Julie Kedzie's bulimia beguan at age 18, the year her parents divorced and Kedzie began taking prescription medication for cystic acne, which she believes triggered severe depression and anxiety. Binging and purging helped Kedzie bury the overwhelming emotions, giving her a temporary sense of euphoria.
"[Bulimia] wasn't something I mentioned in my career [until now] because I don't think it made me sound very tough, but I emerged from it and here I am," said Kedzie, 31, who faces former Strikeforce 135-pound champion Miesha Tate this Saturday (10 p.m. ET/PT, Showtime).
During her early 20s in Bloomington, Ind., she avoided foods that were hard to summon back up, like ice cream, and started each meal with Doritos so she could gauge when her stomach was empty by color.
"It was definitely a dark period for me," she said. "It was a six- or seven-year struggle."
Kedzie sought out therapy and hasn't touched the acne medication in years, even though the genetic skin disease returned worse than before and she cringes at the thought of wearing a bathing suit in public.
Most importantly, though, Kedzie got out of Indiana and took back control of her life, moving five years ago to Albuquerque, N.M., to train at the highest level possible in one of the world's top gyms.
The then 26-year-old Kedzie lived with Jackson and his family for six months. As UFC-caliber fighters began migrating to his gym and booking fights all over the world, Jackson hired Kedzie as his assistant.
Kedzie believes she was at the tail end of her initial fight with bulimia when she joined Jackson's camp, but she made her coach aware of her continuing struggles with the eating disorder.
"It's a legitimate illness that can cause a lot of damage, so I just tried to attack it as head-on I could," said Jackson. "I'm not a trained psychologist, but I tried to support her as much as I could. I tried to create a positive atmosphere that supported her not doing that any more, but ultimately the change had to come from her."
Kedzie's move to New Mexico was a saving grace. Living in Albuquerque, surrounded by teammates who called her "bro," made Kedzie genuinely happy for the first time in a while. If she became anxious, she could retreat to the mountains and take in the fresh air. If she woke up feeling a little down, she need only go to the gym. It wouldn't have been that way back in Indiana.