I See Your Baguette, and I Raise You a Pad of Butter and a Cappuccino

“I need to figure out an alternative vacation strategy,” I told Melanie, my therapist, as I left her office. It was a mere two days following my return from my last trip. My autumn “vacation” was actually just a week spent lazing around my parents’ house and puttering about my hometown. After too long in the same routine, I was exhausted and harried. Like hardening cement, I was becoming increasingly rigid and fixed in my routines. The detrimental effect on my thoughts only further amplified the tension, inflexibility, and negativity that manifested in my speech and behavior. I told myself that removing myself from that environment would be the respite that I needed.

During my break, I practiced at one of my favorite yoga studios, went swimming and biking, caught up with a couple of my close friends from childhood and college, and wiled away hours on some of my favorite activities – reading and writing. My week was not as idyllic as it might sound, however. At home, triggers abounded, worsemed by my parents’ recent retirement in July. My reactions were complicated, but they were mostly averse. Fortunately, my coping skills were sufficient to keep me from any major outbursts or meltdowns, but the hostility that I swallowed and bottled inside me was toxic. I came back to Vanillasville with an intense self-loathing. During my week at home, my hatred for myself and my body reached a level that I last experienced before my partial hospitalization for my eating disorder. I returned with a desire to restrict to the point of losing a substantial amount of weight.

One of the underlying messages that permeated my conscious (and likely my subconscious) thoughts was a consistent monologue of variations on, “I hate myself. I’m a failure.” I told myself that my stay with my parents was worthless, a waste of my vacation days, and a direct manifestation of my fear and laziness. Planning a real vacation would mean confronting some nasty demons in my closet, and I felt helplessly frustrated by my paralysis before that closed door. All because of FEAR.

“That’s a workable problem,” Melanie told me on Tuesday. “We can address that.” I smiled as I pulled my bag over my shoulder and reached for the doorknob. I wasn’t convinced. She didn’t know the whole truth behind my avoidance. After delaying for over a year, I finally renewed my passport last December. I picked a destination and bought a Paris guidebook. As winter gave way to spring and then summer, I found one reason after another to push back my nascent plans. “It just isn’t the right time. I’ll get to it after I adjust to this new project at work. It doesn’t make any sense to start planning before I find someone who will travel with me. It will happen when it happens. I don’t need to be in a hurry.” With nothing more than an idea and a Rick Steves guide, I was stalled.

seine-sunset
Seine sunset eiffel tower back,” © Simone S. Taddei (own work), Oct 2014. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (license).

The day after my conversation with Melanie, I met with Kelly, my nutritionist. Together, we processed the events of my “vacation,” the meals I ate, my obsession with desserts, and my marriage to my meal plan. Once more, she informed me that my weight was stable, and, once more, I told her that she must be lying.

Last month, Kelly showed me a book on mindful eating that she thought would be helpful for me to read, and I replied, “I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.” It took a desperate leap of faith for me to trust my first dietician enough to risk my life on my current meal plan. When every other attempt I made to recover from my binge eating disorder failed, I found my rock bottom, which was someplace between insanity and suicide. From that place, there was nothing more to lose, and I finally chanced moving beyond my severely restrictive orthorexia.

“You still won’t you trust yourself with food,” Kelly pointed out… again. She likes to remind me that, despite all the ups and downs I experienced leaving Walden, returning to Vanillasville, resuming work, and coping with the upheavals of a (semi)-engaged life, my last binge was in November 2014. Yet, I return to the fact that I achieved my current stability with the safety-net of my meal plan. Abandoning my measuring cups, countertop scales, and precisely tabulated and proportioned exchanges would mean risking everything I worked so hard to build over the past 22 months.

“I don’t deserve to be trusted!” I wanted to shout. I felt like reaching across the desk between us and shaking her by the shoulders for further emphasis. “I can’t eat mindfully. I CAN’T do it! It will all fall apart. It will be just like it was before – before my eating disorder, when I was heavy, and I ate too much all the time, and I didn’t care, and I just ate whatever because it tasted good, and it was there. And I’ll feel sick all the time like I did, and have no energy, and I WILL GAIN WEIGHT.” I was thinking of middle school, high school, college, and graduate school, when I didn’t eat mindfully, used food for a host of other purposes beyond nurturing my body, and was engaged in some seriously unhealthy habits. Finally, I admitted out loud, “I don’t want to gain weight. I am still obsessed with not gaining weight.”

