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Nikki Glaser has built an entire career making people happy. Now she’s opening up about an issue that’s no laughing matter.
In a new interview with Mayim Bialik, the comedian spoke candidly about battling anorexia for over a decade as well as the lessons she hopes her story can give to others.
“My senior year of high school, I got anorexia big time. It hit me in March, and by July, I was hospitalized. It was like, boom, finally I was good at something,” she told Bialik on her podcast, Mayim Bialik’s Breakdown. Glaser said her eating disorder began to develop after the culmination of several traumatic events during her senior year of high school — one of them being the emotional trauma she experienced after the September 11th attacks.
“September 11th really f*****g got me,” Glaser said when asked if there was an event that triggered her anorexia. “It happened my senior year. I was deeply affected by it like no one in my life is. Every time it comes around — I’m a big 9/11 head — I go deep. I like emerging myself in the tragedy of it. I was just so overwhelmed by it [at the time].”
Two months later, a male friend died by suicide, which added to the pain she was already feeling. “[He] blamed my best friend since 4th grade for [his suicide] because she didn’t like him,” she said. “I was with him the night before he did it. It was a fall dance. She went to the dance with him and he drove us home. He showed us his gun that he had just got for his birthday and we were like, ‘Ugh. God, what do you have this for?’ and thought nothing of it.”
“He confessed his love to her when he drove her home to my house that night after the dance,” she said. “I was in the backseat like, ugh, this is so awkward because he was like ‘I love you’ and she was like ‘I just wanna be friends.’ We went to my house and giggled about it like, ‘Oh what’s he going to leave in your locker tomorrow?’ Then he shot himself and left a note in her door at home with a corsage that she got him from the dance.”
Though she harbored anger at him for “destroying my best friend’s life,” she said it ultimately fueled an unhealthy eating pattern as she started attracting the attention of a popular guy in school.
“One day I was just so nervous about going to this boy’s house that I didn’t eat. I lost my appetite because of nerves,” she said, adding that while her “body image issues started like two years prior,” it snowballed from there.
“I ate four bowls of cereal every day after school, started abusing food. I wasn’t drinking yet, I wasn’t smoking pot. I was just using food. We had a pantry full of whatever the hell I wanted,” she said. “I hated my body. I’d cry about my body. I was struggling to lose weight and then one day I went to school and one of the popular girls was like, ‘You look great.’ She was like, ‘Did you lose weight?’ It was the first time I’d ever heard that in my life. I was like, ‘Oh my god. What did I do yesterday? Oh, I didn’t eat.’ Well, I’m still on Cloud 9 about this guy and I don’t have an appetite so let me just keep going. And then I got so popular.”
“That’s the problem,” she continued. “People liked me more. All my dreams came true. I looked good in clothes. Except I was starving so I couldn’t enjoy any of it because I was in a bad mood and I was weak. And I was always about to faint. But I was, for the first time, sexy and beautiful and all the things I’d ever wanted.”
Even though “all my friends hated me because they knew I wasn’t eating,” Glaser still managed to “lie” to everyone about the seriousness of her condition.
“The school got called. My parents got called and they denied it. Everyone denied it. I tricked everyone,” she said. “And then by July, my friends completely detached because their parents knew what was going on. My parents kept denying it — hanging the phone up on them. I told my parents I was on a diet, that all my friends were jealous. But looking back, I was screaming for help.”
“I didn’t know I had anorexia. I just thought I had tricked the system,” she said, explaining that when she went in for a routine physical before going to college, the hospital staff gave an intervention, “My pulse was so low and I looked skeletal. And they were like, ‘She’s not leaving.’ And my mom was like, ‘Yes she is.’ And they were like, ‘No she’s not. We’re admitting her because if we let her go and she dies, it’s on us because we know she’s about to die.’”
When she got to college, she said her eating disorder got worse. “That’s when I decided to transfer schools because I was probably going to die there,” she said. “I was so depressed, so cold, so bony, so uncomfortable to sit. I had no fat on my body. Everyone was concerned about me. Everyone’s constantly whispering about me. I couldn’t go anywhere without people staring.”
While Glaser said she’s continuing to overcome these deep scares, she hopes that sharing her story will help build empathy for those struggling with similar experiences.
"I remember being with someone when I got a news alert that some young star died of a heroin addiction," she recalled. "I remember being like, 'That is so f*****g sad. And the person I was with was like, I don’t feel bad for him at all. I don't feel bad for people who are drug addicts, that they choose. And I just go, 'I know you would have been someone when I was anorexic that said, 'Just eat. Just eat.' Like, 'You’re choosing this.' I remember him being like, 'Why do you have to make everything about you?'"
"It just breaks my heart," she continued. "I have compassion even for that person now because they lack empathy, which is something I had to learn late in life, to understand that just because I don’t understand someone's choices, or I wouldn’t do it in my shoes, doesn’t mean that if I had their brain and their life experience I would do the exact same thing."
"With addiction though, I realize now when I get upset with people in my life who are alcoholics and return to it or pick up drugs again, or return to a guy who’s abusive, anything like that, I just know that it’s the only thing in the world that can soothe, that’s the lesser of whatever the other thing is they wanna do," she explained. "So for me, starving myself or smoking pot or all the things that I did were not me choosing to do something bad, it was me choosing something that was better than the other thing that I wanted to do."
“It’s something you have no control over,” she said of eating disorders. “The notion that people think they’re choosing that [is unfair].”