Paula Abdul was self-conscious about her body from a very early age. Years later, her very private struggles were made public in the tabloids. Now, she's found a way to come to terms with her body.
Dr. Phil welcomes Paula to the show. "This year, I am really focused on helping women to be at peace with their body, to embrace who they are and not be trying to measure themselves against these ridiculous stick figures that you see on billboards and trying to meet some external standard," says Dr. Phil. "And you got caught up in that as young as 7 years old?"
For Paula, it started with one reckless comment. She explains that a dance instructor pointed out to the whole class that she "doesn't have a dancer's body." "All I could hear was there's something wrong with my body and it affected me in such a profound way. That was the start, where all innocence was lost," she says.
Paula learned about purging at age 17. "It is rampant with dancers and my fellow scholarship students taught me how to do it."
"I've often said that a lot of disorders start for one reason and continue for another," says Dr. Phil. For example, someone who's bulimic can become addicted to the release they feel after purging.
"It has nothing to do with food. It has everything to do with feelings," agrees Paula. "I didn't have the ability, the coping mechanisms to voice what I was feeling frustrated about, so I would shove my feelings down and suppress them with food. And by ways of purging, be it vomiting, be it for me, exercise, it was like purging out everything I wanted to say ... It was a release and it felt euphoric for a while."
Dr. Phil reiterates that bulimia may seem appealing when dancers and models are doing it, but "Down on your knees, throwing up food and acid in your esophagus, eating the enamel off the back of your teeth, I mean, these are not glamorous things."
"It is life altering," says Paula. "Heart problems start, acid reflux, some very damaging things happen." She explains that when she looks back on the successes in her life, she can't really remember her accomplishments because obsessive thoughts about food controlled her life at the time.
"And you said getting rid of this concept of being perfect to fit some external standard and being at peace with your body, you said you're actually more proud of that than the millions and millions of records you've sold?"
"That is a piece of cake compared to what I'm most proud of: beating this monster," says Paula.
Paula offers to be a phone friend to the previous guest, Kelly. "I want you to be able to check in with me every two weeks on the phone. It takes people around you who are going to support you and keep you on the right path," she tells her.
If you struggle with bulimia, join the discussion on the bulimia support board.