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

This blog, Skinny-Truth, has been a tremendously positive experience for me in so many ways.  I do not regret a single word. I have become comfortable talking about my experience with anorexia, however, when asked what kind of writing I do, I sometimes find myself hesitating. Depending on the situation, I will  gloss over my  blog and go with a more general, "Oh, I write mom blog-type stuff." Because I have learned, the word anorexia can be a conversation killer. 

Jane Doe: What do you do for a living?

Me: I am a writer.

JD: Nice. What kind of writing do you do?

Me: Well, mostly I write about my struggle with anorexia.

JD: Oh.

Que the silence, enter subject change.

Anorexia is a taboo word that is known to be used in high school hallways, or in my case, grocery stores, restaurants, or the gym, lurking quietly behind lockers (or piles of bananas) with stolen glances or muttered whispers.  Saying it outloud is like dropping the  F-bomb in Sunday mass, it shocks people    

And I get it. 

In those first sessions with Kirsten and Gretchen, the word anorexia rolled off their tongues so easily. Even in their voices, Kirsten's soothing and Gretchen's motherly, the word sounded harsh to my ears, full of sharp edges.  To them, anorexia was an illness. A disease that called for compassion and understanding, like cancer. To me, it represented weakness and failure, the word causing a wave of shame to cascade down my body like a cold shower.

Although by the time I reached out for help, I knew I was unhealthy but being referred to so casually as a person with anorexia not only made me flinch, it kind of pissed me off. Like when I used to argue with my husband, and he said something stupid like I "always" overreact, or I "never" admit when I am wrong, and I calmly begged to differ telling him exactly why he was is wrong, and I was right. ( Now we don’t argue much because we both just agree I am right.)  In these early treatment sessions, I wanted a chance to discuss, plead my case, and tell K and G why I thought they were wrong.

I turned 52 this week. Definitely no shame in THAT! (COVID, 2020).

"I don’t think I’m fat," I said, "I’m not dysmorphic."

"I eat food," I pleaded, "and never once have I thrown it up."

"I just love to exercise” I argued, “it's not about my weight”.

I wanted to argue. I wanted to be angry, so I could use it as an excuse to convince myself that these professionals had me wrong so I should quit them.

 But neither Gretchen nor Kirsten would engage, instead of answering with neutrality;

That may be true.

I imagine it feels that way.

Would you consider a different perspective?

God, they were frustrating and nearly impossible to argue with. And although they continued to speak matter of factly of anorexia and how it related to me. I could not (would not) bring myself to do so.

I bring this up because I realize in my writing and speaking opportunities, I now speak freely of having been a person with anorexia, but even now the word can catch on my tongue. Like a sip of scalding coffee, the word anorexia and what it represents is sometimes still difficult for me to swallow. But now, when it gets stuck, it is no longer because I feel embarrassed about my struggle.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Instead, now when speak about anorexia, I feel overcome with emotion; Gratitude, love, pride, and joy for having overcome this disease. Mixed in with a little regret and sadness for the years I missed out on so much while in the midst of it. But no matter the feelings that emerge I no longer live cloaked in shame for having struggled with it.

And that in itself has been worth fighting for.

  • sherrisacconaghi

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.

  • sherrisacconaghi

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.


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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