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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

"You should get a burger," my husband Marc said to me last weekend. We were in the Moda Center for a Portland Trailblazers playoff game with my son and my dad, and we were all dispersing to find our food of choice to take to our seats.

“Nope," I replied, giving him my signature eye roll, "I'm going to get my favorite," referring to the sweet beet bowl at Plum Tasty that I had come to love when at Blazer games.

"Oh, come on,”Marc said, teasing me,"we are at a ball game."

"And?" I said, curious as to where he was going to go with this little game of his.

"And burgers are what you are supposed to eat at a hoops game," he said as I turned and walked away from him.

Supposed to eat.

Six years ago, when I had entered into treatment for anorexia, Marc's comment, teasing or not, would have sent me, heart pounding and hands sweating to the nearest burger line. I was so desperate to be "normal" to escape the feeling of being the weird one that I would have tried to choke down a burger like I thought everyone else did. After all, I was in a crowd of 20,000 sports fans whom I was sure had it all figured out. Burgers. Pizza and beer, a lot of beer, were what I convinced myself normal people consumed at a sporting event.

Funny how much I relied on the silent guidance of strangers to determine what was right for me. (2018)

For years part of my recovery process was watching people. I studied my dinner club, some eating raw oysters while others daring no seafood at all. I pretended not to watch my tennis teammates at our match luncheons, a few of the women munching gooey chocolate chip cookies before their match, others not eating a bite until after. I noted my yoga buddies roll up their mats after class, some making a beeline for the treadmill, while others headed out for coffee. I watched strangers in sidewalk cafe's while on my after-dinner walks eating a late-night meal and noticed my girlfriends on our getaway trips, some up early and ready to hike with me while others sleeping in and spending the day by the pool. And then there is my husband, preferring to snack his way through the day, not needing to eat a meal at all.

Like a dog chasing its tail, I spent hours upon days trying to catch onto normal. Finally, I thought when I figured it out, I was confident I would fit in, find happiness, and be cured.

But I didn't find normal. Shocker, I know. It has sucked in a way because it has made my recovery much harder. No normal means there is no formula I can follow and no rules I can play by. There is no secret club in which if I just find the code, the doors will dramatically swing open, and I will be IN.

I've had to learn to sit still, focus and pay attention to myself. Then, relearning what I want to eat rather than what I should(or shouldn't) eat, exercise in a rewarding and not punishing way, and recognize that it is okay to have preferences that differ from others. I have had to stop looking outward for what feels good for me and trust I have the answer within myself. Then, one day at a time, having the courage to do what I want rather than what I think I should. That continues to be the hardest part.

A Sweet Beet bowl and a red blend a ball game. And I lived to tell about it. (Moda Center, pre COVID 2020).

But, I have learned I can eat a warm bowl of lentils, beets, and sweet potatoes in the middle of a sporting event without my face up on the big screen with the word "outcast" imposed over my head.

And that is a huge step indeed.

  • sherrisacconaghi

“I am not eating that," I said adamantly to my dinner club group. We were sitting at a popular Russian restaurant in town tossing around food suggestions from the menu, when Sandie enthusiastically suggested the braised rabbit.

"We can get other stuff too," my friend Heather said, reacting to my distain, and continued on with suggestions she thought I might like.

Part of me wanted the group to push me. To ignore my rabbit denial and coerce me into trying it. They, of course, never would, but they had also never had to. The group had heard it all before, my initial refusal, my nose wrinkling up in a "that's disgusting "way when food that made me uncomfortable was selected. Yet, every time I consumed what was brought to the table.

It was my rule.

I love rules. There is a security in knowing there are expectations and, being a firstborn, competitive perfectionist, I will strive to meet if not exceed them. It is why anorexia and I worked so well together.

I can only eat eight hundred calories a day. Done.

I must run ten miles today. No problem, I’ll do twelve.

Breakfast cannot be later than 8 AM. It will be ready by 7AM.

The scale cannot go above one hundred pounds. I'll stick to ninety-nine, just to be safe.

And although it is that rigid rule-bound thinking that got me into my plight, I found that it also helped to get me out. And Dinner Club is a significant one.

When the idea of Dinner Club was created, I was four months into treatment, and no one in

Dinner Club travels too! (The Henry, Phoenix, AZ, 2018).

the group had a clue I was wrestling with and in treatment for, anorexia. I desperately wanted to be a part of this "club" as I loved spending time with these four ladies. Women I had initially met through tennis and soon formed a close friendship with off the court. The plan was, every month, we would try a top-rated restaurant in the Portland area. Choosing only those with rave reviews, delicious farm-to-table ingredients, and creative menus. To get the most from each experience, we would get small plates and share. I was excited at the thought of it. But, I was petrified at the actual doing of it.

