In Laura Prepon's upcoming book — a guide for moms called You & I, as Mothers — the actress opens up about her history with bulimia and how she learned her disordered eating behaviours from her mother. “My mother taught me bulimia,” she tells People. “It started when I was 15 and lasted until my late twenties.”
When Prepon began modelling and was told she needed to lose weight, her mother volunteered to help her and it became their “shared project,” Prepon says. Her mother would take her measurements and weigh her every morning and when Prepon would lose weight, she felt like she was making her mother proud. “It was a bonding thing we would do together,” she says. “A shared secret.”
With hindsight, Prepon realizes that her mother, Marjorie, was doing what she thought would be best for her daughter — “trying to help me in her own way” — and what Marjorie had once done herself. “She was bulimic in college,” Prepon explains, “and after she lost weight, she met my father. So to her, being thin equaled success.”
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), at any given time, approximately 1 percent of young women will meet the diagnostic criteria for bulimia, which includes binge eating accompanied by purging behaviour. The actress opening up about her experience with an eating disorder brings more visibility to pressures that often go unspoken for women, particularly young women.
And, Prepon’s experience, with her eating disorder running in her family, is not uncommon. Research has found that if someone has a first-degree female relative with an eating disorder, they are ten times more likely to have one themselves. Some research shows that there may be genetic factors at play — you can inherit the disordered eating tendencies. These studies estimate the genetic component of bulimia to be around from 55 to 62 percent. But other experts cite learned behaviour, especially between daughters and mothers.
For Prepon, she says that her path to healing and recovery came after she wanted to have children of her own. “Healing meant learning about my own body,” she says, “especially when I wanted to have children.” Her mother was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which Prepon said forced her to confront and reckon with their past relationship.
“I don’t want to be angry with her, especially now, because I don’t know how much time we have left,” Prepon tells People. “I want those moments when she is present to be good.”
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorder Information Centre hotline at 1-866-633-4220.