July 28, 2006 -- "American Idol" runner-up Katharine McPhee has acknowledged that she fought a five-year battle with bulimia, a disease that almost destroyed her vocal chords.
At her worst point, McPhee binged and purged as many as seven times a day, she said just a few weeks ago. She said that appearing on "American Idol" saved her life by forcing her to confront her problem.
In an exclusive interview with psychiatrist Keith Ablow, McPhee talked about the reading problems that had sabotaged her self-esteem and had made her turn to food for comfort. The food also helped distract her from emotional problems.
"Low self-esteem was huge for me," McPhee said. "I was always the pretty little girl who was stupid. That was really difficult. I remember every morning driving to school -- my dad would take us to school. And nobody knew, but I was terrified just to be at school. I could not wait until recess. I was terrified the teacher was going to call on me to read out loud."
'Getting Out of Control'
The 22-year-old Los Angeles native said that during adolescence, she started putting on weight and that the disorder began.
"Yeah, so this little girl grows up who thinks that being beautiful is the only thing that is important," she said. "Because as soon as I started putting on weight, what was the most important thing? To look perfect."
McPhee struggled with the eating disorder for years. She said she would make progress but then relapse.
McPhee auditioned for "American Idol" in San Francisco in August 2005. It was then that she says her bulimia "was really getting out of control."
The frequent throwing up that comes with bulimia is hard on the vocal chords, causing raspiness, irritation and even bleeding.
"It's like putting a sledgehammer to your vocal chords," Ablow said today on "Good Morning America."
Finding Her Voice
It was a difficult decision, but McPhee finally sought treatment in an intensive inpatient program for bulimia in October.
"You never want to reveal something that is uncomfortable to reveal," she said.
She had to admit "this is what I've been doing to myself for the past three months, binging and purging and starving myself. Toward the beginning, it was a lot of starving. It had gone on for years. It would be OK for a while, and then it would be not OK."
Entering the program was "scary," McPhee said.
"I remember my first meal. I had all my meals there," she said. "I just, you know, with bulimia I wanted to eat it so fast. I remember some girls did not want to eat it at all. And I wanted to eat it so fast to just get away from the fact that I had to even be there. I was in tears. It was horrible."
The second day, she said, things "clicked" for her, though.
Now, she said, the people she met in the program are some of her best friends.
McPhee has lost 30 pounds as a result of the "intuitive eating" method she learned in treatment.
The idea behind intuitive eating is to allow yourself the foods you want -- denying yourself "bad" foods only leads to cravings for them.
Ablow said that McPhee's courage in going public with both bulimia and her reading problems was "extraordinary," especially as she launched a national singing career.
Recently, McPhee has been the subject of rumors because she has not taken part in the "American Idol" tour.
On "The View" Thursday, McPhee said her absence had nothing to do with bulimia. She was simply overworked and had gotten sick. She is currently under doctor's orders to not talk.
Ablow said that in order to succeed in her recovery, McPhee would need to "confront additional emotional issues she'll probably drag up from childhood," including her relationship with her stern father and her mother, who was a vocal teacher.
For now, though, McPhee has found her voice, and she encourages others struggling with eating disorders to do the same.
"Don't make my situation your own standard, your blueprint," she said. "You know, everybody's different. … At least go get the help and do whatever works for you."