From Growing Pains to Starving Secrets

Tracey Gold makes reality TV out of eating disorders

Posted Nov 16, 2011

A reality show about eating disorders? Really?
Yes, Lifetime TV premieres Starving Secrets, hosted by Tracey Gold, starting Dec. 2.
It sounds like the worst idea since Bridalplasty, an E! series pitting 12 women against each other to win a plastic surgery procedure and a dream wedding. ("The only competition where the winner gets cut.")

But before we get our knickers in a twist, we should actually see the show. Will it be like binge-eating Hoarders? Intervention for anorexics? Keeping Up With The Kardashians?

There are reality shows that actually help people. A friend at my gym inspires himself back in shape before the holidays by watching The Biggest Loser. I happen to like What Not to Wear. These shows eventually repeat themselves and wear out their welcome, but meanwhile let us commiserate with people like us. While encouraging people to think about the way they present themselves in the world, Stacy London and Clinton Kelly occasionally do get snippy, but they aren't mean. They may force the busy, busty mom to throw out her hoodies, but there is minimal mocking. Like my friend at the gym, the positive outcome has been What Not to Wear sessions in my husband's and my closets. Clothes not worn in decades get the old heave-ho.

Starving Secrets is not be the first of its kind. E! did an eating disorders reality show in 2010, called What's Eating You Now?

But Starving Secrets' credibility rests on the shoulders of Tracey Gold, who famously cast off her secrets and went public about her anorexia. She is also a producer.

As Lifetime TV explains: Well remembered for her breakout role in the '80s hit sitcom Growing Pains, as a teenager Tracey constantly faced extreme pressures to appear thin on-screen, and at 19 years old she became anorexic, with the disease nearly taking her life by age 22. Today, Tracey is a true success story, thriving in life with a long-term marriage and four healthy sons. In each one-hour episode of Starving Secrets with Tracey Gold, she will work with women in the grips of anorexia or bulimia as she uses her own experience to reach them in ways no one else can. Along with a team of specialists, Tracey helps these women confront the reality of their conditions and find the treatment they need to begin to turn their lives around.

Let's hope so. Some doubt a show called Starving Secrets will be about lifting the curtain in a  helpful and instructive way, rather than in a titillating and exploitive way.

 Amy Reiter on Café Mom: It's difficult to imagine how the women who (for whatever mysterious reason) have agreed to have a camera track their efforts, setbacks, and stumbles will be helped by their participation. In fact, one wonders whether their willingness to participate is more a symptom than a cure: Could the craving for acceptance and self-esteem issues that may have driven them to starve themselves also have driven them to sign on to have their private issues so publicly displayed? Honestly, it doesn't seem like that big a leap.

Reiter also notes the contradiction between control, often a key issue for anorexics, and lack of control of appearing on a reality show.

Tracey Gold played a college-age anorexic in the 1994 film For the Love of Nancy, based on a true story, which also starred Jill Clayburgh.

Ramin Setoodeh of the Daily Beast has actually watched a show.

Setoodeh reports: Rivka is 28, and she's suffered from anorexia since she was a junior in high school. "Oh God, I've done a lot of treatments," she says. "I kept relapsing. I've done in-patient, out-patient, residential, day patient, every level of care, hospitalization, all of it."
Rivka left her home in Toronto for Los Angeles, where she endured eight months of intensive treatment. She even checked herself into an overnight facility for part of that time. Gold visited her every few weeks-and the cameras rolled through every tearful breakdown. "I was highly emotional," Rivka says. "I cried all the time." She also had concerns about revealing such an intimate part of herself, as one of 10 women between the ages 19 to 43 cast in the first six episodes. "I don't want to be associated with an eating disorder. It's not something that I feel very proud about."

Gold told Setoodeh: "It's not an easy show to watch, but it's riveting and it really lets you know what it's like."

Gold was the first actress in Hollywood to come forward with anorexia, and certainly the first to allow the public a glimpse into her life as she was undergoing treatment. In February 1992, People magazine put her on the cover, with an explosive sit-down interview ("I am fighting it, but it's hard," she said at the time) and quotes from her mother about keeping her 22-year-old daughter alive. At her worst, she weighed 80 pounds.
Gold still remembers those days vividly. She's spent most of her adult life telling her story to high school and college students and other young women. "I started to really see that it could make a difference," she says. "The response I got was so positive and so fulfilling, it's hard to turn your back on that."

I get that. My daughter and I love getting emails from readers who were helped by our book, making something good out of bad. Stay tuned.

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