Disordered eaters in the bakery

It was bound to happen sooner or later: a customer in the bakery who was absurd and fanatical about the calorie and fat content of her desserts. First she asked for the lowest calorie item we had, and I tried to stall and say "Hmmm...I don't know..." Which I didn't, and I also wanted to stay as far away from this conversation as I could. She narrowed it down a bit and asked if we had anything sugar-free. I told her we had sugar free cheesecake and no sugar added pies. From what I've heard the cheesecake is pretty good (from a person who hates anything diet-y, and she couldn't tell the difference in a blind taste test), I can't say much about the pie. So she asked how many calories and fat were in some of our other desserts- the carrot cake (hey- it's vegetables!), the cupcakes, the fruit tarts, and so on. None of them were up to her "standards," either because they had too many calories and fat, or because they had some ingredient she didn't like.

By this point, all I wanted to do was shake the women and yell, "Lady, if you're this paranoid about your food, just make it yourself!!"

After almost 15 minutes of deliberating, she eventually settled on the sugar free cheesecake.

It was one of those experiences that I understood and yet I didn't. When I am deep into the eating disorder, the idea of dessert is absurd. I wouldn't trust anything not made by myself anyway, and so I often made a "safe" dessert so that I knew exactly what I was eating. I've interrogated Starbucks baristas about whether they used skim milk and sugar free syrup in my latte. I had calorie counting guides and ingredient lists bookmarked in my web browser. So on some level, the anorexic Carrie understood the paranoia.

She didn't understand why this woman was going to eat dessert if all she was going to do was torture herself, but nevertheless, she got the paranoia.

The recovering Carrie really wanted to throttle her and remind her that this was just one dessert on one day out of the year. Enjoy your f*cking cake! Let it go. In ten years--in ten months, in ten days--it won't matter. I know this woman was probably twice my age, but I've learned that much in my years. The recovering Carrie also couldn't understand why the woman was going to eat dessert if all she was going to do was torture herself- it seems the rational thing to do would be just to skip it.

I'm not unsympathetic to the mental torment this lady was going through, but it pisses me off when I think "Hey, I'm the one with the eating disorder here!" I suppose she very well could have had an ED, too, but it seemed more of the garden-variety disordered eating to me.

Of course, the lady had to come in right before I was scheduled to take my dinner break, and this whole exchange really set off the ED voices. I was thinking that I, too, should emulate this woman's concern over everything in her food- surely it was a good thing, right? Then I started mind reading and wondering what she must have thought about the fact that (gasp!) I had a cupcake last night that wasn't low fat (gasp! gasp!). I realized that I was worried a demented lady might be judging me based on desserts she didn't know I had eaten, which even I could see was a little irrational. I reminded myself that this lady's food drama was only her food drama, and I didn't need a soap opera-length script to find a cupcake.

Another older lady asked me if the apple pie had a lot of sugar in it, and I wanted to say, "Well, yeah, it's pie, of course it has lots of sugar in it. What did you think was going to be in there- cod liver oil?" But I just said yes, I'm sure the pie probably did.

This incident brought up all sorts of conflicting emotions in me from guilt (why aren't I doing this?) to relief (I sure am glad I'm not doing this!). I know that these incidents are going to be inevitable when you work in a bakery, but I wasn't prepared for the torrent of thoughts and emotions that flooded through. The big difference is that I'm able to see just how ridiculous this whole scenario was.


Maddi said...

The whole thing with the lady being all choosey is weird. but I can see where she is coming from! She may have disordered eating, but she is trying hard to meet her calorie goals. I know, sounds far fetched, but you never know. That could have been me, knowing I needed a couple hundred more cals to meet my goal, but not wanting to go over so therefore freaking out about it! I dont know, but anyway, dont let some lady who is obsessing with the fat content bother you because guess what? She waas the one eating the cake, not you! ;)

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

Part of me had to laugh at this. I am (still) the biggest pain in the ass to wait on, and hence I am a 20 percent tipper unless I am given absolutely horrendous service, because I question everything and substitute this for that and everything has to be on the side and so on ... I once sent back a cafe mocha because, egads they put whipped cream on it when I said no whip, but really, why the hell was I drinking a cafe mocha and not expecting them to put whipped cream on it anyway??? Then throw in the fact I can't have MSG (unless I want a raging migraine after my meal), it's a wonder anyone in this small town will even wait on me.

On the other hand, I also felt sad reading about her, because I understand her paranoia and actually am still in the grips of my own about fat, calories, etc. right now. Just this evening, I threw a raging fit at my husband (who is supposed to be in charge of my eating, per Dr. S's stupid suggestion after my monthlong restriction and subsequent hospitalization- great idea, give the husband power, bah humbug!) after he dared to put more instant mashed potatoes on my plate than I felt was a normal portion. I quizzed him - how did you make it? how much butter? did you measure the portion, and how can you be sure it was a half-cup and not more and was he just trying to force me to eat more than I absolutely had to? (He gave up and went in the garage to get away from this interrogation.)

Your customer might have been told by some well-meaning therapist to try something new, dessert (another idea of Dr. S's I haven't yet implemented) and was terrified by the prospect. Or maybe not; who knows. Kind of sucks being on the other side of the obsession, but just reading it makes me want to go back and re-tip all the waitresses and service people I have relentlessly quizzed about their products throughout the years.

MissBlueBird88 said...

Personally, I love you for having had a cupcake that wasn't low-fat last night:)

Cathy (UK) said...

