Former iCarly star Jennette McCurdy details brutal battle with anorexia and bulimia

Jennette McCurdy has opened up about her longtime battle with anorexia and bulimia, eating disorders that were sparked after her late mother taught her how to count calories when she was 11.    

In a new interview with People, the former iCarly star, 29, detailed the physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of her mom, Debbie, who encouraged her restrictive eating, saying she ‘could have died.’ 

‘I was a mess for a long time,’ McCurdy said. ‘But I no longer think about food in an obsessive way. And I once didn’t believe that was ever possible.’ 

Hard times: Jennette McCurdy, 29, has opened up with about her longtime battle with anorexia and bulimia in a new interview with People magazine

Hard times: Jennette McCurdy, 29, has opened up with about her longtime battle 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 on iCarly and its spinoff Sam and Cat

Secret pain: McCurdy (pictured in 2012) hid her struggles for seven years while starring on iCarly and its spinoff Sam and Cat

Growing up in Southern California, she witnessed physical fights between her parents, Debbie and Mark. She recalled how her mother’s outbursts would often turn violent.  

‘My earliest memories of childhood were of heaviness, and chaos,’ she explained in a previous interview with People. ‘My mom’s emotions were so erratic that it was like walking a tightrope every day. The mood fluctuations were daily.’

As the youngest of four children and her parents’ only daughter, McCurdy said her mother fixated on her and pushed her into acting by the time she was six. 

‘My mom had always dreamt of being a famous actor and she became obsessed with making me a star,’ she shared, admitting she was ‘cripplingly shy’ but felt pressured to go on auditions and book work.   

‘I felt like my job was to keep the peace,’ said McCurdy, whose acting career financially supported her family. ‘And I wanted to make my mom 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 still alive

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 still alive 

Trauma: McCurdy was the youngest of four children and her parents only daughter. She said her mom's outbursts would often turn violent, and she witnessed her parents physically fight

Trauma: McCurdy was the youngest of four children and her parents only daughter. She said her mom’s outbursts would often turn violent, and she witnessed her parents physically fight 

Debbie’s focus included 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 restrict calories and aided her disordered eating. 

‘My mom said she could teach me calorie counting and we could be a team, but that I had to keep it secret,’ she recalled. ‘I thought it was an opportunity for my mom and me to be closer.’

McCurdy would consume only 1,000 calories a day, and ‘sometimes I’d eat 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 the age of 14, she had full-blown anorexia. 

‘Ironically, my character’s trademark is that she loves food,’ she said. ‘I’d have scenes where I was supposed to be eating and they’d have a spit bucket. But I’d have terror that there would still be calories left 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'

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 mother started bleaching her hair and whitening her teeth to help her book roles

Changes: When McCurdy was 10, her mother started bleaching her hair and whitening her teeth to help her book roles

Changes: When McCurdy was 10, her mother started bleaching her hair and whitening her teeth to help her book roles 

Lessons learned: The child star was 11 when her mother introduced her to counting calories, which fueled her future eating disorders

Lessons learned: The child star was 11 when her mother introduced her to counting calories, which fueled her future eating disorders 

The child star hid her struggles for seven years while starring on iCarly and its spinoff Sam and Cat. 

‘I don’t think I even realized how intense it was,’ she said, ‘but I’m sure everybody just attributed [my weight loss] to normal body fluctuations.’

During this time, her mother also insisted on performing vaginal and breast exams on her and wouldn’t let her shower alone. This went on until she was 17. 

McCurdy did not indicate why her mother performed 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 developmentally’ because of her mother’s control she rebelled after she passed away. 

Secret: When she landed her big break as Sam Puckett on iCarly at the age of 14, she had full-blown anorexia that she hid on set

Secret: When she landed her big break as Sam Puckett on iCarly at the age of 14, she had full-blown anorexia that she hid on set 

Hurting: McCurdy (pictured in 2011) would eat 1,000 calories per day or less, saying she wanted her 'mom to be proud.' After her mom's death, she suffered from bulimia

Hurting: McCurdy (pictured in 2011) would eat 1,000 calories per day or less, saying she wanted her ‘mom to be proud.’ After her mom’s death, she suffered from bulimia 

She started having sex, experimenting with alcohol, and binge eating, after which she would make herself purge.

‘Bulimia took over my life very quickly,’ she told People. ‘I was throwing up up to 10 times a day and I was completely unable to stop. But the cycle of bulimia kept me numb. It was a full-time job, so there was no space to deal with my issues or mourning my mom.’

McCurdy had two rock-bottom moments that made her realize she needed help and resulted in her seeking treatment. In one instance, she recalled passing out in her iCarly co-star Miranda Cosgrove’s bathroom.    

‘I had been purging and I passed out on the cold marble floor,’ she said. ‘That terrifies me because I could have died, choking on my own vomit.’

Another time, she lost her tooth in an airplane bathroom after the stomach acids from her constant purging wore down the enamel over time.   

‘I realized that destroying myself wasn’t going to help anything,’ she said. ‘I needed better tools.’

Scary: At the height of her bulimia, she passed out in her iCarly co-star Miranda Cosgrove's bathroom while purging and 'could have died'

Scary: At the height of her bulimia, she passed out in her iCarly co-star Miranda Cosgrove’s bathroom while purging and ‘could have died’

Healing: McCurdy, who has quit acting, credits her recovery from her eating disorders in 2018 to two years of intensive Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Healing: McCurdy, who has quit acting, credits 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 about saying I’ve 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 was still around.  

‘I know if my mom were alive, I’d still have an eating disorder,’ she said. ‘It was only distance from her that allowed me to get healthy.’ 

Earlier this year, McCurdy confirmed that she had quit acting was ’embarrassed’ by her past sitcom work. She has shifted her focus to directing and writing, including an upcoming memoir slated for release next year.  

‘I did not know how to find my identity without my mom,’ she said. ‘And I’m not going to lie. It was very hard to get here. But now, I’m at a place in my life that I never would have thought was possible. And I finally feel free.’ 

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