Editor’s note: Kareen Wynter is a CNN entertainment correspondent based in Los Angeles.
By Kareen Wynter, CNN
(CNN) – As an entertainment reporter who covers Hollywood, there are countless critics acting as judges in this industry. There are the never-ending headlines of leading actresses’ “weight gain,” and “starved frames.” These unhealthy labels have to stop.
Sixteen years ago I was a slave to bulimia, prompted by the labels of others. My bulimia lasted for about a year, and during that time, I destroyed so much of my body.
I actually lost track of how much weight I dropped, and I noticed that my friends, who initially encouraged me to lose weight, stopped being so critical. I did not realize then that it was because I had become a walking skeleton. I had gone from loving the person in the mirror to hating the reflection that stared back me.
It all began with the semester I studied in Spain as an undergraduate college student. There, I lost weight, challenged by the food of my host family.
When I returned to America, I happily returned to eating pizza, ice cream sandwiches and french fries. Then, some of my friends who had initially complimented my thinner frame, were now criticizing my “chubby” look.
The peer pressure and constant labeling about my appearance left me feeling ugly, powerless and out of control.
Looking back, this was my moment: a subjective observation from my peers that had a gradual harmful effect on the way I looked at myself.
For the first time in my life, I started to diet and limit my food intake. I even began weighing myself several times a day, and was consumed with guilt after eating.
While I could not control other’s words or labels, I could control what I ate. Food was the enemy. I could not taste anything anymore. There was no desire to lift a fork.
It soon became painful to breathe. My heart would literally hurt every time I took a breath.
There were attempts at therapy and a few hospitalizations, and initially, nothing helped.
Then, there was a surreal moment in a doctor’s office when I overheard a conversation between my physician and parents about my heart murmur. It was then that I heard the words that became the turning point in my recovery: If I did not get better, my body would be so destroyed I would not be able to conceive.
My doctor repeatedly reminded me of how fatal this disease was, but nothing stabbed at my heart more than the thought of not having children.
I began my fight to live: to get better, to grow stronger, and most importantly, my determination to eat without guilt.
I also began attending regular therapy sessions. The shame lessened as I began sharing my story with others battling their own eating disorder.
I was finally able to dismiss the gravity and pressure of what others thought of my appearance and started focusing on myself from the inside out. This is what helped me beat bulimia.
I have been healthy for nearly two decades now, and I celebrate every day by truly loving myself, enjoying food, and more importantly, continuing the critical work of helping those trapped by this illness.
I have mentored many teens who are just as fearful of food as they are of being called “fat.” How many times do we hear that little three letter word thrown around at celebrities and more destructively, at those around us?
True, the stars have more of an outlet. They can choose not to read those harmful headlines or skip those scathing celebrity blogs.
But what about that young student on a college campus, in a high school classroom, or perhaps under the roof of their own home?
As a mother of two young children, it is important for me to teach youth the concept of true self worth: that our differences are what makes us special, beautiful and unique.
Despite what our celebrity-obsessed culture leads us to believe, true beauty begins inside with a healthy and nurtured mind, body, and soul.
It is not easy for a journalist to turn the spotlight on their own life, and make their past struggles a headline. But I want to remove the veil from a disease that involves so much shame and is often fought in the dark.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Kareen Wynter.