SKINNY

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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  • sherrisacconaghi

“I am aiming for seventeen hundred calories a day,” my sixteen-year-old son said to me a few days ago, as he came down the stairs, looking for a t-shirt to throw on his lanky five foot eleven frame. Housebound and bored, this COVID-19 epidemic has driven him off his Xbox and into some fitness kick. Silver linings.


I’m always on the lookout for how my disease may have affected them. (COVID cooking, 2019)

“Why are you concerned about that?” I said, feeling immediately uneasy that he was going down this road. I have always harbored a fear that my food and body issues have rubbed off on my boys.

“I’m gonna get ripped for the summer,” he said with a gleam in his eye, flexing his already enviable six-pack abs.

“Well, regardless, that is not a sufficient number of calories,“ I said, trying to remain neutral. I wanted to give fact-based nutrition education so he wouldn’t rely on some fitness app or whacky Utube video.

“What do you mean?” My son asked, genuinely confused.

I went on to explain to him how Basal Metabolic Rate works and how much energy a body his age to needs to merely function; To keep his heart beating, his blood pumping, his nervous system clicking and after some simple math calculations, I could see his wheels spinning.

“That is a lot of calories,” he said, his eyes widening with the possibility he could eat a box of Pop-Tarts and still be "ripped.” I should have added “healthy” into my lecture.

“I wonder how much a bowl of cereal is?” he said, wandering around the kitchen, picking up a box of Honey Nut Cheerios from the pantry.

“A hundred and forty calories per cup with milk,” I blurted out, automatically catching both of us a little off guard.

“And the chicken we had for dinner, how many calories in that? He asked, I sensed he was half challenging me and half information seeking.

“One hundred and thirty per three ounces and you had about twice that, so let’s say three hundred,” I said without pause, secretly pleased with myself. For once, my child was impressed with something coming out of my mouth.

“And a banana?” he said, spying the fruit basket, keeping our game going.


One hundred calories. Check mate.

I’m happy report, that based on the mixing bowl size of Golden Grahams that just walked past me, his calorie curiosity hasn’t stuck.


Despite the lightness of our exchange, my ability to recall the numbers came so naturally, I scared myself. Even though I have not engaged in obsessive calorie counting for over a year, when presented, the topic triggered an automatic response that results from a lifelong habit, like biting fingernails or smoking cigarettes.

Tootsie Rolls. I loved them then and I love them now. A lot. ( Vintage shopping, Portland, 2015).

I had spent decades adjusting and manipulating my caloric intake depending on my energy output, keeping my body at what I believed to be my fighting weight, the weight my body felt good. My exercise routine was so demanding I could justify, on occasion, eating a small number of my favorites like tootsie rolls, Sun Chips, and low-fat ice cream. I felt I had earned those little treats.


Until the melanoma slowed me down.


Although I insisted on continuing to walk hills, play tennis, and go to the gym, due to the restricted mobility of my leg, I was unable to exercise at the intensity I had come to expect of myself. Like the engine of a small boat on an angry sea, my anxious energy was churning yet going nowhere.

It wasn’t enough movement to justify eating the amount of food in which I had become accustomed. I had lost the “wiggle room” to enjoy a little extra food on occasion, like half a homemade brownie after a long tennis match or a slice of chewy sourdough bread at my favorite Italian restaurant. I felt guilty, indulgent and lacking the self-control I had so readily come to rely on. I became laser focused on getting that control back. I knew exactly what I had to do.

  • sherrisacconaghi

I hope that doesn’t happen here! Last month when COVID-19 hit hard, and several US cities went on Shelter in Place status, I was not ready to face the reality that this virus was rapidly spreading and costing lives. And on a more primal and selfish level, I did not want to accept what it might mean for me.

Staying home, and staying healthy. Mentally and physically.( Shelter-in place 2020)

I love my routine. My favorite parts include going to the gym, playing tennis, and grocery shopping. The thought that those options could soon become unavailable caused me to land somewhere between mild discomfort and wild panic. Despite having over a solid year of recovery under my belt, I found myself engaging in some old habits. Knowing a shelter in place was inevitable for our state, I went into hoarding of a sort. Not of stuff, but activity. I went to the gym more than usual and worked out harder than I knew to be healthy for me. I played tennis everyday, sometimes up to three times in a day, dreading our pending separation like I would a best friend who was leaving the country. I went to the grocery store daily, not so much to buy stuff, but rather because I could. Although hindsight tells me buying some toilet paper might have been a good idea because living in a house with three men, I’m running dangerously low.

