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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A breathed a massive sigh of relief. I had I won the inpatient tug O war. At least that is how I felt the moment Kirsten agreed to work with me on an outpatient basis, allowing me to attempt recovery from my eating disorder while still living at home. But as we began to talk logistics of what treatment would look like, I began to question if I had actually won anything.  Fearing once again my anorexic brain outsmarted Kirsten the way it had almost every medical/mental professional I had seen in the past twelve years. 

I was thrilled I would get to stay with these guys while I tried to recover.

Despite my low weight, I was pro at presenting very “normal.” With my background in nutrition I had the ability to tell professionals what I knew they wanted to hear about improving my diet by increasing my intake of calorie-dense foods. I was athletic so appointments with my general practitioner were more about our shared love of running than my health. And when I whipped out my favorite line, "yeah, I know I’m thin, I’m working on it,” it was usually enough to appease my dentist, dermatologist, and breast doctor—averting any serious questioning about my concerning body weight. So while I was relieved when Kirsten agreed to give me a chance, I was also freaking out. I feared my anorexic brain was so sneaky it just snowed a pro like Kirsten.  

That being said, the treatment plan Kirsten offered was solid. It included an individual session with her once a week, participation in a nine-month RO-DBT class which met once a week for two hours. A weekly check-in with my doctor to monitor my heart and fluid levels and weekly sessions with a dietician. I loved the plan. I loved it too much. As Kirsten was talking, the chatter of my anorexic brain, sensing a threat to its survival, began fluttering in my head like a hummingbird on crack. 

Okay, Sherri, we can work with this. You can schedule the sessions and appointments around your mealtimes. You may have to change your workout routine, but you will still fit in enough exercise. Your doctor won’t push you too much. She never has. And this class sounds way more manageable than group therapy. Best part is no one needs to know. It can stay our secret. Basically you can go into “treatment” and still live your life.

While my anorexic brain assured me I got what I wanted, my healthy Sherri brain knew better. It knew that having access to exercise, my food, and my schedule was dangerous and recovery would be near impossible surrounded by the vices I have clung to for so long. Despite the firm plan, I feared it was not stronger than my anorexia.  

“The next step is to find a dietician that is a good fit for you,” Kirsten said, interrupting  the panicky thoughts swirling through my brain.

She gave me several suggestions of dieticians she felt would be a fit. One had a bubbly, fun personality with whom she thought I might connect. One worked in a more clinical hospital setting and one was into meditation and Buddhism. All very experienced in treating eating disorders. 

I sat there, contemplating. I wasn’t just being offered a choice. I was being offered a chance—the opportunity of real recovery. So I mustered every ounce of my healthy Sherri brain, looked Kirsten straight in the eye, and said, 

“I want the one I won’t be able to bullshit.“

Having access to my vices, I knew would make recovery in outpatient very challenging.

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A small sterile, windowless room reeking of bleach and plastic. Draped in a faded hospital gown, days spent pacing the room; the long lonely hours interrupted only by a bossy, stern nurse bringing in meals. Trays piled with unrecognizable globs of noodle casseroles, fried chicken and chocolate pudding plopped down for consumption while nurse Stern watched over, making sure every bite is eaten. Then left in the little prison, with no way to exercise, the food sitting like a lump of uncooked dough. Belly painfully distended. With absolutely no control over food, schedule, or body.  

I’ve been asked why I so adamantly resisted inpatient. Although the scene described above is how I remembered treatment depicted in an after school special, a quick Google search can find treatment options to be just the opposite. Oceanside programs with private rooms, farm to table meals, and yoga that could make even the healthiest of women to say “sign me up!” But you could have thrown in massage and a pool boy, and inpatient treatment would have still been a terrifying thought to me. Of course I did not want to be away from my family. Sure, I was concerned about what other people would think. The OMG she was sent away kind of gossip I was sure would ensue, bringing embarrassment to my kids and myself. But in reality those were excuses to cover the real reason I did not want go into an inpatient program, I was afraid of losing control. Relenquishing the power I had fought so long and hard to obtain over my life. Using food, and exercise to control my body in efforts to find peace, balance, and security. I was in no way ready to turn my only means of control over to anyone, leaving me feel powerless.

