Just desserts

Many of the conversations I have with customers in the bakery are repetitive and predictable. Most of this is pretty expected: we have quite a number of items, but not that many. You can only ask for so many things. But part of the repetitive nature of the conversation has to do with people (mainly women) commenting about how fattening everything is, how can I be skinny and work in a bakery?!?, and how what they're buying is for "someone else."

I just want to shake some of them* and say "I don't care. Really. I'm not judging you for buying a sweet treat. I really don't care. What's more, I'm kind of glad you indulge your overpriced sweet tooth because it means I have a job. And it's not my dream job, but I do rather like getting a paycheck."

What these people are really doing is apologizing for buying something "fattening" and "tempting." I have plenty of issues with apologizing, to be sure, but the cultural mea culpa when it comes to eating is something else. I want to say "You are buying food in a grocery store- there's nothing to be ashamed of!"

A woman yesterday bought an eclair and said it was for her husband. She had just started Weight Watchers and wanted to "be good" so she was going to watch him eat it, "with tears running down my cheeks." All I could think was: and I'm the one with the eating disorder? Why must everyone else be so conflicted about something that my treatment team has been telling me for years is a good and necessary part of life?

More than that, it's really boring. I am so incredibly sick of thinking about food and weight and good and bad and should I or shouldn't I. To have these thoughts echoed in the people around me is just annoying. And so I want to say (to them and to me):

It's just food.
That's all.
You don't have to feel guilty
or ashamed
for eating food you like.
There's nothing wrong.
I'm not judging you.
It's just dessert.
Enjoy it.
And then move on.

*Not the least of which was the old lady who yelled at me for mislabeling the pecan cinnamon rolls as our regular cinnamon rolls. I told her that wasn't pecans on top, just streusel. She said no, it was pecans. I said it was streusel and grabbed several other boxes to show her. She got angrier and angrier, saying No, it's PECANS, until I finally convinced her that it was streusel by showing her the pecan rolls. And she said "Well, how can I see that without my glasses?"


Anonymous said...

Very much agree. I think you are very strong to put up with listening to this every day. Can I ask what you do say to them in response and whether you'd consider saying what you have written to them? I think it is something most women could do with hearing!

James Clayton said...

I have no idea how you manage it sometimes. Carrie, you're incredible, bold and probably well within your rights to fling creamcakes at stupid people.

I guess there's no way around it other than putting a pin badge on that says "I have suffered with eating disorders so think about what you say when you're buying your perfectly acceptable baked goods. Yes, I know it's an odd job for someone like me to have". The old lady probably wouldn't be able to read that without her glasses though...

I agree with the above poster: maybe it would be good for everyone involved if you let out the 'it's just food. Don't feel guilty' speech every time something like that happens.

Sarah said...

I am also interested in what you say in response. I purposefully avoided working in food services for the first several years of my recovery (I still haven't worked in food services since beginning recovery, come to think about it, save a few catering jobs!) I thought there was a high potential that I could be creeped out by the food prep and derailed by comments like this. Now I would see my role more as educator since I am a lot further in my recovery, but I'm sorry you have to put up with this stupid stuff. It's seriously just food. An eclair has no more power over you than anything else you are eating.

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

It reminds me of "apologizing" for eating a simple meal-"I'm sorry, I was too hungry and couldn't help it. Won't do it again."

I'm beginning to think most women (and increasingly men too) have eating problems and feel they have to apologize for occasionally indulging because society and the media has constantly beat the drum about obesity, and no almost no one can enjoy a treat once in while, whether they have an eating disorder or not.

Just one aside: did you know that many school districts have actually banned baked sales as fundraisers because they feel it promotes unhealthy eating? These kind of sales were staples of my childhood, and place where people would show off what they could make and gather and chat, have coffee, sample some of the stuff? Now many schools no longer are allowed to have them.

elizabeth marley said...

One of the hardest parts about my recovery has been realizing that EVERY woman I know (and some men, too) diets in one way or another. They skip lunch to make up for dinner, subsist on salads all week to be "skinny for the weekend". It has been so strange to hear my ED's lies and excuses coming out of my friends' mouths. And yet, I'M the one who is sick?

I think it's nearly impossible to reconcile your ED with the cultural attitudes towards thinness and dieting. Impossible.

Anonymous said...

Your story about the lady with the cinnamon rolls made me laugh, and reminded me of an old Fawlty Towers incident involving a demanding hotel guest named Mrs. Richards. I highly recommend seeing it - I'm sure you can get it from local library or on Netflix, or maybe even a snippet on YouTube.

