Viewers of Katie Couric’s talk show were doubtless surprised on Monday when, during the discussion of eating disorders, Couric disclosed that she had had her own struggles with that cruel, sometimes deadly condition.
“I wrestled with bulimia all through college and for two years after that,” she said, describing the guilt she felt at eating a single cookie or chewing a stick of gum that wasn’t sugar-free.
But the bulk of the show was devoted to her guests, who included experts on the subject as well as its sufferers, notably singer and new “X Factor” judge Demi Lovato.
During the hour, Couric said little more about her experience, which she had never before made public.
“I kind of hesitated to even bring it up,” she told The Associated Press after the taping. “But I felt that if I expect people on my show to be honest, then, when relevant, I owe it to people watching to be honest myself.
“I wanted to focus on my guests,” she said, “while acknowledging one of the reasons this issue is so important to me: I went through it.”
It’s all part of a balance Couric is striving for on her new syndicated daytime show, “Katie,” between sharing her experiences and turning her show into a personal confessional.
But in an exclusive interview with the AP, Couric, 55, shared details about the illness that first plagued her as a senior at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Va.
It began, she said, when she learned she had been turned down by the college she most wanted to attend.
Couric was a likely candidate for an eating disorder.
“Like a lot of young women, I was struggling with my body image,” she said, “and feeling like I wasn’t good enough or attractive enough or thin enough.”
She termed her figure at the time as “curvy,” and not the cultural ideal, which she identified as “five-foot-eight and weighing 115 pounds. It can be so difficult to embrace the body that you have if it doesn’t fit with the ideal. Women get praised for being super-thin, so you keep striving to be that way.”
She said her disorder “ebbed and flowed” through the years.
“Some periods were worse than others, when I was binging and purging a lot,” she said. “I’d have a piece of gum that wasn’t sugarless and then say, ‘Oh! I’ve been bad,’ and then feel so terrible that I would eat and throw up. It was awful.
“But what I’m describing is something so many people have gone through or are going through,” she noted, “and it’s so damaging, both psychically and physically.”
Couric attended the University of Virginia, then landed her first job at the ABC News bureau in Washington, D.C. And even then, she was waging a battle with food.
With the help of a therapist, she had a grip on her condition by her early 20s, though “it didn’t mean that I didn’t still have issues and feel bad about myself.”
But since then, she said, “I’ve learned how to have a much healthier relationship with food, and how to enjoy my life without obsessing about food.”
She said she was glad she had shared with viewers her ordeal with bulimia, “because it’s so commonplace.”
And it’s not the first time Couric has let the public in on a personal ordeal. Her audience shared her pain from the death of her husband, Jay Monahan, of colon cancer in 1998. The tragedy led Couric, then a co-anchor of “Today,” to become an advocate for colon cancer awareness and for colonoscopies. In 2000, she underwent a colonoscopy on the air.
“The educational aspect far outweighed any personal embarrassment I might have felt,” she explained. “I had just lost my husband at 42 to this No. 2 cancer killer of men and women. I had a bully pulpit from which I could implore people to take steps that could potentially save their lives. It was a no-brainer.”
In the future, viewers of “Katie” can expect her to confide in them again when it feels right.
“I don’t think there are any huge revelations about myself that need to be shared or would be appropriate to share,” she said. “But I’m trying to strike the right balance of talking about my situation, but not focusing on it so much that I’m being put on the couch.”