Dying To Be Thin: Part 1 Donna Franks

July 06, 2006 -- Posted at 12:15 p.m. CDT

JONESBORO -- It was a shocking admission by American Idol finalist Katherine McPhee, the twenty two year old battled bulimia for years before seeking treatment before and during her appearance on American Idol.

Eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia are most commonly associated with young women, but the faces of eating disorders are not only female.

They affect women and men, young and old.

It's a secretive world marked by anguish, shame, and embarrassment, but it also gives a sense of control to those who suffer.

These days, it seems Hollywood says "thin is in", and this could send a dangerous message to the teens who look up to them.

It's the life of luxury, what some even consider to be America's royalty, endless bank accounts, showered in jewels, and the finest clothes, all of the world is at their fingertips.

They are Hollywood's young and fabulous, from Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton to Nicole Ritchie and the billionaire duo, Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, men want to date them--and many girls mimic them.

"Hollywood tells these girls, 15-24 years old, that if you don't look like this you are not going to date, and you're not going to have a social life. The age group around 15-16 is very receptive to this," said Darla Tate.

Darla Tate is a coordinator for the St. Bernards Outpatient Counseling Center.

It's a picture of perfection for young girls who admire these stick thin Hollywood icons......if you're not thin--you're not "in".

"So when it's done there, it is automatically passed on to the rest of the world.  They see that as glamorous and they want to be those people.  If it takes them weighing 85 pounds then that's what they'll do," said Tate.

They'll do whatever it takes, even if it means robbing their developing bodies of nutrients---just because Hollywood says "thin is in".

Whether it's in "Tinseltown", or here, in the real world, we all strive to be accepted, to be understood, and to be loved.

For some, that need breeds self destruction, and this is where Donna Franks battle with bulimia begins.

"I got into a marriage which was bad--and it's just.....nothing was working. I started gaining weight......a lot a lot a lot of weight. I found comfort in food.  Then I felt guilty about the eating--so I would binge and purge," said Franks.

"There's no communication. It doesn't argue with us. It's the perfect partner when we don't want to deal with the outside world, or we don't want to deal with other individuals," said Tate.

"I was so empty inside, that was my comfort. I would eat a whole box of Little Debbie cakes and save a hot soda because it would be easier to get back up. It know it sounds nasty and it was," said Donna Franks.

She was using food as a comfort--as a way to mask much deeper, more painful issues. Franks was in her early twenties going through a bad marriage, and dealing with the loss of several close family members.

"I am going to quit this, but I am going to eat just one more time. The only thing I had control over was my eating at this time," said Franks.

She wasn't terribly overweight, but not as thin as she wanted to be.

She felt socially unacceptable because of her weight, and saw her life spinning out of control.

"One week I made seven tuna fish sandwiches and froze them. I was going to have one per day, that's it. I got up in the middle of the night and ate all seven.....I had no control," said Franks.

She was a slave first to food, later to alcohol.

"Most often people fail to see that eating disorders are an addiction. It's just like drugs and just like alcohol.  If you correct one, quite often you will become addicted to something else," said Tate.

Donna Franks was ashamed of the weakness she couldn't overcome.

She knew that if she was going to beat this addiction she couldn't do it alone.

Franks says it was her relationship, and faith in God, that pulled her from the grips of this potentially deadly disorder.

"The girls that are out there, oh my, I feel for them because all they are going and doing and getting, and as glamorous as they are, you can still see in their eyes that they are empty," said Franks.

"I'd say don't be deceived, this world, the things that it offers, don't let it trip you up because our hope is not in looking pretty it's what's on the inside. You don't have to do that. You don't have to follow them because you think they are pretty and they have it all," said Franks.

Often we associate eating disorders with young women, but ten percent of people who battle eating disorders are men.

In part two of our series, Dying To Be Thin, you will meet a Region 8 man battling bulimia.

If you or someone you know is dealing with an eating disorder, there is help available.

You can call St. Bernards Counseling Center at (870) 930-9090.