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.

  • sherrisacconaghi

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

“I am too embarrassed to show you,” my client, *Sheryl said to me during our second session together, referring to the food journal I asked her to start when we had met the week before. Sheryl had come to me , exhausted and frustrated, wanting to lose a “stubborn fifteen pounds."

“Oh Sheryl, I have seen it all before, I’m sure this won’t shock me,” I said reassuringly as I scanned her food log, noticing immediately why Sharon might be low energy. “So…..Cheetos and cinnamon rolls? I asked Sheryl teasingly.

“I know, I know,” Sherylsaid unable to look me in the eye, my husband has cancer and those are the days I spend in the hospital cafeteria while he is getting his chemo treatments.” Ahhhh.

Helping others , especially those in need, have access to healthy food has always been a passion of mine. ( Feed The Hungry, 2012).

It didn’t take long into my health coaching career before I noticed a common theme. Strong, beautiful, intelligent women ( 99% of my clients were female) who wanted desperately to lose weight, and tortured themselves with very little food throughout the day. Feeling tired, stressed and hungry after a long day at the office, with the kids, or in Sheryl’s case, at the hospital, they would find themselves reaching for the ice cream carton , Doritos bag or wine bottle to fill their body and soothe their minds. Only to find guilt and shame staring at them from the bottom of the cookie box. Sometimes in my sessions with these women, I did not say much at all, I just gave them a safe space to vent about their tangled emotions around food, body, and self-image.

“This probably makes no sense to you, because you are thin,” a client, *Leanne, said to me after a tearful session, confessing her routine date nights with jumbo boxes of Whoppers. On the couch, feeling lonely, in front of the TV, not wanting to eat them but unable to stop. Oh sister, it makes so much sense.

For so many, thin is the goal. The ideal. We believe once we are thin we will no longer struggle with food, body image or self-doubt. Once we lose weight we will not be embarrassed to attend a group exercise class, we will be more confident having sex with our partner, we will be a more engaged parent, a more productive employee, a better friend. We see freedom on the other side of the “fat” door, and believe skinny is the key. I did. But it’s complicated.

Was skinny the key? I was starting to doubt that theory. (Arizona 2012)

I desperately wanted to help these clients attain their “thin". And I knew I could. I could give them structured meal plans that outlined what to eat (down to the ounce) and when they should eat it (down to the hour). I could give them lists of foods to avoid even if they really, really wanted to have them and I could give them intense cardio workouts to be done every day even if it got in the way of other activities they enjoyed. Of course I could and sometimes I did.

But over time it became more difficult for me, because I cared about these women. I wanted to help them nourish their bodies with a wide variety of delicious foods. I wanted to support them in discovering movement they enjoyed and offer ideas for self-care. I wanted to teach them alternate ways to manage their busy, stressful lives that didn’t include rigid rules and punishing expectations.

I wanted to do for them what I was increasingly unable to do for myself.

*Not their real names.

  • sherrisacconaghi

“When I first met you, you were playing singles for our USTA team. I couldn't watch you play because I was afraid you were going to have a heart attack on the court,”my friend Sandie shared with me recently. "It made me anxious and I honestly didn't know how you could do it! I felt I didn't know you well enough at that time to express my concern.”

Although it is difficult to hear how worried people were about me, I am grateful for those of you who have felt comfortable enough to share with me now.

I wonder. If Sandie had expressed her concerns to me years ago, would we have become such good friends now? Could have gone either way. (Zion, 2019)

At the time my belief was that no one had anything to worry about. The more matches I win, the more clients I have, the more races I run, the more food I make, the more I volunteer , the more jokes I crack, the more assured I could be that I was fine.

But not everyone was convinced.

“Hey Sherri do you have time to grab coffee?” My teammate, Ronni asked me after practice one wintery day in 2012. Although we had been playing tennis indoors, I was cold. I had taken a long run earlier in the day (I didn’t consider tennis practice “real" exercise) and I just wanted to go home. But I liked Ronni so I agreed.

We settled in at a local coffee shop and made small talk for a bit. I was new to Ronni’s team that year, having been bumped up a level due to a strong season the year before, and we were still were getting to know each other. After some talk about tennis, our families, and work, she got down to the point of her coffee invitation.

“Sherri, I’m worried about you, actually, many of us are,” Ronni said looking at me with concern, “are you okay?”

