Actress Alexa PenaVega, who's widely known for her leading role as Carmen Cortez in the “Spy Kids” film series, shared how God’s Word helped her overcome an eating disorder during an interview with Sadie Robertson Huff on the “Whoa That’s Good” podcast.
In addition to her childhood role in the popularized “Spy Kids” franchise, PenaVega, 33, is also a Broadway performer and former contestant on season 21 of the ABC series “Dancing with the Stars,” which ran for 30 seasons.
During the June 15 episode of Huff’s podcast, PenaVega spoke about her new book, What If Love Is the Point?: Living for Jesus in a Self-Consumed World.
PenaVega shared that in her book, she delves into her successes as an actress and dancer, and writes about the time in her life when she was once “tormented” by an eating disorder and how Jesus changed her life around for the better.
“My biggest fear was that anybody would find out that I had an eating disorder. Because in my head, I'm like, ‘I'm still me. I still have my personality. I still have my heart.’ But I was living with a secret that I was really ashamed of,” she recalled.
Her eating disorder developed after she noticed how people seemed to give her more compliments whenever her body appeared to be slimmer.
“I was being praised whenever I looked skinnier. And if I didn't look that skinny one day, nobody would complement me or nobody would talk about how beautiful I was,” PenaVega recounted.
“I really started thriving on what other people thought of me instead of focusing on God. But I was also in a very different season in my life where I wanted a relationship with God, but I definitely didn't have what I have now,” she added, referring to her commitment to her faith.
Huff commended PenaVega for sharing her struggles with an eating disorder because, she added, oftentimes celebrities only show positive aspects of their lives on social media and in their books.
“There's a lot more to your story," she continued. "You talk very openly about eating disorders, which I walked through myself, as I know so many women have. You talk about your divorce. You talk about these hard moments. And I'm just so thankful you didn't shy away from those things because those are the things that so many people can relate to.”
“I think it makes the aspect of faith in your life and all the blessings in your life that much more hopeful for people who are listening because they're like, ‘Oh, I don't have to have a perfect life to have that Jesus she's talking about. I actually can go through the hardship and go through the struggle, and that's where [Jesus] is.’”
Huff, who briefly mentioned her own previous battle with an eating disorder, said the No. 1 thing that she's frequently asked in direct messages is about eating disorders.
“Our audience is primarily 18- to 25-year-olds. A lot of girls [are] going through college and I know that's a time where a lot of people struggle the most with those types of things,” Huff said, adding that she, too, struggled with a distorted mindset when it came to both her perception of food and eating habits.
For PenaVega, during the times she struggled with her disorder, the biggest lie she told herself was that if people found out, it would be “the end” of her.
“I think that was the stronghold that the eating disorder had over me,” she admitted.
“So if anybody listening right now has an eating disorder, please tell someone. Even if it's one person — tell a sibling, tell a friend,” she advised.
“If you don't want any of these people to know, you can find someone online [and] nobody has to know. But [they] can talk to you because that's the stronghold. If anybody found out about my eating disorder, I was done. But the second I started talking about it, and telling people, I was breaking off all those chains.”
After PenaVega began opening up to other people about her struggles, she said it felt as though the eating disorder no longer “consumed” her.
“God did a whole number in my life to get me through the eating disorder. But the big thing for me was even when I got through it, I was still so afraid to talk about it because I didn't want people to look at me and go: ‘Oh, she had an eating disorder,’” PenaVega said.
When he was younger, PenaVega said she remembers her mother warning her, “‘Don't ever let anybody know that you're dealing with [an eating disorder].’”
PenaVega said she can recall how her mother further warned her that if she told people she was struggling with an eating disorder, they would only see her as someone with a disorder.
“I know she meant it as a way of protecting me, but I really feel like the enemy took those words and just turned it into something that had a stronghold over my life,” she recounted. “I just lived with my secret and it just tormented me for so long. And I think I also probably could have solved this much faster had I confided in the right people earlier on.”
Hurff added that it's plausible PenaVaga's mother might have been speaking out of concern to protect her daughter. "But the enemy can twist, distort, manipulate [and] make you feel like, ‘Well then, I can't tell anybody because if I told them, then dot dot dot.”
She added that anyone who's frustrated and not confident in the way they look should look to the Word of God as a source of peace in the midst of their storm.
PenaVega added that, for herself, the Bible was a “sword” against the hardship she faced associated with her eating disorder.
“The Word of God is power. … It is so powerful. I mean, it's so powerful in the way that people look at superheroes or magic or whatever they want to look at. It is literally that. I feel like a superhero because I know I have God behind me in everything that I do," she declared.
“I kind of feel untouchable. I know it's not by my own doing. … But He's in control. So I literally have nothing to fear because He's in control. It’s like a wild hallucination when you discover that. It’s freedom.”