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Monday
May192014

Of Eating Disorders and Food Blogs

 

ED Blog post illustrations

Today, I'd like to discuss eating disorders. Yup, you heard me. True, this is a topic which is not often discussed on food blogs, it's a subject about which I am extremely passionate.

It's not a secret that I have suffered from various eating disorders in the past. I'm not alone.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, in the United States, 30 million women and men have suffered from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life. That's reported cases: it's estimated that only 1 in 10 eating disorders is ever reported or treated. 

And this doesn't include eating struggles that don't technically classify as eating disorders. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that in the US, as many as one in every five women struggle with eating or have a clinical eating disorder. 

ED Blog post illustrations

But I am CakeSpy. 

My case is interesting and unlikely in that today, I happen to run, and be best-known for, a blog dedicated to dessert. A history of disordered eating may seem at distinct odds with the fact that I write about, draw, and pretty much live dessert and sweet treats. 

But with a little more explanation, it might not seem all that crazy.

We all deserve dessert.

Whenever I am part of Q+A sessions, at book readings or panels, the most frequently asked question does not involve my work much at all. It is this:

"How do you stay so thin?". Oh, there are variations: they may say "how are you not 300 pounds?" or "you can't eat MUCH of what you bake..." et cetera. 

At moments like this, part of me cringes, thinking of how my website and writing present an all dessert all the time image. With a history of disordered eating, does this mean I've been living a lie? 

Nope. I do enjoy sweets. I adore sweets. I eat something sweet every single day. Sometimes it is something small like a chocolate truffle, sometimes it is something big and fat, like a slice of behemoth crumb cake (one of my all time favorite recipes).

The difference between me and a non disordered person is that after I eat a fat slice of cake, there is a voice that wants to tell me IN ITS OUTDOOR VOICE that I am absolutely not permitted eat for the rest of the day, and maybe tomorrow too, just to be safe. An eating disorder tries to tell me that I don't "deserve" things that other people do.

Following years of personal work and therapy, I have learned to make a concerted effort to supercede these voices with a healthier one that tells me that I am OK, that I deserve to enjoy delicious things.

I strongly believe that the perceived "negative" or "unhealthy" aspect of desserts is far outweighed (pardon the pun) by the benefits they offer to your very soul.

As a result, it has also become part of my goal to ensure readers that they are ok, too. I suffered a lot with eating disorders; I want to do whatever I can to ensure that others do not.

So when I say that you deserve to eat a nice, creamy slice of cake or fat wedge of pie, I mean it--for you and me both. We deserve to enjoy things purely because they are delicious and make us happy. Let me put it like this: you could live without cake. But what kind of joyless life is that?

So when people ask me how I "stay so thin", I am honest. I tell them that I eat a balanced diet, that I do yoga every day and walk almost everywhere (nobody likes these answers, btw, hoping instead that I will tell them I have a medical condition or at least gave up gluten). But I also tell them that I refuse to deny myself sweets. Believe it or not, giving yourself permission to enjoy sweets makes it far less likely that you'll over or under-indulge. Pretty revolutionary, huh?

So when you've made a dessert like cadbury creme eggs benedict or cookie cake pie, it is in no way a good idea to eat the entire thing. But will a small serving kill you? No. In fact, it might just make your day a little sweeter.

ED Blog post illustrations

Why speak up about eating disorders now?

Disordered eating has been on my mind a lot recently, for a few reasons.

One: I have been working on writing what I hope one day could be a memoir of my story--from eating disorder to dessert queen. I'd buy the book, but then I'm biased, am I not?

Two: Recently, I shared on my personal Facebook page that I had done a phone interview about my eating disordered past. This was the update.

The reaction to it stunned me. Not only in terms of "likes" and comments, but also with the behind-the-scenes reactions. I have been contacted by numerous women and men privately, who have shared their own tales, and sympathized with me.

Very importantly: more than one of these private responders was somehow connected to the food industry.

This fact was equal parts heartening ("I'm not the only one!") and horrifying ("we've all been alone together!").

All of the aforementioned things have made me realize that now more than ever, it is important to be open about my story. Why? Eating disorders have a huge shame factor. If I can shed some light on the subject, perhaps it can help erase some of the stigma so that others can begin to emerge from the darkness. 

ED Blog post illustrations

My story, Readers' Digest form.

