By all appearances, Oxana Hogan was in control of her life.

Born and raised in Russia, she earned a master’s degree in travel and hospitality before permanently moving to the United States in 2009. She settled in Minneapolis, spending the next six years in trading and account management for the scrap metal recycling industry.

But this successful 27-year-old had a secret: she was struggling with bulimia, an eating disorder that can affect people of any age or gender. Without treatment, bulimia can result in serious physical, emotional and mental health problems. Fortunately, Oxana got the help she needed to get her health back on track.

Read on to learn Oxana’s story, the dangers of bulimia and the support she received during bulimia recovery.

It started with impossible beauty standards

Oxana first developed an eating disorder while she was modeling as a young woman in Russia. She recalls that during her teenage years, looking good was a major focus, and she was constantly comparing herself to others.

“I thought if only I could be a few pounds lighter, then I would look and feel more beautiful,” Oxana says.

At 18, she was already going on all kinds of diets.

Oxana developed an eating disorder while she was modeling as a young woman in Russia.

Constant dieting with binge-and-purge weight loss urges

Over time, the dieting led to an eating disorder and began to change the chemistry in her brain. Her body wasn’t getting enough nourishment, so her brain was sending strong urges to eat. “I thought constantly about what to eat, how much to eat, when to eat.”

It became a vicious cycle. She would eat and then hate herself for eating, but was unable to stop, which led to purging. Over time, she realized there was a name for what she was experiencing: bulimia. But it wasn’t yet an emergency, and she figured she could deal with it later.

Experiencing symptoms of extreme bulimia

Around the time of her 27th birthday, Oxana started to experience some of the symptoms of extreme bulimia. She had no energy, and sometimes it was hard getting out of bed.

Her head ached, and she felt dizzy. For so long, she had been afraid that someone would find out she had an eating disorder. But now there was a greater fear: that she might die before anyone would find out.

The conversation that sparked change

“The first time I told anyone about it was when my friend Matt and I were driving up north. We were talking about our lives, and all of a sudden, I blurted out that I was struggling with bulimia,” Oxana recalls.

To her surprise, Matt didn’t judge her.

“I could see it in his eyes – he still thinks the world of me.”

Matt encouraged her to get help. “Knowing that someone knew and cared made the difference.”

Finding a bulimia treatment center

Despite a busy professional career and traveling schedule, Oxana made her health a priority. She researched eating disorder programs and reached out for help to the Melrose Center – a decision that likely saved her life.

Oxana liked the Melrose Center because they were friendly, helped check her insurance benefits and made it easy to register for a program. She drove herself to check in and saw a doctor. Because of years of constant dieting, the doctor suspected that she had bulimia-related heart damage and that her heart was at risk of failing. Oxana received immediate treatment to stabilize her health.

In the weeks and months that followed, Melrose offered a team approach and addressed every aspect of her recovery: physical, mental and emotional. Intensive work with a therapist, doctor, physical therapist, dietitian and health educators was supplemented with an online recovery program and a lot of internal work.

She learned new ways to cope, including meditating, going on walks, doing yoga and calling a friend. She learned to be patient with herself and take one day at a time. She recovered successfully and considers this to be one of the most transformative and character-shaping experiences of her life.

Surviving bulimia and inspiring others

Two years after recovery, she began sharing her story publicly. Seeing the difference it has made for those still struggling with eating disorders inspired her to continue to share and spread awareness that recovery is possible and that the process of going through recovery can become one of the most incredible experiences in one’s life.

“Recovering from bulimia was the transformational experience that saved my life,” Oxana says.

Get help for eating disorders

If you think you have bulimia or another type of eating disorder, don’t feel ashamed or keep it secret. People of all ages and genders struggle with eating disorders. If left untreated, these conditions can damage your health, your relationships and your ability to be successful in daily life.

Getting treatment can help. For over 30 years, the Melrose Center has cared for patients like you who have eating disorders. You deserve to live your best life, so let our caring team of therapists, dietitians and doctors help you heal and reach your full potential.

Learn more in the Melrose Heals podcast

During each episode of the Melrose Heals podcast, Karen L. Nelson, a licensed clinical psychologist at Melrose Center, hosts honest conversations about the topics near and dear to people and families impacted by eating disorders. We hope you’ll listen and start healing.