re still left with the shame,” she continued.
Her disordered eating resurfaced when she landed her first big film role in 1998, a journey she chronicled in her 2011 memoir Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain. At the time, de Rossi was also closeted and married to a man.
The Scandal star has gone to heal her relationship with food and speak openly about her struggles. “I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I see the value of honesty and the value of sharing your experiences — not only to help others but also to rid yourself of all the guilt and shame and negativity that surrounded whatever experience you were having,” she told Bust magazine in 2018.
Lady Diana Spencer, the late Princess of Wales, developed bulimia the week after she got engaged to Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.
“My husband put his hand on my waistline and said: ‘Oh, a bit chubby here, aren’t we?’ and that triggered off something in me. I remember the first time I made myself sick, I was so thrilled. I thought, ‘this is the release, the tension,’” she said in a recording to Andrew Morton, who wrote her biography Diana: Her True Story—In Her Own Words.
She also spoke openly about her struggle with bulimia in a 1995 BBC interview, lamenting, “[It’s] like a secret disease. You inflict it upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don’t think you’re worthy or valuable.”
At the time, Princess Di’s candor about such a taboo topic was unprecedented. As one writer opined for Elle, “This kind of openness, from someone whose every move was followed by the press, had a major impact on the stigma surrounding eating disorders.”
Kesha is in recovery from bulimia, but she suffered silently for years before seeking treatment.
The pop singer’s struggle came to a head in 2014, she told SELF magazine earlier this year: “I had a particular moment with my eating disorder when the anxiety just got so high that I was not functioning. It was taking up so much of my brain space, from morning to night. I was obsessed with what I looked like, what went in my mouth, what size things were, and people’s approval.”
It didn’t help that Dr. Luke — Kesha’s former producer and alleged abuser — was “cruelly and incessantly” criticizing her weight. Kesha filed her first lawsuit against him 10 months after beginning her eating disorder recovery journey.
Eating disorders don’t just impact women. Take it from Sir Elton John, who dealt with bulimia for years during the apex of his career.
“I was cocaine-addicted. I was an alcoholic. I had a sexual addiction. I was bulimic for six years,” he told his biographer, Philip Norman, per The Mirror U.K. “It was all through being paranoid about my weight but not able to stop eating. So in the end I’d gorge, then make myself sick.”
“For breakfast I’d have a fry-up, followed by 20 pots of cockles and then a tub of ice cream, so I’d throw it all up,” the “Rocket Man” singer continued. “I never stood still. I was always rushing, always thinking about the next thing.”
After years of battling substance abuse, suicidality, and an eating disorder, Elton finally sought treatment via rehab and AA meetings. He celebrated his 30-year sobriety anniversary in June 2020, writing, “If I hadn’t finally taken the big step of asking for help 30 years ago, I’d be dead. Thank-you from the bottom of my heart to all the people who have inspired and supported me along the way.”
Demi Lovato (who uses they/them and she/her pronouns) initially sought treatment for their eating disorder when they were 18 years old. The singer-songwriter and actor has a family history of bulimia, and her predisposition was triggered when she catapulted to fame as a young Disney Channel star.
“When you’re looking at images of people with perfect bodies, you start to look at yourself, and you start to pick yourself apart,” they told TODAY’s Savannah Sellers earlier this year. “It’s hard to grow up in a world where that’s right in front of your face and at your fingertips at all times. I grew up in a period of time where young Hollywood was very, very, very thin, and that was the look.”
Lovato later developed substance abuse issues and nearly died from a heroin overdose in 2018. Luckily, she is now sober and in eating disorder recovery, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t still battle negative body image-related thoughts.
“I still struggle. Daily,” Lovato wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post from 2021, per SELF. “There are periods of time where I forget about my food struggles and other times it’s all I think about. Still. But that is what ED recovery looks like for some people and I still have hope that someday I won’t think about it anymore.”
Jane Fonda‘s battle with bulimia was so severe, she spent her youth assuming she wouldn’t live past 30. The 85-year-old actress and activist opened up about her struggle in a recent episode of the podcast Call Her Daddy.
“In my 20s, I was starting to be a movie actor. I suffered from bulimia very, very bad. I led a secret life,” Fonda shared. “I was very, very unhappy. … I didn’t go out. I didn’t hardly date, ’cause I was unhappy and I had this eating disorder. And then I was also making movies that I didn’t very much like.”
For her, bulimia became a “terrible addiction” that derailed her life: “It becomes impossible to have an authentic relationship when you’re doing this secretly. Your day becomes organized around getting food and then eating it, which requires that you’re by yourself and that no one knows what you’re doing. It’s a very lonely thing.”
It wasn’t until Fonda entered her 40s and started a family of her own that she finally decided to address her eating disorder. She was able to stop throwing up her food “cold turkey,” although she also credits Prozac with aiding her recovery.
“I didn’t realize there were [recovery] groups you could join. I didn’t know anything about that,” she confessed. “Nobody talked about it! I didn’t even know there was a word for it.”
A long-time mental health advocate, Lady Gaga first opened up about her struggles with anorexia and bulimia in 2012. At the time, her career was majorly taking off — but media outlets were fixated on her fluctuating weight.
“I used to throw up all the time in high school. So I’m not that confident,” the singer-songwriter and actress said at an event that year, per The New York Post. “I wanted to be a skinny little ballerina, but I was a voluptuous little Italian girl whose dad had meatballs on the table every night.”
Gaga chose to speak publicly about her history of eating disorders to make others feel less alone.
“To all the girls that think you’re ugly because you’re not a size 0, you’re the beautiful one,” the Chromatica singer tweeted that same year. “It’s society that’s ugly.”
Pussycat Dolls alum Nicole Scherzinger struggled with bulimia and body dysmorphia for many years. Sometimes, her binges left her so sick that she’d end up “passed out in hotel rooms,” per The Mirror U.K. She sought therapy in 2009 after leaving the popular girl group.
“[Bulimia] is such a horrible paralyzing disease and it was such a dark time for me,” she told Cosmopolitan U.K. in 2014. “That’s why I can empathize so much with people who have demons and voices in their heads, who aren’t nice to themselves. It robs you of living your life.”
But there is hope, Scherzinger added: “… You can recover and you can get rid of it forever. I did it and that’s why it’s so important for me to share my story.”
Lindsay Lohan rose to international fame early on in her acting career, but the pressure of being a Hollywood star weighed heavily on her. As a teen and young adult, she reportedly suffered from bulimia. Her emotional and physical stress caused her to be hospitalized in 2006.
“My liver was swollen and I had a kidney infection and my white blood cells were accelerated,” the Mean Girls star said in a Vanity Fair interview published that year, per TODAY. “I was really, really white, like a ghost, and my legs were so numb from not walking.”
Although the ordeal was “terrifying,” Lohan said at the time that it made her “that much stronger.” (Her publicist tried to retract the candid admission, but Vanity Fair stood by the story.)
“I was making myself sick. I was sick and I had people sit me down and say, ’You’re going to die if you don’t take care of yourself,”’ she added.
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