Williams, now 21 and a student at Front Range Community College, was identified as gifted at an early age and, at 16, diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and admitted to Children's Hospital in Denver. His recovery process spanned four years.
"The biggest thing is it just takes a lot of time," he said. "You have to keep trying to get better. You're guaranteed to have setbacks."
Wednesday, he will be part of a panel talking about eating disorders in the gifted population. Joining him will be Dr. Mindy Solomon, the clinical program director for the eating disorders program at Children's Hospital Colorado, and Dr. Jennifer Hagman, an associate professor of psychiatry with the University of Colorado's School of Medicine. The talk is sponsored by Boulder Valley Gifted and Talented and Boulder Valley's Office of Advanced Academic Services.
"I want to give people a personal perspective, to try to offer insights on how eating disorders work and how people who have them think," Williams said.
Dr. Hagman said it's not completely clear why gifted children and teens are at a higher risk for developing eating disorders, but several characteristics of giftedness seem to contribute. Someone who's very intelligent, a perfectionist and anxious is more susceptible, she said.
"They're the kids you oftentimes didn't expect would have a problem," she said. "Sometimes kids, feeling stressed, can get caught up in behaviors that lead them down the road to an eating disorder."
At the same time, she said, gifted kids generally do well in treatment.
"They're usually highly motivated to get back to school and back to life," she said.
Williams said his eating disorder started during the summer, when he was lonely and depressed. Initially, he said, he was trying to eat healthy and figure out what foods were OK, but it changed into being scared of food. Being gifted, he said, helped him keep "this massive database of nutritional information" in his head.
"You're calorie counting constantly," he said.
In three months, he said, he went from a normal weight to needing to be hospitalized because he weighed so little.
"It happened really quickly," he said.
He started treatment at Children's Hospital, then switched to an adult program at 19. He also enrolled at the University of Colorado, but had trouble keeping up with classes while still in recovery. He switched to Front Range, where he discovered painting. His next step is to transfer to Colorado State University and a major in fine arts.
What he wants others with eating disorders to know: "It's a really hard thing to deal with, but it's not impossible."