'Law & Order' star Odelya Halevi says acting 'was my therapy' after struggling with an eating disorder in her teens

Actress Odelya Halevi is working to be less of a people-pleaser. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Actress Odelya Halevi is working to be less of a people-pleaser. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.

As ADA Samantha Maroun on Law & Order, actress Odelya Halevi finds herself tackling some very intense topics (after last week's Season 22 premiere crossover event with the casts of SVU and Organized Crime, the procedural drama will feature cases exploring reproductive rights, bail reform and the death penalty, with plenty of murder in the mix). Is it stressful to navigate such dark territory at work?

"I'm one of those people who fall asleep to, like, Forensic Files," the Israeli star laughs. "That stuff somehow relaxes me. I don't know; why I can't explain it. I just love going into those criminal minds. It's just something that is very interesting to me."

It also helps that she's acting, a practice she finds particularly "therapeutic." Halevi credits it with being an important part of her treatment for an eating disorder in her teens. After her mom discovered what her 15-year-old daughter was going through, Halevi started therapy, though it took a while for her to find the right fit.

"I had to go to therapy — it wasn't really my choice," she tells Yahoo Life. "I tried to go to a few different therapists, and I couldn't trust any of them. And then the one therapist that I trusted was the one who just asked me, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' And I said, 'Well, I'm an actress. That's what I want to do. That's who I am.'

"She brought a chair in front of me and she didn't ask me to talk to her at all," Halevi continues. "She just said, 'I want you to get in any character that you want to get into and be as dark as you want to be and just talk to that person. That person is sitting on that chair.' And it really helped, and it was my therapy. And that's when I realized that this is what I'm meant to do. It's not just acting; it's not just fun — it's my therapy. So when I go through those things on set, when I get into those moments and it's all dark ... I feel better because it lets me release all of my darkness and anger and dark thoughts and sadness, and then I can just breathe."

Though she's come a long way, Halevi says her eating disorder experience remains a challenge she's working through.

"It's something that I always experienced my whole life and I still go through that," she says. "I now know that this is not something that I can cure. It's like, if you're addicted to smoking, even if when you quit, you're always going to have the urge to smoke. [But] you have tools and learn how to live with it."

While she's not currently in therapy, she's a firm believer in the power of sharing one's thoughts and feelings with a paid professional ("you don't feel bad about it, because you pay them," she quips). When she's feeling stressed or overwhelmed by a busy schedule, the Black Adam actress credits working out with helping to quell anxiety and "racing thoughts." Halevi has also found the value in digging deep into her passions, her motivations and her individuality.

"What is really helpful to me is going into sort of like a search of who am I, what am I, what's my story?" she explains. "What did I use to like when I was a child? When I was a child, do I like to paint? Do I like to play the guitar? Like, let's go and search for these things that you have to make time for. And they end up being therapeutic. I'll block two hours of my day and it's non-negotiable: Nobody can talk to me during those two hours and I'll just put on music and I'll just dance all by myself in the living room, and I'll paint or I'll play the guitar. And if friends see that I'm on social media and I'm not replying to their texts, they just know it's my two hours that I take for myself, and nobody can mess with that."

Making herself unavailable to others isn't always easy. Halevi admits that people-pleasing is in her nature.

"I don't like hurting people, even when it's not on purpose," she says. "I want everybody to like me all the time, even when it's my closest friends. I hate saying no, even when I have to. I put other people first, and that is a flaw. ... When I feel like I hurt somebody or I didn't please somebody immediately, I get to that place of just anxiety about it. And so that's what I'm trying to work on these days.

"It's really hard putting yourself first," she adds, "because it feels like you're being selfish, right? And it's like, I don't want to be a narcissist. I don't want to be selfish, but at the end of the day, you have to be a little bit selfish. You have to take care of yourself first before you take care of other people, because if you don't, you're not going to have the strength and the wisdom and the advice to give other people."

How does the TV star practice self-love?

"I just hug myself physically," she shares. "I always say, 'I love you, I forgive you, you're beautiful.' And if I look in the mirror, I always see that girl with the 'fro and the glasses and the accordion and I'll say, 'I love you. You're amazing. You're beautiful.' ... It's acknowledging the child in you that needs that love, that needs that forgiveness, that needs that validation. Because you can grow up and you become all the things that you wanted to become if you're lucky and if you work hard, but then you forget about that little child that is seeking that love. So that's what I try to do."

Law & Order airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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