It's been 16 years since she played bubbly big sister D.J. Tanner on Full House
, but Candace Cameron Bure still gets an earful from fans of her hit sitcom. "They'll say, 'You were so chubby on that show-you've lost a ton of weight!'" They may be right, but the backhanded compliments sting Cameron Bure, 34, as much as they did when she was a cherubic child star. "I'd get, 'You're smaller than we thought; you look really big on TV,'" she recalls. "I'd smile and say thanks. But it really hurt my feelings."
The 5'2" actress is now a svelte 108 lbs., nearly 25 lbs. lighter than when she was 16. Though Cameron Bure, the real-life kid sister of Growing Pains
star Kirk Cameron, 40, insists she was never pressured to slim down by TV execs, she admits to struggling with her weight since childhood. In her new book Reshaping It All
, the married mom of three reveals how she conquered the battle of the bulge-including a secret bout with bulimia-through a combination of portion control, religious guidance and exercise. "I've had nights where I've raided my refrigerator and then look back and go, 'I can't believe I just ate that amount,'" she says over a nonfat chai latte at a Santa Monica cafe. "But that struggle had nothing to do with Hollywood's pin-thin expectations. It was an emotional issue; I was comforting myself with food."
The youngest of four kids raised in Los Angeles by Robert, a retired teacher, and Barbara, a former talent agency owner, Cameron Bure got mixed messages about food from an early age. Her dad was a health-food devotee while her mom favored junk food and would treat the child actress to a burger and fries before every audition. She scored the Full House
role at 11, but it wasn't until she was 16-and caught a glimpse of herself in unflattering overalls on one episode-that her self-confidence took a hit. "I'd put on weight," says Cameron Bure. "I just saw the fullness in my face and I didn't like what I saw. Most of all, I didn't like what I felt."
Her parents enlisted a personal trainer, who got her exercising and taught her how to make wiser diet choices, like skipping high-calorie bottled drinks. The weight came off, Full House
ended its eight-season run in 1995, and the next year, at 20, she wed Russian-born NHL hockey player Valeri Bure, whom she met through her costar Dave Coulier.
The newlyweds moved to Montreal. When her husband went on the road for hockey season, Cameron Bure found herself alone in a new city-and without a steady job. "I couldn't quite handle all the changes at once," she says. "Food became my comfort." She began bingeing, usually on "a mix of salty and sweet-like chips followed by ice cream-to the point that I made myself sick. I'd feel bad and physically be very full, and [I'd purge]."
While her weight remained steady, the binge-and-purge cycle lasted about four years, until she was "caught" during a visit to her parents' L.A. home. "There was evidence left in a sink," she says. "My dad confronted me. It was the most embarrassment and shame I ever felt. I promised him I wouldn't do it again."
When she relapsed briefly several years later after her growing family moved to Florida, Cameron Bure sought help from her church. That's when she says she learned to focus on "what I should be comforting myself with, and that's God....I need to treat my body as the temple He made it."
Bure says she has been naturally trim since, thanks to exercise (cardio or weight training four to six times a week) with her athlete husband, now 36 and retired from hockey, and kids Natasha, 12, Lev, 10 and Maks, 8, as well as a diet philosophy that includes few carbs later in the day, lots of lean protein and veggies, and everything-including ice cream and hockey-arena hot dogs-in moderation.
Now presiding over a full house of her own, Cameron Bure-who has returned to TV, playing Summer, the comanager of a gym on ABC Family's drama series Make It or Break It
-marvels at how easy it can be when food isn't taking center stage. "My husband told me today, 'Honey, you're in such great shape, and I'm proud of you,'" she says. "That's what's most important."