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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"Mom, just pick one," my thirteen-year-old son Brennan said to me impatiently. We were in the grocery store, and I had been in the ice cream aisle for at least fifteen minutes, sweat breaking out in my armpits like I had been jogging up and down the aisle instead of slowly pacing back and forth.

"I can't! "I snapped back, frustrated, the ice cream cartons blurring together, making it hard for me to focus on any of them, "it's too hard."

"It's alright, mom, you got this," Brennan said to me, encouragingly as if it were in a game of jeopardy, and we were in the bonus round. A week earlier I had shared with my kids  my decision to go into treatment for anorexia. My older son was angry and dismissive of my situation, calling it a "teenager thing," but Brennan intuitively seemed to understand I was struggling. I was grateful for him yet pissed off at myself that he even had to deal with such a mess of a mom. 

"You know what? I don't need ice cream. Let's go," I said, feeling too overwhelmed to think about it any longer, my fight or flight instinct telling me to run for the car before Ben and Jerry came at me with a giant spoon.

Spookier than any haunted house for me back then.

"Okay, then let's go," Brennan said, heading towards the check stand, understandably impatient with my indecisiveness.  

Dammit, Sherri, you have got to get on this, or you will never get any better, my Healthy Brain screaming in my head. Now, not tomorrow, not next week, NOW.

"Wait, B," I said, stopping my son, "I have to get ice cream, but, um, I need you to pick it out for me."

There is only one way I can describe the two years I spent in treatment. Overwhelmed.

After many weeks of weigh-ins with very little progress, Gretchen made it very clear to me. A spoonful of potatoes was not going to cut it. I could no longer dabble in the forbidden food pool. I had to jump in buck naked, and not come up for air until I was over full. It was the only proven way to dig myself out, she said. To eat until I was just past full, every meal, every day.  

So there I was. Being permitted to eat anything I wanted. Foods I craved, foods I had deprived myself of for years, foods I had never even occurred to me to try—hearty, rich, calorie-dense food. I had no idea where to start.

I imagine it would be like regaining your sight after ten years. Seeing the blue of the sky on a bright summer day, the shimmering silver of the stars on a clear fall night, or the green of your child's eyes as they open a long-anticipated birthday gift. Colors you had long forgotten existed assuaging your brain, making you feel like you wanted to take it all in, yet needing to close your eyes because it was too bright.

I wanted it all, yet all of it scared the hell out of me. My two brains were fighting all the time. My healthy Sherri Brain was encouraging me to dig in and eat, to find foods I never even imagined I would allow myself to eat again. Reminding me this was the only way I was going to recover. My Anorexic Brain was holding tight to the rules I had followed for so many years, rules of control that had kept me safe and thin for over a decade—fighting, arguing, bickering, leaving me unable to make any decision at all.  

Still hard to choose, so maybe some of each! In addition to Gretchen and Kirsten, I'd have to say Ben and Jerry were, and continue to be, instrumental in my recovery. Big spoon and all.

But standing there in that ice cream aisle, something strange happened. As Brennan placed his choice for me, a carton of Tillamook Cookies and Cream in the basket, my heart rate slowed, and the fuzziness in my mind began to clear.  I began to feel like a halfway rational woman again.  It wasn't my choice, but it was a choice, and that in itself brought a sense of tremendous relief.

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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.


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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