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Real Life

Shorty star Courtenay Louise tells: 'My battle with binge eating'

Courtenay reveals how returning to Aotearoa ended her painful struggle with an eating disorder

By Cloe Willetts
Sitting in front of a mirror at New Zealand Fashion Week eight years ago, former model Courtenay Louise looked the picture of beauty, but inside, the Shortland Street actress felt worthless.
"I'd left the house feeling really excited, but when I got to the venue and saw all the others girls, I suddenly felt huge," recalls Courtenay, 28, who plays model Monique Strutter on the TVNZ 2 drama. "I remember just hating myself. I felt I didn't deserve to be there. It was the beginning of a long eating-disorder journey."
Today, Auckland-based Courtenay has overcome the devastating illness, which saw her spiral through starvation and over-exercise, to binge eating and purging.
"I want to share my story because there are so many other people going through this, especially in a time when social media is shoving edited bikini photos down people's throats," she tells Woman's Day.
"I've seen how truly consuming and isolating eating disorders can be.
As model Monique on Shorty.
I hope people who are struggling with body image can read this, know they're not alone and hopefully muster up the courage to ask for help."
Growing up, Courtenay was a confident kid who was often complimented on her petite frame. "I could hear the envy in their voices, which gave me the mentality I needed to be skinny," she recalls, adding
that she could eat whatever she liked without putting on weight, which adults warned would catch up on her one day.
"That was tattooed in my brain," shares Courtenay. "At 17, I was crying in my room because I felt uncomfortable in my clothes. I didn't want to go out because, with puberty, my body had suddenly gone from a ruler to having curves. After all those comments, being skinny was my identity."
When Courtenay left school at 18, she spent a couple of years modelling while she saved to study acting in Australia. "I remember doing a shoot where the photographer said there was a big size difference between another model and me. It was so painful and embarrassing. By then, it'd become really important in my life to look a certain way."
'I was showered with unconditional love and I felt so cared about'
As well as decreasing what she ate, Courtenay spent endless hours at the gym. "People thought I didn't care about food, but I was obsessed with it. My eating disorder evolved as I found new ways to become skinny. I went to restriction, then binge eating and over-exercising."
Bingeing would see Courtenay lose control for two-hour periods in which she ate anything in sight.
"Afterwards, I had so much self-hate. I'd restrict food for days before a photoshoot, then the night before the shoot, I'd crave food and binge. Then I'd freak out, do an intense workout at 11pm and turn up to the shoot feeling absolutely awful. Bingeing ended my modelling."
In 2017, Courtenay made the move to Australia, where she studied drama in Sydney and Melbourne. She laughs, "I thought I'd be on Home And Away any moment, but acting is a hard industry to break into and I hit a really low point in my life."
Her eating disorder evolved again and she began throwing up after bingeing. "That's when I hit rock bottom. I was isolated, ashamed and powerless. It was a vicious cycle I had no control over."
Life is great with fiancé Chris.
Every day, Courtenay would wake up telling herself she absolutely wouldn't purge, only to fall victim to the cycle by 10am. "But one day, I was so upset and realised I needed help, so I reached out to an eating-disorder clinic," she recalls. "The woman asked what made me happy and the common theme was how much I missed my family."
Later that day, Courtenay spoke to a friend who said the Kiwi acting industry was booming. Within a month, she flew home and, a day later, was signed by an agent. She grins, "I thought I'd be living with this eating disorder the rest of my life, but when I was at home on the farm, I was showered with unconditional love and I felt so cared about. I healed."
Courtenay's close relationship with her mum Charmaine was the key, along with being around nature, keeping a gratitude journal, yoga and meditation. "I was eating healthy meals, waking up early and spending time with people I love," says Courtenay, who is now engaged to her partner of seven years, business consultant Chris Read. "These healthy habits taught me to love myself again. I started to feel free and in control. I haven't punished my body for two years."
When she was initially offered the role of Monique on Shorty, it was a dream come true, but she admits she was worried about playing a model.
"I still have those self-doubts and my first thought was that I wasn't skinny enough. But then I thought, 'Screw that – I'm going to work so hard and kill this role!' I did that, which I'm proud of, and I'm still going."

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