Amazingly, Kelly didn’t care. “I’d be worried if you were consistently telling me that you thought you needed to lose weight and that you weighed too much, but it’s not an unhealthy thing to want to maintain a healthy weight.” Her unexpected reaction caught me entirely off guard. I was prepared for another conversation about why weight didn’t matter, but instead, she emphasized that maintaining my healthy weight did matter to her just as much as it mattered to me. After experiencing a week of so much invalidation, Kelly left me speechless.

There was more. Kelly continued, “If you really want to go to Paris, then you need to be able to walk into a Panera, order a side baguette, and eat it.” Uncontrollably, I burst into a genuine fit of laughter. The idea was so preposterous that it was outright comical. There was no way I would ever voluntarily eat a giant chunk of white bread, particularly considering that the local Panera café, conveniently located directly along my commute, was previously a major source of binge-food during the darkest periods of my disorder. “Well,” sighed Kelly, “at least don’t avoid any social situations because of the food this week,” she charged me. “Done,” I thought. At this point in my recovery, such an instruction was hardly a challenge.

Here’s the thing. I want to go to Paris. Here’s the other thing. I’m kind of an over-achiever, with a bit of a competitive streak, I’m meticulous about following directions, I’m an insufferable people-pleaser, and I don’t back down from a fight. Those attributes are part of the temperament that predispose to the development of an eating disorder in the first place, but they are also the traits that empower recovery. So, what does a scrappy, rule-following, over-achieving, approval-and-reward-dependent, recovering orthorexic binge-eater do when confronted with an eat-a-baguette challenge?

Last Saturday, I declared a “Challenge Snack Day,” and I decided to eat Kelly’s baguette in what I imagined to be true Parisian fashion. “Kelly,” I said to myself, “I am seeing your baguette, and I am raising you a pad of butter and a cappuccino. So there! You knew I would do it, didn’t you?” It was a rare treat to allow myself butter, and it was only my second cappuccino in the past two years, though I admitted that both were foods that delighted me in small and occasional portions. The mindfulness continued into the afternoon, when I scaled down the size of my lunch by one dairy serving to balance the extra frothy milk and espresso that I sipped slowly with my earlier snack.

Something tells me that sticking your face directly into your mug to loudly slurp your delicious foam is frowned upon by the French. I suppose that in the future, I will need to make some compromises in the interest of polite decorum. There is still a long, long way to go, and I am still unsure and distrustful, but I hope that it won’t be like it was “before.”

baguette-and-cappuccino-after
Savoring my delicious success (September 2016).
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16 thoughts on “I See Your Baguette, and I Raise You a Pad of Butter and a Cappuccino

  1. Awesome. I think Paris would be amazing. I have always wanted to go, but haven’t made it there.

    I think a book on mindful eating would be interesting, but perhaps starting with a book on mindfulness itself would be a good first step? Something that allows you to find some stability and belief in the concept, as part of general life, before you apply it to eating?

    It’s a thought…
    Hugs
    Anne

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  2. I think Paris would be amazing, too! I hope that we both get there someday. I’m trying to find a balance between giving myself time to grow without too much hurry, while also trying to push myself beyond my comfort zone. I’ve been working on mindfulness for the past two years. It was part of the DBT training that I received during my more intensive treatment that really worked for me. It helps me to ground, focus, self-soothe, bring awareness to my thoughts and emotions, and, when I’m actually using the strategies well, make conscious decisions that are in keeping with my values rather than reacting automatically to things. I still struggle with it, especially when it comes to intuitive eating and also when it comes to understanding that my experiences are not necessarily unique. It’s hard for me to remember that everyone feels shame, fear, doubt, anxiety, anger, inadequacy, and all those other negative emotions at various times of their life. The book that I am working with right now is called “The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion,” by Christopher Germer. He also has a website http://www.mindfulselfcompassion.org that has about 20 guided meditations. But you’re right, having general mindfulness (and a LOT of self-compassion) will definitely help me move on toward mindful eating, and I can always use more practice.

