Eating disorders: The search for perfection

While some people battle and live with eating disorders for years, many can't survive.

Winter Groeschl is in a good place. She has a career, a wonderful relationship and a huge network of friends. If you met her, you would have no idea there was a time she wished she was dead.

“I was hoping I would die in my sleep so I wouldn’t have to deal anymore,” said Groeschl.

Her downward spiral started at a young age, Groeschl was 8 years old when started to think she was fat. That feeling continued for the next four years.

“So at 12 I started to restrict my calorie intake,” said Groeschl.

She would exercise and diet, keeping a close eye on everything that went into her body.

“Even at my lowest (weight), I was not satisfied with my body," she said.

Kiley Cirillo has a similar story of dieting and restricting her calorie intake. The 24-year-old spent eight years battling her demons.

“It was all I thought about -- my life was controlled by it,” said Cirillo.

Unlike Groeschle, Cirillo would often purge after eating, sometimes five times a day.

“Sometimes after I would eat, it would happen on its own,” said Cirillo.

Cirilo would try and eat no more than 100 calories a day. At her lowest, she weighed only 89 pounds.

“It (was) dangerous, selfish and destructive,” said Cirillo.

Millions are suffering

About 30 million people suffer from an eating disorder. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), a person dies every 62 minutes because of an eating disorder.

ANAD says almost 1 percent of American women will suffer from anorexia at some point in their lifetime. The numbers jump to 1.5 percent for bulimia.

“I almost lost my life because of my commitment to this disease,” said Dena Gareley.

The now-45-year-old mother dealt with her eating disorder for more than a dozen years.

"It as all consuming, it controlled every thought and moment of my day,” said Gareley.

Consumed by the lure of perfection, Gareley would restrict, exercise and purge to lose weight.

“That anxiety, the fear of gaining weight would force me to get the food out,” said Gareley.

Dr. Dena Cabrera is a psychologist focusing on eating disorders.

“They can be extremely dangerous,” said Dr. Cabrera.

The complicated disorders often revolve around two key factors: control and perfection.

People often become anorexic because it’s the one thing they can control in their life. They have control over how much they eat, what they eat, when they eat and how much they exercise.

“People are dying to live up to these unattainable standards,” said Dr. Cabrera.

Men are also affected

Sam Smith admits he was addicted to his anorexia. Constantly focused on losing weight only to reach his goal and then try to lose more.

“When I would get that carrot so to speak, I would then say to myself 'I can do better,'” said Smith.

Just a little shy of 6 feet tall when Smith was 16, he weighed only 90 pounds. He would often go days only eating a graham cracker and maybe a few sips of water.

“I was just skin and bones," he said. "Sitting down was painful."

Now 19 years old, Smith remembers struggling to get out of bed some days because he was so weak. He says his anorexia got so bad his organs were shutting down.

“I couldn’t move or do anything,” said Smith.

Hiding in plain sight

Dena Gareley called it a “mask.” She would wear it when interacting with family and friends.

“In all the pictures I was smiling," she said. "No one knew what was going on."

People suffering from anorexia or bulimia are often very good at hiding their problem.

To many who see them, everything seems fine, even perfect, when in reality they are suffering. Their reckless actions took place in isolation out of view from judging eyes. In many instances, they will receive compliments on how good they look or how skinny they are.

Ashley Law was one of those people hiding in plain sight. No one knew she was fighting a disease that could ultimately kill her.

“It was so severe my body shut down,” said Law.

A professional dancer, Law was in the spotlight on a constant basis. In her profession, looks and body image were not just important -- they were critical.

“I weighed myself daily,” said Law.

Obsessed with exercise, Law would often work out in isolation and count calories before eating food. Her anorexia turned to bulimia -- Law would often purge her meal before even finishing.

“There were times I was finishing my food and I would tie my hair back knowing I was about to get rid of it,” said Law.

Getting help

Like many people who battle their demons, be it drugs, alcohol or something else, admitting you have a problem and seeking help is often the most difficult. The problem with anorexia and bulimia is compounded by the fact that the person is often complimented on a daily basis.

By the time people notice something is wrong, the disease has often contributed to some serious health problems.

“People are doing dangerous things to their bodies and the consequences include problems to the brain and organs,” said Dr. Cabrera.

While it is possible to battle the disease for years, it is also dangerous. Seeking professional help is often needed for the person to break the cycle of anorexia or bulimia. The complicated disorders attack both the mental and physical part of a person.

Seeking help is not easy but could save a life. If you know someone who needs help, visit:

National Eating Disorders Association

National Institute of Mental Health

Recovery stories

Like a thief in the night, anorexia and bulimia often steal years without being caught. Sometimes the diseases or disorders can rob a person of their life.

Ashley Law spent several months in treatment before she recovered. Winter Groeschl, Sam Smith and Dena Gareley also received treatment. The four were able to battle and now have their disorders in check.

Their stories highlight the power of treatment. All four are doing well and are successfully combating their disorders. They hope their stories will serve as inspiration but also a warning that trying to battle anorexia or bulimia on your own can have deadly consequences.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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