Former child star Jennette McCurdy is sharing more about her experience with eating disorders, and the role her late mother played in nurturing them.
Appearing on the podcast Mayim Bialik's Breakdown, McCurdy, now 29, opened up to the Call Me Kat actress and her co-host Jonathan Cohen about her mother — who died in 2013 after a 17-year battle with breast cancer — encouraged her to start restricting her calories at age 11. The then-preteen McCurdy was alarmed to have her chest growing, at which point her mom suggested dieting as a way to keep her breasts from getting larger.
"My mom was the person that introduced me to anorexia, actually," McCurdy shared. "I had a lump in my breast, which was my boob developing, and I was scared that it was cancer because of my mom's cancer. I thought, Well, she got cancer, now I've got cancer, I've got breast cancer at 11. Like, I'm doomed.
"And I told her and she said, 'You don't have breast cancer, you're just developing boobs,'" the former Nickelodeon actress continued. "I said, 'Well, how can I not develop boobs? I don't want those. And she said, 'Well, there's a thing called calorie restriction.' Those were her exact words. She did not say the word 'anorexia.' I did not hear the word 'anorexia' until... I overheard a doctor talking with my mom a year later when I had lost X amount of weight and was rail-thin, and it sounded like a dinosaur to me. I remember that distinctly, like: Hmm, somebody's talking about me like I'm a dinosaur. But it was her talking to my mom about my eating disorder, which my mom denied in order for her to be able to support it."
McCurdy, who starred on the original iCarly and Sam & Cat but has no plans to return to acting, said she's only come to understand the significance of these memories later in life.
"At the time I just thought, 'Mom's looking out for me, Mom wants me to not have breasts so that I don't have breast cancer, Mom wants me to look young so I can book more roles so I can support the family and do the thing.'"
McCurdy's mother — who she says pressured her to start acting at age 6 — died when the young star was 21 years old. Soon after that loss, McCurdy became bulimic.
"That same week [of her death] was the first time that I had sex, the first time that I made myself throw up — bulimia, which I then had for a few years — and the first time that I had a drink of alcohol... Those coping mechanisms all kind of hit at once."
Bialik shared her own experience with eating disorders during the show, revealing that at age 40 she developed issues with food in response to feeling "lonely" and "neglected" after a relationship ended. Bialik, who has described herself as a "compulsive overeater" and "restricter," shared on a previous podcast episode that she's been in treatment for more than two years.
McCurdy has also spoken candidly about her eating disorders in the past; her one-woman show I'm Glad My Mom Died also digs deep into her complex relationship with her mother. In a 2019 personal essay for HuffPost, she described her mother as a "trusty and dedicated companion ready to help me with my burgeoning anorexia." The essay also noted that her mother had herself been hospitalized with anorexia as a teen.
"I always remember feeling that my mom really struggled with my body, weight and diet," she wrote. "She’d regularly compare my size to that of other girls. She’d portion out my meals for me. She’d help me count calories.
"At the time, instead of being bothered by her suggestions, I remember thinking that she was actually helping me ― that she 'got it' more than the other moms ― and that she wanted me to be successful."
Speaking to Bialik and Cohen, McCurdy admitted that in the years after her mother's death — and after learning some upsetting things about her — things "definitely got worse," and she was purging five to 10 times a day.
"Anytime that I wasn't purging, I was thinking about my next time purging," she said. "That was how my mind was just oriented."
The "turning point," she added, was being confronted by her sister-in-law during a Thanksgiving meal in which McCurdy had slipped off to the bathroom to purge.
She also admitted that she later realized that others were aware that she had disordered eating. McCurdy told Bialik about receiving messages like "yeah, you left some residue on our toilet seat," which added to her "humiliation."
"I thought that I was this gifted secret-keeper," she said. "I wasn't good at that. That was pretty much all I had during that time, was hoping and clinging to the fact that maybe my shame was my own but knowing that, eh, you actually weren't pulling the wool over anybody's eyes, that was a bummer."
For more information about eating disorders or to get support, visit NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) or call their helpline at (800) 931-2237.
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