Jane Fonda is opening up about the “terrible addiction” that her eating disorder became after years of suffering.
The 85-year-old actress told Call Her Daddy host Alex Cooper that she was “miserable” as a young actress, especially as she was forced to play into the “girl next door” archetype in many of her roles. The attention to her appearance was particularly difficult, Fonda explained, because of her issues with body image.
“I was bulimic anorexic and so, to suddenly I’m becoming a starlet and there’s so much emphasis on how you look and it was a trigger — constant, constant trigger for me,” she said. “In my 20s, I was starting to be a movie actor. I suffered from bulimia very, very bad. I led a secret life. I was very, very unhappy. I assumed I wouldn’t live past 30.”
Fonda explained that her eating disorder felt “innocent in the beginning,” as she started to binge food and purge. “Why can’t I have this ice cream and cake and then I’ll just throw it up?” she recalled thinking. “What you don’t realize is it becomes a terrible addiction that takes over your life.”
Aside from harming “the way you look,” the award-winning actress and activist shared that the disease also made it “impossible to have an authentic relationship” because of its secretive nature.
“Your day becomes organized around getting food and then eating it, which requires that you’re by yourself and that no one knows what you’re doing,” she explained. “It’s a very lonely thing and you’re addicted. I mean if you put any food in you, you want to get rid of it.”
And while she pointed to “inauthenticity” in her life, her relationships and her career as one of the causes of her eating disorder, Fonda also pointed out that it can start with “being told that you’re fat” — something that she was subjected to by the public and even within her own home.
“I’ve worked most of my life to overcome the judgmental, the objectification and judgmentalism, the unconsciously making me feel that I’m not lovable if I’m not really thin, things like that,” Fonda shared. “It was a generational problem for a lot of men my father’s age. The objectification of women, and it took me a long time to get over that.”
It also took decades for Fonda to understand the impact that her eating disorder was actually having on her body and quality of life as she aged.
“You can think you can get away with it when you’re young because your body is so young. As you get older, the toll that it takes on you, it becomes worse and worse. It takes days and then at least a week to get over one single binge. And it’s not just the fatigue, it’s you become angry, you become hostile. All the trouble that I got in was because of that anger and that hostility. And then it got to a point in my 40s when I just thought, if I keep on like this I’m gonna die,” she recalled. “I was living a very full life. I had children, I had a husband, I had two husbands by then, I was doing political work, I was doing all these things. And my life was important. But I was becoming less and less able to continue it so I went cold turkey.”
Fonda was also alone through the process of recovery.
“I didn’t realize that there were groups that you could join, I didn’t know anything about that yet. And nobody talked about it. I didn’t even know there was a word for it and so I just went cold turkey and it was really hard,” she said. “But the fact is that the more distance that you can put between you and the last binge, then the better it is. It becomes easier and easier.”
Fonda mentioned that addressing her anxiety and going on medication also helped to stop the cycle of binging and purging. And although the subject is spoken about more openly now, the actress said she’s “scared” for young people whose mental health is now being impacted with the prevalence of social media.
“I think it makes it much worse and it’s really hard,” she said. “I don’t know what the cure is.”