Some say that people with eating disorders are like loaded guns: they have all of the genes in place to pre-dispose them to disordered eating, but some event needs to "pull the trigger."

For many, including me, this thing is dieting. I started my first diet at age 12, following a comment before my 8th grade dance that I had "thick ankles". Here I am on the day of that dance:

Mardi gras magic

(Thankfully, the offensively thick ankles are out of the shot)

What I heard, of course, was not that my ankles were thick but that my ankles were fat, which quickly grew in my mind to "you are fat".

I can see now that I was a normal girl, not thin and not chubby--just kind of average build. But even an offhand comment during this sensitive time can set off a girl with a predisposition to disordered eating.

ED Blog post illustrations

From fat ankles to eating disorder in five easy steps

  • I began exercising, ostensibly to slim down those fat ankles, and decided to speed things along by dieting. I received many compliments about my new and improved physique.
  • Surprise: I was hungry all the time. I couldn't keep it up. One day I gave in to my hunger and ate more than I ever thought I could in one sitting. 
  • Frightened by how I felt mentally and physically after what I now know was an eating binge, I went on an even stricter diet to compensate for what I was sure was a stand-alone incident.
  • Surprise, again: that started a cycle that graduated to an unhealthy cycle of starving followed by an inevitable binge. I began to make myself vomit, too, a terrible habit which stayed with me for more than ten years.
  • Gradually, I was able to cease the bingeing and purging, but took it too far, into anorexic territory. My weight plummeted, but I still only saw myself as chubby. 

ED Blog post

And then came CakeSpy

When I started CakeSpy, I fell into the category of "sub clinical" or what many adorably call "almost anorexic". This means that I didn't classify clinically, but I still harbored a lot of the disordered thoughts. 

Even before I started the blog, I baked; there's a joke that "nobody bakes like an anorexic". In my experience, this is true. Anorexics love to see others indulge in what they feel they cannot. But I never lost a love of dessert. Even at my lowest weight, I always reserved a few of the calories I did allot myself for sweets. 

One day, finding myself yearning for a life beyond my refrigerator magnet company job, I had a sit-down with myself that went something like this: "well, in an ideal world what would you want to do?". 

There was no hesitation. In my ideal life, I would do something that involved writing, illustration, and baked goods. 

After further self consultation to figure out the perfect name, CakeSpy was born. Since I didn't know exactly how to get something rolling that would include writing, illustration, and baked goods, I decided to start a blog while I figured it all out.

On the day I started my blog, I weighed about the same as your average 11 year old girl. Little did I know, this blog would actually save my life. 

ED Blog post

Healing, with cake

Someone wiser than me once said "keep your friends close, but your enemies closer". I never thought of my blog in that way, but it really was.

At first in my blogging days, I would get scared frequently. Trays of brownies had the potential to panic me, I felt I had to revolve an entire day's meal plan around indulging in a slice of cake. In the beginning, it was only on a very strong day that I was able to eat and enjoy one of my own baked goods without giving myself a major guilt trip afterward. But I kept on doing it.

The more I worked with food, the less scary it became. It would take time to trust food; in the beginning, I was content to at least fear it less.

Food is both the enemy and the savior with an eating disorder. Often, your dealings with it are furtive, secretive.

For me, it it was cathartic to work with food so openly, intimately, and in such a tactile way: to touch it, smell it, be in its presence. To inhale the aroma of butter creaming with sugar. To see cakes rise in the oven. To roll pie dough. To knead bread. Understanding the process of how things were made gave me an appreciation, and little by little, trust grew. 

Of course, it didn't hurt that I was also receiving a lot of professional therapy, too.

I began to experiment with food beyond simply baking at home. I would challenge myself to take part in experiences baking or eating with other people. Sometimes I would feel panicked, but more often than not I would be rewarded by the experience. I found myself capable of doing things like judging baking contests (even if I took the most minute bites you could possibly imagine) and not only sampling, but allowing myself to enjoy, my own baked goods. I found myself capable of doing it with abandon. If other people could do it, I figured, I could too.  

I have gained weight since I started CakeSpy. Not just because I've eaten more sweets (which I have) but because I've learned that I actually need food, not only to live but so that I can be good to the people I love and do the things I want to do: write, do crazy yoga poses, walk for miles while talking with friends, travel, experience, love, and create. 

