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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There are many reasons I decided to go into treatment for anorexia. I wanted to have more energy. I wanted to look healthier. I wanted to honor my mom. I wanted people to stop staring at me. I wanted to be able to shop somewhere other than the teen sections for clothes. I wanted to eat a BBQ’d hamburger on a warm sunny day. The truth is, I wanted a lot of things that anorexia could not give me. But there is one reason that screamed louder and shone brighter than the rest. Something I craved more than brownies or hip-hugging jeans. 

 Connection. I desperately wanted to feel connected to other people. 

Like and addiction or an abusive partner, my anorexia could only survive if it had me all to itself, keeping the threat of worried well-meaning friends and family as far away as possible. Anorexia convinced me, a once outgoing, social sorority girl who loved to travel and dance, that I was an withdrawn, anti-social freak. It told me that the only way to ensure my cancer wouldn’t return, my husband would stop drinking, and my kids would be safe and happy was to put stringent rules into place. It promised me that comfort was found only in calories counted and miles logged rather than on a friend’s shoulder or a night out with the girls. Desperate to feel less crazy, I bought what anorexia was selling.

Every week in treatment Kirsten would have me fill out a diary card to focus on a specific goal. This is the one that came up most often ( highlighted).

While my dietician, Gretchen was working on my body, my therapist, Kirsten was working on my mind, trying to help me reverse the damage that years of having an eating disorder inflicted. During our weekly sessions, Kirsten taught me to question every rule I had put into place over the years. To push back against the thinking that kept me isolated from other people. To face down the angry lion, I was sure would pounce if I let loose of my self-control. Although, in theory, I understood the skill Kirsten was teaching, in practice, it was hard. Often creating long awkward moments during our sessions, the silence gradually swelling, ultimately filling the office and threatening to bust the windows open as I tried to find the answers.

And I needed answers because I was facing a problem. A test of my recovery process. The first since I had started treatment a month earlier. Like the carrot cake, I was being offered something I desperately wanted, only bigger. More critical. And instead of digging in with both hands, I was searching for reasons to deny myself. Not because I didn’t want it but because I wanted it so badly.

I knew what I wanted to do. I knew what I had to do. I knew what I should do. I just didn’t think I had the courage to do it.

While in treatment I would look at old pictures to remind myself of the person I really am and why I was fighting so hard to find her again.

From left; Buying chestnuts in Venice, My twenty oner with my sorority sisters, college graduation with my bestie, Polly.

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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)


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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