Dying to Be Thin

Battling Bulimia

Kristina Copeland believes her experience with bulimia was caused by a variety of circumstances. Now 29, she claims her genes made her prone to "addictive behavior." Her biological father is a recovering alcoholic. Having an alcoholic parent may raise a person's risk of becoming anorexic or bulimic, says Dr. Fornari.

As an adolescent, Kristina was acutely aware of her weight. "When I was 10 to 13, I was a little pudgy," she recalls. Then, in eighth grade, her family moved. Leaving her friends and entering a new school caused her self-esteem to plummet.

When she was 15, her best friend started purging after mealtimes. She showed Kristina how to vomit after gorging herself. "At school, we were known as the girls who threw up."

Kristina's problem intensified as she started modeling. She'd starve herself for days prior to a shoot, just to feel super-thin. Bingeing, purging, and fasting was a way of life for nine years. Recovery came about slowly, following a conscious decision to curb her dangerous behavior.

Today Kristina is an actress in New York City. She talks about her experience to high school students. "I'm very grateful I was able to stop," she says. "Food has become my fuel -- it's no longer an issue."

Dr. Fornari hears stories similar to Kristina's every day. He knows countless girls are falling into the same trap, partly because of current fashion whims. Many models are 10 to 20 percent below their ideal weight, he says. Full-figured women have started to appear in some ads, but those are targeted mostly at older women. The emaciated look remains the norm.

Photos of super-slim celebrities should come with a warning label, says Dr. Humphries, only half-jokingly. "It should read: 'These people are very unhealthy.' "