Entries in Growing Pains (1)


Anorexia in the Reality TV Spotlight

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Actress Tracey Gold’s battle with anorexia began when she was under the national TV spotlight as a star of the 1980s hit sitcom Growing Pains.

Taking on the role of the nerdy Carol Seaver at the age of 16, the actress was put over the edge by the fat jokes inserted in the show’s scripts by the producers, all targeted at her character. By the age of 19, Gold had descended into a years-long struggle with food restriction and avoidance that saw her, at her lowest point in her early twenties, weigh just 80 pounds.

“I believe it would have,” Gold said Monday on ABC’s Good Morning America of whether or not the disease would have killed her.  “And if it didn’t, it would have robbed me of my life.”

Gold battled back publicly from the disease after hitting rock bottom and, in the process, became known as the first actress to publicly admit to suffering from an eating disorder.

“It was such a struggle and it took a really long time,” Gold said of her own recovery, which she documented in a February 1992 People magazine cover and interview.  “I really believe that I got sick and tired of being sick.”

Twenty years removed from the disease and considering herself what she terms “recovered,” Gold has put the disease back squarely back under the glare of TV cameras with Starving Secrets, a controversial new reality show premiering Dec. 2 on Lifetime.

“There was almost like a secret and a shame to it,” Gold said of anorexia. “It really became obvious that so many people over the years had been coming to me and almost pulling me into a corner and talking to me.”

The cries for help from fans convinced Gold, now a mother of four, that she needed to put eating disorders back in the spotlight, this time in the form of unscripted reality TV.

“I wanted to shine a light on it,” Gold said of why she agreed to host the six-episode show, which follows 10 women, ages 19 to 43, through eight months of treatment.  “I wanted to show people what it’s really like and also deglamorize it.”

Gold, who also offers recovery tips on her personal Twitter feed, @thetraceygold, was able to bond with the women on the show because of her own recovery experience, which included in-patient treatment. She was far enough from her own struggles with the disease, however, to not see the show as a potential trigger for undoing her recovery work.

“It was actually cathartic and helped me,” Gold told GMA.  “I think every time I help somebody else it strengthens me.”

Far from relapsing, the actress says she is now living the life she dreamed of while in the throes of the disease, the life that pushed her to want to recover.

“The things I wanted in life -- I wanted to get married, I wanted to act, I wanted to have a career, to have kids -- all those things, anorexia stood in the way of,” said Gold, now married and a mother to four sons, ages 14, 12, 7 and 3.

“Once I was able to let go, the things in life I wanted I was able to get,” she said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio