I know some people fundamentally do not understand how it feels to be enthralled—and I mean an evil, cast-a-spell, I’m addicted kind of enthralled—by food. I also know that some of us who are, who have always struggled, are married to, or best friends with, or office suite-mates with people who have never experienced what we’ve experienced.
Can we ever explain?
I was just washing dishes. I’m not hungry, and I’m feeling rather proud and excited that I have lost 53 pounds and become a regular exerciser. Scrubbing away, I was thinking of my Thanksgiving check list.
We’ve planned a moderately healthy meal, and I’m bringing several dishes that will be both delicious and totally in line with my eating plan. I started thinking about how many servings of one of the desserts we’ll need. It is a pumpkin custard/parfait, so it will be in individual glasses. I like pumpkin, but I’m not crazy about it, so I thought it would be easy for me to resist. And, I still may garnish it with candied almonds just for insurance. 😉
My thought process:
Hmmmm … there will be a few smaller kids present. One of them is too young for a dessert served in a wineglass … the kids will want it because parfaits look cool … should I make it in a ramekin or bring a more kid-friendly dessert … a chocolate pudding parfait … plastic glasses perhaps … maybe a few sugar cookies decorated by that cute little shop will taste better to the kids anyway … OH MY GOD THE TURKEY CAKE … CAN I GET A TURKEY CAKE … THERE ARE ONLY 3 KIDS AND THE CAKE IS SO BIG …TURKEY CAKE … TURRRRRRKEEEEEY CAAAAAAAKE …
I was just standing there, thinking about this cake, with the water running and sponge in my hand. Quick, I thought, to the blog! Write about it and get it out of your system.
I’m a baker, and a damn good one, frankly, so I get put in charge of desserts or I assert dominion over that part of the menu at large holiday gatherings. I enjoy making elaborate, sophisticated cakes that are really designed for adults. Not full of booze or naughty frosting decorations kind of adult, but things like bittersweet chocolate or herbs in shortbread or meyer lemon curd instead of milk chocolate and peanut butter and sprinkles.
It has to have been five or six years ago now, but one of the adults with children brought a grocery store cake to Thanksgiving. Next to my cakes and pies, it looked a little like a trashy hooker, frankly, standing next to a bunch of genteel older church ladies. Maybe a better analogy is that mine looked like shabby chic furniture at an elegant Carolina beach cottage and this store-bought cake looked like a Danish modern dining room with Nagel prints on the wall. Just a totally different aesthetic.
The cake was frosted to look like a turkey with a multi-colored peacock tail. Frosting dyed alarming colors of orange, bright blue, shocking green, startling yellow, deep purple, and attention-grabbing red was glooped and globbed on top of the dark brown chocolate layer of feathers. I bet the frosting was 3 or 4 inches deep in some places, and maybe deeper. The tail didn’t stand up off of the cake, but was just layered on top.
The rational adult in me was looking forward to a sophisticated slice of meyer lemon tart. The rational adult in me apparently had an out-of-body experience and went to someone else’s house, because from the minute that turkey cake got cut and served to the kids, the irrational, sugar-fat-enthralled me found every possible reason to keep walking past it.
Taking little bites. Cutting small pieces. Swiping frosting with my fingers, which I would then have to scrub lest the frosting permanently dye them. I also had to scrub out my mouth, because of course the colors had stained my tongue as well. I cleared the kids’ plates so I’d have an excuse to eat one little bite and get a little more frosting on my thumb accidentally. I think I eventually ate about a third of the cake.
I completely lost the ability to focus on anything other than getting some of that cake.
I imagine that is what it is like to be a drug addict in a room with people who are doing your drug of choice but not offering you any. You can’t look away or think about anything else.
When I read about people who compulsively shoplift, that sounds familiar, too. The absolute rush of anticipation followed by the release of doing the deed. For them, stealing the lipstick. For me, swallowing the frosting. Being on the brink of pain, agitated, jumpy until the sugar and fat hit my blood stream.
It is horrible and upsetting and isn’t something that you can just snap out of. I was ashamed of my behavior, trying to hide it, but unable to stop it.
I’m feeling so much stronger these days. I’ve learned so much more about what eating food like that can do to me, learned it both intellectually and through experience. I’ve learned new habits and coping skills. I’ve made it through depression and removed triggers from my life. I’ve enlisted friends and family members to support me. But I’m always afraid, a little bit, in the back of my mind, that the compulsion could seize me at any moment.
So, if you’ve never understood, you are lucky. It may never be real to you, but it is real to some people, and incredibly challenging to live with year in, year out. One little bite may be one bite too many, whether it is Thanksgiving or not, whether it is a special celebration or not.
If someone you love and care about has a problem with compulsive eating, find out what they’re worried about, and see what you can do to be supportive and remove triggers from the environment, or remove them from the environment. I’m sure we’re all about to scream uncle if one more article points out that you can just go for a walk to avoid temptation, but you can. You can also just box up, cover, or even throw away the food.
In my darker moments, I’m anxious for January to arrive and the holidays to be over, and they haven’t even started. Sigh. I’ll go for a walk and turn it around.