I broke a freshly baked cookie in half, and took a bite of the edge, saving the centre for last*. Closing my eyes to truly savour the moment, taste the multitude of flavours, the subtle fruitiness of the chocolate, the bitter caramel notes in the brown sugar, and the sharp brininess of the coarse sea salt on top. It was pure bliss and baked to perfection; a crispy yet chewy ridge around the outside and slowly moving to practically unbaked dough in the centre, thick and soft but not cakey. It’s been awhile since I have enjoyed a cookie this much.
I have not always been able to take joy in my food or let a cookie just be a cookie. Few people know this about me, I have always felt too much shame to share. Others see a young woman enjoying a cookie, I see a young woman finally enjoying her mountain top victory.
Years ago I started down the path of a very intense and extremely deadly psychiatric disease. Little did I know, every first innocent step lead me closer anorexia, an illness that somehow took the reins of my life and swallowed me hole. (I won’t give the full story now….you will see more posts about that later as it’s part of my journey of self love).
Food fell into categories of good and bad, and categories that made me good and bad. Not only did I restrict the number of calories I ate but also the types of food. But for anyone who has been on a diet might know, this pattern of omitting “bad foods” can only last so long. I wasn’t a binge eater by any stretch of the imagination but to give into these craving and to appear “normal” to those around me (or so I thought), I occasionally would have a cookie. More often than not, this was eaten in private. I had strange eating habits and felt dirty when people would see me eat perceived bad food. Shamefully I would eat the cookie, breaking it down into small pieces, directing it down to crumbs. I would pick out all the chocolate chips and line them up so I could count them, thus counting the calories. I would pick the centre of the cookie out and toss away the edges; if I was going to waste calories it would be on the best part. The greasiness and smell on my fingers gave me the sensation that I had eaten the entire thing without having to. In a manic fashion I would shove all the chocolate chips and the cookies centre in my mouth. Quite frequently I would only chew it a few times before spitting it into a tissue that I would later flush down the toilet. Even though I rarely would swallow the cookie I knew I still would have eaten a few calories. Often I would end the routine with 5 minutes of running on the spot to burn extra calories. This was a shameful ritual, and yet somehow I believe it linked to me to being a normal teen.
I look back at this now with sadness and a bit of disgust, but also with such distance. Who was this young girl holding so much pain and self loathing? Why did she think she was so bad and so unlovable…that she had to hide? How did she see this as normal?
Ironically I am now a pastry chef, surrounded by chocolate chip cookies. I don’t feel the urge to eat them all, the urge to eat them in shame in a corner or the inner rigidity to not have any. I have found peace with food (mostly) and a way to coexist; it’s a part of life whether I like it or not. I have found a way to create deeper meaning….I have found the heart of food; sharing love, creating memories and building community.
What are your memories around food? What feelings do cookies evoke for you….panic, joy, guilt shame? What is below that, what ingrained beliefs do you have about food, your value and your appearance? Quite often there is more behind our favorite food or our comfort food than we thing….good or bad.
*For those who don’t know when in a recovery program the only allowable way to eat food is “normally”, no breaking it into smaller pieces or eating edges first or last.