My heart began to pound and I felt my guard start to slide up, like a privacy window in a Town Car, separating the driver from the passengers in the back.

“What do you mean? I asked defensively, pretending to adjust the lid on my coffee cup, although I had a feeling I knew exactly what she meant.

“Well,” She paused tilting her head side to side as if weighing her words carefully, “you are very thin and seem very pale,” looking at me with genuine care. Ronni was a therapist by profession and she had a gentle way about her, motherly. Had it been any other subject, her caring words might cause me to spill my guts and sob in her arms. But it wasn’t any subject, it was THE subject.

Ronni( 3rd from right) and I don’t see each other often, but I have nothing but fond memories of our court time together. ( With our awesome team celebrating a first place league title, 2012)

“Well, I’m under a lot of stress right now” I deflected with a tone that relayed you better back the F%*& off, “but I feel fine. there is nothing to worry about.”

Maybe it was her therapist intuition, but Ronni seemed to get my drift.

“Well, okay,” she said warily with a tone that made it clear she wasn’t buying it, “if you ever need someone to talk to I am here.”

“Thanks Ronni”, I replied sweetly, knowing if I came off defensively it might fuel her concern, “I appreciate that.” But I was pissed. You don’t even know me? Who the hell do you think you are?

I didn’t acknowledge it at the time but, a very good friend, that is who she was.

  • sherrisacconaghi

“Didn’t you use this to make you anorexic food?” My son, Brennan, asked me last Sunday, referring to an old blender I had sitting in the donation pile on the kitchen floor.

“It is. I didn’t know you noticed that” I said, feeling the little pang of regret that surfaces when I think about how my anorexia has affected my kids. For a long time I deluded myself into believing that they never noticed the vegetable puree I would eat every night instead of the potatoes or pasta the rest of the family was eating.

“How do you know you won’t fall back into anorexia? He asked plopping down on the barstool at the kitchen counter, watching me, as I continued to organize the kitchen cupboards.


I was quiet for a moment. Brennan wasn’t one to talk much during my recovery from anorexia and I never pushed it. At that moment, however, I felt like crying with relief that he was finally willing to talk with me about any of this. And his question was a good one. Direct and insightful.

“I won’t,” I said reassuring him. Reassuring myself.

“But how do you know you won’t?” He persisted.

“Because I think about it every day, sometimes many times a day. And I make a conscious decision not to.”

That is the difference between me now and me then. Now, I think about my choices every day.

I have this posted on my bathroom cabinet to remind me. Because sometimes I REALLY need to be reminded.

Back then I was too focused on other problems, mainly my husband’s, to focus on anything going on with me. But Al-Anon shifted that and by 2012, with several months of meetings under my belt I was starting to get the message. If I wanted to be happy, and live a life of sanity and serenity, I had to stop attempting to control others and, as they say in the program, focus on my side of the street. It was a concept I found extremely difficult to grasp, or in retrospect, maybe I just didn’t want to grasp it. Worrying about Marc’s habits made for a great distraction from looking at my own.

When I did allow myself brief moments to look inward I started to notice that a lot had changed in the years I spent, head down, focusing the problems in my marriage and how to keep them under wraps from friends and family, and most importantly, the kids. It seemed I had put together a regimen of habits, routines and rules that I believed helped me manage my emotional stress and anxiety but it had also made not only my body, but my world very small.

Fleeting thoughts of discomfort were starting skitter through my mind like little spiders across the kitchen floor. I wouldn’t say I was ready to admit I had a problem, but I was aware that my behavior at times didn’t fit with the person I used to be.

My legs are achy, I really don’t feel like going for a run, but…..

I want to be at Brennan’s soccer game but I can’t miss my workout class so…..

I look gaunt in that picture, I’m sure that…..

You could take on more clients if you were more flexible about your routine, except.....

Thoughts I swept aside with excuses forcing them to retreat back into the dark corners of my mind.

You can’t miss a run today, it's Sunday

Brennan won’t care if I miss his game.

The lighting was bad.

I don’t really need more clients.

I’m fine, everything is fine.

But not everyone was so convinced and there was someone who was about to shine a light into those dark corners.

At a farmer’s market in Hawaii. I’m pretty sure it was not the lighting. (2012)


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