Starving to Death: Tracey, Jennifer, Jenni, Mercedes

A Way Out
Tracey Gold remembers, “When I was 16, I started filming the show, Growing Pains. I hadn’t been dieting. I was thin, not thinking about my weight, but by the time I was 19, I had put on the ‘freshman 15.’ I didn’t think too much of it. It didn’t bother me too much, but it became an issue. There started to be some jokes in the script, between Kirk Cameron’s character and my character. I remember, I would absolutely dread getting a new script and opening it up and saying, ‘Is there going to be a fat joke?’ There came a point where the producers of Growing Pains definitely wanted me to lose weight. Unfortunately, I got into the hands of a doctor who put me on a 500-calorie diet.

“I dropped weight really quickly. I lost 20 pounds in a month. People started to come up to me and go, ‘You look so great. You look so beautiful. You’ve lost so much weight. How did you do it? Oh, my God.’ It messed with my head a little bit because it definitely made me question how I looked before. My weight just kept dropping, dropping, dropping. I got called into the producer’s office, and they said, ‘We need you to gain weight,’ which was sort of the most ironic moment in my life.

“When I was extremely sick with anorexia, it absolutely overtook my life, and I really was, at my worst, like a walking zombie, barely existing. I was lonely. I was isolating. I became very deceitful, and I would lie just to protect the eating disorder. My lowest weight, and it’s been publicized, is a little below 80 pounds. I went into a treatment center. That was when the epiphany happened, and I saw death, and that’s when I got scared. I fell in love with the idea of what my life could be like if I let go of the anorexia. Then things just started to just change for me. I’ve really been on a mission to spread awareness. I created the show, Starving Secrets, because I wanted to help other women. Being on Dr. Phil is just another step in that process, and I don’t want the conversation to stop.”

Onstage, Tracey turns to Mercedes. “My heart just absolutely breaks for you. And I’ve been where you are, and I understand where you are, and there is a way out. There really is. You have to want it, and you have to fight for it. As hard as you fight for your eating disorder, you have to fight for your recovery,” she says. Tracey recommends that Mercedes find something in her life that she wants — and use that to fight her disease.

[AD]Dr. Phil wants parents to know that there are websites designed to encourage and support anorexia and bulimia, called Pro Ana and Pro Mia. They even have 10 commandments to follow if you want to be anorexic or bulimic, such as “If you aren’t thin, then you aren’t attractive,” and “Being thin is more important than being healthy.”

Tracey says she finds it unbelievable that girls sick with these diseases would want to pull other girls into "that hell" as well.When Jennifer last sat on Dr. Phil’s stage, she was a mere 78 pounds and had a strict regimen of 9,000 crunches a day, while only consuming 150 calories.

Jennifer remembers the day her life changed one year ago. On the show, Dr. Phil showed her a photo of herself and asked her to comment. She said she saw “wideness” in her body. “When I watched the show, and I saw myself standing onstage with Dr. Phil, looking at that photo, I could not believe the answers I gave him. That was an emaciated woman standing there, and I couldn’t believe the way I was thinking back then,” she says.

Jennifer remembers the life-changing moment for her onstage:

Dr. Phil said to her, “You say you love your children. Would you die for your children?”

Jennifer replied, “Yes, I would die for my children.”

“Are you willing to live for them?” Dr. Phil asked.

She remembers, “When Dr. Phil said that, that’s when the light bulb went off in my head, because I was killing myself, so I needed to change something so that I could live. The struggle I go through now is a much healthier struggle than the struggle of having an eating disorder. I can actually enjoy life, even though I am struggling. Being on the Dr. Phil show and going to the Center for Change saved my life.”

[AD]A much healthier and happier Jennifer joins the discussion. “I feel wonderful,” she tells Dr. Phil. “I thought then I felt good, but now, I don’t even have the words to describe how lively I feel. I enjoy life. I enjoy doing things. I have a smile that stays on my face that’s real. Life is just totally different.”

Jennifer says Mercedes’ story makes her sad. She turns to the 20-year-old. “You are me a year ago. I think it’s wonderful that you’re here. I just want you to know that it is possible. It’s going to be really hard, but it is possible to change,” she says.
Jenni Schaefer is an ambassador for the National Eating Disorder Association and once struggled with anorexia and bulimia herself. She turns to Mercedes. “I just want to tell you, you absolutely can get better. I know that you did not choose to have an eating disorder; it’s an illness. What I also know is you can choose to get better. I see you doing that. What’s really hard though is you have to keep making that choice along the way, and I’ll tell you what, this girl,” she says, indicating Jennifer, “she did that. You can do it.”

[AD]Dr. Phil and Tracey sit on the edge of the stage in front of Mercedes. Can they get through to her?

Is Mercedes ready to change?


“This is my time. This is it. This is my last chance,” Mercedes cries. “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die at all.”


Dr. Phil introduces Dr. Michael Berrett, CEO and Executive Director for the Center for Change, a place of hope and healing that is committed to helping women and adolescent girls break free and fully recovery from eating disorders. Dr. Berrett tells Mercedes they’re willing to accept her into their program. “I want to help you get your life back,” he says.

[AD]Mercedes cries and accepts the offer of help. “Thank you so much,” she tells Dr. Phil and gives him a hug.

Members of Dr. Phil’s studio audience receive a copy of Jenni Schaefer’s book, Goodbye ED, Hello Me: Recover from Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life.