"I'll just order my own thing, right? I said to my therapist Kirsten when I proudly told her I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone by agreeing to be part of Dinner Club.

"What is more important here?" Kirsten said, making a point more then asking a question, "the food or being part of the tribe?"

After years of feeling different, freakish, and isolated, I decided being a part of a tribe was worth the discomfort of facing down my fear of food. But I was afraid when our first dinner club night arrived, I would not be able to follow through. Fearful, I would cave and order my own meal. Something safe. And worst of all, I was afraid they would not invite me back.

So I made a rule. On Dinner Club outings, I would eat or at least try whatever was ordered. No excuses and no exceptions. Once a month for two years, I focused on following my new rule and breaking my old ones. Conquering fried chicken, I ventured into lamb, daring a bite of quail and chanced a brisket taco. With trepidation, I choked down octopus waffles, and with joy, I devoured date cake (the best dessert ever!).

Actually, no matter what we do, food is usually involved. (Portland Rose Garden, 2021).

For two years, as I became more rooted in recovery, Dinner Club outings became easier. More natural. I found myself thinking less about the food and more about being with a fantastic group of women, until the rabbit. I was pissed that night when we left the Russian restaurant, and I had not tried it. I broke my rule, but more importantly, having been out of treatment for eight months, I feared I might be getting complacent and falling back onto my old habits.

But I see now that the dinner outing was significant. By refusing the rabbit, I wasn't at risk of a setback. On the contrary, I was on the brink of a breakthrough.

Lamb Neck at Arden Quail at Imperial Date cake at Joolz

  • sherrisacconaghi

My friend, *Mary, is a recovering alcoholic. Last year, after being sober for several years, she relapsed. When she told me, I was heartbroken for her as I knew how hard she was working to maintain her sobriety, but I wasn't surprised. To those who don’t know her well, Mary was sober. She did not drink at social gatherings, she did not tempt herself by frequenting her old "watering holes, and she attended AA meetings weekly. But, having been friends with Mary through a prior relapse, I saw the subtle signs creeping in. She was edgy, snapping at me for not returning a text or siding with her on one of her increasing complaints. And she began to "pile on." Turning the little things that occurred throughout her day, a work meeting gone long, a extra needed trip to the grocery store, or going to her son's soccer game into huge inconvenient tasks. Mary had relapsed before her lips ever touched the bottle.

"Why didn't you say something to me," Mary said when she got back on track, and I, after much Alanon soul searching, shared with her my observations.

"Would you have believed me?" I asked.

When my dietician Gretchen finally handed me my" walking papers" and I left her office for that final day, I felt like Mary Tyler Moore, spinning around on the sidewalk joyfully tossing my blue beret into the air. But simmering under the initial elation, was a fear, I wasn’t going to “make it after all.” Although overall, I liked the way my body looked, the increased energy, and the clothing choices available to me in adult sizes, I was not entirely comfortable in it. I was still very aware of my slight tummy pooch as I glanced sideways in a mirror, the way I felt my breasts bounced when I ran for a ball, and how the waistband of my jeans left an indentation on my skin when I took them off for the night. I was afraid without Gretchen and Kirsten's watchful eyes on me, I would, within a week, take my years of hard work and destroy it with one step on the scale or run on the treadmill.

Some days the best you can do is to just hang on. ( Zion, 2019)

Man, I have had the opportunity for a great deal of learning these past two post-treatment years.

I quickly learned staying in recovery means I have to be on alert. Anorexia is sneaky. It can creep up like a cat, silently hiding unaware until it pounces on its unsuspecting prey. Unlike some other addictions, I cannot "blow it" overnight. I do not have to worry that if I go one night without ice cream or play tennis twice in one day, I will wake up the next morning, and my pants will slide down my body. I have learned I can say no to a dinner out with friends without the fear it will turn me into an isolated shell. But I have to be aware of the feeling those activities elicit in me. The sense of control over denying myself something I crave, the high from prolonged exercise, or the comfort and safety of routine. I have to be deliberate in my choices. When left unchecked, especially in times of emotional stress, these occasional occurrences can quickly spiral into old rituals and routines that signal danger is ahead.

Recovery is catching a relapse in my behavior well before I notice it on my body.

*Name and slight details changed to protect anonymity.



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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