The Truth Behind the Lies Of An Anorexic Mom

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Note:  This blog contains descriptions of eating disorder behaviors.  Although I have tried to be mindful in writing about specific behaviors, there are parts of  that may be difficult to read for those actively struggling with an eating disorder.  For support please see the "resources"page on this site.

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When I was a kid, the Barbie doll had a little sister named Skipper. The Skipper doll's notable thing was that she grew breasts with a twist of her arm, going from a flat-chested child to a curvy teen, just like that.

I gave up on my boobs long ago. Between breastfeeding two kids, a lumpectomy, and extreme weight loss, they were saggy lopsided, and tiny, and no arm twisting was going to fix that, which was fine by me. My small breasts fit my desired body just fine. I loved how they didn't get in my way on long runs or tennis matches. I appreciated not having to wear a bra with straps that slipped and bands that pinched, and most of all, having tiny breasts allowed me to feel my jutting breast bone, serving as my physical scale, reassuring me I was still thin.

"You have hit your all-time high,” my dietician, Gretchen announced enthusiastically about nine months into our sessions, forgetting her usual stoic weigh in demeanor. Her face was glowing as if she were my mom, and I had just scored my first soccer goal. "I knew you would do it."

All-time high. The words that would make any anorexic strap on a pair of Adidas and run for the hills. Words that would have scared the shit out of me if I had not already suspected I had gained notable weight. My hand instinctively pressed against my chest, feeling for the reassurance of my breastbone as I plopped down on the green velvet chair.

She sat down across from me, still beaming with pride, watching for my reaction. I did my best to smile like it was no big deal. Although I was shaken by Gretchen's confirmation, the control freak in me was pleased she had cracked and shared the usually secret weight report. I was afraid that if I showed my lack of enthusiasm at the news, she might never again share my weight progression.

"What did you do differently?" She asked, settling back, placing her clipboard in her lap, ready to take notes.

"I got over myself," I told her with a huff, venting frustration that had been building at my inability to get out of my own way, slowing the whole recovery process.

Eat more and move less. No one was going to make me do it. I had to do it. (2017)

After weeks of sitting in a plateau, I sat myself down and gave myself a much-needed talk. Despite the depiction of every TV special on the subject, no one was going to force me to recover. I would not be locked up and spoon-fed mashed potatoes until I came out plump and glowing. Nope, only I could do that. I was aware I was nowhere near weight restored. I also knew I was not a quitter and that I would be disappointed with myself if I stopped treatment before I was ready. And like my therapist Kirsten had boldly suggested, I could always lose the extra weight. So I pulled up my big girl pants, doubled down on Ben and Jerry's, and backed off on the extra exercise that had crept back into my life over the past year.

I didn’t know exactly how much I had gained to reach this "all-time high,” but with every bite of chocolate mint cookie, I was preparing myself for my stomach to expand and pouch uncomfortably against my waist band. I was caught off guard when the weight stealthily bypassed my stomach area, and headed straight for my chest, making me uncomfortably aware of my ever growing breasts. Rationally I knew the change in my chest was imperceptible to others, but to me, I felt like Dolly Parton in a push-up bra. Over the years, other than a flat stomach, my tiny boobs were the one dependable body part I had to assure me that I was thin. I relied them and their consistent non-existence to help me feel unencumbered by the weight of my own body.

  • sherrisacconaghi

"You can always go back if you want to," my therapist, Kirsten, suggested to me, in attempt to nudge me out of my long weight plateau. Understanding my fear of gaining more weight, she was trying a new tactic. Implying that any weight I gained going forwards did not have to be permanent. Kirsten, I recognize now, was offering me the option of a" pivot."

Thanks to 2020, I, along with the rest of the world, have mastered the art of the pivot. COVID-19 has forced us to bob and weave through everyday life like a running back dodging a tackle in his quest to go all the way. But until recently, pivoting was not my strong point.

It never occurred to me until Kirsten's suggestion that "going back" was an option. Despite much progress in my eight months of RO-DBT work, black and white thinking was still my default when faced with any situation. My mind still tended towards absolutes. I always exercise in the morning. I never eat late at night. Moderation is good. Overindulging is bad. I am right. My husband is wrong.

I am either thin, or I am fat.

"What's worst that could happen?" Kirsten continued seeing my mind struggling to chew through her suggestion. Her voice was breezy and casual, as if we were talking about a shorter hairstyle or a bolder wall color rather than the thing I feared most in the world.

So many positives, photo bomber and all. (Pre Timbers game, 2017).

