Is a Cookie Ever Just a Cookie?

cookie_13_largeThere’s a scene in the HBO documentary THIN where Polly, who is in treatment for anorexia and bulimia, can’t eat a piece of pizza. She just can’t do it.

It makes no sense to a rational person: it’s just food, why can’t she eat it? But to Polly, it’s not. It’s “poison.” It’s “fattening.” It’s “weakness.”

Her therapist asks her in a soft, soothing, low voice if she can’t maybe view it as, “A piece of bread, with some tomato sauce and cheese on top”?

Polly shudders. She can’t. She just can’t. And then she leaves the table.

I don’t understand this, personally. Unlike Polly, I can eat a slice of pizza or a cookie, and I do (ok, if the pizza is in NJ being the pizza snob that I am!).

I’m learning to ungroup/uncategorize foods to make life more enjoyable … it’s been a long process but I’m getting there. I don’t look at foods in such stark black and white terms anymore.

But although I’m several steps ahead of Polly in that often I will eat a cookie or what have you, there’s always a thought preceding it.

The thought itself isn’t so bad if it’s just a cautionary one … There’s nothing inherently wrong with thinking before eating (or spending money, etc); lots of women do: Do I genuinely want this because I’m still hungry or because it looks delicious?. They might eat it anyway even if they didn’t “need” it, and for many, no guilt ensues. It’s food. Pure and simple (and delicious).

Being an anxious person naturally, I’m hard-wired to have that first thought, and I’m ok with that, therapy has helped me be “ok” with it — and that initial thinking, truthfully, has helped me maintain my figure these past almost five years, give or take some pounds.

But with me (and I’m guessing other disordered eaters too) the thought goes a step further, a step deeper into murky territory: Am I eating mindlessly or emotionally, or because it honestly tastes delicious? Am I savoring it, or am I going to chew-and-spit it anyway?

And so sometimes I wonder if a cookie will ever be just that … a cookie, composed of flour, sugar, butter, eggs. Something to which I give nary a thought, and just eat, in moderation?

For those of us struggling with disordered eating or eating disorders, I can’t help but wonder, when is a cookie just a cookie?

I so greatly admire the healthy foodie blogs I read where the girls talk about what they eat. They never admonish themselves for their choices or deprive themselves of something they want to eat.

They genuinely have a good relationship with food; it’s just that: food. Fuel. And they seek pleasure in it. Their photographs tell the pictures (you can see many of them on my blogroll). They don’t chew-and-spit their food; they savor it.

Blog reader Lana commented not too long ago on my blog the following, which truly hit home:

“You know, it’s funny how much our society promotes a really black and white view of health. There are news articles in abundance that talk about “healthy foods” vs. “unhealthy foods”, and people will debate the finer points of nutrition while completely overlooking the bigger picture. It drives me batty! And I can totally see how the pro-Ana movement would get a foothold in our society, with such an enormous dichotomy in our view of health.

You know who I love? Nigella Lawson. She writes cookbooks, she’s got cooking shows from time to time. She’s voluptuous, gorgeous….and British. With that Britishness comes a distinct lack of all the things that make Americans so neurotic about foot. In her writing, you can tell she takes a joy in eating. She doesn’t divorce HEALTH from PLEASURE – nor does she soften the edges of classic recipes (alfredo, chocolate cake, baked ham) to make them more “healthy.”

Because there’s no such thing as one healthy food or one supremely unhealthy, evil food. There’s only life. Balance. A lifestyle based on exclusion is always going to be an unsatisfying one. Why do we have to focus on what we shouldn’t eat?

What if we all just gave up our collective American control issues and learned to enjoy eating again? What if we put the same love into preparing *delicious* vegetables as we put into scrutinizing the nutritional value of a plant, which vegetables were better at saving us from cancer, etc? If vegetables tasted *good*, wouldn’t we naturally eat more of them? (Like the French – hello paradox?) And if we ate more vegetables, wouldn’t we be healthier?

What if we all strove for balance instead of berating ourselves for what we were or weren’t doing “right”? What if nothing were forbidden, and you never approached a certain food with dread just because it was “good for you”?

I realize anorexia and other eating disorders are about control, and have less to do with food than with feelings. But I wonder if the media doesn’t exacerbate the problem by declaring some foods more morally acceptable than others.

Because when it comes down to it, every food has value. Even if it’s just for pleasure.”

