Life After an Eating Disorder

It was not the way they imagined living their lives. They had big dreams, but those dreams did not include obsessing over the calories in a stick of gum or exercising up to eight hours a day. Actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler, supermodel Crystal Renn and former Olympic hopeful Ashley Dalton all lived with the dangerous eating disorder anorexia nervosa, and now all three talk candidly about their recoveries and new lives.

'Sopranos' Star's Moment of Clarity

Jamie-Lynn Sigler fought a very public battle with her eating disorder, as viewers witnessed the drastic changes in her physical appearance on the HBO hit show "The Sopranos."

"My life was consumed with worrying about burning every single calorie," Sigler explained. "Like, if I had a piece of gum, I would sit in my class panicking and think, 'Oh my God. I have to ask to go to the bathroom because if I walk down the hall and I go the long way to the bathroom, then when I walk back I'll burn the calories that I had in my gum.'"

Almost a year after shooting the pilot for the show, she returned to the set 30 pounds lighter. It was a change that put her role as mob princess Meadow Soprano in jeopardy.

"I wasn't the same girl that they casted anymore," she said in 2000, in her first public appearance to discuss her struggle on ABC's "The View."

Almost losing the role of a lifetime prompted Sigler to start eating again. But then she had to face scathing attacks on "Sopranos" message boards about her weight gain.

"People just wrote the most horrible things," Sigler said, "like, 'how did she get so fat' and 'what happened to her' and … it hurt so bad."

Sigler ultimately came to terms with the criticism, and with her body.

"You know what? Everything that you've said and written about me … has gotten through to me. And you've done what you set out to do," she said on "The View," describing a letter she wrote to viewers on the show's Web site.

"You've given me countless days of tears and hurt and regret about my disease. But now I want to thank you because you've pushed me to come and talk about this."

Crystal Renn's Realization

Models, perhaps, face even more pressure to be thin than actresses do. At 14, Crystal Renn was an ambitious Mississippi teenager planning to become a lawyer until a modeling scout spotted her at a local etiquette class. She was 5 feet 8 and weighed 170 pounds, but not for long.

"He told me, 'You have so much potential to become a model,'" Renn said. "He showed me some pictures in Vogue and said, 'You absolutely have this potential.'" The only catch? Renn would have to lose 10 inches off her hips.

Excited about the possibility of becoming a high-fashion model, Renn immediately embarked on what would become a dangerous diet and exercise regimen. What began as healthy eating soon turned into an uncontrollable obsession.

"I started exercising two hours a day, at the very least, and then on Saturdays, eight hours a day," Renn said. She added that she was, "Not eating more than … I'd probably say, 800 calories, never more than a thousand."

Renn reached her target weight, dropping 70 pounds and the 10 inches off her hips, but it came with a price.

"My muscles [felt] like they [were] breaking inside … just falling apart," she said. "My hair [was] falling out. I [had] a gray tint to my skin."

'I Just Want This So Badly'

Renn maintained her waiflike size until she turned 16, when she signed with an agency and left Mississippi for New York to officially start her modeling career. Renn found the job more grueling than glamorous.

"I would do jobs, two, three jobs a day," she said. "I would work out for two or three hours at three in the morning, because I'd been working all day. And I just remember … crying on the treadmill, thinking, 'Wow, I just want this so badly. I want to do what I came here to do.'"

Finally, Renn hit her lowest weight, 95 pounds, and her body began to rebel. Despite all her efforts to stay thin, she began to gain weight.

"I'd been working out for long, long hours, and I started to put on weight, because my body wasn't agreeing with me," she explained. And then it hit her: "I'm not naturally a size double-zero."

After this realization, she went to her agency to see what could be done.

"So, now I'm at a size 6, and my agency said, 'Well, maybe you should go on a diet and lose a bit of weight.' And I said, 'Well, the thing is, you don't know this, but I was at the gym for eight hours yesterday, and I need to find a different way."

This moment would change Renn's career and her life forever.

Olympic Dreams

Where Sigler and Renn had dreams of stardom, Ashley Dalton dreamed of Olympic gold. A champion equestrian with a passion for life and for horses, Dalton hoped to make it to Athens, Greece, for the Olympic trials.

"Riding, for me, gives me purpose. It gives me everything," she said. "It's like when I'm on a horse … everything just seems to slip away, all the worries, and I just feel really connected to myself and to the animal, and it just gives me a sense of being."

Dalton's passion and Olympic dreams soon turned into an obsession and a nightmare.

"I used to live for my goals, and I'd measure all my successes by how I attained my goals," she said. "I didn't realize it was happening. I was riding a lot and going to school and … juggling many things and being a perfectionist."

Dalton became obsessed with excelling at everything, especially when it came to her riding. To make up for any mistakes or shortcomings, she began training harder, exercising more intensively, and without intending to, eating less and less.

"As much as I thought I was eating, I wasn't," she said. "You get busy. You keep yourself really preoccupied and you just kind of forget about it." She wasn't trying to lose weight, she said. "I was trying to be fit. I was trying to be the best rider I could be. I was … trying to be perfect."

For Dalton, the dream of becoming an Olympian came to a crashing halt.

"I was riding, and I was doing fairly well," she said, "and then the more weight I lost, the worse I would ride. It finally got to the point where it's like I wasn't strong enough to be able to ride. I started falling … off my horse."

'Life After Anorexia'

After a long struggle, Sigler finally decided to go public with her eating disorder. For her, life after anorexia would mean helping others who suffer from eating disorders reclaim their lives.

Sigler became a spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorders Association. And when that wasn't enough, she embarked on a mission that brought her to the Monte Nido treatment center in Malibu. She became a mentor to six young women who were living at the center, all struggling to survive. Dalton was one of those young women.

A year after reaching her lowest point, Dalton said the therapy has helped her redefine her goals and her life.

"It's made me so strong and stable in my mind , and in my values, and … I feel like I can take on the world," she said.

Dalton has also reclaimed her passion for what she loves most: horseback riding.

"Now it's just different," she explained. "I just come out here and for me, riding is more like the day to day, grooming the horses, getting on, romping around the field, playing with the fence."

And when model Renn finally broke the grips of anorexia, she discovered her true calling.

"I turned it around by making a final decision," she said. "I could die for this job. Why am I going to die for this job? That … doesn't make sense to me. My whole idea of beauty is just warped and wrong. I need to change, and I need to be a better role model instead of a dying model."

And that's exactly what she did. Renn consulted her agency and immediately changed her career path, becoming, at the agency's suggestion, a plus-size model.

Ironically, Renn is actually more successful at her natural weight. Back at 165 pounds, she signed with the Ford Agency as a plus-size model. She landed a prestigious Dolce and Gabbana ad campaign and she's the first plus-size model featured in six Vogue magazines across the globe.

"I feel alive. I'm happy," she said. "I'm doing the job that I always wanted to do, which is modeling, but yet, I'm doing it at the size that I'm supposed to … be doing it at."

And by doing it her way, Renn was selected for the ultimate honor in the fashion world -- walking the runway in a couture gown with the designer himself.

"It gave me hope," she said, "because I realized at that moment that I could be a size 12." She said that walking down the runway with Jean Paul Gaultier in a haute couture dress "was just such a major moment for me … and I knew that barriers were being broken."