Plus, what an expert in eating disorder recovery has to say.
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Jennette McCurdy
Credit: Philip Cheung for The Washington Post via Getty Images

After battling eating disorders, addiction, predatory behavior and an abusive relationship with her mother, Jennette McCurdy spills her truth in her debut book, a memoir with a shocking title: I'm Glad My Mom Died. The cover, a pastel binding centering a smiling McCurdy in a pink dress while holding a matching urn, hints at the noted themes within the pages of the heartbreaking and hilarious work.

The memoir has been taking the internet by storm since its release on August 9, due to the unseen experiences McCurdy had to overcome during her time on the Nickelodeon shows iCarly and Sam & Cat. This includes eating disorders such as anorexia, binge eating and bulimia, which were encouraged by her mother, Debra McCurdy.

"'Well, sweetheart, if you really want to know how to stay small, there's this secret thing you can do … it's called calorie restriction,'" McCurdy wrote in her memoir, recalling her mother's words. By the time McCurdy was 11, she was following her mother's advice and restricting her calorie intake. 

We talked to Jessica Pashko, M.S., RDN, CD, RYT, a dietitian specialized in eating disorder recovery at the Adams Center for Mind and Body in Vermont, about how calorie restriction, especially at such a young age, can negatively impact one's overall health.

"Calorie restriction can have intense, harmful effects on the body, especially during childhood development," Pashko says. "In some cases, restriction affects development and maturation by slowing it down or putting a halt to it. 

"For example, undernourished children are at risk for hormonal abnormalities, micronutrient deficiencies and macronutrient imbalances. These could result in delayed onset of menstruation, compromised bone formation, stunted growth, emotional dysregulation, cognitive challenges and GI disturbances," explains Pashko.

But according to McCurdy, that was exactly why her mother pressured her to restrict her calories: so she could stay small and "look young."

"I proudly show my half-eaten portions to Mom after every meal. She beams," McCurdy wrote. "Each Sunday, she weighs me and measures my thighs with a measuring tape." 

These harmful thoughts and actions are common, according to Pashko, and diet culture is likely the culprit.

"I feel like most people have been brainwashed by diet culture to believe that calorie restriction is the ultimate cure to their body image challenges via weight loss," Pashko shares. "While there are equations that can measure our energy needs and output, what's forgotten is that human bodies cannot be worked over like a math problem. These equations do not account for our DNA or metabolism and are ultimately futile, considering the body will defend itself against any self-imposed famine." 

Pashko continues, emphasizing how unhealthy the practices McCurdy's mother enforced truly are: "Calorie restriction is perceived by the body as a threat to survival, regardless of the mind's intention. Therefore, when energy needs are compromised due to restriction, the body is sent into 'red alert' or 'panic mode' and a host of biological reactions geared toward survival are turned on."

Pashko states she cannot speak directly about McCurdy's eating disorder experience, and that while her diagnoses are common, everyone has a unique experience with them. She explains that many eating disorders can intertwine, causing multiple diagnoses like in McCurdy's case.

"I like to think of eating disorders on a spectrum, which means a person can engage in behaviors that span across several diagnoses. This makes sense considering the shifts in our psychology and biology from restriction," Pashko elaborates. "It's possible that as Jennette grew older, her body was fighting against the severe malnourishment from anorexia with intense hunger cravings, both biologically and emotionally."

McCurdy notes that she has since recovered from her eating disorders since her battle with bulimia after her mother's passing. She writes in her memoir that if her mother were alive, she would have likely been encouraged to continue her bulimic eating patterns.

Disordered eating habits can be caused by one's environment, whether it be by the media that's consumed or by family, according to Pashko.

"The pressure to be small, thin is ubiquitous," she says. "Whether it be seen on social media, in kid's movies, food commercials, clothing stores, peer groups, etc.; everywhere you turn there is some message telling you that your body is not good enough as is. Children internalize these harmful messages from a young age, forming core beliefs about their bodies and who they are, compromising individuality and the celebration of size diversity."

Pashko continues, "While it is not a matter of blame, rather to view with compassion through a kind and curious lens, families can influence the development of eating disorders if their food ways and food talk was rooted in diet culture, if a parent modeled disordered eating or if a parent had an eating disorder, as there is a genetic component."

I'm Glad My Mom Died is already top-rated on digital charts and is expected to reel in more positive stats in the coming weeks. We hope that McCurdy's message can help those with body image struggles or disordered eating habits to know they're not alone. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorders Association Hotline is available for call or text 24/7 at (800) 931-2237 to help connect you with resources meant to help.