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Bulimia Isn’t Beautiful: Celebrities with Eating Disorders

Article By Leslie Vandever

Eating Disorders Can Occur In Anyone

Eating disorders don’t care who you are, where you live, or how much money you make. They don’t care about your job or your marital status. They don’t respect class, social station, or pecking order.

The most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating. They exist alone and, in some people, in combination. And, those with eating disorders often have mood, anxiety, impulse-control, or substance use disorders as well.

Anyone, from a princess to a pauper, can fall victim to these life-altering—and life-threatening—mental illnesses. Friends, relatives, lovers, acquaintances—even celebrities, the people we admire as stars, the most powerful, or the most beautiful among us, are or have been afflicted.

Karen Carpenter

371px-Karen_CarpenterPerhaps the most famous celebrity with an eating disorder was singer and drummer Karen Carpenter, who with her brother Richard formed half of the hugely popular 1970s singing group The Carpenters. Heartbreakingly, anorexia nervosa silenced her lovely voice forever.

After years of growing thinner and thinner—and denying a problem—she died suddenly in 1983, the victim of an irregular heartbeat caused by chemical imbalances associated with anorexia nervosa. Carpenter’s tragic and untimely death brought public attention—for the first time—to anorexia and other eating disorders.

Princess Diana

Международная_Леонардо-премия_18Great Britain’s Princess Diana was one of the most beloved and admired women in the world during the 1980s and 90s. Yet she struggled with bulimia for many years following her fairy-tale wedding. Her battle began in 1981 and continued until late in the decade, when she finally sought treatment.

She made her struggle with binging and purging—and the personal insecurity and stress that caused it—public in the 1990s, using her own example as a way to raise awareness about the dangers of eating disorders. Her courage continues to inspire others to confront their mental health issues, including low-self-esteem, and get professional treatment.

Jane Fonda

Jane_Fonda_-_publicityActress Jane Fonda fought a long battle with chronic perfectionism, one that started when she was 12 years old. “All of the culture is telling us we’re supposed to be this way or that way,” Fonda states in an article on the Forbes website. “We’re supposed to look like this; we’re supposed to behave this way.”

Eventually, Fonda became bulimic, binging and purging to keep her body and weight under tight control and “perfect.” She was in her 40s when she finally realized the damage she was doing to herself, confronted her addiction, and stopped cold turkey.

Elton John

Elton_John_performing,_2008_1We don’t hear very often about men with eating disorders, but they aren’t exclusive to women and girls. A quarter of those with anorexia and bulimia are men, and 40 percent of binge eaters are men as well.

The legendary singer, songwriter, and pianist Elton John said he had bulimia for 16 years before he sought treatment for it and a cocaine addiction in 1990. He said he was in denial, and he thought it was something he could fix on his own. During an interview with Larry King in 2002, John said as soon as he said the words “I need help” he knew he was going to get better.

His personal battle with bulimia—and his openness about it—have helped inspire more public awareness about how eating disorders can affect men, too.

Other celebrities who’ve had bulimia or anorexia include:

  • The late Margaux Hemingway
  • Paula Abdul
  • Dennis Quaid
  • Lady GaGa
  • Calista Lockhart
  • Frank Bruni
  • Sally Field
  • Susan Dey
  • Katie Couric

About the Author:

Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California where she writes for Healthline.



Famous People with Eating Disorders. (n.d.) Eating Disorder Retrieved on August 18, 2014 from

Anorexic Celebrities. (2014) Mirror, Mirror Eating Disorders. Retrieved on August 18, 2014 from

Schmidt, R. Karen Carpenter’s Tragic Story. (23 October 2010) The Guardian. Retrieved on August 18, 2014 from

Goudreau, J. (2011, September 15) Jane Fonda on Overcoming Chronic Perfectionism. Forbes. Retrieved on August 18, 2014 from

Study Tracks Prevalence of Eating Disorders. (2007) National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved on August 22, 2014 from

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