The actor opened up about her “secret life” with the eating disorder on Wednesday’s episode of “Call Her Daddy” — and told podcast host Alex Cooper she once believed it would kill her before she reached 30.
“In my 20s, I was starting to be a movie actor,” Fonda said. “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 ... I didn’t go out. I didn’t hardly date ’cause I was unhappy and I had this eating disorder.”
Fonda told Cooper the bulimia appeared “so innocuous” at first but grew into “a terrible addiction.”
“It harms the way you look,” said Fonda, who has since become an icon for her activism and fight against climate change. “You end up looking tired. It becomes impossible to have an authentic ... Your day becomes organized around getting food and then eating it, which requires that you’re by yourself and no one knows what you’re doing.”
The actor famously released New York Times bestseller “Jane Fonda’s Workout Book” in 1981 and launched her own line of related tapes the following year, according to CNN. Her public advocacy for physical health, however, didn’t mirror her private life.
Fonda recalled her addiction being “a very lonely thing” and that her “inauthentic” life led her to take roles “I didn’t very much like.” While confident her compulsions would cease, she said they only got “worse and worse.”
Bulimia is potentially life-threatening. The illness, which causes individuals to binge-eat and purge, can lead to dehydration, heart problems and suicidal ideation, per the Mayo Clinic. While Fonda survived into her 40s, she recalled thinking: “If I keep on like this, I’m going to die.”
“I was living a very full life,” Fonda told Cooper. “I had children, I had a husband — I’d had two husbands by then — I was doing political work, I was doing all of these things. My life was important, but I was becoming less and less able to continue it.”
Fonda explained a single binge can take days or “at least a week” to deal with, as there’s not only the fatigue to wrangle with — but that “you become angry” and “hostile.” Unaware of support groups she could join, Fonda quit binge-eating overnight.
She said this became “easier and easier” the more distance she put between herself and the last binge, but soon learned her food-related compulsion “was anxiety-driven,” and was prescribed Prozac as a result.
Fonda recently announced that her cancer went into remission after six months of chemotherapy. She currently stars in the “80 for Brady” comedy with Tom Brady and in the upcoming “Moving On” with friend Lily Tomlin.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.