TODAY

TODAY   |  August 22, 2013

‘Almost Anorexic’: Ballerina reveals her struggle

Many people who struggle with their body image fall into a gray area between having no eating disorder and full-blown anorexia nervosa. Jenni Schaefer, once a budding ballerina, shares her struggle in a new book “Almost Anorexic,” co-authored with psychologist Jennifer Thomas.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> an interesting new take on people, their relationships with food, weight and body image . nbc's erica hill has more on that. hi, erica.

>> matt good morning. in a new book "almost anorexic" two women and a woman who battled to overcome an eating disorder come together to write about a dangerous gray area that a lot of people fall into.

>> reporter: looking at these pictures, it's hard to imagine anyone finding fault with this budding ballerina, but for jenny schaeffer, this is when her problems began.

>> i remember being 4 years old. i remember being in dance class. i remember at that young age already hearing a voice in my head saying, you're not good enough, you're fat.

>> reporter: it was the start of a nearly 20-year struggle with food, weight, and body image .

>> i wanted to look like my barbie doll . if the number on the scale changed, i was afraid of eating that day.

>> reporter: in her mind, jenny didn't have a problem, yet for years she remained a slave to the scales and to food. still, she didn't appear unhealthy or overly thin until she got to college and her weight loss became more noticeable. at one point jenny even saw a doctor who told her she was fine.

>> i didn't realize that this restricting, this overeating pattern i had with food was wrong because that's so expected and oftentimes embraced in our society.

>> reporter: it would be four years before jenny saw another physician. by then she was severely under weight, falling 15% below the average body weight . she now met the official criteria to be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa .

>> what's really sad to me is that it took nearly 20 years for that light bulb to come on. i should have gotten help so much sooner.

>> reporter: now nearly ten years later jenny is determined to help others avoid that fate. while 1 in 200 adults will struggle with anorexia nervosa in their lifetime, many more suffer from similar symptoms like severely restricting their food or exercising excessively, but they don't meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis. psychologist jenny thomas treats many of them in her practice. in a new book she co-authored with jenny schaefer, she calls them almost anorexic because they fall into a gray area of having no eating disorder at all and full blown anorexia nervosa . as many as 1 in 20 people are affected.

>> it's not just dieting to fit into your prom dress, it's finding that your relationship with food or your shape and weight has really gotten in the way of you being able to live the life that you truly want to live.

>> reporter: which is exactly how jenny 's journey began. but after much hard work, she says she's now fully cured. recording what she ate, how it made her feel was a big step toward her recovery.

>> if you looked across my food journals, it's really quite amazing to see how my relationship with food was.

>> reporter: dr. thomas who didn't treat jenny stresses there is hope and there can be a happy ending, just like jebby, who's getting married in the fall.

>> never, never give up. full recovery is possible. one thing we try to teach folks is how to become their own therapist so that they can start talking back against the eating disorder voice even without leaving the room.

>> one of the things they're really hoping to do with this book is obviously start this discussion so that more people, if they need help, can get it.

>> i think a lot of