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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To eat anything and not gain a pound.  

My guess is that  would make the top three on most people’s wish list. Well, behind winning the lottery and world peace, of course. For a brief moment, that wish came true for me, and not to brag, but it was fantastic.

Little Embers. During the years I was inactive anorexia, that is how I would describe my appetite. When I felt a flicker of hunger, I would feed my body just enough to take the edge off, but not so much that my desire would burst out of control. Early into treatment, I was well aware I had to try harder to gain enough weight to keep Gretchen and Kirsten happy. And aside from staying out of inpatient, not letting them down was my main motivator. I was not sure I was ready to gain weight for all my talk, but I knew I wanted to prove to G and K I could. So I dabbled in adding more food, cautiously dipping my toe back into the forbidden foods pool. Introducing a fuller fat yogurt at breakfast, a slice of chewy sourdough bread with my egg whites at lunch, and a spoonful of mashed potatoes with my fish at dinner. Cautiously enjoying foods I had drooled over for years, yet had never let myself enjoy. After each meal, I waited for the full, bloated feeling I was sure would come from eating such “decadent” foods. More often than not, like with the carrot cake moment, I didn’t feel full but rather just the opposite, giving me the courage to continue eating.  With each bite, the little embers slowly growing into crackling flames. Homemade brownies from the tennis lunch buffet, ravioli I had made the boys for dinner, Trader Joes orange chicken. Like tissue paper on a raging fire, every calorie instantly burning to leave me hungry for more.  

I was giddy. In my mind, I was eating so much food. Delicious, decadent food I had deprived myself of for years. Yet my clothes still fit,  my stomach was not bloated, and I was not suffering from that full feeling I hated so much. It made me question why I had spent so many years afraid of food and the discomfort, both emotional and physical, I assumed would accompany the consumption of such deliciousness. It was magical.

As I excitedly jumped on the little dictator, backward of course, I watched Gretchen’s face as she recorded my weight on her clipboard, hoping to see a slight smile that might confirm my suspicion that all that food I had been eating would indeed show progress on the scale.

 Gretchen’s face gave nothing away, but her words left nothing to the imagination.

For years I steered clear of cooking anything that might tempt me to eat too much. Here was my first foray back into doing so with one of my favorites, my mom’s enchiladas. (2016)

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"Happy Birthday a little early," my husband Marc said as he handed me the brown to-go box. We were standing in the parking lot of an outdoor mall in our neighborhood, and he had just returned from grabbing a coffee. My heart began to pound, and my body tensed before I even opened it. I already knew what was inside. It was a bold move by Marc. He knew I hated it when he brought me "treats," and over the years, when he did come home with fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, big cinnamon rolls, and gooey brownies, they ended up in the trash. Reminding him, "I don't eat things like that," but really meaning, "I'm afraid I will eat ALL of that.” And now, staring at the brown box, I was ready to be pissed off. But then I remembered the assignment from my dietician Gretchen earlier that week, encouraging me to expose myself to" fear foods". The foods I had for years labeled a "no go” as they were foods I loved so much I was afraid if I took even a bite, I would lose all self-control and eat, eat, eat, unraveling all the self-discipline I was so proud to have achieved. And in that box, I knew, was the ultimate fear. Cake, specifically carrot cake, my favorite since I was little.

Confident I had enough self-control to confront it, I took a deep breath and opened the box, and as expected, nestled inside was a perfect square of cake staring back at me. The white cream cheese frosting in perfect little waves, the aroma of cinnamon and sugar wafting up to meet my nose, causing my mouth to instantly water.

Take a bite Sherri, my healthy brain gently coaxed as I ran my finger along the edge of the cake, scooping up some frosting and popping it into my mouth. The creamy goodness coating my tongue and setting my brain on fire. 

That's enough! My anorexic brain shouted, sensing danger, Stop NOW!

But with that one bite, the wheels were set in motion, and, surprisingly, I had no intention of stopping. Maybe it was fear because I was in week two of treatment and had made very little progress. Perhaps it was the determination to prove to Gretchen I could meet her request, or possibly it was the knowledge if I did not cause the hand of the German Dictator to move upwards, I would land in the hospital. But maybe, finally, I just caved and let myself eat the damn cake.   

