'RHONJ's Jackie Goldschneider Reflects on 'Living Hell' of Her Eating Disorder and Her Choice to Get Help

'The Real Housewives of New Jersey' star Jackie Goldschneider explains the half-truths she told herself before finding help.

Jackie Goldschneider opened up about her history with anorexia early on in her first season on The Real Housewives of New Jersey, nearly five years ago -- but now, she admits she was only telling part of her story. 

"This all started about in 2003, and I got some help in 2013 and I got a little bit better, but I was really still struggling -- and that was the case until I came on the show [in 2018]," the star shares with ET over video chat. "When I got a little better in 2013, I wanted so badly to believe that I was a little bit recovered, that's just the story that I went with because I didn't want to be questioned. I had formed this whole identity around being very thin, and it was a part of me and I wasn't ready to let go of that -- and there's a lot of mental issues that go into that, too; it's not just food -- and so that's the story I told myself, and the story I told other people."

Jackie explained her eating disorder to her co-stars during a cast trip to Oklahoma in season 9, telling the women that as soon as she had children (her eldest twins, Jonas and Adin, were born in 2008), a flip switched and she got things in check. Now, she says, that was just another half-truth. 

"I had learned how to eat in public in a way that would make people go, 'Oh, OK, she's actually eating. So there really isn't a problem,'" she explains. "And then the times that I didn't think that people were watching, like when I was eating baked chips at breakfast a few seasons ago, that's when people would go, 'But is she really OK?' So, I was never recovered, and there was never a relapse because I was never recovered."

In the first few episodes of season 12, Jackie's pulled back the curtain on the lies she told herself about her disordered eating and, in turn, the lies she told the audience along the way. The mom of four admits the stresses of season 11 -- in which Teresa Giudice  spread a (false) rumor about Jackie's husband, Evan, having an affair -- coupled with the pandemic and other life events pushed her to a breaking point. 

"Right before the season started, I was just really emaciated, thin," she reflects. "I think you could see it in the first few episodes, how thin I was. And I just said to Evan, 'You know what? I just have to stop this. I'm going to kill myself.' And I thought to myself, all that I wanted when I was really at my lowest lows, was to know somebody else had been as bad as I was -- because you feel very alone with an eating disorder -- and someone else who had been as bad as I was, got help and made it through and recovered, and actually their whole life didn't fall apart, because they weren't thin anymore."

Eugene Gologursky / Bravo

"Also, it's not about vanity," she clarifies. "It's not about 'looking good,' because I'll tell you I don't think that I look that great when I'm drawn and bony, there's a big mental health component to it. And that's why therapy is a very big part of it. And I would just say it is possible to recover even if you're really deeply in it. Those are just the most important things."

Jackie decided to lean in and let cameras follow her recovery, from first consultations at the Renfrew Center, a leader in disordered eating treatments, to difficult conversations with her family and friends about her reality. 

"I decided that I was going to do it so openly and just really give it everything and rely on my producers and my editors, to really put it together in a way that didn't give people any ideas or tips or anything like that, but do it really responsibly and just show the recovery process," she says. "I didn't know how it would end. I didn't know how whether I'd freeze up and get scared, but ... I'm so happy that Bravo gave me the opportunity to do it."

Even though she told herself she was all-in on sharing this journey, there were still moments that surprised Jackie, like when her husband told her that their kids were aware of her behavior.

"I knew that I was going to be telling Evan in detail about what I wanted to do," she recalls of the dinner where Evan made the reveal. "I had no idea that he was going to tell me that my kids noticed. I thought I was very stealth with everything that I did. You could clearly see that I was skin and bones, but I thought that the ways that I starved myself were hidden from my children."

In addition to Jonas and Adin, 13, Evan and Jackie are also parents to Hudson and Alexis, 11.

"Just hearing that really broke my heart because I'm not so worried about my kids at 13 being like, 'I want to go on a diet. What does mom do?'" she continues. "I'm worried that at 19, 20, they're going to say, 'God, I don't feel good about myself. What did Mommy used to do? How did she stay so thin?' And I think that's what happens. And I hated knowing that they had been watching me and noticing the things that I did."

"An eating disorder is a living hell," she declares. "I didn't want them to have to go through that, so that just broke my heart."

Jackie says she's educating her kids about her condition by watching the show with them week to week. While there were conversations during filming, too, Jackie says the real learnings are happening "in real time."

"They obviously have seen me -- I don't want to give anything away -- but they've seen changes," she says. "But the real conversations have been over the past few weeks. I'm letting them see it as it's on screen and ask me questions, and in the car, in the mornings on the way to school, when I just have a captive audience of the four kids, we talk about it. And even if they don't want to hear it, I tell them things about it, because I want them to know how unhealthy it is to play with your food like that. And I want them to notice the changes that I'm making."

"[Disordered eating] is widespread, and it's not just women," she notes. "There's men, boys, little girls, older women, plenty of moms like me -- you don't think about it with moms, but it's so common, especially now with social media and everything is 'perfect bodies' and 'thinspiration' and fad diets. And it's really hard to feel good about yourself."

Jackie says she worries about how current social conditions and trends are creating a space where people may be starving themselves and struggling in silence. 

"It can kill you," she declares. "It can kill you because when you are malnourished, your organs don't operate properly. So ... I'm happy just finally start talking about it, it's been a long time coming for me."

Rodolfo Martinez / Bravo

The 45-year-old writer says "thousands" of messages have flooded her DMs since sharing new parts of her story this season on RHONJ. Having that community has seemingly helped Jackie feel more comfortable with the uncomfortable parts of this experience, like the show's focus on what the women eat. A trope of the Housewives universe is to pause the action to listen to the 'Wives place their orders when they go out to eat, followed by close-up beauty shots of their meals. 

"It used to make me very nervous, because I wasn't ready to help myself and so I didn't want people asking questions," Jackie admits, "but I also wasn't comfortable eating. So I would order things that I could kind of like move around to pretend I was eating, but yeah, it used to bother me a lot. But now? I feel really liberated."

"Like in the last episode, when you saw me picking around at the salad, that's really what I did and I don't mind anymore because I know that since then I got myself a lot of help," she adds, referencing a lunch the group filmed at the Jersey Shore. "So I'm really excited for people to see the way it plays out -- not just because it's great TV, but also because it really shows people how to get help and it shows them what the process is, at least for a few months, because it's a long journey. But I want people to see that because I really do want people to be able to help themselves."

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

The Real Housewives of New Jersey airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.