From Child Star to Women’s Health Advocate, Snakkle Checks In with Starving Secrets’ Tracey GoldTracey Gold talks to Snakkle about her struggle with eating disorders and her new Lifetime reality series Starving Secrets, which premieres December 2. By Nicole Lucas Haimes
Imagine being kissed in your teens by Brad Pitt. That experience was just one small part of Tracey Gold’s charmed life as the star of Growing Pains, an achievement that provided her fame and fortune—though her on-screen smooch with Pitt was, Gold recalls with a chuckle, “the epitome of embarrassment.” On the set, her mother witnessed the entire thing.
Gold’s seemingly enviable life, however, took a terrifying turn after show writers came up with a series of fat jokes at the expense of her character, the ebullient Carol Seaver—20-year-old Tracey began a diet that “spiraled into anorexia,” she tells Snakkle.
By the end of 1991, after more than two devastating years of struggling with her weight, she got sent home by the show’s producers. After a brief hospitalization, Gold made a bold decision and became the first Hollywood star to talk publicly about the disease and her treatment. In a February 1992 People magazine cover story, Tracey told the world, “I am fighting it, but it’s hard. It consumes my every thought.”
At her worst, she weighed 80 pounds; those close to her feared for her life. “I remember that when I was sick I would always say that having anorexia felt like I was drowning. I would struggle to reach the surface and stick my hand up, waiting for someone to grab it and pull me out,” Gold later wrote in her book Room to Grow. “Somewhere along the way, I realized that the only person who could pull me out was me.”
In 1994, Tracey married Roby Marshall. “I never would have gotten better if it wasn’t for him, because that is what I wanted. I wanted to marry him, have a family,” Tracey says. “He was the goal.”
She met Roby on the set of the 1990 TV movie Blind Faith, a drama based on the murder of his mother (played by Gold’s Growing Pains costar Joanna Kerns), a contract killing at the hands of his father. Marshall was there as a consultant to the producers, to protect his mother’s memory. “He has such strength and dignity,” Gold says. “I admired that and still do.”
The same year she married Roby, Gold made the breakthrough TV movie For the Love of Nancy, about a young woman’s battle with anorexia. Ever since then, she has remained an outspoken truth teller about eating disorders.
Now Tracey Gold is back, this time as the creator, executive producer, and star of Lifetime’s Starving Secrets with Tracey Gold, a new television series that chronicles the struggles and successes of women bottoming out and entering treatment for their eating disorders.
“I’m like the Lifetime movie-of-the-week girl,” Tracey quips, “so many women know my background and history.” Gold views making the show as an opportunity to do something important.
Gold and the show producers arranged for 10 women to receive treatment they would never have been able to obtain on their own. “That was very exciting,” Gold says. “It is very hard to find treatment… and to be able to do that was a gift.”
Before making Starving Secrets, Tracey always wanted to help, but she also wanted to protect her own health. “I didn’t want to bring myself back into that world too soon,” she explains, concerned about her reactions around women with active eating disorders. “I couldn’t have done this show, probably, 10 years ago.”
“It was like, I am back in this world, and it’s heavy.” But over the first few weeks she says she became comfortable. “I knew I was healthy and it would not be a trigger,” in part because many of the women had problems even more extreme than hers.
“The women in the show, they’re suffering 10, 20 years. It’s very hard to get better when you’ve lived a certain way for so long. They can’t remember what it’s like to be healthy,” Gold explains.
While the actress describes the show as intense to watch, she is “glad that it is dark and gritty, not the red carpet.” She doesn’t “want eating disorders to be glamorous, or look pretty…. I want the audience to feel this is not a route they ever want to go down.”
Today, she and Roby are happily married, living in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Tracey says she thrives in the “chaos” of her big family, four boys spanning from 3 to 14 years old. “I’ve always said that if I hadn’t had Roby, I could have sunk so low,” Tracey says, recalling the years when she was so sick. “He was just there for me all the time.”
So does she feel cured? “I’m a girl in Los Angeles,” Gold says. “I consider myself recovered, but we all have body image issues.”
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