To be concerned what other people are eating, weighing etc. has always confused me, because it is something that I have never experienced as part of my anorexia nervosa (AN). Yet, I have repeatedly observed the huge anxiety and emotional conflict that many people with AN have in regard to what other people are eating, how much they weigh, what clothing size they are... (etc.). And, furthermore, the conviction of many anorexic individuals that they, personally, 'should' be eating less and weighing less than other people - and if they are not eating less, weighing less (etc.) they feel frantic.

I have read of this so much in people's autobiographies and blogs of the 'anorexic experience'. It seems that amongst many anorexic individuals there is a sort of 'competitive anorexia'. But surely the danger of this is that the 'best anorexic' dies?

I wonder what lies behind it? My own experiences of AN were quite different and intensely personal, in that I was stuck in my own little world of hyper-control and starvation. I rarely noticed what other people were eating and didn't care either. All that mattered was that I adhered to my own, self-created rules around eating and exercise - not that it did me any good whatsoever...

I'd be interested to know... For people with this type of 'competitive anorexia', does self esteem depend wholly on their AN, and hence upon their capacity to be 'better at it' than other people?

Finding Melissa said...

I completely agree with MissBlueBird88!...but I can also relate to your feelings a lot.

I have many conflicting feelings in relation to other people talking about food and dieting, and even others with eating disorders.

In response to Kathy's comments, I have written a little bit about it here (http://www.findingmelissa.co.uk/2009/05/perfectionism/); but I increasingly feel that it is linked into a sense of not feeling that I have a clear position and connected, somehow, to the identity issue. I think you touched on this in one of your Roadblocks to Recovery (On Average) - or at least both posts made me realise that because my self esteem was so low, I tried to create a space for myself via the eating disorder and, therefore, if other people impinged on this, I was bound to feel threatened or competitive.

It's all very confusing! - but your post has made me realise that processing this experience is important as they will keep coming up! It's also a great reminder that life is even more important.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure it will get easier to deal with people like that as it happens more often (unfortunately, being in the food service industry, you will encounter people like that). I am so glad you realized how ridiculous that lady was being. Don't let people like that make you think twice about what you're doing. You're doing great!

You're right, if that lady was so concerned with the fat/calorie/sugar content of her DESSERTS, then why did she even bother to go to the bakery? I've been guilty of behavior like this too and looking back on it now I am able to laugh.

Cammy said...

I understand your frustration, but I can definitely see parts of my former self in that lady as well. I made it myself if I wanted a dessert and was that concerned about the nutritionals, personally...I can think of many times I've ordered food or a drink and then simply thrown it away because I was so overwhelmed with anxiety that it hadn't been prepared "right." People like me are the reason I could never be a waitress.

But maybe she needed the dessert for a special occasion, or was trying to challenge herself in some way, and was a little freaked out by the prospect of it. Maybe she has a husband who makes comments about what she eats all the time when she does want to indulge. We can never ever tell what's going on under the surface with people...

Sorry that episode was triggering, hang in there! Remember what you eat has absolutely nothing to do with anyone else, woot for cupcakes!

Kim said...

I always try to use these situations to look at what's going on with me. I tend to feel very annoyed with women like this, and then I get annoyed with myself for being annoyed. I mean, I spent a long time fretting over calories and fat and all that. Shouldn't I have compassion? I know it's complicated for my psyche though. I'm probably irritated that I've had to overcome her fears, and relieved simultaneously. I'm irritated that we live in a culture where this is so prevalent. And, sometimes, I'm just irritated that people are so vocal about their quirks. I was always a very quiet anorexic -- ha. I would have calculated the desserts beforehand. Hehe. Anyway, these days, I tend to feel rather bored and apathetic toward people who are like this. I don't know if that's better. It probably is. I still let out a sigh.

James Clayton said...

Interesting and I feel the frustration. Just another brief thing to add in questioning why the woman was putting herself through the torment: I can understand the weird 'appeal' of putting yourself through torment.

It's masochism and I know that the constant tension of 'will you/won't you' can be a powerful drive and affect all those control triggers and desires. Putting everyone else in the bakery through the same thing though? Hmmm...

The testing times come and I just suppose you've just got to take them as they come. Life can be confusing.

Kel said...

I just have to say, because I'm in the medical profession, the older lady asking about the sugar content could have been diabetic. Just something to keep in mind.
It sounds like it was a hard day though, it would have annoyed me too : )

Krystal said...

I have to leave a comment, although maybe a bit off-subject from the point of your post. I am a recovering bulimic and in my high school days when I was pretty much starting out on the road to bulimia, I worked in a bakery too. We got to eat pretty much whatever we wanted for free. The free donuts were definitely a "perk" of the job.

Anyway, as a bulimic who used to frequent bakeries, I would have been the opposite of this woman and tried to go as unnoticed as possible. I might have even made up some lie, as if the clerk would care, about bringing treats for work or something to make it seem like it was not for me. It makes me wonder what the clerks thought of me - a fairly slim girl buying a bunch of baked goods. I always thought they could see right through me, I always had a guilty conscience, like they knew my plan was to binge/purge later on, but most likely, they did not really even think about it unless they were eating disordered themselves. . .

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

Actually, when I was working full-time I used to bring boxes of donuts and other baked goods to the office and then not eat one bite. At first everyone thought I was just being such a nice co-worker; later people caught on that this was my way of vicariously eating by feeding them what I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. (Sort of like how other anorexics like to cook for people - I always brought a ton of junk to work for no reason. I now feel a bit guilty about doing this, because I later found out at least one of my co-workers was really struggling with binge eating and I probably wasn't helping her. )

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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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