Washington spoke candidly about the physical and mental impact of the eating disorder during a sit-down interview with Robin Roberts for an upcoming 20/20 special planned to air on Sunday 24 September. A preview of the interview was shared on Good Morning America on Thursday 21 September, in which Washington explained that she had contemplated suicide during the height of her eating disorder.
She also read an excerpt from her memoir Thicker Than Water, which is set to be released on 26 September. The actress shared that, by the time she arrived at college, her relationship with food and her body had “become a toxic cycle of self abuse that utilised the tools of starvation, binge eating, body obsession and compulsive exercise”.
“I could feel how the abuse was a way to really hurt myself, as if I didn’t want to be here,” she told Roberts. “It scared me that I could not want to be here because I was in so much pain.”
Roberts then asked the Scandal star if she had considered suicide. Washington responded: “Yeah. Yeah ... The behaviour was tiny little acts of trying to destroy myself.”
The actress admitted that she began to pray for help with her eating disorder as it became more difficult to maintain her “perfect” image.
“The first thing that put me on my knees — like the first time I got on my knees and prayed to some power greater than myself to say like: ‘I can’t do this, I need some help’ — was with my eating disorder,” she recalled.
She continued: “I was good at performing ‘perfect.’ I was good at control. I could party all night and drink and smoke and have sex and still show up and have good grades.”
“I knew how to manage; I was so high-functioning and the food took me out. The body-dysmorphia, the body-hatred, it was beyond my control and really led me to feeling like: ‘I need help for somebody, or something, bigger than me because I’m in trouble and I don’t know how to live with this.’”
Looking back on her experience, Washington said she is currently in a much better place, although she still needs to “check herself” with her eating disorder.
“I wouldn’t say that I never act out with food, it’s just very different now,” she said. “It’s not to the extreme. There’s no suicidal ideation, that is not where I am anymore. But I know: ‘Oh, I’m really into this chocolate, this is good information for me.’ The bottom has gotten a lot higher where just a little discomfort with it is enough for me to know this is a way to check myself.
“But it definitely looks a lot healthier. It’s a lot easier. It’s a lot saner than it used to be.”
This isn’t the first time Washington has spoken about her condition. In 2020, she shared the “shame” she felt about her eating disorder with Essence.
“I’d eat anything and everything…sometimes until I passed out,’ she told the magazine. “But then, because I had this personality that was driven toward perfectionism, I would tell people I was at the library, but instead go to the gym and exercise for hours and hours and hours. Keeping my behaviour a secret was painful and isolating. There was a lot of guilt and a lot of shame.”
If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
If you are in another country, you can go to www.befrienders.org to find a helpline near you.
For anyone struggling with the issues raised in this article, eating disorder charity Beat’s helpline is available 365 days a year on 0808 801 0677. NCFED offers information, resources and counselling for those suffering from eating disorders, as well as their support networks. Visit eating-disorders.org.uk or call 0845 838 2040