My Triumph Over Anorexia
08/27/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT
Scarlett Pomers surveys the table of empty plates in front of her at the cafe in L.A.'s Golden Bridge Yoga studio. The vegetarian has already polished off a goat cheese quesadilla and mixed green salad, but her eyes are on the hunt for a sweet treat to top off her meal. "I think I want a cookie," Pomers ponders aloud as she gets up to order her dessert along with a hot tea—proving that she wasn't playing around when she unabashedly told her fellow diners over lunch, "I can eat a lot!"
No doubt Pomers's life is much sweeter compared to two years ago, when the former Reba actress checked into rehab for anorexia. Weighing only 73 lbs., the 5'2" star underwent two months of inpatient treatment. "It was a nightmare," she says. "I was away from my family, my home, my work. I just went, 'This isn't worth it. I have to get better.'"
Now, with the continued guidance of a therapist, Pomers, 18, has come to accept that it's okay to satisfy her body's cravings ("Chocolate cake is the bomb!" she says) and has learned to work out in a healthy way as a devoted student of Kundalini yoga. Pomers also steers clear of the scale. "I don't weigh myself anymore," Pomers says. Adds her mother, Michelle: "She said to me one time, 'I am not a number.' That made me very proud."
Growing up in Las Vegas, "I had a totally normal relationship with my body," says Pomers, a fan of hard rock who started singing and guitar lessons as a young girl. In 2001 Pomers—who had spent three years on Star Trek: Voyager as Naomi Wildman—landed her breakout role as Reba McEntire's sassy daughter on the country singer's sitcom and later scored an album deal. But in 2005, as the pressures of producing her musical debut collided with talk that the show might be canceled, Pomers became fixated on the one thing in her life she felt she could control: her body. "It was very stressful, and my weight became something I centered on," recalls Pomers, who looked to pro-anorexia Web sites for tips on how to over-exercise and under-eat. "I became obsessed."
Reba producers noticed that, along with her dwindling size, the normally bubbly redhead was depressed and withdrawn on-set. Finally studio execs and Pomers's family sat the starlet down and encouraged her to seek help. "I would get angry," Pomers says of being confronted. "Even though I knew it was true, I'm one of those people who was very 'No, I'm fine!'" On October 10, 2005, Pomers finally admitted she was far from fine. She moved into a residential rehab center and, after two months, started seeing an outpatient therapist for five hours daily.
Post-treatment, "one of the most important things is having a support system," says Pomers, who leans on pals she met during treatment, as well as her mom, her older brother Shane, and her best friend. The actress also draws strength from her practice of Kundalini yoga, which emphasizes meditation and chanting, and which she discovered after reading a book about Golden Bridge studio director Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa. After popping in for an introductory class in June 2006, "I kept going back and felt stronger and stronger every time," says the yogi, who attends up to four classes a week and has earned her teaching certificate in the practice. "Yoga always made me feel really good about myself. It was the final step of letting go of the demon."
Now she hopes to help others do the same. Last winter Pomers launched the nonprofit foundation Arch-Angels, which benefits the educational efforts of the National Eating Disorders Association. "The more people talk about eating disorders," she explains, "the more people get the real story about what they're like."
Including just how hard they are to come back from. Regaining her self-confidence remains "an ongoing process," admits Pomers, who is performing on the L.A. music circuit and working on her first solo album this summer before she starts filming the slasher movie The Kentucky Fried Horror Show in the fall. "I'm not gonna sit here and say I don't worry about my looks or my weight. Some days I feel I have come so far. Other days, I hate the way I look. But I'm at a place where I'm really happy. I have a great family and great friends."
Not to mention a great new asset. "She loves her J. Lo booty!" her mom says. "She has a ba-donk-a-donk." Pomers smiles and gives her posterior a little pat. "I have a mini J.Lo," Pomers says proudly, "and I do like it!"
Go behind the scenes of Pomers's photo shoot at PEOPLE.COM/SCARLETT