"Happy Birthday a little early," my husband Marc said as he handed me the brown to-go box. We were standing in the parking lot of an outdoor mall in our neighborhood, and he had just returned from grabbing a coffee. My heart began to pound, and my body tensed before I even opened it. I already knew what was inside. It was a bold move by Marc. He knew I hated it when he brought me "treats," and over the years, when he did come home with fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, big cinnamon rolls, and gooey brownies, they ended up in the trash. Reminding him, "I don't eat things like that," but really meaning, "I'm afraid I will eat ALL of that.” And now, staring at the brown box, I was ready to be pissed off. But then I remembered the assignment from my dietician Gretchen earlier that week, encouraging me to expose myself to" fear foods". The foods I had for years labeled a "no go” as they were foods I loved so much I was afraid if I took even a bite, I would lose all self-control and eat, eat, eat, unraveling all the self-discipline I was so proud to have achieved. And in that box, I knew, was the ultimate fear. Cake, specifically carrot cake, my favorite since I was little.
Confident I had enough self-control to confront it, I took a deep breath and opened the box, and as expected, nestled inside was a perfect square of cake staring back at me. The white cream cheese frosting in perfect little waves, the aroma of cinnamon and sugar wafting up to meet my nose, causing my mouth to instantly water.
Take a bite Sherri, my healthy brain gently coaxed as I ran my finger along the edge of the cake, scooping up some frosting and popping it into my mouth. The creamy goodness coating my tongue and setting my brain on fire.
That's enough! My anorexic brain shouted, sensing danger, Stop NOW!
But with that one bite, the wheels were set in motion, and, surprisingly, I had no intention of stopping. Maybe it was fear because I was in week two of treatment and had made very little progress. Perhaps it was the determination to prove to Gretchen I could meet her request, or possibly it was the knowledge if I did not cause the hand of the German Dictator to move upwards, I would land in the hospital. But maybe, finally, I just caved and let myself eat the damn cake.
"Did you want me to get you a fork?" Marc asked a look of shock and disgust on his face as I ripped a big piece off, shoving it in my mouth with my fingers, the excess crumbs tumbling off my chin and catching on the front of my sweater.
"Nope, I'm good," I said, my mouth full and my voice muffled, but with a tone that clearly relayed," back the F*&k off." Like being reunited with first love, I wanted nothing to interfere with the moment's electrifying, body tingling sensation.
I was giddy. I had missed this, the pure joy of eating a food I loved, one that was not only delicious but held so many happy memories of birthday parties and family celebrations. At that moment, a warmth filled my body with a satiety that went far beyond physical hunger.
But when it was gone, the spell was broken. I stared at the empty box, my fingers sticky and my teeth numb, and the reality of what I had just done hit hard. As we walked home from the mall, I waited anxiously for what I knew was to come next. The guilt from consuming so many calories, the uncomfortable bloat from eating something decadent, but mostly, I hung my head and waited for the shame to destroy me. Scolding me for losing my ever-present self-control. I was ready to suffer the consequences of my actions.
But they never came, leaving me instead with a new sensation, one that I had no idea how to handle.