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Renee Olstead Headshot

My Life Before 'Secret Life'

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Growing up in the entertainment industry, I've had a lot of people tell me I'm not good enough. When I was young, I was teased mercilessly by my classmates for being a redhead. I wasn't particularly well coordinated either, which made me a bit of a liability in P.E. My dad left when I was about 14, to start over with a new family. His new girlfriend told me all about how my 'being a girl' had always been a bit of a disappointment for him and how she was going to give him the son he always wanted. I still remember sitting by the phone on my 15th birthday waiting for him to call. He never did and I never saw him again for that matter. By then I was working on my first TV show, Still Standing, which ran until I was about 17. I began hearing little comments here and there about how I looked heavy on camera and I believed them all.

For many years, I struggled with how I felt about myself. I hid and harbored very self-destructive eating issues, namely anorexia, which at its worst caused me to lose half of my hair and brought my weight down dramatically. I kept telling myself if I was thinner, I'd be good enough. I thought that the more weight I lost, the less people would criticize me. I looked to the Internet for help and soon found a network of 'pro-ana' sites to put my trust in. I knew what I was doing wasn't healthy, but I didn't care. I bought a little notebook and wrote down my new destructive diet plan. I began working out obsessively and compulsively logging every calorie I ingested. I began lying about whether or not I'd eaten and finding a new huge source of anxiety in eating in front of other people.

For a long time, that way of thinking seemed to make a lot of sense to me, until I eventually found myself physically and mentally exhausted from chasing something I could no longer control. My friends became concerned about me. My mom realized I was putting my food down the garbage disposal. All of my lies were coming to a head and I was incredibly tired. I just couldn't do it anymore and I knew I needed help.

Since then, I've received a lot of help from counselors about my eating issues and I encourage any girls (or guys) dealing with these feelings to do the same. I'm 22 years old now, I'm at a healthy weight, I'm truly happy and I'm on the hit TV show The Secret Life of the American Teenager. I don't just think I'm good enough, now I KNOW I am, and I know I deserve happiness.

If you or a friend are struggling with an eating disorder, please encourage them to seek help by speaking to an adult you trust, a counselor, or by calling the National Eating Disorder Association Hotline at 1-800-931-2237.