To Kirsten's point, the weight I had gained in the past eight months had garnered mostly positives for me. Of course, I experienced a lot of discomfort. Indulgent meals that left me guilt ridden and remorseful. Days I was edgy from the yoga only exercise, and mornings the longing to feel my jeans hang loosely on my body made me weep as if I had just lost my best friend. But the pluses outweighed any of the challenges. Physically I felt stronger, I was more present physically and emotionally for my family, and I was connected to many friends. Kirsten’s weight loss suggestion was risky, therefore, I figured she must have felt confident there were more positives ahead for me. I was not so convinced.

And angsty teens. (Safeco field, 2017).

Although I had gained weight, I was still very thin. The benefit of outpatient treatment was that it allowed me to be with my family and learn-to recover in the confines of my own life. To live life on life's terms, to quote one of my favorite Alanon-ims. On the other hand, it was a slow process. Like a parent tiptoeing into the room of a sleeping baby, I felt like I was sneaking up on weight restoration. Quiet and stealth in risk of waking my body suddenly and allowing it to notice what it had been missing. I feared in reaching a healthy weight, my body would relish in the freedom from the starved state in which it had been kept for over a decade. It would rebel against me like an angsty teen, flipping me the bird and taking off to run wild, free, and out of control.

Never allowing me the opportunity to go back, even if I wanted to.

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This past year I have felt stuck in a never-ending video game, navigating an elaborate maze, racing to gobble up little tidbits of hope to give me the strength to keep going. Not allowing myself to stop for fear I’d lose my way and the ghosts; Virus, restrictions, social distancing, rioting and politicians, might catch me swallow me whole.

"Sherri, are you ready to take it up a notch? My dietician, Gretchen said to me not long after I returned from my girlfriend's get away in Indian Wells in 2017.

I had gone into that trip coasting on a plateau, and despite the weird food schedule, and endless sitting, I had, according to my post-trip weigh-in, also lost weight. But I told myself I didn't care. After eight months in treatment, I had gained just enough to fit into jeans from a department other than the Junior section. I had expanded my food repertoire, allowing me the freedom to eat in a restaurant without going completely "off-menu." And if Palm Springs proved anything, it showed I could be flexible enough with my routine to stay connected to my people. Quite frankly, I was tired of my weeks being filled driving across town, fighting traffic to attend appointments with my dietician, therapist, physician, and RO-DBT classes. I was done with constantly talking and thinking about myself and my "issues."

I knew I had stopped pushing myself. I kept my food and exercise at just enough to hold the status quo. Although I didn't want to lose any weight, I had worked too hard for those pounds, the thought of gaining MORE weight scared me. I feared that allowing my body to have free reign, without my control, would find me ditching my still loved lycra tights and turkey sandwiches for a life of flannel pjs, pizza, and the Kardashians. I believed I needed to stop before I let all hell break loose in my mind and my body. My life was good the way it was.

It wasn't good enough for Gretchen and Kirsten so they set up a double team.

"Sherri, you have made progress in many ways, but you have a ways to go,” Gretchen said to me when I told her my plan to take a break from treatment, careful to avoid the word ‘quit.’ She appealed to my sense of reason by explaining the facts. Patients who stop treatment before reaching full weight restoration are at very high risk for relapse. And even I knew at 5'8 and an almost size 2, I was not even halfway close to fully restored.

"You aren't going to quit before you reached your goal, are you?” My therapist Kirsten, asked me in our session two days later. She had obviously spoken with Gretchen and in her feigned innocent raised eyebrow manner, had deployed the tactic of appealing to my competitive nature. "The Sherri I know doesn't quit."

I sat there in Kirsten's office, silent except for the swishing of my pant leg as I swung my crossed leg back and forth. I was staring at the picture behind her, the one that always reminded me of Dr. Suess, with its whimsical shapes that made no sense one moment and complete sense the next. A picture I had studied so many times before when my mind was stuck.

And I felt stuck. I was wrestling between what I wanted to do and what I needed to do. Caught between stopping and calling “Game Over “ or continuing to run the maze, striving to gobble up the things that would give me strength enough to keep going until I, once again, found my way.

I love competition, whether watching or playing. Gretchen and Kirsten often played upon my “never quit” nature.

From Left: At a Trailblazers game with my dad and sister, bowling with the boys, family game night in which, looking back, I am grateful I offered to take the picture. (Spring 2017)


Thanks for your interest in Skinny: The Truth Behind The Lies OF An Anorexic Mom. I'd love to connect with you so feel free to get in touch and I will get back to you soon!

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