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."
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."
It was a difficult decision, but McPhee finally sought treatment in an intensive inpatient program for bulimia in October.