Speaking of creating, that is the other way in which CakeSpy has helped me heal. It may sound funny to say this, but one of the ways in which the blog helped heal my eating disorder had nothing to do with the food: it had to do with my sense of purpose and accomplishment. It is something I have built by myself, featuring my art: my writing, my illustrations, my creations. I cannot understate the positive effect it has had on my life to know that my work has had an impact on others.

Yes, an eating disorder has to do with food. But for me, recovery isn't merely about trusting food: it's about trusting yourself, and life. 

 

ED Blog post

Am I cured?

Let me say this: I do believe in full recovery for eating disorders. But for me, recovery remains a moving target. Why so?

Because at one point, when I was bulimic, I would have said "cured" was no longer bingeing and purging. Well, I reached that goal, but then I plummeted to an alarmingly low weight and suffered a slew of related health consequences. So, no, that was not really cured. 

At this point, I have not shown clinical signs of eating disordered behavior in years. I can eat a slice of cake like nobody's business. However, I am hesitant to say without a doubt "I am cured!".

Because I still have weak moments. I can still feel panic when someone shoves a cookie in my face and says "try this!" or berate myself for eating too much. I don't always like eating in front of others. I can observe that in times of crisis (real or perceived), I turn to food obsession as a way to set structure in what seems like a crazy, out of control world. 

So with that in mind, instead of stating absolutes such as "cured" or "diseased", I will designate myself as a "work in progress".

ED Blog post

 

THE MORAL:

CakeSpy has helped me in recovering from disordered eating, as backwards as it may seem. It has helped me pave my own way in the world, to believe in myself and my ablities, and to keep growing in a postive way. If I had to share a big takeaway, it would be this:

Your story does not need to be open and shut, black or white. It doesn't have to follow the same story arc as a movie.

Basically, it boils down to this: you have the power to change your story, and I chose to make mine delicious.

If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, or you suspect that eating may have become a problem in your life, I urge you to seek help. Both professional and from your family and friends. Do not make disordered eating your own private island. 

Comments? Questions? I welcome them. Leave a comment here (moderation is enabled, so if it doesn't pop up right away please forgive me), or email me: jessieoleson@gmail.com

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Reader Comments (45)

@deborah: Thank you so much for sharing your story. I'm so glad that you've found sweetness in your life in so many ways. I couldn't agree more: baked goods nourish the soul!!

@So Oh Cliche: Thank you for your response. Sadly that advice was hard-learned for me but my hope is that it can help others on their own personal journeys. I know that hearing comments like yours make me feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now. Thank you!!

@the ninja baker: Thank you for your sweet words!! Please, continue being sweet to yourself--you might just inspire others to follow suit. xoxo

@andrea: I am sorry to hear that you resided in that "sub clinical" purgatory (that's how I think of it!!). I share those feelings of regret. Let's both make a resolution to move forward in bigger, better, more loving, and sweet ways.
May 22 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy
jessie - i am teary eyed. i just think you're so wonderful and a beautiful lady inside and out! your blog, writing and your illustrations really do fill the world with unicorny rainbowy sugar-sweet goodness with a side of buttercream - to hear that becoming cakespy has given your life purpose, meaning and a sense of accomplishment, yes YES - you are an inspiration to so many, and you're so supportive and kind. wishing you continued healing thoughts, positivity and beautiful sugar filled days, always!! thank you for your sharing your honesty, your story! your friend, xo lyndsay
@lyndsay: Thank you for your supportive words, my sweet friend. While I wouldn't necessarily say I am happy about having suffered an eating disorder, this chance to connect with people on a whole different, and very "real" level, is incredibly meaningful. Thank you for being a friend to me :-)
May 22 | Registered CommenterCakespy
I have followed your blog for years now, and I never expected to see this post from you. I am currently in the recovery process, and it is the most difficult thing I have ever had to endure. Reading this post gives me hope, and inspiration. If you can do it and come out so strong, maybe the future isn't as hopeless as I think, and I too can find peace and recovery. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for writing this and sharing your story.
May 23 | Unregistered CommenterSeraphine
Jessie —

I have never read your blog before, but after reading this really beautiful and honest entry, I'm definitely going to become a regular reader.

I struggled with bulimia and "sub clinical" anorexia a few years ago, and like you, I spent a lot of time baking — always for others, and usually it tasted awful because I couldn't bring myself to use oil or sugar or a few other things. I'm so glad you were able to find healing in baked goods and now allow yourself to enjoy them.

