How My Eating Disorder Recovery Began, With Cake

I had an eating disorder when I started I fit into the clinical diagnosis for anorexia, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, are the following:

  • Refusal to maintain a body weight that is at or above the minimum normal weight for your age and height
  • Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though you're underweight
  • Denying the seriousness of having a low body weight, or having a distorted image of your appearance or shape
  • In women who've started having periods, the absence of a period for at least three consecutive menstrual cycles

I don't know how much I weighed at that time, but I shopped for my jeans at GapKids and wore a size 10, which according to their website is appropriate for 10-year old girls.

The first post on my website was about cupcakes baked in jars, sold on Etsy.

I believe the company is defunct now.

Never having seen such a product, I thought it was pretty cool. Now, feeling pretty jaded about such things, I kind of roll my eyes and think “never seen that before”.

My original plan for CakeSpy was somewhat inspired by DailyCandy, a website I'd written for in Seattle. I made a plan to write a short feature every day, usually about cool cake-related finds. At first, I wrote from a third person point of view, and was somewhat hands-off. I typically focused on cake-related services, trends, or products, but they were more like shout-outs than me actually trying the products. Everything was from a safe distance at first.

But then things started to get real.

Gradually, though, I began to find my own voice beyond my initial Daily Candy-esque model.

I realized it was silly to write not as myself, so I dropped the “we” and embraced “I”. I expanded the scope of my writing beyond single interesting finds and began delving a little further into subject matter: I did interviews with bakers I thought were cool, I curated guides to bakeries in geographically focused areas which I called “cakewalks”. I was uplifted by the positive response to my history of pop-tarts, so I began writing about history, too.

In general, I still focused on writing from an arm’s length about things, writing about bakeries I had already visited or writing about cool products which could be written about from an angle that didn’t require tasting.

But that began to change, too. Like Dorothy stepping out of a black and white house into a technicolor world, real food began to enter my sphere. The first time was when I did my first “live” interview, with a baker in Seattle. I had requested an interview, and she’d surprised me: instead of agreeing to an email interview, she did me one better and invited me over to her bakery. I had chosen her because I’d already eaten one of her cupcakes and already knew I liked them; I got slightly panicked at the thought that she would probably expect me to eat one of her cupcakes during the interview, especially since the interview was at 11am, and it was too early for lunch, but I knew if I didn’t eat something for breakfast I would be starving. It was really a bad time for me, mentally. It didn’t work with my diet. “Sure!” I responded, brightly.

I wanted to eat cupcakes like a normal person. But I couldn't.

In addition to the timing, the idea of eating in front of people panicked me. I preferred to eat in privacy, secrecy even.

Like my diet, the way I socialized was also regimented. I didn’t enjoy meeting new people. Meeting someone I didn’t know for coffee was something that I could easily agree to but then would panic when the actual event came up. I would try to think of any excuse I could to get out of it.

As the day of the interview neared, my panic mounted. But I’d asked for this interview, so I couldn’t really flake out, could I?

Me? Eat a cupcake? Happens all the time.

It took a lot of effort for me to look effortless on the day of the interview. When the day of the interview came, I didn’t eat breakfast in anticipation of a cupcake. This was a tough feat for me as I typically awoke starving, having underfed myself the day before, and liked to eat around 7:30 or 8, if I could hold out.

But today, I had to wait--for my own sanity. While I had never totally restricted sweets, I would plan the day around them: if I ate a cupcake or slice of cake, it classified as a full meal. Since I only allowed myself two real meals a day, the third meal really being more of a snack, this was a big part of my daily eating. There was no way I could live with myself if I ate breakfast and then ate a cupcake at 11am.

By the time I got to the bakery, I was anxious, and I was starving. As I had feared / anticipated, she offered me a cupcake right away. I had prepared for this, though: I opted for the Hummingbird cupcake, shooting for a breezy, unscripted manner, as if I hadn’t panicked about this moment for weeks, as if I hadn’t studied their menu at least fifteen times to decide what I would order.

