04/22/2009 at 06:15 PM EDT
's Kara DioGuardi has revealed that when she was younger, she battled an until-now secret affliction.
"I had kind of a binge eating disorder where instead of dealing with my emotions, I would stuff them down with food," the show's judge tells Extra.
"I actually went into a treatment center for it."
DioGardi, 38, says she never starved herself or threw up. Rather, "It was definitely that excess eating to kind of just stuff all the emotions down ... I really was a creative kid who didn't know she was creative and didn't have those outlets because I was always afraid to join the theater group and not perform."
It was music that proved to be her salvation. "The moment I started doing music, the moment I did what I loved to do in my life and committed to it, I don't have those problems anymore ... I have my outlet," she says. "I have that form of expression. I can go to the studio and talk about my feelings."
Hoping to help others, DioGuardi has built a recording studio inside Phoenix House, a Los Angeles treatment center helping recovering addicts heal through music. "It's real therapeutic," she says.
Still, she faces what she calls "this craziness in my head," the feeling that she has to be "perfect all the time," especially as her critiques on the wildly popular show can contribute to the rise or fall of a career.
"But I made this commitment in my life to face my fears," says DioGuardi, "and if I am afraid of something I make sure I do it."