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

“Take some chocolate.” My father in law said as he offered the candy dish to me.

It was impossible to exit my in-law’s house without passing by the crystal bowl on the entryway table overflowing with M & M’s, foil-wrapped chocolate crème mints, and Hershey’s kisses.  My husband, Marc, was taking one last handful as we walked toward the door to leave and, as usual, I walked past with no intention of partaking in the treats. 

“No, thanks. I’m fine,” I said picking at an invisible piece of lint on my favorite black sleeveless sundress, praying he would let the conversation drop.   

“You need to eat!” He shouted, a demand, not a statement, “you are a skeleton!”

Neil’s words expressed the opinions many, including me, silently held about my body.

At five foot eight and ninety-eight pounds, I had developed an emotional armor from the comments made by random strangers on my thin frame, their opinions about my body thrown at me like darts at game board, but Neil’s comment hit the bullseye.

Pressured silence filled the foyer, like a balloon pumped with too much helium. Surely my husband would step in and tell his dad to back off.  I waited for what felt like five minutes, unsure of how to respond.  The tick of the grandfather clock nestled in the corner of the adjacent living room was pounding in my ears.  My heart beating so rapidly, I was sure it might shoot through my chest at any moment.

“You look like walking death!” Neil shouted, filling the silence, his face flushed, and his hands shaking, causing the candy to spill from the bowl he still held in his hand.

My eyes widened, and I felt my cheeks start to burn. Sharon, Neil’s wife, held her hand to her mouth as if she was trying to stop his words by stuffing her own.  My husband and Sharon looked at each other, neither making eye contact with me.  I felt a bead of sweat start to trickle down my back as I sent my husband a pleading look, silently begging him to make his father stop before any more of his words shot towards me like bullets from a gun.

“Dad stop,” I heard Marc say as I turned and ran out of the house to the car.   My black flip flops scraping the ground, making my exit more of a shuffle than a run, relieved that Marc was following closely behind me, as part of me wondered if he would stay to console his dad or leave in support of me. As we drove away, I turned to see my father in law standing on the front porch, his face drained of color, his eyes looking toward the ground.  I, like a shaken can of soda, exploded into tears.

“Who the fuck says that to someone?” My words stuttering through violent sobs,  “how could you let your father treat me like that?”

“It caught me off guard,” Marc stammered. “I didn’t know what to say.”

“Do you think it is true?” I choked, “do I look that bad?”

My husband stared silently at the road in front of us, his hands gripping the steering wheel as if it were a life preserver, and he was a drowning man.  

It didn’t matter; I knew the answer.

A family birthday celebration for Neil’s 80th birthday.

My father in law was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s at the time.  His internal filter impaired by the disease, making his comments more genuine, like a child who speaks their truth without the awareness of social acceptability.  Neil expressed what he, and others, saw when they looked at me.  

Neil passed away a year after the candy dish incident, an aggressive form of cancer sadly taking his life before I had the awareness or the opportunity to thank him for his part in saving mine.

  • sherrisacconaghi

Please tell me this gets easier. I texted to Katie, a woman I had met in my recovery group the first week in treatment. Although twenty years younger, she was light years ahead of me in the recovery process.  

I had reached out to Katie in despair. Sitting at my kitchen counter eating lunch, frustrated, and disgusted by the way the waistband of my favorite jeans were cutting into my slowly expanding stomach. I was trying to choke down the other half of half of a turkey sandwich. It sat staring back at me from the plate, daring me to eat it like some schoolyard bully, and I desperately wanted to get away from it but I had made an agreement with my dietician earlier that week that I would not stop eating my meals until I was uncomfortably full. And I hated it. 

Thoughts of my great turkey escape plan were disrupted by the ping of the phone, my hand brushing over my eyes to wipe tears of frustration that were blurring my vision. It gets harder then it gets easier, Katie’s response read. It sucks, and I’m sorry.

