By Suzanne Zuckerman
October 08, 2012 12:00 PM

1991 90 lbs.

1993 180 lbs.

On Fashion’s Night Out in New York City, a crowd of What Not to Wear fans is lined up inside clothing store New York & Company, waiting to get their outfits analyzed by Stacy London, who’s as famous for her silver hair streak as for her no-nonsense ambush make-overs on TLC. A plus-size young woman, her shoulders slumped in a dingy T-shirt and sweatpants, her eyes welling up with tears, tells London, “I know I’m wearing gross clothes. But there aren’t any nice clothes for me. I’m disgusting.” London quickly writes down a phone number, hands it to her and says brusquely, “You need to change the way you think.” Was it the number of a therapist? Not exactly. “I wrote down the number of a great plus-size clothing store in Brooklyn,” London, 43, explains later. “The only way I know how to help someone who feels that alienated is to show them that they do have choices. I refuse to let women get away with being victims.” Though she dishes out tough love on TV, this time it’s personal. “I cannot bear to hear someone use a word like that to describe herself,” London says. ” ‘Disgusting’ is filled with self-hatred.”

It’s a feeling London knows all too well. As she recounts in her new book The Truth About Style, she survived bouts with both anorexia and compulsive overeating and has been every size from a 00 (“I wore children’s sizes at one point,” she says) to a 16. “When I went from 90 to 180 lbs. I hated myself,” the 5’7″ London says. “That’s exactly what I would have said: ‘I’m disgusting.'”

Growing up in Manhattan, she discovered fashion as a means to mask feeling “like a monster.” Childhood psoriasis left her with inches-long scars on her arms, torso and thighs where “my skin split like a zipper.” Her resulting insecurities came to a head in college, when a casual first diet rapidly spiraled out of control. “I very quickly got overly obsessed with restricting my diet,” she says (see box). At her sickest, she was eating fewer than 500 calories a day and subsisting largely on sugar-free butterscotch pudding-“leaving in lumps of dry pudding mix for texture,” she writes, “so there was something solid to chew.” Her family begged her to get help. “My dad said, ‘Just eat!'” she recalls. “And I thought, God, if it was that easy, I would not be a mess.” At the insistence of her doctors, she did stop starving herself and months later started as a fashion assistant at Vogue. “There, I was so nervous all the time, I started eating to calm myself down,” she says. By then, she had begun bingeing. “I would eat four almond croissants just to get myself to work,” London says. “I started eating unlimited amounts of pudding mix. I could not get enough food into me.” London went up a dress size every month for a year. “I was eating tens of thousands of calories a day: loaves of bread, boxes of cereal. I was so devastated that I couldn’t be like all these beautiful people I worked with at Vogue.” As her career took off, her weight stabilized. But it wasn’t until she was cast on What Not to Wear at 32 that she found her calling-as wardrobe whisperer to real women who hide emotional baggage behind bad clothes. Yet in spite of her success, when her then-fiance told her “he wasn’t attracted to me because I was not fit,” she began working out daily and whittled herself down from a size 10 to a 4. “I was still susceptible to imagining that somebody else could control how I felt about myself,” London says. She broke off the engagement and is currently unattached. “I’m so grateful for so much about my life, but there is this melancholy that I never found a partner to share it with,” she says, adding, “It’s harder for me to talk about being single than my past eating disorders.” But it’s clear from her distress over recently gaining 15 lbs. (“I’m so unhappy with my ass and thighs, I would love to put them under a sheet!”) that she’s still her own worst body bully. “Every time something superstressful comes up, it does affect my eating,” London admits. “There’s always that fear that I’ll get caught up in eating disorders again. Counterbalancing that with positive thought is what I try to concentrate on now.” On Fashion’s Night Out, another young woman from the crowd shakes her hand and (in what is quickly becoming a trend) begins to cry. “I hate going shopping,” she tells London, “because my body isn’t perfect.” London’s reply? “No body is perfect. And therefore every body is perfect.”