Paulina Pinsky, the 21-year-old daughter of renowned addiction specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky, has bravely revealed her seven-year struggle with anorexia (food restriction) and bulimia (binging and purging), in a series of blog posts, a CNN interview, and with Yahoo Shine. “I’m speaking now because eating disorders are so stigmatized and I want people to feel comfortable opening up,” Pinsky tells Yahoo Shine.
Speaking and writing publicly has also helped her repair her damaged relationship with her mother. “I felt a lot of anger towards my mother but opening up with her has helped me let go of that,” she tells Yahoo Shine. “Being angry was not helping the problem, and honestly it was exhausting. And I think it's always good to remember that your parents have your best interest in mind, even though it is a hard situation. Being honest with my parents has been one of the healthiest and freeing things I've ever done, and it has allowed me to grow and move on with my life.”
Late last year, Pinsky, a junior at Barnard College in New York City, penned an essay for her university newspaper, the Columbia Spectator, titled, Get Your Teeth Checked, which went viral on Sunday after the New York Post’s “Page Six” column picked it up. In the essay, Pinsky shared the moment she spontaneously confessed to her mother that she had been bulimic and anorexic since she was 12, and her mother's shocking response, "Well, get your teeth checked."
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The incident perfectly illustrated the factors that led to Pinsky's battle with her weight. She became an ice skater at the age of five, a sport that, according to her, often bred eating issues in girls. "You have to be thin and light to do those jumps and spins," she tells Yahoo Shine. "Being skinny is part of the ice skating culture." In addition, her mother's biting remarks about weight (commenting on celebrity bodies, becoming impatient during shopping trips when Pinksy would need a bigger size) and Pinksy’s self-imposed pressure to excel in the rink and the classroom, all led to her developing issues surrounding food.
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It's a question that begs to be asked: How could an eating disorder escape parents for so long — especially one who is a doctor? “The very nature of the disorders is to be secretive,” Pinsky tells Yahoo Shine. “My parents cannot be blamed for not seeing what I couldn’t see in myself. Had they known, they would have immediately gotten me help.” After Pinsky confessed to her mother, her father approached her while the two were on a walk. “He said, ‘Your mom told me what you said and I’m proud of you for opening up.”
Dr. Drew publicly expressed his support for his daughter in a statement to Entertainment Tonight on Sunday: "We are so proud of Paulina and her outreach to help others and particularly empower women. When she recognized she needed help she sought treatment and actively engaged in the process. And now she is using her insights to help others."
Pinksy’s story breaks during National Eating Disorder Week (February 23-March 2). “Each year, we have a theme and this year’s is, ‘I had no idea,’” Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of National Eating Disorders Association, tells Yahoo Shine. “Most parents have no clue that their child is suffering from an eating disorder and daughters of addiction specialists are no exception.” According to Grefe, going unnoticed for seven years is rare, but not unheard of, and what’s important is that Pinksy is speaking now and that parents learn from her story.
Key signs to note in people with anorexia include rapid and sudden weight loss, wearing baggier clothes, and making excuses for skipping meals. “You often hear people saying, ‘I already ate,’” says Grefe. “Some also exclude entire food groups or suddenly become vegetarian.” Clues to bulimia, she says, can be a person disappearing after every meal (they may be purging in secret), consuming unusual quantities of food, or loss of tooth enamel as a result of purging. “Dentists are often the first to notice the illness,” says Grefe. And it’s a myth that bulimic people are usually underweight. “There are plenty of obese people who have bulimia because they’re taking in such large quantities of calories,” she says.
As awkward as it can be, confiding in a loved one is the first step in conquering what Grefe calls, a treatable mental illness. “There’s no one way to tell your parents that you have an eating disorder,” she says. “Simply say, ‘I need help and this is why.’ If they don’t take you seriously, tell them again.”
It paid off for Pinsky, who has no regrets.
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