The 3 Week Diet

Tracey Gold on Starving Secrets, Eating Disorders Show Controversy


Tracey Gold is the creator and executive producer of Starving Secrets, a new reality TV series on Lifetime channel that chronicles the diagnosis and treatment of women with various eating disorders, including anorexia and bulemia. Since its December 2, 2011 season premiere, the program has since become a magnet for discussion as well as controversy.

Gold took on the subject matter as one who knows what it is like to face the challenge of overcoming an eating disorder. She is an actress who rose to fame as a young teen portraying Carol Seaver on the hit sitcom Growing Pains. She has also become well known as one of the first celebrities to reveal openly her battles with an eating disorder, beginning in the early 1990s notably in a People magazine cover story.

Some of the focus of discussion has been over whether or not the show is encouraging eating disorders or serving as a trigger for those who already have them and/or are in recovery. As with many reality TV programs, the overarching question is, does the show exploit its participants or are they getting the treatment they need?

Rita Arens poses the question — is the show is helping or hurting? — in a detailed article, drawing commentary from fellow experts in the field. I highly recommend it; read it in its entirety at Blogher.com . Also check out what Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh has to say at Huffington Post on both the pluses and minuses of the program. See also at HuffPost Margaret Wheeler Johnson’s roundup of comments from experts in the field, including:

“We do not support putting people who are ill on television,” Lynn S. Grefe, CEO of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), who had not seen any episodes of the show or a trailer, told The Huffington Post earlier this week.

“To me, it’s wasted treatment,” she said. “I really don’t think it’s going to be easy for people to be honest in their treatment, their thoughts, their counseling [while on camera].”

Tracey Gold herself made an appearance on Friday, December 16, 2011 on ABC’s daytime TV talk show The View to address the controversy. Watch the full video above. During her appearance she told co-hosts Whoopie Goldberg, Joy Behar, Sherri Shepherd, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck about how her own battle with anorexia began when she gained some weight at a certain point during the years she appeared on Growing Pains and as a result, fat jokes were added to the script. She talked about how she lost weight and received many compliments.

She told co-hosts, “I said to myself, I will never go back to that” but went on to note that it became a diet that spiraled out of control and she didn’t know how to get out of it. Ironically, she said, a year and a half later, she had lost so much weight that producers told he that she needed to gain weight.

She left the show and underwent a year of treatment at UCLA, literally stopping her life for a year to focus on treatment. Her weight had plummeted to around 80 pounds. In highlighting her struggle — even while being treated — she said she lost 12 more pounds, eight months into the treatment. The turning point for her was that she became “sick and tired of being sick.” She had something to fight for, she said, to give up the anorexia; she wanted to resume her acting career and to have a relationship.

As for why she created the reality TV program, Starving Secrets, she said that she had lived with being the anorexic spokesperson for 20 years and that people pull her into a corner in hushes and whispers to talk about family members and friends.

Tracy Gold also noted that she wanted to show what eating disorders really are and that the red carpet and skinny actresses should not be tied to it, as this undermines what the disease really is. A video clip from the show served to underscore just how much an eating disorder takes over a person’s life. A woman profiled in the series spends hours a day exercising and eats just 500 calories and laments that her whole life is anorexia and she had become socially isolated because she is ashamed of it.

While we may be quick to note the negative impact on women and girls who may tie self-esteem to emulating the weight loss of celebrities, actresses and models, elsewhere, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Tracey Gold expressed concerns about her fellow actresses, saying:

“I always look at the first season of a TV show and see an actress one way, and then in the second season you see her 10 pounds lighter — it’s a cycle,” Gold said. “I think there’s an ongoing problem — not just Hollywood, but also society. It’s a widespread problem across the country.”

For more on Starving Secrets — which is broadcast on Friday nights at 10 p.m. ET on Lifetime TV cable channel — including full episode video, visit the official Web site at Lifetime. The site also has a page with a variety of resources both online and offline to help anyone who may be struggling with an eating disorder. Also check out this Facebook page for casting information and contact information for the program.

Another excellent resource — not connected with the show — is the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) which also operates a toll-free telephone hotline for information and referrals.

One can only hope that the women participating in the program are finding success in their recovery despite the glare of cameras and that those who may be suffering in silence as viewers can have courage to overcome the shame and secrecy and seek out help. At the same time, I am glad that the program does serve to deglamorize eating disorders in profiling the participating women whose lives have been taken over by various behaviors — such as hours of exercising, or adhering to a starvation level of daily calories — that are not only a threat to their health and well-being, but are socially isolating and hindering of healthy pursuits both professional and personal. Clearly this is not weight management.

Perhaps the show can serve as a deterrent to those who may aspire to look at pro-ana and pro-mia Web sites on the Internet in search of “thinspiration” in hopes of somehow “catching” the disease just long enough to crash diet to an ideal weight or for a special event. Check out below the interview video of Tracey Gold by ABC’s Lara Spencer, which was broadcast in early December 2011 on GMA. In it, she talks about anorexia taking over her life and literally preventing her from living her life as she wanted to. Her life story, if nothing else, is a vivid illustration that an eating disorder is not a casually acquired lifestyle choice. In fighting for recovery, she was then able to pursue her acting career, marry her boyfriend and give birth to and raise four children.

Please share your thoughts on the controversy. Does Tracey Gold’s Starving Secrets help or hinder?

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