Woman recalls childhood struggle with eating disorder, now helps others in SWFL

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
Jennifer McCurry as a teenager and as an adult. Credit: WINK News

While most 12-year-olds are obsessed with a sport, friends or the latest TikTok challenge, Jennifer McCurry was obsessed with food. Her battle with anorexia nearly killed her, and she’s sharing her story for the first time since she was hospitalized.

We can all relate to the need to fit in. For McCurry, who’s bravely digging into her past, that need nearly became deadly.

“There was a desperate need to kind of want to fit in,” McCurry said. “I felt if I was thinner, I might fit in with, you know, the popular kids a little better. If I was thinner, I would like myself more, and it just kind of grew into an obsession.”

Pictures don’t show her pain, but at 12, McCurry was anxious and depressed. To feel in control, she exercised constantly and limited what she ate.

“I had a little cereal, maybe a granola bar, a half [of] a sandwich,” McCurry said.

Controlling one’s diet at a young age is more common than you think. 90% of anorexia nervosa cases are women between 12 and 25, and psychiatrist Dr. Omar Rieche, chief medical officer at Elite Behavioral Therapy, says there’s often a common factor.

“They are perfectionistic by nature,” Rieche said. “These are individuals that are high-risk for anorexia, because they’re usually very bright, more females than males.”

“I was losing my hair,” McCurry said. “You just don’t care anymore. And you just, you don’t actually want to eat.”

“The mortality rate is very high,” Rieche said. “When you look at suicide and completed suicide or death from complications, let’s say of arrhythmia and cardiac arrest, it can get really high: 15%, even higher.”

At 78 pounds, the young teen ended up in the hospital. But for McCurry, everything changed after a visit from a priest with a message.

“‘You have angels all around you, and you are going to be just fine,'” McCurry said. “And I was like, ‘Really? Really?’ And then I thought, ‘Yeah, really, I am. He’s right. I gotta get out of here.'”

McCurry poured her attention into cheerleading, horses and helping others battling anorexia. In her home, 30 years later, you’d never know of her battles. The jewelry buyer who’s made a living out of bright, shiny things has a bright, shiny home full of love, where she’s surrounded by animals and two little boys.

“I think, at 47, I’m in a good place now, I do, and that’s why my selfish time is over,” McCurry said. “This is my opportunity to go back there and to that girl that was helping those other young adolescents that were struggling with self-esteem and eating disorders. This is my turn, now, to maybe on a bigger level give back.”

McCurry is now working with the organization Kids’ Minds Matter to help raise awareness for our children’s mental health care. As a mother and someone who lives with these struggles, she feels it’s her obligation to help.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you need help, reach out: The National Alliance on Mental Illness has resources for you.

WINK News anchor Lindsey Sablan sat down with Dr. Reese VanCamp, psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner at Elite DNA Therapy Services, to talk about eating disorders.

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