December 02, 2011 5:00am PT by Kimberly Nordyke
Tracey Gold on Hollywood's Weight Obsession, 'Nasty' Online Critics and Whether She Keeps in Touch With Leonardo DiCaprio
Tracey Gold, who once struggled with anorexia, admits she gets worried when she sees actresses on hit shows shrinking, but she doesn't place the blame solely on Hollywood.
The actress told The Hollywood Reporter that the root of the problem is more widespread than just the entertainment industry.
"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."
Gold, who struggled with the disease in the 1990s, is hoping to make a difference in the lives of women battling life-threatening conditions like anorexia and bulimia in Lifetime’s new unscripted series Starving Secrets With Tracey Gold, which premieres at 10 pm. Friday. Each hourlong episode will feature Gold sharing her own experiences with other women and working with a team of specialists to help them get the treatment they need.
The actress became anorexic at age 19, after finding fame as Carol Seaver on the hit sitcom Growing Pains, and it nearly took her life by age 22. But she believes she would have struggled with anorexia even if she hadn't been in the public eye.
Part of the problem today, she said, is that there's even more pressure on celebrities now as the number of tabloids and media outlets covering celebrities has grown, not to mention all the online bloggers and places where fans can post critical comments for all the world to see, like Twitter.
"It's people behind a computer, without ever having to show their face, who are perpetuating more of a need to fit a certain mold," she said. "We live in the age of the Internet, and people can say whatever they want and be really nasty."
That's part of the reason she praises young stars like Demi Lovato and Mary-Kate Olsen for not being afraid to seek treatment knowing that their every move is chronicled in the tabloids. She also applauds Miley Cyrus, who recently stuck up to people critical of Lovato after she appeared to gain some weight in the wake of her treatment.
At the same time, Gold tries not to judge when she notices an actress losing weight since she doesn't know what's really going on.
"It's a very easy thing that the media likes to do to an actress when she loses weight is to slap on the title of anorexia, but that's a dangerous place to go," Gold said. "I don't know anyone's personal struggle, and to make a quick judgment trivializes the true nature of what anorexia really is."
Gold developed the concept for Starving Secrets because she felt like eating disorders weren't being talked about as much as they should be. After coming up with the idea, she pitched it to GRB Entertainment (A&E's Intervention), who then took it to Lifetime (she also serves as an executive producer on the show).
She is hoping to shed light on the issue by addressing stereotypes and changing the "glamorized view" of the disorders. She also hopes the six-episode series spurs other women struggling in similar situations to seek help.
"My goal is to shed light on what an eating disorder looks like," Gold said. "We get in there with real women to show that it's not a glamorous thing. It's an isolating, lonely, hard, raw disease. It's not skinny women on a red carpet; it's an all-consuming thing in life where everything is falling down around you."
Gold, who played Carol Seaver on Growing Pains for seven years, where her character was the brunt of fat jokes from her brother (played by Kirk Cameron). She later played the title role in the TV movie For the Love of Nancy, which centered on the main character's struggle with a severe eating disorder.
As for her Growing Pains castmates, she said she still keeps in touch with them through various reunion events they attend.
And what about Leonardo DiCaprio, who played a homeless boy taken in by the Seaver family in the final season?
"I have a great bondage with Leo," she said. "He's busy, but I know if he saw me, he'd give me a big hug. He saw my husband at a Lakers and came running up to him."
She also recalls a young Robin Thicke -- son of her TV dad, Alan Thicke -- hanging out on the set.
"He's super talented, and I could not be happier for his success," she said of the singer.
But Gold is a success story herself: She is now married with four sons and said she's "recovered" from her eating disorder. Becoming pregnant with her first child helped, as she realized her dietary habits were not just affecting her alone anymore.
Now, "I go through my life and I'm not obsessing about food," she said. "It doesn't control my day. But I'm smart enough to know in the back of my mind, I have to be mindful not to skip a meal when I'm stressed. I'm not in treatment anymore and I try to eat healthy."