Your sacred cows.

Okay, so I'm going to use a Western metaphor for a literal Hindu belief, that was inspired by a recent post from the blog On Simplicity.

We all have sacred cows—those rules, guidelines, and things that we feel are immutable and untouchable, writes blog author Sara. I’m of the opinion that some things really are sacred, but they’re few and far between. Most of things we’re “supposed” to do are really quite optional.

An eating disorder kind of requires many sacred cows- rules that cannot be broken no matter how inane or inconvenient, concepts and delusions held tight by the sufferer that no one else can quite understand. One of my sacred cows has to do with calories, which for an eating disorder, really isn't surprising. However, you throw in a large pinch of OCD and you have my problem: foods need to have a "nice" number of calories. Despite my math major and smashing ability at mental arithmetic, my food needs to come in increments of 25, 50, 75 or 100. And numbers that end in 50 and 100 are far better than those that end in 25 or 75.

So when I discover that the Eggo waffles I want to buy have calories that look like X+10, I kind of have a meltdown in the freezer aisle. Thermodynamics be damned- it is possible. Yes, I bought the Eggos, largely because I knew that the 90 calorie yogurts I had in the fridge would not only make a nice topping, but also make the waffles into a "nice" number and the world would be well.

Yep. Sacred cow.

It's really a pain in the ass, and even I know this. I know it's not rational, I know those extra 10 calories aren't going to appear on my thighs in all of their waffle-y goodness and make the crazy guy next to me on the Metro squirt some syrup on me (I've seen stranger things happen).

There are other rules, of course. I have a specific breakfast I eat pretty much every day. I might mix things up and have blueberries or an apple instead of my banana, but otherwise? I eat the same breakfast everyday. And I'm pretty okay with that. Part of it is liking the breakfast, and that it's easy to prepare in less than 5 minutes when you're 90% comatose. Part of it, thought, is the rituals and rigidity that's a part of the disorder. I'm working with my therapist not to stop eating that breakfast for good, because that's not the point. I want to be able to eat a different breakfast if I choose and be okay with that.

Eating breakfast is a sacred cow that must stay. Skipping meals is bad. I've learned a few things in my recovery and that is probably the top one. But what I have for breakfast- whether it's my standard fare, my X+10 calorie waffles, or something completely different, can't be so stinking sacred.


Lisa said...

I've always found the DC metro to be remarkably clean. My boyfriend has never reported any syrup-wielding weirdos, but it might still be a good idea to watch out.

Why IS breakfast so hard to change? It wasn't until I started my winter-break job that I switched up the breakfast I'd been eating for almost three years ... and now I only eat my "new" breakfast. I agree that it probably has something to do with being still half-asleep - you need something comforting to make the rest of the transition.

Libby said...

I've been dithering a lot lately about whether or not I should start eating beef again. I quit sometime in college and except for a few bites here or there, I haven't had any in years. Ironically, I think beef may be one of my "sacred cows"...

Kim said...

Ah yes, the lovely rules. We all have our own, and we all consider them sacred. We follow them, religiously. One of my weirder ones is thinking that if I have Mexican food for lunch, I have to have Mexican food for dinner. Whereas I can say many of my other rules are restriction-based, this one is just out there...except that I guess placing any "rule" on eating behavior IS restricting. Like you, I have trouble changing up my breakfasts. I have gone from one default, to about 3 or 4 options, which is good...but I still go back to my default quite often. Is this OCD? Or is this just the ED thinking up ways to keep us in some kind of box?

Kara said...

I'm new to your blog. I love this post on Sacred Cows. It makes me think about the important things in life and how I want to put more emphasis on them instead of all the ED rules (that shouldn't be Sacred Cows).

I have an ED blog too. I'd love to be blogging buddies.

Carrie Arnold said...


True- the Metro system is quite clean and safe. But never quite oddball-free...


We all have food quirks. For instance, I love raisins and nuts, but I don't like them in things (such as cinnamon raisin bagels). And I think it's important to evaluate how this "sacred cows" interfere with our lives. I mean, if it's no big deal that you then have to have Mexican for dinner, it might be worth a temporary shoulder shrug.

