By Diane Corso
I am a mom with an eating disorder.
Those were once difficult words for me to say out loud.
There is a myth that anorexia is only an adolescent disorder. However, 13 percent of American women 50 or older experience eating disorder symptoms. I am one of them.
My Secret Life
I developed anorexia in my 20s and also suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Up until my three boys were born 12 years ago, I considered myself reasonably “successful” at living with my disordered eating patterns, extreme exercise and social isolation without disrupting too many people in my life. In truth, I wasn’t hiding it as well as I thought, but in my mind, this secret world I lived in wasn’t hurting others.
Pregnancy — A New Joy Confronts an Old Enemy
Before I became pregnant with my triplets in 2010, I had miscarried three times. So, when I first received the news, I was on cloud nine. For about 24 hours, this new joy erased my eating demons and treadmill compulsion.
But that didn’t last.
The battle between my eating disorder and my maternal instinct began. Eventually, my lack of weight gain landed me in the hospital. The needs of my three little miracles were losing the tug-of-war with the voice in my head. A feeding tube was inserted to sustain all four of our lives.
My Two Worlds Collide
At 32 weeks, Max, Sam, and Luke were born. They were beautiful and healthy — my answered prayers.
All throughout my pregnancy, nurses, doctors, family and friends told me that as soon as I laid eyes on my sweet babies, my previous life — that was plagued by my anorexic and OCD demons — would cease to exist. I would no longer think of my “safe” foods, the next mile or counting calories. I felt immense guilt when this did not happen. My boys stole my heart, and I felt immeasurable love, but the voice racing through my mind that fueled my eating disorder remained.
I was determined that these two worlds would never collide. The juggling act just became a bit trickier.
The Tightening Grip of My Eating Disorder
I didn’t second guess my anorexia. I really felt I had no other choice. I simply didn’t know how to live without it. And in some ways, being a new mother, especially to triplets, made it easier to engage in the disorder without questions from my family and friends.
Having three newborns at home is time consuming to say the least, and everything had to be on a schedule — something upon which I thrive. I also felt the need to be in control and to be their primary caregiver. This meant I was involved in every aspect of their daily needs, leaving little time to sit down and eat.
In addition, everyone was telling me I couldn’t do this all on my own and needed to accept help. However, I wanted to mother on my own, so their words felt like criticism and served only to create stress. Of course, my coping mechanism for stress had always been under-eating and overexercising. I simply did not know how to live my life without those behaviors, so I became better at hiding them.
Inspiration, Determination and Baby Steps to Break Free
Despite the tightening grip my eating disorder held on me, my boys are my whole world and have inspired me to live a better a life. They are now 12, and while my battle against anorexia continues to this day, I have made strides toward a life freer from it.
What I came to realize is that there was only one way off my treadmill and that is taking one small step at a time. The very first step for me was honesty and transparency — I am a mom with an eating disorder.
Next, I began testing myself by tweaking the rules my eating disorder forced me to follow, creating new, healthier patterns in my life:
Gradually taking minutes off my daily exercise time — sometimes in increments as small as 15 minutes
Shortening my workouts by telling the voice in my head that the rest of my workout will come after other things, like taking care of the boys and attending their school events
Slowly adding new foods to my limited diet
Changing the order in which I eat foods
Taking a break from running and trying a cycling studio
I trick my eating disorder and take back a sense of ownership. At first this was very hard but the more I did it, the more I realized the result was not only freeing, but enjoyable.
Do I have setbacks? Yes. Do I punish myself because of them? No.
I have come to realize that I will have to battle the primary urges of my anorexia and OCD — disordered eating and compulsive exercise — for the rest of my life. However, thanks to becoming mom to Max, Sam, and Luke, I am determined that it is a fight worth fighting.