Satisfying a mid writing craving recently with a piece of that cake. But what is it with my husband and utensils? Jeez! ( 10/2020)

"Did you want me to get you a fork?" Marc asked a look of shock and disgust on his face as I ripped a big piece off, shoving it in my mouth with my fingers, the excess crumbs tumbling off my chin and catching on the front of my sweater.

"Nope, I'm good," I said, my mouth full and my voice muffled, but with a tone that clearly relayed," back the F*&k off." Like being reunited with first love, I wanted nothing to interfere with the moment's electrifying, body tingling sensation. 

I was giddy. I had missed this, the pure joy of eating a food I loved, one that was not only delicious but held so many happy memories of birthday parties and family celebrations. At that moment, a warmth filled my body with a satiety that went far beyond physical hunger.

But when it was gone, the spell was broken. I stared at the empty box, my fingers sticky and my teeth numb, and the reality of what I had just done hit hard. As we walked home from the mall, I waited anxiously for what I knew was to come next. The guilt from consuming so many calories, the uncomfortable bloat from eating something decadent, but mostly, I hung my head and waited for the shame to destroy me. Scolding me for losing my ever-present self-control. I was ready to suffer the consequences of my actions.

But they never came, leaving me instead with a new sensation, one that I had no idea how to handle.

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He sounds happy! I texted my sister, referring to a recent phone call with my nineteen-year-old son. He just started his sophomore year at the University of Oregon, and during the call, for the first time in a long while, his voice sounded buoyant and content. It filled my mom heart with a mixture of joy, relief, and hope that my sweet boy, who has struggled for years to find his place in this world, may finally be starting to feel okay with who is.

It is what I have always wanted for my kids.  And personally,  at the age of forty-eight,  I wanted that for myself as well. Starting with my new recovery group.

I was the first one to arrive the night of the initial group meeting, allowing me a moment to assess the room and choose my seat around the tables set up in a big U shape. As usual, in new situations, I decided on a chair closest to the door, finding comfort in an easy escape should the need arise. 

Initially, I had not asked Kirsten much about it; even when she shared, it would be "different" than the body image group I initially inquired about. Realizing participation was a condition of Kirsten agreeing to work with me, I readily accepted, confident whatever it was it would help me dig out of the eating disorder hole I had gotten into. As I sat there, waiting for the others in the group to arrive, I felt jittery with anxious anticipation, like before getting on a plane for a long-awaited tropical vacation. It was the only part of the treatment plan that I was looking forwards to. Where I was dreading the bi-weekly weigh-ins and the means I would have to employ to gain weight, I was excited for this opportunity to connect with others who were living in the same unbearably lonely world as me. Delighted for the chance to be in a room where I felt part of something instead of feeling like the odd, anxious, skinny outlier.

I kept myself distant from others. It was how I protected my disease, but it came at a cost that left me feeling disconnected and alone. ( 2016)

As the other participants began to trickle in, I took a quick note of each one. First, was the red-headed woman in her late fifties who sat right next to me. Followed by a petite woman carrying a bicycle twice her size. Then entered a tall, blond twenty-something who looked like a college volleyball player, and shortly after, a masculine-looking woman with gorgeous blue eyes who avoided eye contact with all of us. Two chatty teenagers walked in and took seats across from me, animatedly comparing their scores on a recent chemistry test. Lastly, a suburban mom type who blew in at the last minute,  flustered, and apologizing profusely for being late. As we sat around the table in awkward silence, waiting for Kirsten to begin the group, I could not ignore the obvious. They did not look like me. Not one of them appeared to have extremely low body weight, tell tale signs of anorexia. They all seemed to be of average weight. Maybe the cyclist came close to "too thin." Maybe. I was instantly disappointed and a little pissed off. What kind of group is this? I remember thinking, frustration swelling and the exit door looking very appealing. I was craving a connection with other people. It is why I ultimately found the courage to reach out for help. I was tired of feeling so lonely. In this group, I desperately hoped to hear my struggle come from someone else's heart, helping to make me feel less crazy, scared, and alone. But sitting in that windowless room with these unknown, seemingly healthy women, I highly doubted any of them knew what it was like to live the dark, painful, structured, unforgiving hell of anorexia.  

 And once again, I found myself feeling like the odd one out.


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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