But here we are. Nineteen days sheltered-in-place and I am staying keenly aware of the edginess in my body and the free time on my hands. A dangerous combination for me. I am leaning on the things I learned in treatment. Sitting through the discomfort, staying connected (virtually that is) , and finding healthy ways to move my body and stimulate my brain, my healthy brain, making sure my old anorexic one stays at a very social distance. I remember what happens when I don’t.

Annual beach trip a week after surgery. Not being able to run on the beach left me feeling anxious and short tempered. ( 2015)

In 2015, with my leg in stitches my workout routine severely diminished, I felt like I was the judge in the trial, Rest Vs. Exercise and two very persuasive attorneys were on the case. Sherri Brain and Anorexic Brain, and both were playing to to win.

SB: This is the push you needed to help you take a break from exercise.

AB: It's stitches, not a broken leg. This is a test of your determination.

SB: Exercising isn’t worth infection, and disfiguration.

AB: NOT exercising isn’t worth feeling lazy. Full. Fat.

SB: This will help your body gain weight.

AB: Your body will gain too much weight.

SB: Don’t do it Sherri, it’s not a wise decision.

AB: Do it! Do It, Do it!

And like any good court case, the more persuasive side won.


So, the day after my surgery, I wrapped my leg tightly in an ace bandage, thinking it would prevent the flesh from jiggling around and ripping the stitches. I headed up and down the long steep hills in my neighborhood with an awkward limp, distracted the entire hour about what might be happening under the bandage. Worried when I got home my muscle would be exposed through the gaping, raw open wound no longer held together with the blood soaked thread.


The movement was too much for my leg but not enough for the rest of my body, or my mind.

  • sherrisacconaghi

Snow. I' m not a big fan, which made January 2017 particularly uncomfortable for me. We had a big storm. Well, big for the Pacific Northwest. It shut down our city for well over a week; the ice and snow, although beautiful, rendered the roads too dangerous to safely walk or drive on, leaving all but the most adventurous housebound.

I’m fairly certain that tree did not belong on my patio. (Snowpocolypse 2017)

I had been in outpatient treatment for anorexia less than six months when that snowstorm hit. By that time, I had limited my exercise to three things; Yoga, walking, and doubles tennis. (Although my treatment team would have preferred no tennis). Although I missed my intense exercise routine of early morning boot camp, booming cycle classes, and the exhausted high of a long singles match, I had begrudgingly settled into the discomfort of my slower-paced routine. Until that snowstorm, then I panicked. I felt trapped. I couldn't safely walk on the icy paths; the tennis center closed, and yoga alone was not going to cut it. While other people were posting pictures on social media of drinking hot cocoa by the fire and making gooey chocolate chip cookies, I was pacing the kitchen floor like a rat in a maze, desperately trying to find a way out. The need to get to the gym or go for a run intensifying so rapidly, I felt like I might explode. My exercise choices were no longer mine; nature had taken control. And there is nothing I hated more than not being in control. Fifteen months before that snowstorm, and well before treatment, I had decided to "fix" my body by a break up with running, figuring getting rid of my most intense exercise would help the weight come back on. And I always felt I had a choice. Just stop for a little bit, you can always go back. It made the thought of quitting less frightening.

Until the call.

My body was at the lacrosse tournament. My mind was on cancer. Again. (2015).

"Hi Sherri, it's Doctor Lui, is this a good time to talk?" I was in the car with my family headed to Kirkland Washington for Dylan's lacrosse tournament. "Sure. What's up?" I asked casually, trying to stay calm as if she was a friend calling to chat rather than my dermatologist with test results. This is not going to be good news. “I’m calling because one of the moles we removed last week has shown a malignancy," she explained calmly, "I would like to remove it sooner rather than later." I knew from my breast cancer days that was code for "let's not f**k around with this." Five days later, I was on the table.

"I know it looks scary," Dr. Lui said, watching the blood drain from my face as I looked the layers of stitches that extended from my upper thigh to me knee cap, "but the good news is I'm confident we got all the affected tissue." The healthy, rational part of me was relieved. Grateful, the cancer was found before it had a chance of spreading to other parts of my body, as Melanoma is prone to do. But the anxious, hungry, irrational part of my brain had more significant concerns. It was that voice in my head that was drowning out the doctor's instructions about wound care and pain management. How am I going to exercise with…. THIS?! My leg resembled more of a gory Halloween prop from an elementary school haunted house than a body part. It was currently a limb that could barely help me walk out the office door, let alone run, anywhere. So here it was, the thing I had said I wanted, something to help me stop running. To slow me down so my body could put on the weight it so desperately needed. The weight I had been saying I wanted to gain. But at that moment, I felt like a poker player who up until then, had control of the table.


And my body, had just called my bluff.

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