The Supermodelís Secret Struggle with an Eating Disorder

An Interview with Carré Otis

By Karen Reed-Matthee

At age 30, supermodel Carré Otis was at the peak of her career. She had just finished posing for Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit edition. Feeling the pressure of being the oldest model to have appeared in those pages, she had trained hard for six months – and rarely eaten.

Finally, her body rebelled. She had a seizure and was hospitalized. Surgeons found three small holes in her heart.

“They had to go in and cauterize them,” Otis recalls. “The doctors all felt it was from malnutrition, from years of yo-yo dieting, pills, Ipecac to throw up. I used to drink that ... That was the wakeup call. It was clear my body would not go on.”

While modeling may have encouraged her disordered eating, Otis is clear that the pattern began long before she appeared on the cover of Elle at age 18. Her struggles with eating began before puberty, around age 9 or 10, she says. “I was feeling like my world was out of control. My body and how it responded was something I could control.”

Otis also battled addictions to alcohol and heroin, which she eventually overcame in her late 20s through 12-step-type programs and her discovery of Buddhism.

“But the eating disorder was the last thing; it’s so subtle in nature,” she says. “You can abstain from drugs and alcohol. But with eating disorders, you have to find a balance.”

When Otis entered treatment after her surgery, she literally had to learn to eat again.

“I had tremendous fear and anxiety,” she recalls. “I had never eaten in the daytime ... I would eat and sob and cry, and just deal with that fear.”

Her body, unused to the calories, blossomed to a size 14, she says. “But my friends still loved me. My family still loved me. I was still Carré.”

Otis turned the weight gain into an advantage and took up plus-sized modeling for a time. And she continued going to a support group and a therapy group. When she felt herself slipping, she would pick up the phone and call the people she could trust to steer her away from the old bad habits.

“I’m a firm believer in staying connected to your own recovery, to yourself,” she says. “I’m very honest with myself, about where my insecurities as a person lie.”

Five years later, Otis’ weight has regulated – to a size 8 – and she leads an exceptionally healthy lifestyle that includes a mainly vegetarian diet, yoga, hiking and the practice of Buddhism. Otis also shares her recovery story on college campuses and works as a correspondent for Channel 4 news in San Francisco

“I feel fully recovered,” she says. “I’m very comfortable with my body.”