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- American model
In a new podcast that investigates the controversial history and cultural impact of Victoria's Secret entitled Fallen Angel, Heatherton — who earned her wings in 2010 before leaving the brand in 2013 — told hosts Justine Harman and Vanessa Grigoriadis the extreme measures she took to maintain her figure.
"Where things started to go south for me was when I hit, I think it was 25 [years old]," Heatherton, 32, said in upcoming episodes of the C13Originals and Campside Media podcast in a preview obtained by PEOPLE. "There was this certain point where everything that I was doing just didn't yield the same results. I was just a little bit bigger. In retrospect, that's just biology and how the body works. You're not the same size when you're 18 to when you're 25."
Heatherton, who will appear in both episodes 5 and 8, said body image pressures pushed her "over the edge a little bit." Beyond dieting and exercising, the model said she also saw a nutritionist who "started me on this diet pill called phentermine [an amphetamine-like prescription appetite suppressant], which my therapist later called 'bathwater meth.'"
"I don't know. I was just like, 'Let me Lance Armstrong this because I'm renovating my condo. I can't lose my job right now.' I started injecting myself with HCG [a hormone produced during pregnancy called human chorionic gonadotropin]."
"I was just like, 'Help me lose weight. What do people do?' He suggested something this other model did that worked for her. This is this nutritionist to the stars, whatever. I don't know. I started like a diabetic injecting my stomach every morning," Heatherton continued. "I look back at it as like emotional cutting because I was so against everything that I was doing, but I was just reluctantly doing it almost to feel the pain or feel how wrong it was."
The runway veteran (who has also appeared in the coveted Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue and modeled for the likes of Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Prada) also described how she felt working for the lingerie company.
"I don't have any faith that these people really cared about me," she said. "You know what I'm saying? It's just about business."
She says she did "a lot of work on forgiveness and is "not mad" and has no "ties" to Victoria's Secret any longer, but wanted to speak out to help anyone else struggling with body issues.
"I share my story again because I don't want anyone to have an eating disorder or hate their bodies," she said. "I know what that feels like. I speak out only for people that might hear me and think, 'Hey, that makes sense,' or maybe that might change their attitude towards how they treat themselves."
She continues, "I think that aspirational [body] goals can exist without illness and eating disorders. When you have an eating disorder, you lose your freedom. When you are confined to this shape it consumes your life."
These days she says she's in a better headspace. "I really practiced to get to where I am," she said.
Victoria's Secret responded to PEOPLE's request for comment by emphasizing recent rebranding efforts and an increased commitment to inclusivity.
"There is a new leadership team at Victoria's Secret who is fully committed to the continued transformation of the brand with a focus on creating an inclusive environment for our associates, customers and partners to celebrate, uplift and champion all women," the company told PEOPLE in a statement.
"I was struggling with my body image and the pressures to fulfill the demands of perfectionism upon me," she said at the time. "I am not perfect."
"I made a choice to redirect my energy to be a catalyst for change," Heatherton continued. "To create a channel for women to become the truest versions of themselves, along with me. In the end, if you aren't being true to yourself, then what the f— is the point."
Victoria's Secret made headlines earlier this year when it replaced its iconic Angels with a new set of spokeswomen under its VS Collective, including actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas, soccer star Megan Rapinoe, Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio (who became the brand's first transgender model in 2019) and many more who "share a common passion to drive positive change."
As part of the newly-formed initiative, Victoria's Secret also launched the VS Voices Podcast, earlier this month on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.
The latest initiatives come nearly two years after the end of the Victoria's Secret Angel title and the subsequent cancelation of the show in Nov. 2019 due to criticism that the brand didn't embrace models of all sizes and backgrounds on its runway.
In August of 2019, more than 100 models signed an open petition written to Victoria's Secret CEO John Mehas by The Model Alliance, which called upon the lingerie giant to protect its models against sexual misconduct. The group wrote another letter to the CEO alleging a "culture of misogyny and abuse" in Feb. 2020. Mehas stepped down in Nov. 2020 and was replaced by Martin Waters.
Months later, former Victoria's Secret chief marketing officer Ed Razek was accused of sexual harassment, bullying and creating a culture of misogyny, according to a report from The New York Times in Dec. 2020. Most allegations revolved around Razek, who stepped down from his position in August 2019, after causing controversy over his comments about hiring transgender or curvy models for the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. He later apologized for the comments.
Heatherton's appearance on episode 5 of Fallen Angel is available Nov. 3.