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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The woman walked towards me with her racquet in hand. I guessed her to be about fifteen years older than I, in her late fifties. With a support brace around one knee and feet the size of snowshoes, I assumed she had walked onto the wrong court, taking her for a doubles player, not the opponent for my singles match. But as we introduced ourselves, I realized she was indeed there for me. Her name was Blanche.  

OMG, this is going to be an easy one today, I thought to myself, relieved.   I considered myself a pretty good tennis player. Still, I had no real weapon except for my endurance, which was surprisingly endless despite my low weight. It's how I won most of my matches, getting every ball back across the net until my opponent got tired and made mistakes. With her arthritic knee, big feet, and more advanced age, Blanche posed no real threat to my runner's lungs or my winning record. 

She ended up beating me 6-1, 6-3. 

I had no idea what to expect when I stepped onto the front porch. The initial conversation with Gretchen, the dietician Kirsten had steered me towards, was brief, just long enough to set up an appointment. I had learned that Gretchen was a meditation teacher and liked yoga. It didn't exactly scream hard-ass, which was fine by me. Despite my courageous plea in Kirsten's office the week earlier, I wasn't completely ready to dive into recovery with both feet. Regardless, the lies I told myself, that I could recover without changing my lifestyle, I knew that recovery would mean letting go of many of the behaviors that had become an essential part of my existence. Like breathing, I couldn't imagine waking up in the morning and not exercising for hours.  Cooking without weighing out the right amount of protein and eating meals when I felt hungry, not when I was "supposed to." I had become envious of my friends who could live more flexible, less structured lives. Seemingly free of obsessive thoughts about food, exercise, and extra pounds. But I couldn't see that for me. Over the years, I had tried so many times to free myself from my obsessive, anxious, rigid, rule-bound life, to no avail. I didn't think I could do it, and I was pretty sure a zen, hippie-like dietitian was not going to be much help.

For the first time in over a decade, with a support team in place, I felt at peace. (2016, the week before I delved into treatment).)

I took a deep breath and pasted a smile on my face as Gretchen answered the door of the beautiful old Portland home in which she had her office. We politely exchanged pleasantries while I took in every inch of this new dietician. Her petite frame and spunky short red hair contrasted against her pale skin and delicate features making me think of a fairy, like Tinkerbell. She wore a knit purple dress with a red leather jacket, making her look hip, slightly edgy, and younger than what I estimated to be her sixty-ish years. But it was her eyes that caught my attention. Like a veteran of war or wise grandparent, they held the wisdom of a person who had seen a few things. The way she held my gaze, direct but welcoming, stern yet compassionate, throwing off my "read the room" radar that I'd come to rely on in new situations. Something told me Gretchen had been at this game for a long time, and once again I allowed a feeling of hope to swell through my body. My anorexic brain, however, was panicking, making it hard for me to focus, trying to convince me to do an about-face and walk and walk out the door.  

In both hope and fear, what I suspected was, in this woman, I had met my match.

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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?


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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