Lauren Alaina's name might sound familiar, even if you aren't a country fan. The singer, who's nominated for her first Country Music Awards this year, first gained fame through American Idol in 2011. At the time, she came second to Scotty McCreery, and most people saw her as a rising star. She was also battling an eating disorder. (Related: Lily Collins Shares How Suffering from an Eating Disorder Changed Her Definition of "Healthy")
Alaina was 11 when she first remembers feeling insecure about her body. "I was in middle school and had just made the cheerleading team when I realized how completely different I was than those girls," she told Shape. "I just shot up and was taller than most guys at that point which made me feel super insecure. I remember wanting to be shorter, thinner—basically be all of these things that I just wasn't." (More: Katie Willcox Wants You to Know You're So Much More Than What You See In the Mirror)
All of those emotions were taken to a whole other level after she watched a video in health class trying to prevent eating disorders. "For whatever reason, the message they were trying to convey just went over my head," she said. "I didn't see someone who was sick, I saw someone who was thin and, as a result, beautiful. That's when everything started to go downhill."
By the time Alaina made it to American Idol, she had been struggling with bulimia for a few years. "When I went on the show, people teased me about my weight a lot and that just solidified the way I already felt about myself," she said. "For a while, I was very unhealthy. My hair was falling out and throwing up had started to damage my vocal cords."
That's when she knew she had a problem. "I remember my doctors examining my vocal cords and asking if I had an eating disorder and I instantly said no," she said. "But then my mom, who was in the room with me, said my name in her 'mom voice' and I just lost it. I didn't realize that she knew or that anyone knew. But the thing with eating disorders is that people know and I think getting the help you need starts there."
Today, Alaina has come a long way. After undergoing surgery to fix her vocal cords, she began going to therapy for her bulimia and focused on getting better. Now, she focuses on eating healthy foods that fuel her and follows a low carb lifestyle with Atkins.
"I meal prep when I'm traveling and make sure to have three solid, high-protein and low-carb meals a day with a few snacks in between," she says. "But I try not to be too hard on myself. At the end of the day, it's all about having a healthy balance."
While there have been tons of ups and downs throughout her personal and professional life over the years, Alaina hopes to make the most of the platform she's worked so hard to earn.
"I'm just so grateful to have the opportunity to talk about this mental illness with people because it affects so many," she says. "I think we're all insecure about something, but there's a way to deal with those emotions healthily by seeking professional help earlier on."
That said, Alaina realizes that that's not always easy and encourages friends and family members to speak up. "If you're around someone who you know is in a bad place and is struggling, try to help by saying something," she says. "I wasn't in a position or in a state of mind to help myself, and if my mom hadn't said anything who knows how long I would have suffered?"
"Remember that it's okay to get help and it doesn't make you weak," she says.
Tune into ABC on November 8 to see if Alaina will take home her first-ever Country Music Award.
Because our bodies are badass and feeling strong, healthy, and confident is for everyone! Help us spread the body love and be a part of our #LoveMyShape body confidence movement: Post a photo or video on social sharing why you love your shape. And check out Movemeant Foundation, our partner in empowering women and girls to be body positive.