Ana Carolina Reston died Tuesday of generalized infection caused by anorexia nervosa, a disorder characterized by an abnormal fear of becoming obese, a distorted self-image, a persistent aversion to food and severe weight loss, said officials at Sao Paulo's Servior Publico Hospital.
"Take care for your children because their loss is irreparable," Reston's mother Miriam told the O Globo Newspaper. "Nothing can make the pain go away. No money in the world is worth the life of your child."
Reston began her modeling career at the age of 13 after winning a local beauty contest in her hometown of Jundiai, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo.
"Ever since she was a little girl she dreamed of becoming a model," her mother said. "She would put on my shoes, dress and makeup and pose."
Reston spent the last eight years working as a model for several agencies, including jobs in China, Turkey, Mexico and Japan, local media said.
"I noticed something was wrong when she returned from Japan," her mother told the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper. "She was too thin ... and when I told her to eat something, she would say: 'Mom, please don't fight with me. There is nothing wrong with me, I'm fine."'
Dani Grimaldi, Reston's cousin, said she also suffered from bulimia, a disorder marked by binge eating followed by vomiting or the use of laxatives.
"Fifteen minutes after eating she would lock herself in the bathroom and turn on the shower so no one could hear her vomiting," Grimaldi told the Estado de Sao Paulo, reports AP.
The world of high fashion and modeling has long been targeted by critics who say it encourages women and girls to emulate rail-thin models.
In September, a Spanish fashion show responded to such criticism by banning models with a body mass index of less than 18. Body mass index is a calculation doctors normally apply to study obesity, and anyone with an index below 18.5 is considered underweight.
Reston, who reportedly was 5 feet 8 inches (1.72 meters) tall, would have had a body mass index of 13.4 at the time of her death, according to a calculator on the Web site of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.