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As a top fashion model, Carre Otis made her living on looking thin and beautiful. But now she is sharing the ugly truth about the weight-loss strategies she subjected herself to and the dire health consequences that resulted.

“I had been on this insane diet for almost 17 years to maintain the weight that was demanded of me when I was modeling,” Otis says. “My diet was really starvation. I am not naturally that thin so I had to go through everything from using drugs to diet pills to laxatives to fasting. Those were my main ways of controlling my weight.”

But these strategies ultimately backfired four years ago.

“I had my first seizure and I had to go in for heart surgery,” says Otis, who at 5’10 occasionally weighed as little as 100 pounds. “My doctor felt that the main contributing factor was so many years of malnutrition, especially during my formative years even before I got into modeling.”

“The starvation weakened my heart,” Otis adds. “Many women who have anorexia put their hearts in a compromised situation – it not unusual for women with anorexia to suffer heart attacks. I had also taken something called ipecac — which is a syrup that makes you throw up – I took it when I was young as my way to control my eating.  It’s been shown to bore holes in the heart. As a result I needed a minimally-invasive procedure that cauterized three holes in my heart – had it been a few years earlier they would have had to open my chest.”

Because of her experience, Otis is passionate about helping other people with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa (AN) — an eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.

As part of her “personal crusade,” Otis is helping promote National Eating Disorders Awareness week – February 23 – March 2.  She also urges people to watch Perfect Illusions: Eating Disorders and the Family which was sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association and will premiere nationally on PBS Monday, February 24.