03/29/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Are Eating Disorders More Prevalent in Los Angeles?

I get asked this question frequently by people who do not live in LA. As an eating disorder therapist, in Los Angeles, people assume that I am in the belly of the beast. That because if Los Angeles, aka Hollywood, is home to the young and beautiful, the pressure to be thin, blonde and beautiful must be worse here than anywhere else in the world. From the research I have done, it appears to be true.

Among young women and men in Los Angeles, there is a disproportionate number of bulimics and anorexics. Having been born and raised here, and having been both a model and an actress in my younger days, I can tell you why. When I was 26 and signed to one of the best talent agencies in town, my agent told me I needed to lose weight. I was 5'7" and 130 lbs. When I was 13 and signed to a modeling agency, the head of the agency told me I needed to "watch that middle."

Going to both acting and modeling auditions, I would be in waiting rooms with impossibly beautiful people. This was before everyone was getting surgically enhanced. One of my friends in acting class was playmate of the year. She was beyond gorgeous. Swedish, beautiful complexion and skinny with big, natural boobs. She told me that all she ate all day was spinach and grapes. She was living in the Playboy mansion, where there was food available 24/7, and all she ate was spinach and grapes. The kicker was she told me she was jealous of me. I was younger and a better actress/singer, and so she was jealous. I was floored. She couldn't have been more beautiful, and yet she was very insecure about who she was.

Living in Los Angeles, you are surrounded by slender, young and beautiful people. People come here from all over the world to make it in Hollywood. Not only are there the young hopefuls, but you regularly run into celebrities at the gym, the market, the mall, etc... It can be rough on a person's ego to be on the treadmill next to Christy Turlington, the market behind Megan Fox and trying on clothes next to Kate Hudson.

So, in my private practice, I see mostly young women suffering from bulimia, compulsive overeating, anorexia and very low self esteem. One client in particular, who was trying desperately to be thinner to fit in here, decided to move back to New York where she felt more comfortable being 5'7" and 140 lbs. I also see many celebrities, as clients, who are dealing with eating disorders and, who knew, very low self esteem. To be completely judged by your looks and scrutinized for every ounce you gain or lose, is damaging to even the healthiest of egos.

So, if you are thinking of moving here to make it in Hollywood, come with a very healthy sense of self and a very thick skin. If you are already here and suffering, get some help! You are not alone. Maybe things will change one day, but I don't foresee that any time soon.

If you'd like to participate in the research for Irene's new book about the process of weight loss, please take the survey.