My mother was a wonderful woman. She had so much life and energy when I was growing up, that it seemed like she could do anything. But when her father passed away suddenly, everything changed for her. It started with the simple things, like no longer getting up early in the morning to hit the stationary bike for 15 minutes before starting her day. Instead, she spent most of her time sitting in her recliner watching television and working on crossword puzzles.

Not far from the recliner, in the kitchen, sat a sheet of lemon cake every day – never baked by anyone else but my mom herself. Our entire family would grab a slice each time we walked by, until by nightfall there wasn’t a crumb left on the plate.

At the time, I mean, as a kid, of course you think it’s cool.

man wearing knit cap on grey background

I knew that this wasn’t healthy, but she wouldn’t listen to me or anyone else in our family as we tried to help her. Let me rephrase this: she wouldn’t listen to me alone. No one else really said anything. Not that it would have helped! She was so intensely stubborn.

Eventually she succumbed to cancer brought on by the unhealthy lifestyle. And of course it broke my heart knowing that there had been warning signs along the way that could have saved her life. But, of course we all realize that back then the times were different.

For example, therapy wasn’t such a thing back then as it is now! No kidding, the language of the culture has shifted since then. Terms like gaslighting and projection are sort of embedded in the language many of us carry around in 2023. And it’s more socially acceptable to reach out and seek help. Back then, a person was sort of on their own.


And believe it or not, even though she was so heavy, I didn’t see it. Even my friends would say, “You mom’s not heavy. She’s big boned.”  “She is?” And I would repeat to myself as a kid, “She’s not overweight.” It wasn’t until I was 19 and in therapy that the therapist brought up my mom, because he had seen her.

“My mom’s overweight?” I asked him, in disbelief.

Eventually I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together. I realized she was using food as an escape from all her troubles and sorrows associated with losing her dad. Add to this, from growing up, being emotionally abused by a stepmother who was right out of Snow White.

The Many Forms

Eating disorders can take many forms, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. These conditions can lead to significant physical and mental health issues, including heart problems, digestive issues, depression, anxiety, and even death. It’s essential to seek help as soon as possible if you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of an eating disorder.

The first step in overcoming an eating disorder is to recognize the signs and symptoms. These can include restricting food intake, binge eating, purging behaviors, obsessive thoughts about food and weight, and changes in weight or eating patterns.

Eating Disorder Treatment

Therapy is an essential component of treating eating disorders. Professional therapists can help you address the underlying psychological factors that contribute to your eating disorder, such as negative body image, low self-esteem, and anxiety. Therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and family-based therapy (FBT) are evidence-based treatments that can help individuals with their eating disorders.

Finding the Right Therapist

When seeking treatment for an eating disorder, it’s essential to find a therapist and treatment center that specializes in treating eating disorders. Look for professionals with experience in treating your specific condition and who use evidence-based therapies. You can also ask for recommendations from your primary care physician or trusted friends and family members.

Finally, remember that overcoming an eating disorder is a journey, and recovery takes time. It’s essential to be patient and kind to yourself throughout the process. Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends and family members and engage in self-care practices such as mindfulness, exercise, and hobbies to help manage stress and promote well-being.

Food as an Escape

Through therapy, I came to understand that my mother was using food as an escape from her emotional pain. The loss of her father and the emotional abuse she suffered from her stepmother had taken a toll on her, leading to her unhealthy coping mechanisms.

It was good for me to go find a counselor, as well, so I didn’t fall into the same rabbit holes. All these years later, again, it is more socially acceptable to seek therapy. And I think we are getting there as a culture. We must be willing to confront our pain and work through it in healthy ways. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength and a willingness to grow and heal.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, if you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, seeking professional help is crucial. Therapies such as CBT, DBT, and FBT can help individuals overcome their eating disorders. Medical and nutritional support may also be necessary. Remember to seek help from professionals with experience in treating eating disorders and to be patient and kind to yourself throughout the recovery process.

Here are some links to turn to if you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder:

Kelli Larson, LCPC – (406) 241-8213

John Michaels is a local Missoula author who graduated from Brown University in creative writing. In between raising kids, he spends his time meandering around downtown Missoula, writing screenplays, playing chess, and working at Sunflower Counseling, MT.