Like you, I still struggle with disordered thoughts and guilt and everything else, but I hope that by sharing my own experiences and reading the experiences of others, the healing process can continue. Ugh, there is nothing worse than having someone shove a cookie in your face, though, even if you totally would have eaten that cookie in any other situation.

In short, you rock! :) This resonated so strongly with me, and I'll be passing it on to everyone I know. Thank you for writing this.

Kate
Although I never reached anorexic status, I have been bulimic for about, let's see, 25 years or so. In my case, my "cure" of sorts was a pill for depression, which allowed me to take a chance on becoming a freelance food writer and photographer. I now have a successful food blog and I work with major food magazines of my country. However, I'm still "on the pill" (the anti-depression pill, that is). I don't know what will happen if and when I stop it. But, as time goes on, my life gets closer to a balanced state, my eating habits too. This whole thing after all is very new, I only started food blogging last October and the success my blog has had is remarkable for such little time, but I trully love what I do. Like you, I've always loved cooking but hated or rather, feared the eating part. You like sketching, I like take photos. But just like you, food blogging is a healing process for us and it's wonderful to see that I'm not the only one. I did gain some weight since I stopped vomiting and started food blogging, but my weight is currently stable and actually I've lost a few pounds. I've also started to crave fruits and salads (if that's possible!). Today I went to the supermarket, strolled by the snacks aisle and for a moment a had a craving for chips. But then I thought "hey, that's not even quality food, it's just a colored and artificially flavored thing, you have now access to delicious, high quality, handmade products as a food blogger, why bother with this crap?". So I just left and didn't regret it a moment. I had lovely caramelized onion and bacon pirozhki pies waiting for me at home and I'm making French warm goat's cheese salad with Dijon and orange vinegrette tomorrow. Potato chips have nothing on these ;) Thanks for sharing your story and giving us courage to share ours (I'll probably follow your example on my blog too and will link it to your post too.) Life is nothing if it's not tasty!
May 24 | Unregistered CommenterEleanna
This is beautiful, Jessie. Thank you so much for sharing it. I still struggle with disordered thoughts, but most of the time I'm able to eat without shame or fear and enjoy all that life has to offer. For me, fat acceptance/size acceptance was a huge part of my recovery, and I'm so glad that Cakespy was part of yours. If you write that memoir I will definitely read it.
Wow. That's really all I can say. Since I write a blog that is associated with food (I have celiac disease and write about eating gluten free while in college), I read my fair share of eating disorder stories. Obviously, one is not better than the other, but yours especially hit me. I would not say that I have an eating disorder or had one, but I am still at an extremely low weight because of complications from celiac disease and sometimes I find it hard to eat the large amount of food required to gain weight. I am a healthy person by nature and while I understand it logically, emotionally I don't want to be the weird college girl eating twice everyone else. But I'm moving past it and baking more gluten free goodies than ever!

Thank you for sharing your healing and your story. Writing has always been especially cathartic to me, and I love hearing how it can help others. Stay amazing, stay strong, and stay baking. But most importantly, please, stay open.

Casey :)
May 25 | Unregistered CommenterCasey
@Seraphine: You know what? When I read "I never expected to see this post from you" I immediately panicked and thought "she doesn't like me anymore". But then I went on to read your sweet, supportive, and so-hopeful message and it made my heart want to sing. No, the future is not hopeless. Recovery is hard--it's a real bitch sometimes, to tell you the truth, because when you lose food as your tool for avoiding feeling, you have to actually feel, and it hurts sometimes. But ultimately you are living your own life, and that is a beautiful thing.

@Kate: Thank you so much for your candid comment. I'm glad that you've found my sweet corner of the web. It's fascinating to hear how other disordered eaters were drawn to the food world.

I believe that the more you share, as well as listen to other people's stories, makes you more connected and helps chip away at the disease and shame. So keep on doing it! You have helped to keep me motivated, too, by sharing.

@Eleanna: Thank you for your gorgeous comment and for sharing part of your story. Ugh, I feel the pain of recovery in your statements, but you have also inspired me by sharing some real and sincere breakthroughs.

Please do email or leave another comment when you make a post - I can't wait to read it. Thank you for making your voice be heard...you are not alone!

