As a young child, Ginger Zee struggled with self-confidence.
Born Ginger Zuidgeest, the Good Morning America meteorologist says growing up a “shy” kid in Grand Rapids was “great, in general.” But when she was 7, her parents divorced, and she began skipping meals as a way to maintain some control.
By the age of 12, she had developed severe anorexia.
“My mom went after it aggressively. I was lucky to have her as an advocate,” the recent Dancing with the Stars finalist, 35, says in the current issue of PEOPLE.
Zee, 35, says she entered therapy and was taken on a tour of an in-patient treatment center by her mom, Dawn, a neonatal nurse practitioner.
“There were girls who were on their way to death,” Zee says. “It was shocking.”
“It didn’t make me better right away, but I knew I had the great support of my family, and the fear factor was there,” says Zee, who also thanks her stepfather for teaching her proper nutrition and exercise habits.
• For more from Ginger Zee – including how her family helped her battle anorexia as a teen – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
The recovery was slow, but as she graduated high school and made a living out of her passion, the weather, Zee began to leave her eating disorder behind.
She particularly credits her successful turn on DWTS – during which she also balanced her gigs on ABC’s GMA and World News Tonight with David Muir – and becoming a new mom in December for her new-found confidence.
“The anorexia will always be in my head. You can’t scrub that from your memory,” says Zee, who launches her digital-first culinary science series Food Forecast on ABC.com in July and hopes to inspire young students through a children’s science show in the future. “But having a baby and then going into this challenge was really empowering. I’ve found a pride in myself that I’d never had before.”