Michelle Duggar, the matriarch from 19 Kids and Counting, revealed she struggled with bulimia during high school and the early stages of her relationship with Jim Bob Duggar.
“I found out that genetically I could put on weight easily, but with my activities, gymnastics and cheerleading, it was important for me not to,” Michelle told People about the impetus of her eating disorder, which she said began at the age of 14. “I would look around and compare myself to my friends, saying, ‘oh my, she’s so small,’ or ‘she has such skinny legs.”
Michelle said the pressure to look a certain way led her to purge whenever she ate more calories than “acceptable” or indulged in sweets.
“I was doing it sometimes on a daily basis, or sometimes I would go a week,” Michelle said about throwing up. “I felt this was the answer to my problems.”
Michelle was still struggling with the eating disorder when she met Jim Bob Duggar at the age of 16. She said he was the first person she opened up to about her harmful habits.
“I shared this struggle with him and he said he would help me and help keep me accountable,” Michelle said, explaining he encouraged her to call whenever she felt the urge to throw up. “I just know that I would be tempted and I would have the crazy thought that I wanted to throw up, not hold onto the calories. Thank God it didn’t go on longer than it did or I could have done horrible damage to my body.”
As Michelle and Jim Bob went on to raise a (extra large) family, Michelle never hid her history with low self-esteem from her nine daughters. But, she only agreed to speak publicly about her experience for the sake of her eldest daughters’ upcoming book, Growing Up Duggar.
“When the girls were writing their book, they brought this up and I thought, if my sharing it is going to help another young lady, then I want to share it.”
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), roughly 1-in-50 young women struggle with bulimia nervosa. Most of them appear to be of average body weight, but the binge-and-purge cycle can still lead to serious health consequences, including permanent damage to the digestive system and tooth decay.
Whether knowingly or not, Michelle made her revelation during the 27th Annual National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “I Had No Idea.”
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or are worried about a friend, call NEDA’s helpline at 800-931-2237.