Kelsea Ballerini Reveals Past Struggle with Eating Disorder: 'It's a Journey, and It's Never-Ending'
Kelsea Ballerini is opening up about her painful past.
In her new poetry book Feel Your Way Through (out now), the country singer reveals she struggled with an eating disorder through her teenage years.
"My parents had just gotten divorced, and I think for me, it was a source of control," Ballerini, 28, says of her eating disorder in the new issue of PEOPLE.
In her poem "Kangaroo," Ballerini writes: "A boy named Jackson called me 'kangaroo' when I was a freshman in high school ... he explained this new nickname because of my belly and little legs." Ballerini goes on to reveal she battled bulimia, took diet pills and worked out excessively until, at age 18, she sought help after passing out "several" times.
"It's a journey, and it's never-ending," Ballerini tells PEOPLE of her relationship with her body.
For more on Kelsea Ballerini, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.
Although she's learned how to deal with her body-image issues, life in the spotlight can sometimes exacerbate them.
After a 2015 performance on Today, "I saw an article pop up, and it said, 'Ballerini debuts baby bump,'" she recalls. "I reverted back to that 12-year-old version of me but thought: Either you're going to get triggered by this all the time, or you're going to get to a point where you're okay enough to look past it."
Today, Ballerini is in a better headspace.
"I'm in a much healthier spot, and I'm much more gentle with how I talk to myself and my body," she says. "There are still days where I revert back to being that 12-year-old, and I have to catch myself, and hold myself accountable to the work I've done."
Indeed, Ballerini says she had to unlearn certain mentalities to get to the healthy place she's in now.
"I don't work out to get skinny, I work out to be healthy. I don't eat a salad to be skinny, I eat a salad to be healthy," she says. "I've re-calibrated what it means to me to just look in the mirror and just be like, 'Man, I'm healthy. I'm strong. I have good breath support to do my job well.' Those are things that matter to me now, rather than: 'I look skinny in a dress.'"
It took years for the artist — who just won her first two CMA awards — to feel comfortable opening up about her disordered eating.
"I've always presented myself as a very happy-go-lucky, glittery person ... but there's more," she says. "It took me some time to feel bold enough and confident enough to share my true self."
Now she hopes others will feel less alone by sharing her experience.
"When you're able to talk about things, you either are going to feel shame about it and you're going to keep it hidden, or you're going to air it out and be vulnerable and connect with people and take the sting away from it and heal together," Ballerini says. "And I think that's just the better option for me at this point in my life. So that's why I air out a couple of my dark secrets in this book."
Ballerini has long been a beacon of body positivity. In 2018, she hit back at a troll who told her to "lose some weight" after she performed at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show.
"Listen. First of all, I'm not a model I'm a singer. Second of all, I'm not responding to this to give you attention because you don't deserve that, I'm responding because I am a healthy, normal chick which I pride myself on and work hard for, and want other young girls to see that and know that 'skinny' is not always the goal," she wrote on Instagram. "And for you to think it's okay to comment on my weight or size is disgusting."
At the time, she told PEOPLE: "I'm healthy, and I'm happy, and I'm lucky to be both ... I just don't like when people feel the need to talk about my body and how it looks. Adele said it best, 'I make music for the ears, not for the eyes.'"
If you or someone you know is battling an eating disorder, please contact the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) at 1-800-931-2237 or go to NationalEatingDisorders.org.
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