I dreaded the feeling of being full. I spent over a decade of my life, avoiding it. I can count on one finger the time I let my guard down; the details stick out in my mind like splotches of black paint on a white wall. It was Thanksgiving , a night traditionally known for overeating, sitting back in your chair, loosening your belt and complaining about being full. Well, for most people, not me. That year we had decided on an extended family dinner at a lovely seafood restaurant in town. I was wearing black Tribal pants, a bronze crepe blouse, and our server was a single mom named Teresa who was fantastic. The restaurant was loud but the view of the city was spectacular. I had passed on the traditional turkey dinner they were offering and opted for grilled halibut and steamed vegetables. Comfortably not full after my light dinner, I had no plans for dessert. We all agreed to share several items amongst the table. Some pumpkin pie, pass. A piece of berry cobbler, pass. A slice of key lime pie, OMG. The oversized creamy, tart confection was so tempting I caved and had just a bite, unraveling any self control I had managed to maintain throughout the meal. I ate the whole piece before I even had a chance to stop myself, leaving the restaurant full and distended and numb. I woke the next morning full of regret and disgust as if I had a one night stand with the bartender not a slice of pie.

Key lime pie night, commemorated in our family Christmas card that year. As if I would ever forget.

I strived for hungry. I craved hungry, like I imagine a heroin addict lusts after their next hit. There was something about feeling hungry, that made me feel euphoric. Even if I had a shitty day, felt disconnected from my husband, lost a tennis match, or had an ugly argument with my son, in moments of hunger, those bad feelings floated away, kind of like being slightly drunk. The buzz leaving me believing that I could do or be anything. I love my life; I am so lucky, the world is great and I am perfectly fine. I would find myself lost in the rituals of making meals, drawing out the process allowing the chopping, weighing, and measuring to consume me, my stomach rumbling with the anticipation of eating my plate of roasted vegetables yet hesitating not wanting the feeling of happy lightness to end. I was an addict, and hunger was my drug.  

  • sherrisacconaghi

Updated: Apr 21

"Mom, why are you always weighing your food?" I remember my son Dylan asking me several years ago in a tone that made it difficult for me to determine if he was angry or teasing. I was standing at the counter weighing the brussels sprouts I had planned on eating for dinner.

Oh shit, shit, shit shit, completely caught off guard, my mind was whirling over how to respond. I was shocked his self absorbed teenaged brain paid any attention to what I was doing.  I was confident “I need to control every morsel of food that goes into my mouth so I don't cave and eat everything in sight”, although the truth, was not the answer I was going to give. 

"I mean, if you are hungry, just eat," He continued, ignoring my panicked silence, as he grabbed a plate for the two greasy, cheesy, sandwiches he had just grilled, the sight of them making my mouth water and my stomach rumble. 

"Well, I uh……" I stuttered, still trying to produce something that would make sense to a fourteen-year-old boy. Or a forty-seven-year-old woman.

"You are so skinny, you should eat five of these right now," He interrupted, holding up the plate so I could see as if I hadn't been mesmerized by them for the past five minutes.

"Dylan, you know I don't care for stuff like that," I said offhandedly, ensuring to use the words “care for” instead of “eat”,  hoping he would let the subject drop. 

"Dude, it is so F*%@ked up," he murmured as he walked away towards his room, leaving me so relieved I didn't even attempt to scold him for his questionable vocabulary.  I’m going to have to be more careful from here on out.

I was determined to stick to my healthy, green restricted way of eating but man o man, I wanted what he was having. (2015, Sunriver)

He was right, of course. There I stood at five feet eight inches tall, weighing ninety-nine pounds and standing over a food scale, measuring out vegetables. It was so effed up.  

Sense or not, I felt compelled to do it. For all my talk about wanting to gain weight, when restricted activity gave me a chance to do so, I did an about-face, again. Not ready to fight that battle, I retreated back into a safe space of food scales and measuring cups. A habit I did not practice as diligently when I was exercising,  but with movement hindered by my still-healing leg, I returned to my trusty kitchen tools to keep from falling into the lazy, undisciplined pit that I believed accompanied a life without purposeful exercise. I was sure my strict food patrolling would keep my self-discipline in check, so when it came time to hit the gym again full speed, I would not find myself unable to put down the imagined brownies, milkshakes and cinnamon bears and get my poochy stomach and jiggly thighs off the couch.

And it worked.  Eight weeks later, I was back at it,  ready to prove I could still jump squat, burpee and leg press faster and heavier than ever. Like a wilted houseplant being given water, the burn of rigorous activity seeped through my body,  making me feel alive again. And best of all, I could put away the food scales, and add back my exercise earned favorites like low-fat ice cream, mini bagels, and extra Tootsie rolls. 

But I didn't. 

I couldn’t bring myself to put the measuring devices aside, to ease up on the rigid restriction, even when my tired, sore, body and rumbling stomach begged me for more food.  It turns out that food scales and wind sprints have a lot in common.


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