The reality star — who joined the Bravo series in season 9 — will not be a full-time Housewife in the show’s upcoming 13th season this February and is instead appearing as a Friend of the show’s main cast.
It was a surprise to many fans, who watched Goldschneider candidly open up about starting recovery from a 18-year eating disorder — arguably one of the most emotionally raw storylines the Housewives franchise has ever seen. But as Goldschneider, 46, tells PEOPLE exclusively, putting her health first is what led to the decision at the end of the day.
“When Bravo approached me about casting for season 13, I obviously was very excited to be a part of the show again because I love the show,” she recalls. “But my recovery was not in the place that I expected it to be. It was moving very slowly. I was still being triggered by stress and I still needed a lot of intense therapy.”
Noting that “recovery was my priority,” the mother of four says that she expressed to the network her concerns. “I just wasn’t sure how to balance the time commitment for the show with my recovery,” she explains.
In response, Bravo offered Goldschneider a Friend role. “They were so supportive,” she says. “And even though that was a really tough pill to swallow and it was hard for me to step back a little bit after having been such a big part of the show for so many years, I really knew that that was probably the best solution.”
The season moved forward, with Teresa Giudice, Melissa Gorga, Dolores Catania, Margaret Josephs and Jennifer Aydin all returning as Housewives, alongside new additions Danielle Cabral and Rachel Fuda. Jennifer Fessler joined Goldschneider as a Friend.
Despite the lesser role, Goldschneider still filmed regularly will have a presence on the season. But the position gave Goldschneider what she needed.
“In retrospect, it was the best decision that I could have made,” she says. “It was really tough to do, but I’m really proud of myself for prioritizing myself. I’m so incredibly healthy now and I don’t know that wouldn’t bee the case if I didn’t do this. So I have no regrets.”
“And it really was the sweet spot for me, being a Friend,” she adds. “I had a killer season and, aside from seeing the poster without my face on it — which is a little bit of an ego punch — other than that, I really don’t feel like there was that big of a difference between this season or any other season for me as far as being in the mix. It was just much less stress.”
Stress played a big part in Goldschneider’s eating disorder before her recovery, she says.
“The show is very, very busy when you’re full-time,” reveals Goldschneider. “And that pressure … you have to understand, I went through years and years of mental struggles before I came to terms with the fact that I used food to self-soothe. I starved myself so that I felt like I had control over things in my life when things felt out of control, to simplify it. And stress, that brings it all up again.”
In her reduced role, Goldschneider was able to focus on her recovery in a way she hadn’t previously. “There’s something to be said for doing it in private,” she shares. “Although I love sharing this with everybody, to not have the cameras around me while I was in therapy, I got a lot more done, probably.”
Goldschneider says she’s in a “really good place” now.
“I’d say I turned a corner in my recovery early on in the summer. And I now am really, really healthy,” she says. “I mean, I still have room to grow; I am still in a lot of therapy just to make sure I keep moving forward. But I have a really good relationship with food. Stress just has no effect on my eating. And I don’t allow my emotions and food to interact with each other at all. I feel great.
“Before, it was hard for me to really let go. I would do everything I could to convince everyone I wasn’t sick. It wasn’t just about getting heavy or getting skinny, I wasn’t ready to let go of all the mental issues that went along with gaining weight for me,” she continues. “And now, I’ve gotten there.”
Goldschneider says she wouldn’t have been able to do the work if it weren’t for Bravo.
“I’m really so appreciative of them,” she says. “The fact that they understood where I was coming from and were willing to work with me on this so that I could remain a part of the show and still prioritize my health was such a gift. At every turn, they told me how important I was to the show. They never made me feel unvalued. I’m just so grateful.”
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The Real Housewives of New Jersey season 13 premieres Feb. 7 at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.