WASHINGTON, DC FEBRUARY 2012 JIM AND MICHELLE DUGGARMichelle Duggar is usually busy talking about her expansive family on 19 Kids and Counting but the story garnering attention right now is about her own struggle with bulimia as a teenager. The surprising revelation was disclosed in Growing Up Duggar, a new book written by the family’s oldest daughters, Jana, Jill, Jessa and Jinger.

The collection of stories chosen include the unfortunate circumstances to led their mother to develop an eating disorder in her youth. She recounts having been envious of another girl who was controlling her weight in a way that ended up being very destructive.  Not realizing the danger, Michelle began adopting similar habits.

During her high school years, the family’s matriarch had been a gymnast and cheerleader but struggled to maintain, what she deemed, a desirable figure. At just 14 years old, she had already developed an obsession with staying thin that took over her life.

She credits her courtship with Jim Bob, whom she met at 16 years old, for helping her overcome her disordered relationship with her body. She felt that she could share her secret with him which, of course, is so important in a situation like that.

The now 47-year-old told People: “I shared this struggle with him and he said he would help me and help keep me accountable. Every time I was struggling, I would tell him. It was a hard time for me. But it was at that point in our relationship, it built a solid foundation for us. There are tough things in life you walk through together.”

Her future husband showed an incredible amount of maturity for his young age by being extremely supportive. She shared some of the ways he was there for her during the tough time: “He told me to call him anytime. I just know that I would be tempted and I would have the crazy thought that I wanted to throw up, not hold onto the calories. Thank God it didn’t go on longer than it did or I could have done horrible damage to my body.”

It seems that it is something he is conscious of to this day. Last year, during an appearance on the Today Show, Michelle said that he has never put her down for her body and has never mocked her for having a “mommy tummy.”

While her show and lifestyle have, at times, been controversial, she is a popular public figure and being open about this topic is brave and helpful for others who may be struggling. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life in America and “the rate of development of new cases of eating disorders has been increasing since 1950.”

It’s not an easy fix and most people will need more than a single person’s efforts to overcome their disorder but having a strong support system is a great start.