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  3. I could never express myself regarding eating disorders. But weight started to concern me 2 years ago. Up until I was 27 I could eat anything I wanted ..or it’s just my imagination, I probably did eat anything I wanted but not as much as now. 🙂 Anyway, things started changing and I spent a lot of time in uncomfortable clothes that didn’t fit me anymore, just because I didn’t want to face the facts.That’s why I started yoga. Of course I try not to watch tv when I eat, to be able to notice when I’m full and because I have a very sensitive liver, I started drinking artichoke leaf tea for more than a month now. It’s supposed to help the digestive system…which I need, and help the liver process fats and sugars better. (caution: it is VERY bitter) Of course I have to drink it just before a meal, it gives a huge appetite, but I feel so much better, less bloated and less guilty if I do sneak the occasional “butter”.

    But I know exactly what you mean about holidays at home. I avoid them at all costs. I told my mom I am tired, I need to rest, to refuel and visiting her in my holidays is none of that, so she’ll just have to understand it. And she did.

    Go to Paris, say hello from me…or Bonjour 🙂 and tell Paris I hope to see it soon too. 😉

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    1. Our bodies definitely change, whether we like it or not (I definitely do NOT like this fact – it is still something I am struggling to accept!) I know the feeling of squeezing into too-tight clothes. It was almost as if I was punishing myself for gaining weight and for my binging. I think I am more forgiving of myself and more appreciative of my body now, but I am still very closed to the idea of my body changing in any major way. I do love yoga, though. It is wonderful for my heart and mind, too! After I practice, I feel so grateful just for the ability to move in so many different ways.
      I hope that you are enjoying a beautiful autumn in Romania! I’m still considering how to spend my winter holidays this year. If I get to Paris, it won’t be until the spring (I want to see all of the flowers!), but I will be sure to say Bonjour for you! 🙂

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      1. It’s a cool autumn here, sunny hot afternoons and freezing evenings and mornings :). I can’t wait for the weather to settle already on COLD and enjoy the autumn leaves and maybe a little rain on my walks to my piano classes. I like my autumn to be autumn…it’s unsettling when it behaves like…something other than autumn :D. But yes, Paris would be best in spring.
        Kisses! Have a nice weekend!

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      2. The proper chilly weather is finally starting to settle in here – just in the last week. I also like my autumn to behave like a proper autumn. Too the leaves will start changing! Kisses to you, too, and have a lovely weekend! 🙂

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  4. Paris, France, I assume, and not Texas, Lu? I’ve implemented rules for myself in mindful eating … they’re not 100% adhered-to, but I find a lot of wisdom in the discourse of considering how I failed at it and how I succeeded. The process, the steps, of this whole story … that’s the thing, isn’t it? It feels like the thing.

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    1. Definitely Paris, France! Ugh, I’ve seen enough of Texas to last me a lifetime… almost. One of my best friends (the one I used to traipse all over Europe with when she was living in Germany) is now in Austin, and I want to go see her!

      Process… yes. I think that is the thing. The part that is hard for me is accepting that “process” is not a linear, upward line. I hate the dips, misdirections, and stumbles. But, you are right in pointing out that it is in the “failures” that we find the best wisdom.

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  5. You will get to Paris one day, Lulu, and you’ll love it! My husband and I went for the first time two years ago, and I’d love to go back. Keep your Rick Steve’s book out for inspiration 🙂 I love that first pic of the frothy cappuccino. Wish I could reach through the screen and take it, haha! Hope you’re doing well!

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  6. Oh, Jenny! You are always so encouraging! I am telling myself that just like there is no time-line on my recovery, there is no time-line on my trip to Paris. I have been reading the book and taking notes about travel tips and things I really want to do or see in a little Moleskine notebook. Just doing that sometimes gives me anxiety! So, I will keep working on it, and eventually, I will get there. But, overall, I am doing very well today! Hope you are well too!

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