My first memory of rejecting food was when I was in fifth grade. My mom made brownies, and I remember them being on the stove and my being, like, “I can’t.” I thought that was just what women said. It came from TV and movies, where you see women feeling ashamed about eating and sitting on the couch with ice cream when they’re sad. My mom was always on a diet — Atkins, the Zone, nonfat everything, diet soda. I’d learned what women do: They complain about their bodies and don’t let themselves have things they want. I didn’t start starving myself until high school, when I stopped doing sports my senior year and puberty kicked in and I gained a lot of weight. I felt out of control about it because whenever I let myself have treats, I couldn’t stop eating. I hated myself.
The first time a boy showed interest in me, I got so nervous and excited about hanging out that one day I just didn’t eat. The next day at school, people noticed it. They were, like, “You look great. You look like you’ve lost weight.” It felt like getting an A on a test I didn’t study for. It was the best feeling. The date came and went, but I kept up the streak of not eating. I quickly became addicted to the results and positive feedback.
That’s when I caught anorexia. I say “caught” because it was not in my control; it’s not a choice. I didn’t know how to stop dieting. Within a month, I was super-thin and super-popular. And then, a month after that, my hair was falling out and I had dry skin and mouth sores from malnutrition. I slept all day because I was hungry and just didn’t want to be alive for it. I fainted here and there. I was eventually hospitalized and then I started eating enough to convince people I was okay, that I was well enough to go to college. I just wanted to get away and go to school where I could continue to starve myself. It was the only thing I’d ever been exceptionally good at.
I went away to school and continued being anorexic. Being hungry all day is hell. It’s all you think about. Eventually, I found stand-up comedy, which made me want to figure out a way to live. Stand-up gave me the same feeling of validation and attention and acceptance that being skinny did. It was immediate: You say a joke and then they laugh. I started seeking out treatment through therapists. Some stuff worked, and I started feeling like myself again, but I wasn’t out of the woods.
I had started eating, but then I couldn’t stop. I started to get very secretive and weird about food. My anorexia turned into bingeing, which turned into bulimia. I was getting mouth acne from throwing up and always had sores that I would pick at, because eating disorders also cause you to have OCD. There was so much shame around it. In my late 20s, the mouth acne got me to quit throwing up, but my bingeing persisted. I would starve all day, wait to eat until nightfall and then eat all night long. I obsessed about calories and worked out incessantly. That led to stress fractures and broken bones and then I wouldn’t be able to work out, so I would go back to starving myself.
And then, in my early 30s, intermittent fasting became a popular trend, and suddenly I didn’t have to hide it anymore. I was, like, Yes! Finally, I can have an excuse and no one’s gonna judge me. I could say I was on a cleanse. Or that I was vegan. That I was vegetarian. Anything that would make it so I didn’t have to eat in front of people without admitting I was on a diet.
My whole diet consisted of protein bars that I’d eat throughout the night — like, 12 to 17 protein bars. I had no control and then I would hate myself the next day. It was a cycle I couldn’t break. My bed was filled with wrappers, and since I chewed gum all day to curb my cravings, I had, like, hundreds of gum wrappers in my purse. I couldn’t have a friend go get something from my purse, and if I left something at home while on set, I couldn’t send someone to go get it. There was so much shame and hiding. I was in hell.
When the pandemic hit, I moved back home with my parents. I couldn’t be alone because if I was alone, I would just binge. Home, to me, was where you get to binge and sleep. There was no watching TV or hanging out with friends. I was always filling my day with things so that I wouldn’t binge. And suddenly I had all this time alone, so I freaked out and moved in with my parents. I realized I couldn’t do this anymore. By the end of March 2020, I was in recovery, in a 12-step program. In April, I was able to stop starving myself. Since then, I have maintained my weight and haven’t felt out of control. I actually feel great.
With alcohol, you can have a hard rule to stop drinking, but it’s different with food because you have to eat. So I made rules for myself. I eat three meals a day, at least, no matter what. Anytime I’m hungry, I have to eat. I used to get really high off the feeling of hunger, and I do a lot of work to combat that now. There are days where I really struggle with gaining a couple pounds or my jeans’ fitting too tight. But I try to keep in mind the best thing I’ve learned: When you stop fighting it, when you stop trying to control it, your body will just be what it needs to be. It will find a balance. I never thought that giving up was the solution, but it really was for me.
Two years ago, I also would have claimed that my life was great. Now I look and see that I was just constantly white-knuckling it. All I thought about was food: when I was gonna eat, when I wasn’t gonna eat, how I’d work it off. Now that my life isn’t consumed by food, I have time for things like a relationship, reading, learning an instrument.
My comedy has changed recently, because I’m using it to be more honest in a way that people aren’t used to. Stand-up used to feel similar to dieting for me because the rewards are blissful but it’s incredibly punitive along the way. My goals with stand-up are different now; I don’t get that high from laughter anymore. It isn’t about Wow, you like me! so much as I hope you enjoy yourself, but if you don’t, I won’t take it personally. I hope my comedy makes you laugh and think about stuff in a different way while also feeling less alone. Finally, I can do a reality show because I’m in a place where people can come look at my closets and my bedroom and my purse and see me eat. Everything that used to be shameful I’m okay with.
In the business I work in, size does matter. Hollywood is disgusting when it comes to acting, pretending like they’re accepting of any body size when really they’re not. I would like to have the freedom to get any size I want and still have a career, but I don’t believe I do. We still reward women for losing weight. I don’t read comments about myself anymore. I’m missing some good stuff, but I’m also missing things that would really derail my happiness. Learning to be nice to myself is a lot more than just, like, positive affirmations in the mirror. It takes so much work.
In the U.S., the National Eating Disorders Helpline is 1-800-931-2237.