Lana’s words resonated with me. Truly resonated. I hope you found wisdom in them, too.

And thank you, Lana, for helping me see that sometimes the sheer pleasure of enjoying the cookie far outweighs the deprivation of not having enjoyed it.

How about you? When did a cookie just become a cookie for you? Did it ever?

14 thoughts on “Is a Cookie Ever Just a Cookie?

  1. ahh your posts are always just what i need to hear! thank you for your encouraging blog. Your path and journey and where you are in life is truly inspiring.
    sadly a cookie is not just a cookie for me. It causes such anxiety but such joy at the same time.
    hopefully i’ll get there

  2. I know, I mentioned that in a previous post, how she’d passed away last Feb. Seriously sad.

    Thank you, Grace!!!

  3. This post really hits home for me. While I’ve gotten much better about “labeling” foods, I still catch myself fearful of certain foods (pizza, pasta) from time to time. During recovery, I did learn to view all foods as part of the food pyramid, and not calories or fat. But I really do know what you mean, and especially what that comment is getting at.

    I think a lot of the problem is in society’s labeling of foods.Even those without ED or DE patterns say things are “bad.” So obviously is backs up my ED thinking. The struggle is getting over that, and viewing food as fuel to keep me going during the day, for studying at night, and for doing all of the activities I love.

  4. Hi Jenn. I agree, it’s hard when non-ED friends/family members talk about food that way — it’s how we’ve been conditioned. They don’t mean to affect us but it does.

    And truth be told, anything in moderation isn’t bad. I pick and choose my battles now, and while you might not see me eat french fries out (I make them at home, my way), you will probably see me sharing dessert. It’s not “bad.”

    Good for you – food as fuel!

  5. I agree with Jenn…it is so difficult for me not to label foods as “bad” when others around me do it so often. I lived for so many years labeling certain foods this way, it’s really hard for me to see them any differently. However, those are the foods that trigger me to binge, so…it’s a fine line for me.

  6. When I was in Princeton for treatment, we were strongly encouraged to work a “challenge” food into our meal plan. Cookies were definitely a challenge for me, and sometimes still are. But Lana’s comment is exactly what we should all strive for. Who wouldn’t love to take pleasure in being healthy?

  7. Exactly, Holly … and that’s where it gets dicey — if it’s a potential trigger or binge food. Then we view it as “bad” not for the quality OF the food, so much as our relationship TO it.

    Isn’t Lana so right?! 🙂

  8. Question (and I mean this in no negative way, I’m just being honest and open) – In reading your blog, I notice you make many references to your categorization of yourself as “an axious person” , or a “type A” personality.

    Do you think that these labels become self-fulfilling prophecies and that your actions subconcsiously continue to mirror that of an anxious person? Maybe you have a tendency to become anxious, but the label can get you into more though induced “trouble” than its worth? just a thought?

    I did that with myself being self analyzed/actualized labels that I am now begining to identify with as false security blankets that I use to shield myself from the truth. I always have a tendency to think that I am”big boned”, or that I “work best under pressure”. The truth is that I’m overweight and have trouble prioritizing and making effective use of my time. Just a musing.

  9. Hi there, Soly. That’s an interesting way of framing it, and I don’t disagree that that *could* be partially at play here.

    But my therapist is the one who categorized me that way (as anxious) and I’ve been a perfectionist since pretty much forever (birth might be a little excessive!) … and she wants me to use it to my advantage and not see it as a problem so much as a character trait — which can be a positive one.

    I might use “anxiety” in a way someone could view as a “cop-out” or “excuse” for why I am how I am … but it helps me to rationalize things … and yes, it COULD be a self-fulfilling prophecy … but I’m learning how I work … what makes me tick. And it’s been really helpful in my journey of awareness.

    I think it’s great you were able to decipher those truths about yourself … those are big steps.

    I will give it some thought, and I actually see Dr. G. tonight. I’d be curious as to her take on things.

  10. you are doing great and I commend you on sharing your journey with your readers. It takes courage, honesty, and a real desire to get to the bottom of things.

    Play on, Playette, and keep kickin this things ass 🙂

  11. Genuinly having a good relationship with food would be nice to have. I tend to the unhealthy relationship with it, but it is always improving I guess.

  12. Yup, it’s the categorizing that is “bad” in reality, and having that healthy relationship takes time.

    I hope by putting my energies to something else — ie., my new jewelry endeavor, I’ll have more of a focus.

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