with Eating Disorders
One woman's struggle with bulimia -- and how she's learning to heal
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript
You may know her as the voice of cartoon character Lisa Simpson, but Yeardley Smith is now giving voice to her own lifelong struggle with bulimia. She joined us, along with eating disorder expert, Kelly Brownell, PhD, Director of the Yale Center for Eating Disorders, to discuss the emotional and physical effects of bulimia.
The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.
Moderator: Welcome, everyone, thank you for joining us. Yeardley, how long have you been dealing with bulimia?
Smith: 24 years.
Moderator: How did it begin?
Smith: I started dieting when I was nine and by the age of 14, I was completely weight and body obsessed. A friend of mine told me that if you eat and vomit you won't gain any weight, when I was 14. I did not take to vomiting easily or quickly. But I was determined to be as thin as I could, and I never did really get very thin.
Moderator: Dr. Brownell, is that pretty typical?
Brownell: Yes. This is quite typical. People start off with a desire to be thin and can easily fall into the trap of restricting their eating, then overeating, and then throwing up, as a way of controlling their weight. This is not generally an effective weight-control method and of course brings many psychological consequences.
Smith: It was not a very effective way to control my weight. I was always normal weight to about 20 pounds overweight. And yet the obsession continued.
Member question: You've been dealing with this for 24 years? How has it affected your health?
Smith: I have thrown up blood. I have very sensitive teeth. But I am extremely lucky that I never had any gastrointestinal ailments.
Moderator: Dr. Brownell, what other physical problems can bulimia cause?
Brownell: The problems that Yeardley mentioned are quite common, and in some people the problems can be even more severe, with the most serious being electrolyte problems, which can lead to heart difficulties. This does not include the psychological torment, which can include preoccupation with eating and body image, often to the exclusion of anything else.
Smith: I have had periods of rapid heartbeat and nothing has shown up on EKGs, but it seems pretty fishy to me.
Member question: Was it easy to hide your purging from your family? Did they ever express concern?
Smith: Yes, it was easy; no, they never knew. One of the characteristics of my eating disorder has been secrecy and what I would call lying by omission. Not telling anyone that I was doing it and when asked if I was still doing it I would say, no, if it was true that I had not done it that day. I was dedicated to acting out my disease.
Brownell: Secrecy is very common with people with bulimia, which in some cases allows the disease to go many years without detection. The good news is that there are quite effective treatments available and so if bulimics can come forward and ask for help, good help is there.
Smith is also currently the subject of her own one-woman show, called "More," which chronicles her lonely childhood, her runaway ambition and 25 years of battling bulimia. Her eating disorder began before she had even turned 13 and, despite frequent roles in film and on television, was exacerbated by failing her goal of winning an Oscar by the age of 30. Her bingeing and purging wasn't even assuaged when she won an Emmy for her work on "The Simpsons" in 1991; convinced it wasn’t an authentic kudos, she kept the statuette in her closet for nearly a decade. Her one-woman show—funny and touching if a tad long and a bit self-indulgent—had a brief off-Broadway run last spring and is currently playing in Los Angeles through March 6. Smith, 40, recently spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Brian Braiker about her tortured quest for "More."