The former Nickelodeon star got candid for the first time about her struggles with anorexia, bulimia and disordered eating. In a personal essay for HuffPostpublished on Friday, McCurdy, 26, details how she's battled these disorders for 13 years of her life, and has been in recovery for the past two years.
"I’d thought about sharing my story a few times in the past," she begins, describing how she planned to call a previous piece, "I Threw Up Three Minutes Before I Wrote This," "but ultimately I decided against it. It felt too vulnerable to talk about something I was struggling with (not to mention that I had recently written an article about my mom’s battle with cancer and I was self-conscious about coming across as one big cry for help)."
McCurdy reveals that her eating disorder began when she was 11, and that her mother, Debra, encouraged her anorexia.
"As a child actress working in Hollywood, I quickly learned that remaining physically small for my age meant I had a better chance of booking more roles. Unfortunately, I had a trusty and dedicated companion ready to help me with my burgeoning anorexia: my mom!" she explains. "I don’t hold this against my mom at all. I don’t think she could help it. Mom had been hospitalized for anorexia on several occasions when she was a teenager and I’m not convinced she ever overcame her disordered eating. When I was growing up, the only dinner I ever saw her eat was a plate of steamed broccoli and cauliflower with a single pinch of garlic salt for flavor."
The actress continues, explaining how she always saw her mother struggle with her body, weight and diet, and she would "regularly compare my size to that of other girls. She’d portion out my meals for me. She’d help me count calories."
Growing up, she always thought it was her mom "looking out" for her, never realizing that her mother was "aiding in my disordered eating." After booking iCarly at the age of 14, she only became more obsessed with the way she looked.
“I became even more fixated on food and my body,” she shares. “I monitored every bite I took. I exercised obsessively. I measured my thighs with a measuring tape every night before bed.”
McCurdy then turned to binge eating after her mom was diagnosed with cancer for a second time, and couldn’t take the pressure of it all. By 21, she turned to bulimia.
“When I first began to vomit after eating, I was honestly thrilled. Are you kidding me? I could eat whatever I wanted and then throw it right back up and avoid the consequences of eating (aka gaining weight)? It was the best of both worlds!" she recalls.
Her disorders were unintentionally fueled by the people on set, agents and wardrobe stylists, among others, telling her how great she looked. With no one confronting her about her bulimia and anorexia as the years went by, she got to her lowest point.
"This hellish bulimic spiral continued for three more years. And during those years ― plus the 10 years before when I was wrapped up in other forms of disordered eating ― not one person in the entertainment industry confronted me about it," she explains. "Maybe my destructive behavior was obvious to everyone around me, but if they were all monetizing the situation ― and essentially me ― then what incentive did they have to try to change it or help me?"
It wasn't until her sister-in-law confronted her after having Thanksgiving dinner and coming out of the bathroom.
“'You need help,' she told me. And I knew she was right. I felt a strange combination of terrified and relieved ― terrified that someone knew my secret and I would have to face my disordered eating, and relieved that maybe now I would finally get better," she describes.
It still took many years for her to come to terms with her problem. "Recovery was brutal," she writes, going on to explain the treatment and help she got.
"It’s been two years and I’m doing well, recovering and moving forward. I still get eating disorder urges, compulsions and occasional fantasies. I still hear that old eating disorder voice, but luckily I hear it less and less often. And when I do hear it, I now have the tools to muffle it. So, thankfully, I can now open up about my disordered eating without titling this piece 'I Threw Up Three Minutes Before I Wrote This,'" she concludes.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.