As I interviewed her, I unwrapped the cupcake carefully, so that none of the precious cake was torn away in the wrapper. I felt its weight in my hand. I evaluated how much frosting there was. I took a bite while she was answering a question. “This is delicious, by the way” I said breezily before going into the next question. Me, eat a cupcake? Happens all the time.

I was curious about her answers, but mostly I was excited for every time she was speaking because it meant that I could eat more cupcake.

One of the questions was about her relationship with sweets, being a registered dietician. She responded that she was incredibly interested in the psychology of food, going on to say “I think that when we allow ourselves to have something very nourishing or comforting in a way that reminds us of a cupcake, and don’t feel guilty about it, and if it’s coming from good's very good for us.”

Well. I paused from the cupcake for a few moments and really listened. This was a powerful thing to hear, because it put words to a concept I seemed to inherently embrace.

It seemed to me like it was the best cupcake I’d ever had, because it tasted like victory. I marveled at how normal I had seemed, interviewing a baker, eating her cupcake like it was no thing. She couldn’t possibly have known what an important moment this was for me. Quite frankly, neither did I at the time: although it is only in retrospect that I can clearly see so, I had begun to wage a war with my eating disorder with my website.

It wasn't a complete victory. I made up for that joy-filled experience by limiting myself to an apple and a handful of mixed nuts as the complete sum of my eating for the rest of the day aside from that cupcake. And I did make note of the fact that the owner didn’t seem too focused on my accepting one of her cupcakes. I thought, in retrospect, it wouldn’t have been hard to avoid: I could have said that I was full or had just eaten, take a tactic like I was so connected to my writing that I couldn’t possibly eat right at this moment. I would buy something or sometimes they would just give it to me, and I would take it to go.

But I realized I didn't want to avoid unknown sweets.

I wanted to try the things I discovered, like the doughnut muffin at Columbia City bakery or the drinking chocolate at The Confectional. It was a lot of pressure to eat them without fearing that I was going to ruin my life.

At first, it was hard to indulge. Even on a strong day, eating sweets was never spontaneous; I would never just walk by a bakery or ice cream shop, think “hey, I’d like a treat” and then go buy myself something. I would go to a bakery after starving myself for 7 hours because only then did I deserve a cookie. Even on my most feel-good day, I would still re-arrange the rest of my eating to accommodate the deluge of calories from whatever treat I’d had; another meal would suffer or disappear entirely to make up for my indulgence.

When I did have a positive experience with a sweet (AKA it didn’t make me fat instantly) it became a regular part of my rotation, and I would eat the exact same diet around that sweet every day until I couldn’t bear it anymore. I would go to the same bakery every day and get the same thing. If they didn’t have it, I would turn around and leave. I was sure they thought I was weird. If they had multiple locations, I would alternate between them so that I would be less noticeable. I didn’t want anyone noticing my appetites.

Sometimes, a bite wasn't enough.

On a weak day, I would tell myself that I could only have a bite of something, and then surprise myself by devouring a pastry. Then I would berate myself for hours for lacking willpower. I’d choose a person in my life or think of a hollywood starlet such as Kate Bosworth or Lara Flynn Boyle and think, “that person wouldn’t have eaten the entire cookie”.

Judith Viorst said that “Strength is the capacity to break a Hershey bar into four pieces with your bare hands - and then eat just one of the pieces.' I echo the sentiment, though quite frankly I could let a hersey bar go. For me it’s a cookie, cupcake, or baked good. People who eat half a cupcake amaze and mystify me. I have an all or nothing mentality: once I start, I do not stop. When I try to cut a cupcake in half, saving the rest for “later”, the later usually ends up being less than five minutes later. For me, half a cupcake didn't and still does not exist.

Recovery was still a long road ahead.

To say that the rest of my recovery was a cakewalk would be a long shot. It didn't spiral out from this point in a joyful montage of me trying on outfits and eating cake to a snappy pop song. From this point, I still had a lot of work to do before I overcame my eating disorder. But finally, I was on the right track, with cake as my unlikely ally. I had learned that I was curious about the great wide world out there, and that even if I wasn't a participant in the non eating disordered world yet, I wanted to be. And that, my friends, was the first step.

This is where my recovery began.