For six years, Alexa PenaVega silently struggled with bulimia.
But thanks to the confidence she found while competing on season 21 of Dancing with the Stars, the former Spy Kids star, 27, found the strength to go public with her story.
“The one thing that I had always wanted was for someone to be real with me about that whole situation,” PenaVega told PEOPLE after Monday’s show of her battle with bulimia, which started in childhood after she was told by a movie producer that she was too fat.
“You read textbooks and it’s just so, well, textbook. ‘This is how you get over bulimia.’ But it is so much deeper than that,” she continued. “I wish I’d had somebody who could have told me, ‘It’s scary.’ You struggle giving it up. You want to get rid of it but you struggle because, in a strange way, you enjoy it.”
PenaVega was sent home on DWTS Monday, but not before scoring a standing ovation (and perfect 10s) from all three judges for her contemporary dance inspired by her journey and choreographed by her partner Mark Ballas.
“I feel like it’s such a sensitive, tender issue. A lot of people are afraid or get uncomfortable talking about issues like this, but I think that it’s good to tackle the topic head on,” Ballas said.
PenaVega says she has successfully been able to put her eating disorder behind her and is now focused on shedding light on the issue for others going through a similar struggle.
“This is something that I was so afraid to talk about before, but this show has given me so much confidence,” PenaVega said. “I went through a big battle and all I wanted to do was move and inspire people and show them that bulimia is something that you can get over. That’s really all I wanted tonight. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my time in the competition.”