I too get so annoyed with that kind of talk, and with the use of the words "good" and "bad" in connection to eating and food. Sadly, my disgust at it seems to have even soured a friendship (not a true close one, apparently)- a friend and I were going to go out for drinks and when she started whining about how fattening drinks were I told her that we could not go out for drinks if she was going to discuss the calories in them. She cancelled and we haven't gone out since. I ALWAYS comment when someone talks in this way to me, because I want to let them know I do not want to hear it. Maybe if there was a nice way you could do so - with a smile, of course - maybe say something like "there is no bad food in this store!", or "life is too short to deny yourself a cinnamon roll", it would reduce your frustration a bit and maybe just maybe, wake a few customers up.

C said...

Silly old woman - she blamed you rather than herself!

I think that as food has become more abundant, cheap and freely available, it has become the focus for some people to self-medicate or deny themselves, whereas before in the history of civilization, there was less opportunity to do so. So it's become almost normal to have 'disordered eating' to some extent, especially for women. We've forgotten what normal eating actually is. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/08/26/what-is-normal-eating/

Adrianna said...

I know what you mean. I can't go anywhere where there's food, in my home, out in public, without hearing these tirades from my mother.

"Like I really want clogged arteries."

"Ugh! Could it be any more fattening?"

"WAAAY too much sugar?"

"Adrianna, am I losing weight? Huh? Huh? Have I been good?"

Where's my rope?

Never mind, I'll just eat some cupcakes-according to my mother, it's just as effective.

On a serious note, why, all of a sudden, does diet talk follow us wherever we go? And why does no one question whether something is being taken too far?

What truly disgusts me is the growing number of teenagers "watching their weight."

Honey, you need to GAIN weight. That's what adolescents is all about.

Even more shameful are the number of kid shows that encourage young girls to "watch their weight" and "make healthy choices."

Dieting has NEVER been considered healthy among children and teens. This is a crime.

Kim said...

You'd think with my "eating issues" I would have sympathy for women bitching about sweets and weight and all that, but it annoys me to no end. I just think it's so boring, like you said. And, I do have those thoughts of, "Why am I considered 'disordered'? It seems like NOBODY, even 'normal' people can be UNconflicted about food." Whenever I hear women lamenting what they just ate, or what they're tempted to eat, I try to smile and make some little "life is short" comment. Inside, I'm much snarkier. I think, "Do I look like I give a shit?"

Cammy said...

Very interesting, goes to show that although eating disorders are devastating, disordered eating and distorted relationships with food are rampant and difficult to resolve when they're so integrated into our culture. I remember a therapist at one point showing me my results on an ED assessment, and the "normal" and "disordered" curves for scores converged during the early 20s. Scary.

Laura said...

Working in a bakery is actually something I would love to do, but my ED definatley would hold me back. Even though it is not as though I woiuld be forced to eat anything there. It would be a great challenge to enjoy the smells, scenery, and surroundings.
Why do poeple have to feel ashamed for treating themselves?
Like you said, food is food,
Juat fuel your body with what it needs.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the fact people feel obliged to make these comments is a poor reflection on society and is not helpful for those of us with eating disorders.
But if you are "so incredibly sick of thinking about food and weight and good and bad" do you not think that maybe a bakery was a bad choice of employment? You seem to complain a lot about the environment you're working in and maybe its not the best place for you to be. Just a thought.

Carrie Arnold said...


You're right- I do seem to blog a bit about the drawbacks to working in a bakery. For the most part, however, I do like the job and the people I work with. I'm blogging about the 5-10% of the job that pisses me off and not mentioning much about the other bits, largely for privacy reasons, and they're not really all that exciting (although I'd be happy to tell you in grotesque detail about being on freezer duty this afternoon!).

Whining and getting snarky is one of my personal failings, especially with respect to my sense of humor. For instance, I loved the movie "Fargo." But none of my co-workers talks about food and weight, which is a nice change.

Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

Yes that does make sense. I'm glad you enjoy the job for the post part, and I understand the difficulty of simply blocking out the food/weight related comments from the public.

rr said...

I also struggle with the fact that as I am more recovered I also have a more healthy attitude about food than those around me. It almost seems like we (as recovering people with ED) have to be 'healthy plus'.

My best friend (who has been amazingly supportive of me and my recovery) just had a big fight about a weight related joke/comment. I don't know if its something we will really recover from. He has apologized, but still doesn't really see what the big deal is. To me, it points to a value difference between us, I value accepting food and bodies of all sizes and shapes and he values 'healthy eating'. I know these things are not mutually exclusive, but some 'healthy eating' (including desserts of all kinds) don't equal (his idea of) 'thin' for everyone (like me)

I did feel better about myself and my recovery after standing up to him about his comment. I agree with the above posts about finding some way to let the women know that its just food and its ok. I especially like the button idea. I also know from my experiences working retail that sometimes its not worth it, people will mostly believe what they want to believe. Sill, it might not hurt to have a few polite comments in your back pocket for those days when you just can't take it anymore and need to relieve the pressure a bit.

once again, thanks for your blog, its a lifesaver sometimes (i wish i had people like you in my groups at treatment.)

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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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