@anachronistique: I really appreciate your comment and your sharing part of your story. I am so happy to hear that you can avoid shame or fear for a majority of the time. I feel sad reflecting on all the time I have felt shame or fear--it feels like wasted time. But I feel like I am finally turning those moments around by sharing and letting others share. Please, keep loving yourself!

@casey: It means a lot to me that you took the time to comment. It has felt, as you put it, "cathartic" to share. On the one level simply opening my mouth (via my laptop and blog) was powerful, but even more so, the realization that I am really, really not the only one and that others are ready to be heard, too, is an amazing feeling. It makes me think of something I heard once, "We are all perfect just as we are, but we could all use a little work". I feel like I have an amazing support team of readers to help me continue becoming who I am.


Thank you EVERYONE! <3
May 25 | Registered CommenterCakespy
I hope that this helps others to recover from their own eating disorder.

There is no cure, but we can be strong, eat well, exercise, and tell those voices to shut up! Thank you for sharing your story.
May 28 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea
Even more proud of you Jessie.
May 28 | Unregistered CommenterPam
My nutrition therapist sent me this link, and it just made my day. I, too, am a former anorexic (recovered, yes, but not "cured" for the reasons you state) who adores sweets and baking. Thank you for sharing your story. It's always a great relief to find out there are others!
May 28 | Unregistered CommenterSarah S
I commend and appreciate you for your honesty and braveness on such a personal subject. And I love the way you've found a positive way to spin your experience, spreading your happiness to everyone you reach. Thank you for sharing.
Hi Jessie,

First of all I think this post is the bomb and I find it rare for any food blogs to broach the subject of Eating Disorders not to mention your own personal struggles; I applaud you for this. Also you commented on my blog Don't Live Small on my post http://dontlivesmall.com/blog/categories/2-my-thoughts-my-eating-disorder-thoughts-are-back
I appreciate your positive feedback.

What I was wondering would you be interested in doing a cross link to each others sites. I typically don't put food stuff on my site but I think tying in your blog, past eating disorder woes and healthy food options would be a good thing to address. Perhaps we could each do a guest blog on our sites. Let me know what you think. I'm in if you are. I just subscribed Cakespy i would love it if you joined mine.

Oh and I love cake!!! Tina Klaus
June 5 | Unregistered CommenterTina Klaus
@tina: Sorry for my delay in reply! Yes, I would be delighted to do a cross post. Please email me on the subject!
June 19 | Unregistered CommenterCakespy
Hi Jessie,

We met during your book tour of Chicago, at Angel Food Bakery. I was probably one of those people who asked "How do you stay so thin?" As someone also recovering from an eating disorder -- with a similar obsession with baking -- I already knew the answer. Every part of your essay rings true to me, and it's so liberating for someone to finally speak out on the topic. I have been trying to work up the courage to do the same -- now my biggest fear is that I won't be nearly as eloquent as you.
June 25 | Unregistered CommenterPatty
Hi Patty! I remember you, you adorable and sweet thing. I really appreciate your kind words, especially recalling how well you write and how articulate and smart you are.

Don't let the fact that I've already spoken out hinder you in any way. I think that the more we talk about these things, the less shameful they are.

PS - keep in contact with me...I like you!

Much <3 to you!
June 25 | Registered CommenterCakespy
Like many of the commenters above, I wanted to say thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this post. I feel like you explained a part of my own life in such an eloquent, hopeful, and wise way, and it's thrilling to see someone else who has both struggled with ED's and loves to bake overcome and fight against the sickness. I am in the midst of recovery right now, and these are the words I needed to hear. Thank you so much :)
June 28 | Unregistered CommenterLaura
You are an amazing person. I happened across your blog today when looking up Cream of Tartar and saw this post. I have been recovering from anorexia for the past three years and getting increasingly frustrated by society's view of food and lifestyle when it comes to what is 'healthy'. You have such an enjoyable and fluid writing style and I only wish there were more voices like your own, sharing their story and helping others understand that food really is not the enemy. We should seek the greater joys in life and have trust in ourselves. It is a complex area to discuss but I think you have done it superbly. I have nothing but admiration for you and wish you the very best.
August 4 | Unregistered CommenterThicketNymph
Beautiful post. I can relate I am currently struggling with depression (and some eating-disordered thoughts) and baking has been such a cathartic exercise for me. Eating a piece of cake can be a really profound experience when you're messed up on the inside. I think you said it perfectly. Hugs all around. :)
August 11 | Unregistered CommenterBaby June

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