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- 22/12/2012 09:23:00
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A former ballerina has told how she battled bulimia for ten years because she was under pressure to maintain a low body weight.
Kathleen Rea, from Toronto, started training with Canada's National Ballet when she was ten years old, and by the time she was 14 she was 'binging and purging up to eight times a day'.
But she wasn't alone, and she said that half of the young dancers in her class were blighted by eating disorders.
Under pressure: Kathleen Rea (pictured as a teenager) battled bulimia for ten years as she tried to maintain a physique of 105 pounds required by Canada's National Ballet
Miss Rea, now 42, explained to US News: 'I was dancing a 40-hour work week. I was trying to maintain a physique of 105pounds when I was 5ft 6in.
'That was actually the weight that was required of me by the ballet company. They said because I had larger breasts than the other girls they had to see more bones.
'They said because I had larger breasts than the other girls they had to see more bones'
'So I was being required to be almost deathly thin.'
Miss Rea said after spending days starving herself a 'famished creature' would take control, and she would gorge on cakes, ice cream, and greasy foods.
She would then try and erase the calories by throwing up.
But this unhealthy routine took its toll and Miss Rea's health took a turn for the worse.
Experiencing feelings of self-hatred she started sleeping on the bathroom floor because she thought her bedroom 'was too luxurious for what I deserved'.
She would also sleep with a knife, 'almost ready to cut the fat off my thighs'.
When she realized she had hit rock bottom she decided to seek help. She also told her parents about her illness for the first time.
However after entering therapy and gaining some weight, her ballet company told her she looked 'far too fat' and 'had embarrassed the nation of Canada' when she appeared on stage. Five weeks later she was fired.
'There's this tendency in ballet to have the martyrdom competition of who can eat the least amount of food and still dance'
After leaving Canada's National Ballet she sought the help of a psychotherapist, who helped her quit dieting and feel comfortable with her natural size.
'Gradually, there was more and more of myself available to focus on life,' she recalled.
Fully-recovered she decided to go back to school, and completed a diploma and a master's degree in expressive arts.
She now works as a psychotherapist, helping people recover from depression, eating disorders, trauma and anxiety as well as a therapeutic performance facilitator, teaching people how to express themselves through performance.
Firsthand account: Miss Rea has written a book about her struggles and how she overcame them
Giving advice to other ballet dancers she said: 'There's this tendency in ballet to have the martyrdom competition of who can have the most bleeding toes, the most injuries, the least amount of food and still dance.
'I would say if you can let go of this there's no weakness in providing yourself with self care, taking care of injuries, eating the proper amount of food, just being kind to yourself.'
Although she is recovered she says that she does have a few health repercussions.
The constant vomiting eroded her tooth enamel and she gets joint pain.
She also believes her eating disorder might have damaged her fertility.
'I had to use IVF to have my son. It hard to say if this was from year of having an eating disorder or not, but it might be,' she said.
Explaining why she wanted to become a ballerina she said: 'My attraction to ballet did not just evolve out of my love of dance, but from a desire to gain control over my life. When my parents divorced, life was chaotic.
'The strict rules of ballet instantly resonated with me because they provided a set of ideals to reach for - a magical recipe that promised to make everything right.'