This week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which gives us a big chance to address something that impacts a lot of girls. Eating disorders are a serious issue that I know a ton of you are dealing with. Whether you are struggling with eating or you have a friend who is struggling, eating disorders happen way too often to ourselves or to girls we care about.
And that is seriously not cool.
You’ve probably heard of Violetta Milerman, who is currently a cast member on MTV’s Real World: Skeletons. A few episodes ago, we found out one of Violetta’s skeletons — she has struggled with anorexia and bulimia for four years.
Violetta was amazing enough to chat openly and candidly with us about her story and her struggle. Check out what she had to say about what it’s like to live with an eating disorder, how she got help, and how she is taking steps to improve her health.
So, we saw you talk quite openly about your struggles with eating and eating disorders on a recent episode of The Real World. I was wondering how that eating disorder came about?
Well, it all started in about 2010 when I was living in Colorado. It started off very, very harmless. I was like, “I feel kind of fat today, maybe I should just throw up to feel a little skinnier.” Kind of one of those things where I just over-ate. And it started becoming a problem when I couldn’t hold down anything. Honestly, it was a struggle for me to even hold down a salad. I’ve always had this self-image where I always thought I wasn’t pretty enough, or I thought if I got skinny I would feel prettier. I never was quite happy with myself. And it was crazy how many compliments I would get the skinnier I got. It was always, “Oh, you look so thin” or “Oh, that looks great on you.” It was almost addictive, that feeling of, “Oh, I look better. If I lose two more pounds, would I look better than this?” And it got to the point where right now I am 108 pounds and health-wise I should be 115- 116, I believe. And my lowest weight was 95.
There’s pictures where you could literally see my rib cage. And my cheekbones, they were do defined. I have never really been educated about eating disorders, I guess. So, I never really thought I had one. It was like, “Oh, this is normal.” And I would tell myself like, “Oh, but you did eat. You did eat something. It’s not like you didn’t eat.”
What made you realize you needed help with this problem?
I can remember my dentist noticed [my back teeth]. She asked something like, “Oh, do you eat a lot of acids?” or something like that. And I was like, “I don’t eat a lot of acids.” And she was like, “It’s weird, the back of your teeth are kind of disintegrating, but the front of your teeth aren’t bad.” And she bluntly just asked, “Are you throwing up?” And I said, “What do you mean, ‘Am I throwing up?'”
But I also knew I needed help when I was 95 pounds. When I was 95 pounds, I was just always so tired. I had no energy for anything. I didn’t look good. I thought I looked good because I could fit into a 00 and still have a little bit of room. But I looked at some of those photos and I never looked beautiful. I looked like a little skeleton. One of my guy friends said something to me a little afterwards. He said, “You know, you never looked good when you were that small.” And I said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “I know that you thought you did, but you look good now.”
It was really hard to let go. I still have body image issues every single day. There are days when I put on a shirt and say, “My middle section looks like a donut.” But, at the end of the day, my good days overpower my bad days.
What was it about your eating disorder that was so addictive?
As much as it was to get skinny, it was also the one thing in my life that I could control. I felt empowered, like, “Oh, I can control this.” When I first got triggered while I was in Denver, I didn’t really know how to handle everything happening around me. [My eating disorder] was the only thing I could handle. It’s a form of addiction. People who have a drug addiction, they think “I can control it as long as I don’t go to work or school high.” Or people who are alcoholics are like, “Well, as long as I don’t drink on the job.” You think that, “Oh, that means I have control over the situation.” No, you don’t because you are still doing it. And probably in large quantities when you are not in the public eye.
Whenever I feel like my world is kind of falling apart and I feel like I have nothing to hold on to, that’s what triggers mine. In the house, that’s what activated it. I was just so stressed out and I was starting to really, really hate myself. It’s kind of like having an old friend. The first day that it happened there, it was like “Hey, I missed you.” And I was like, “I missed you, too.” And I felt okay and I felt calm, like everything was going to be alright. And then it just got worse and worse.
As of now, you still haven’t talked to your family about your eating disorder. How do you think they will react?
I’m just scared for my mom or my family members to think that it was their fault because it wasn’t their fault at all. I had to deal with my own demons when it came to that. I’m not very open when it comes to my emotions. [I want my mom and dad to know] I love them and know that the only reason I didn’t tell them is because I just didn’t feel comfortable. I’m their little girl. They raised me and they were the best parents in the world, and it wasn’t their fault that this happened. This is just something that I just don’t feel comfortable talking to them about because I just feel like they will blame themselves. It will hurt me more for them to think that it is their fault than for me to even talk about it.
What have you done so far in recovery to work on how you see yourself and your body image?
Every single morning I wake up and I say something positive about myself. I’ll like say things like, “Hey, your hair looks really, really nice today” or, “You look tan.” I always say something positive about myself every single morning. And I keep myself around people who are positive. I don’t surround myself with people who judge me. I don’t surround myself with people who are judgmental. I don’t surround myself with toxic people.
What do you think is important to know about people who are recovering?
People who are recovering can’t do it alone. If you don’t have someone you can really talk to, you should definitely seek a therapist. No matter what anyone says, you can’t do this by yourself. You just can’t. I personally can’t explain that enough. Because it is something that is really, really, really hard to overcome. Because the whole thing is, you did it alone. For the majority of people that this happens to, it’s kind of like their friend. It’s the friend they develop in their head. They can’t share this with anyone but themselves. So remind yourself that you are not alone. It’s always good to know that there is someone else that understands it.
What do you think is the worst thing someone could say to somebody with an eating disorder?
[One of my girlfriends who struggled with an eating disorder and I] ended up in a conversation about this one time. The one thing that we both agreed on is that the worst thing you could ever tell someone with an eating disorder is, “You look healthy.” Because when you tell them they look healthy, even for me, that means I look fat. Because healthy means you have meat on your bones and you don’t look like those girls in Victoria’s Secret. Because obviously, I’m sorry, but no matter what anyone says, it is not healthy to be that small.
What advice do you have for teen girls who are dealing with eating disorders?
First, if anyone in your life is calling you fat or ugly or stupid or anything that makes you uncomfortable, that person does not need to be in your life. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been friends with them for 5 years, 10 years, or if you grew up with them. That person is not supposed to be there because they are not your friend. Cut them out of your life. That’s the first thing. The second thing is: perfection is not being a 00. Perfection is not looking at the girls that you see in Vogue or in these headlining magazines and TV shows. Perfection is not being able to wear crop tops with low cut jeans. Perfection is looking in the mirror and knowing you’re a beautiful individual. Perfection is accepting yourself for all of your flaws, and knowing that everything is going to be okay.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned throughout your experience with this eating disorder?
You never overcome an eating disorder. Just like you never truly overcome a drug addiction or alcoholism. It’s an every single day struggle. So to say that I overcame it would be lying because there are certain days where I do have a problem. It just hasn’t happened since [I’ve been in the Real World house]. I think you can’t really overcome it, you can just learn that you don’t need it.
I’m not ashamed of it. It happened and I survived and I’m going to be okay. It’s not something that you should be ashamed of. Because it’s something that sometimes just gets out of control. And you don’t know until it’s too late.
Watch Violetta talk about how stresses during the Real World: Skeletons season lead her to relapse in the house below:
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, don’t be afraid to ask for a little help! Talk to a person you trust, or check out the National Eating Disorder Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237.