It became evident in that first session with Kirsten that if I did not pull my shit together and eat, that is where I would end up. In treatment and out of control. And I was still convinced, that because I did such a fantastic job getting myself into an eating disorder, I could get myself out.

But that ship had sailed. 

As harmful as not eating was to my body, the more significant danger was in the actual consumption of food. Refeeding Syndrome is what Kirsten called it. A term that sounded relevant for sick, weak, dying individuals. Cancer patients or people just out of a coma. Not people like me who could still run, cycle, and play tennis. But Kirsten made it very clear that even if I had it in me to eat more food, I was so undernourished that the hamburgers, pizza, and cake I promised to eat could prove to be fatal. Eating the necessary amount of food could send my body into shock, causing heart failure, renal failure, and seizures. Medical oversight, she said, was critical to my survival. The illusion that my health was just mind over matter was fading with every word Kirsten uttered and after years of trying to get my attention through heart palpitations, amenorrhea, and aching joints, my body was now using Kirsten’s words. It was screaming, “do you hear me now!”

 Yes, I heard. And if I were sitting next to my best friend being told this information, I’d say, “don’t be an idiot, you have no choice. I’ll help you pack your bags, sister.” 

But I wasn’t willing to be so direct with myself, and even though I heard, I was still not ready to listen.

Refeeding? That is for sick people, not me. Right?

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Why did you agree to work with me?  

I asked this of Kirsten and my dietician Gretchen recently via email. During treatment I never thought to ask why, despite their initial reluctance,they agreed to take me on.  

"I was skeptical that outpatient was going to give you the support you needed to do the difficult work of recovering," Gretchen responded. "I would still recommend inpatient for someone as undernourished as you were, but we agreed to give you a shot."

"We did agree to give you a chance," Kirsten added, "because of your family situation and you being the sole driver. But that was with the understanding that if you didn't make steady, incremental change, we would have to pull the plug and again recommend residential."

During that first session with Kirsten, I believed her neutral reaction to my body and my story was a sign that I was "not so bad". I took it as an assurance that she had seen women and men much worse off than I. But in reality, she knew what she was looking at, a woman who needed to be in residential treatment, under the care and supervision of trained medical professionals. And that is what she recommended for me. Strongly.  

I didn't realize when I walked into Kirsten's office that day that I was in life-threatening danger in more ways than one. I sat there numb as she patiently laid out the cold hard facts, my heart pounding as I tried to grasp that it was ME she was talking about. With compassionate directness she explained that continuing to live the way I was, undernourishing my body, meant I would continue to break my muscles down for fuel, including my heart muscle. My already low blood pressure would continue to drop as my heart had less fuel to keep it pumping. My electrolyte balance would lead to irregular heartbeats (which I already experienced often), ultimately leading to heart failure.

As Kirsten talked she maintained direct eye contact with me, as if she was willing me to understand her words. I saw, despite not even knowing me, the concern in her eyes and heard the worry in her voice. For the first time, I began to absorb the seriousness of my situation, and it far exceeded the obvious. Until that session, I was only aware of what my body was telling me from the outside. I was focused on how my hair fell out in clumps as I gingerly washed it in the morning. Tentatively looking at my hands, afraid to see the fallen strands tangled between my fingers. Or how my teeth cracked and crowns popped off so frequently, requiring steaming my vegetables to soften them before eating. And the way my wedding ring twisted loosely on my finger, until I had to stop wearing it for fear it would fall off without notice. With Kirsten's words, I began to understand the sacrifices my body was making internally to keep me alive.   

"Okay I get it, "I remember desperately saying to Kirsten when she was done talking. "I'll eat, I promise, I will do it." And at the moment, I meant those words more than any others I had uttered.  Ever.    

Kirsten took a deep breathe, as if she were trying to gather the courage to to respond. And when she did, her words left me feeling hopeless. Trapped in a body I no longer wanted and scared I may never get out.

Over the years, I obsessed about how I looked on the outside, but had no idea the sacrifices my body was making on the inside just to keep me alive.


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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