Gaining Back My Life said...

I had to chuckle when I read this - I made homade waffles for breakfast with blueberris on top. I haven't had waffles in ages - oooooh, the scandal of it all!

Hurrah for you.

And Kim - I laughed at your 'mexican for L & D' rule - I'm the same way!

Kim said...

That's a good point -- does the sacred cow interfere with life? I am often very hard on myself about the rules I have. I think I am too far into recovery to have these rules. But, no, they don't really interfere with my life...and if a Mexican dinner was not an option, for example, I would not self-combust (I don't think). There are other quirks I don't even bother analyzing (like why I like olives on pizza, but never by themselves). I should probably just accept some things and move on. A good shrug of the shoulders is great advice. Thank you.

Carrie Arnold said...


I mean, part of the reason I'm challenging myself to mix up my breakfast is so that I know I can do it should I ever need to. So maybe trying the Mexican lunch-but-not-dinner before the situation arises might be a way to boost your confidence that you won't self destruct. And then you can follow your rule as you like and know that you don't have to. It might not be the most comfortable, but you'll be able to do it.

Kim said...

Agreed. It's good for me to break rules to know that I CAN, even if I don't prefer to. I guess even "normal" people have food rules. I'm way too hard on myself about mine. I think I'm a freak and that just feeds into the mean self-talk, blah blah blah. As long as we're not trapped by our choices, it's probably ok. If you can have a different breakfast, that's great, but there's probably not much wrong with the one you're eating either.

Anonymous said...

I think it's true that people with eating disorders have more "rules" than those who aren't dx'd w/EDs ... but also more likely to see food preferences and patterns as rules/sacred cows than social counterparts.

My husband doesn't have an eating disorder or disordered anything of any kind, but he has eaten practically the *exact* same lunch for the past almost two decades we've been married ... exceptions being special occasions, holidays, impromptu opportunities for something different, or just running out of turkey, wheat-berry bread, yellow tortilla chips, two fruits, and a Little Debbies "nutty bar" or oatmeal pie.

The exceptions are probably the defining difference. And whether, as you say, you feel bound by your rules ... or whether they're defaults that ED-people might be more apt to ruminate about or become attached to.

I have gone through lots of "phases." None of them were so much about the content of the food item(s) themselves but more about the almost superstitious feeling that change might be risky, uncomfortable, "dangerous," upsetting. That anxiety about not wanting to be anxious, so let's not rock the boat. That's what it is for me ... and I notice the same in hospital units. Everyone has their safe/unsafe preferences, and they're all mostly about the sacred-cow'ness of it.

Carrie Arnold said...


You make a really good point. I think a lot of people eat the same things, say, for breakfast or whatever, but people with EDs are much more likely to make that sacrosanct rather than just an eating rut or a habit.

Thanks for pointing that out!

A:) said...

I know I have many rules that I am attempting to work with my dietican on DURING weight restoration, as these things tend to get harder afterwards. . .

Just out of curiousity Carrie, do you find it more difficult to challenge yourself/break up routine after you have been weight restored or during?

How much did you challenge these "sacred cows" during the initial weight recovery itself?

Just curious. Trying to get some pointers from someone who has been there. . .


Labyrinith said...

I've been reading your blog for sometime now and haven't commented much-for no reason other then I just well, didn't. I love this Scared Cow post. In fact, I want to copy it (of course give credit to you) and send it to some friends. Eds and Ocd are so intertwined. I am a scared cow most of the time when it comes to food/eating/timing/etc. I don't know if I sent you a link to my blog (emy made that group on FB. let me know. it is
Be well Carrie and keep posting. I love reading what you have to say. Kiersten

Labyrinith said...

Oops I just checked and I already gave you permission. anyway, again great post! Good luck w/ the breakfast change. I'm rooting for you! K

Carrie Arnold said...


During weight restoration, as long as my "sacred cows" didn't interfere with gaining weight and a balanced diet (my fat free sacred cow had to go, alas), then they were kind of left intact. Tackle the important stuff first- the rest can weight.


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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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