"This is no one person’s fault. This was the product of a lot of different pressures," Paulina, 21, tells PEOPLE exclusively.
In a blog that drew national attention a few days ago, Paulina, a junior at Barnard College, started her story about her bulimia by recalling how she revealed to her mother, Susan, back in 2012 that "I've been throwing up since the seventh grade."
After a long silence, her mother replied, "Well, get your teeth checked."
Paulina explains that her mother was too stunned to know what to say, but once they got past that moment, "she's been nothing but supportive," even joining her daughter in group therapy when they are both in New York.
However, Paulina says, the blog led people to assume incorrectly that Susan caused her daughter's disorder. "She has been under a lot of fire," Paulina says, adding that her mother "was less severe than all the other skating moms" about minding her daughter's weight.
Paulina says the pressures came from everywhere: family, friends – especially in the world of competitive ice skating – and the media. At age 12, a nutritionist taught her to eat carefully, count calories and limit carbohydrates. When she'd break down and eat something not on her diet, she'd induce vomiting or work out for hours, which is known as exercise bulimia.
"Everything I was doing that I thought was healthy was actually disordered eating," Paulina tells PEOPLE. "I can see the insanity now, but for so long, I thought it was normal."
In Pain and AshamedWhen she decked out her dorm room as a freshman, she remembers buying a new digital scale at Bed, Bath & Beyond so she could keep a close eye on her weight.
Outwardly, it all worked – Paulina says she got the boyfriends, became a more competitive skater, and constantly had people asking for her dieting secrets. But inside, she says, "I just felt empty … in pain and ashamed."
Courtesy Pinsky Family
It was then that she realized that her behavior was not normal, and when she returned to Barnard, she started therapy. After a session or two, she smashed the scale on the ground and threw it away. "I would have taken a chainsaw to it if I had one," she joked. It was a few weeks later that she shared her struggles with her mother.
Since then, Paulina says, she hasn't weighed herself or purged, and she simply eats whatever she feels her body needs. She gained 30 or so pounds initially, but most of that weight has dropped off as her body has become used to her new dieting pattern.
Now, she says, she's working to help educate people about the dangers of bulimia, which, she says, isn't about weight so much as acting on negative emotions through self-punishment and ignoring your body's most basic needs. She says her disclosure left her feeling exposed, but now she's happy to draw attention to the problem. She even organized a body positive and eating disorder awareness week on campus.
Secrecy Is Part of the ConditionDrew and Paulina both tell PEOPLE that it was hard even for a high-profile addiction specialist to recognize the symptoms of Paulina's bulimia because she hid it.
"This condition, like many, is cunning, and hiding and secrecy is a feature of the condition," Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of Dr. Drew On Call on HLN and Loveline, tells PEOPLE.
"I wish I could prevent any and all illnesses from affecting those I love, but that is just not how it works," he added. "However, I can teach them that when problems emerge you can seek help, and that when one actively engages in treatment, it works. I am so happy that Paulina got that message, embraced treatment, benefited and now is looking to be of service to others."