The singer said she was "running [herself] into the ground" with workouts and dieting when, at the time, she believed she was "recovering" from her eating disorder.

By Renee Cherry
February 19, 2020
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

It's been a long time since Demi Lovato has spoken about her struggles with an eating disorder. But this week, she shared some of the ups and downs she's faced over the last few years during her eating disorder recovery.

Ashley Graham hosted Lovato for the latest episode of the model's Pretty Big Deal podcast. During the episode, Graham asked Lovato for context around why the singer recently decided to post an unedited bikini photo to Instagram. Lovato said she's working toward embracing her body by sharing these types of photos because she's "tired of running [herself] into the ground with workouts and extreme dieting"—something she apparently began doing after celebrating her bulimia recovery a few years ago, she told Graham. (Related: Why Demi Lovato Posted This Photo Even Though She Felt Self-Conscious About Her Body)

"I thought the past few years was [my] recovery from an eating disorder when it actually was just [me] completely falling into it," Lovato said on the podcast. "And I just realized that maybe my symptoms weren't as obvious as before, but it was definitely an eating issue."

Looking back, Lovato said she now believes those symptoms had a snowball effect. "I honestly think that's kind of what led to everything happening over the past years, just like me thinking I found recovery when I didn't and then living this kind of lie trying to tell the world I was happy with myself when I wasn't."

It's common for people who are recovering from an eating disorder to shift to a new compulsive behavior (which, in Lovato's case, seemed to include "extreme" workouts and dieting), says Joan Ifland, Ph.D., food addiction and eating disorder specialist, and founder of Food Addiction Reset. "Eating disorders act like addictions. Research shows that they alter the same part of the brain in similar ways," explains Ifland. "Addiction transfer—for example, from processed food addiction to shopping addiction—happens easily." (Related: The Reality of Exercising After an Eating Disorder)

Plus, someone who's recovering from an eating disorder might not have a clear view of their progress, which can further complicate recovery, says Gregory Jantz, founder of the treatment facility The Center: A Place of Hope. "Denial is a part of the disease of an eating disorder and it's significant," explains Jantz, a psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. "This can create a distortion of reality as a person walks to recovery. Many times it's a great struggle to have accurate and realistic opinions of one's physical body."

With that in mind, you probably won't be surprised to find out that relapses are common in eating disorder recovery. For example, relapse rates for anorexia and bulimia have been estimated to be around 35 percent, according to research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. "Most often recovery is cyclic with a few relapses over one's lifespan," says Jantz. "It's paramount that a person works with an eating disorder expert over time to deal with the eating disorder distortion and the resulting depression and anxiety." (Here's everything you need to know about eating disorder recovery, from someone who's experienced it.)

In her conversation with Graham, Lovato spoke on the importance of having a support system in regards to her own recovery experience: "When you don't have people that like, know the signs, around you—I think what I really needed was someone to come in saying, 'Hey I think you might want to take a look at how much you're working out.'"

If you're struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Helpline toll-free at (800)-931-2237, chat with someone at myneda.org/helpline-chat, or text NEDA to 741-741 for 24/7 crisis support.

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Comments (1)

Anonymous
February 20, 2020
Addictions proliferate when we do not get the lasting pleasure that spiritual nourishment brings. Addictions are attempts to keep pleasure lasting so that the gnawing emptiness inside is abated temporarily. Vitality results when we feed our hungry souls. We can do this by spending time in nature, being creative, doing acts of kindness, stretching and dancing - or by doing whatever fills your uniquely beautiful soul and lets it shine! Bracha Goetz