Jennette McCurdy is candid about her long struggle with anorexia and bulimia, eating disorders that started after her late mother taught her to count calories when she was 11.
In a new interview with People, the former iCarly star, 29, described the physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother, Debbie, who encouraged her to eat restrictively and said she “could have died.”
“I’ve been a mess for a long time,” McCurdy said. “But I don’t obsessively think about food anymore. And once I didn’t believe that was ever possible.’
Tough times: Jennette McCurdy, 29, has opened up about her long struggle with anorexia and bulimia in a new interview with People magazine
Secret Pain: McCurdy (pictured in 2012) hid her struggles for seven years while starring in iCarly and its spin-off Sam and Cat
Growing up in Southern California, she witnessed physical fights between her parents, Debbie and Mark. She remembered how her mother’s outbursts often turned violent.
“My earliest childhood memories were heaviness and chaos,” she explained in an earlier interview with People. “My mother’s emotions were so erratic that it was like walking on a tightrope every day. The mood swings were daily.’
As the youngest of four children and the only daughter of her parents, McCurdy said her mother was fixated on her and forced her into acting by the time she was six.
“My mom had always dreamed of becoming a famous actor and she became obsessed with making me a star,” she shared, admitting she was “cripplingly shy” but felt pressured to auditioning and writing books.
“I felt like my job was to keep the peace,” said McCurdy, whose acting career supported her family financially. “And I wanted to make my mother happy.”
Honest: McCurdy (pictured with Debbie in 2009) lost her mother to cancer in 2013. She believes she ‘would still have an eating disorder’ if her mother was alive
Trauma: McCurdy was the youngest of four children and the only daughter of her parents. She said her mother’s outbursts often turned violent, and she witnessed her parents physically fighting
Debbie’s focus was McCurdy’s appearance, and she started bleaching her only daughter’s hair and whitening her teeth when she was 10. A year later, she taught McCurdy how to limit calories and helped her eating disorder.
“My mom said she could teach me how to count calories and we could be a team, but I had to keep it a secret,” she recalls. “I thought it was a chance for my mom and me to get closer.”
McCurdy would only consume 1,000 calories a day, and “sometimes I ate even less because I wanted my mom to be proud,” she said.
When she Landed her big break as Sam Puckett on the Nickelodeon series iCarly at age 14, she was completely anorexic.
“Ironically, my character’s trademark is that she likes food,” she said. “I’d have scenes where I’d have to eat and they’d have a spittoon. But I would be terrified that there would still be calories in my body.’
Looking back: The former actress recalled how her mother became ‘obsessed’ with making her a star when she was a child, even though she was ‘cripplingly shy’
Changes: When McCurdy was 10, her mom started bleaching her hair and whitening her teeth to help her book roles
Lessons Learned: The Child Star Was 11 When Her Mom Introduced Her To Counting Calories, Which Fueled Her Future Eating Disorders
The child star hid her struggles for seven years while starring in iCarly and its spin-off Sam and Cat.
“I guess I didn’t even realize how intense it was,” she said, “but I’m sure everyone just attributed it to me” [my weight loss] to normal body fluctuations.’
During this time, her mother also insisted on doing her vaginal and breast exams and didn’t let her shower alone. This went on until she was 17.
McCurdy did not specify why her mother was taking the exams.
Debbie battled breast cancer for 17 years after being diagnosed when her daughter was a young child. She went into remission, but the cancer returned and spread to her brain in 2010.
McCurdy, who was 21 when Debbie died in 2013, said she was “so repressed and delayed in her development” because of her mother’s control that she rebelled after she passed away.
Secret: When she landed her big break as Sam Puckett on iCarly at age 14, she had anorexia which she hid on set
Painful: McCurdy (pictured in 2011) would eat 1,000 calories a day or less and said she wanted her “mom to be proud.” After the death of her mother she suffered from bulimia
She started having sex, experimenting with alcohol and binge eating, after which she would have herself purified.
“Bulimia took over my life very quickly,” she told People. “I was throwing up ten times a day and couldn’t stop. But the cycle of bulimia kept me numb. It was a full-time job, so there was no room to deal with my problems or mourn my mother.”
McCurdy had two lows that made her realize she needed help and led her to seek treatment. In one instance, she recalled passing out in the bathroom of her iCarly colleague Miranda Cosgrove.
“I was rinsing and passed out on the cold marble floor,” she said. “That frightens me, because I could have died, choking on my own vomit.”
Another time, she lost her tooth in an airplane bathroom after the stomach acid from her constant purging eroded the enamel over time.
“I realized destroying myself wouldn’t help,” she said. “I needed better tools.”
Scary: At the height of her bulimia, she passed out in the bathroom of her iCarly colleague Miranda Cosgrove while rinsing and ‘could have died’
Healing: McCurdy, who has retired from acting, attributes her recovery from her eating disorders in 2018 to two years of intensive dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
McCurdy credits her recovery from her eating disorders in 2018 to two years of intensive dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which also helped her heal after the loss of her mother.
“Food was my coping mechanism,” she said. “I haven’t binged or purged or restricted in years. And I feel very deeply and very strongly that I say that I have finally recovered.’
McCurdy, who detailed her childhood trauma and her path to healing in her one-woman dark comedy show “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” doesn’t believe recovery would have been possible if her mother were still around.
“I know that if my mother was alive, I would still have an eating disorder,” she said. “It was only the distance from her that allowed me to get well.”
Earlier this year, McCurdy confirmed she had retired from acting, having been “embarrassed” by her previous sitcom work. She has shifted her focus to directing and writing, including a memoir due out next year.
“I didn’t know how to find my identity without my mother,” she said. ‘And I’m not going to lie. It was very difficult to get here. But now I’m in a place in my life that I never thought was possible. And I finally feel free.’