Being bad

"Oh, I'm being so bad!"

I can't tell how many times I hear that at the bakery over the course of a day. It's mostly women who say this, although it's not exclusively women. I keep asking myself: how did dessert get defined as bad or sinful or off-limits anyway?

I'm aware that the history is rather complicated, and I've read many books looking at the subject. It all seems to stem from the premise that under-eating is somehow virtuous, and over-eating is a sin. After all, gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly sins, but dieting is nowhere to be seen. I find the religious overtones fascinating, too: desserts as sin and exercise as atonement. It seems these religious sentiments are particularly associated with Christianity (although living in suburban America, Christianity is the dominant religion wherever I've lived). I mean, have you ever seen a fat Jesus?

Yet with all of the evil and wrongs and despair in this world--the oil spill in the Gulf, the wars, the economic difficulties--we most frequently refer to "bad" in context with dessert. It's cake! Eating it doesn't make you a sinner or a saint. It just makes you an eater of cake.

So when yet another women gave me her order ("One cannoli and a red velvet cupcake, please!") and then lamented, "Oh, I'm being so bad!" I looked at her and said the following:

"Ma'am, you said please and you're not stealing anything. How could you be bad?"

She looked at me.
And laughed.
And ruefully admitted: "I guess not."


Maddi said...

good for you telling her that! That is really funny! I think saying stuff like that becomes habit for people, and they hardly notice it, so its good you said something, and I am sure she will think twice before she says that again! ;)

Edna said...

Yes, the religious overtones with food can be fascinating. Heaven is pictured at times as a banquet, yet as you noted gluttony is a sin and fasting and prayer is commended! No wonder people get confused.

The constant labelling of food as good and bad or of eating certain things making us good and others making us bad is so unhelpful - thanks for doing your bit to challenge one person to stop doing it!

Amy said...

A few months ago, the pastor at my church gave a sermon in which excess also covered the excess of restriction, which I found to be absolutely fascinating. I've never, ever heard that brought up in church before. The pastor is a woman, which made it all the more powerful for me.

Cathy (UK) said...

Interesting post (as usual)...

As most people know, the first documented cases of anorexia nervosa (AN) were in saints/martyrs/ascetics who viewed food restriction as a form of self-discipline (and/or self punishment) which brought them closer to God.

For example, Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) claimed that her self-starvation (and scorn for bodily needs) enhanced her spiritual relationship with God. Apparently she also engaged in self-flagellation: scalding and beating herself and sleeping on a bed of thorns. Her behaviours are not dissimilar to many modern day sufferers of AN who starve, self harm and deny themselves of pleasure. I was one such individual.

My mother is an Anglican Priest (..yep, there are women priests in the Anglo-Catholic church). Having had a daughter who starved and punished herself for many years via AN she is reluctant to consider starving saints in the same way that some other people do....

Melissa said...

That story made me smile.

Mimi said...

Haha, so true. If only it were possible to turn the whole general attitude around 180 degrees... But I guess the work starts within ourselves- and well done you for speaking up and perhaps helping someone else see how bizarre this view of eating/indulging is!

Anonymous said...

I think it's great that you spoke up and helped her see that the dessert isn't really "bad." The way she admitted it suggests, also, that she knew it wasn't bad. Maybe she just thought it was what she was supposed to say? But anyway, I hope you keep speaking up in situations like that! I try to, because I'm sick of the whole dessert = bad thing as well.

Anonymous said...

Carrie, I love, love, love what you said to this woman! Bless you for saying that - you made me laugh too and I'm sure you allowed this woman to feel good about her treats and actually enjoy them without guilt. You rock.

hopeful mom said...

People around me at work know better by now than to say such things. When I hear that from other people I ask them if they spent the child's prescription money on that cupcake. If not, no problem, enjoy your treat.

Anonymous said...

I have an AN daughter and we have used the term "Cupcake Therapy" in our household.
At times I have literaly considered cupcakes part of her prescription for healing, so I'm laughing with hopeful mom.
Way to go Carrie - its just food!

Alley Cat said...

Amy, I love that!! Would you be willing to elaborate (just slightly)?

On religion, I think guilt can definitely be the fuel to many disorders. My grandparents have a similar thing with "no waste," which makes intuitive eating also hard!

That response to the customer was great and made me smile. :)

Sarah at Journeying With Him said...

Alley Cat,
In case Amy doesn't return, here's my take on that as a Christian. I don't know what perspective her pastor comes from, but this is what I think about that issue. For someone with a binge eating issue or gluttony problem, food becomes a fantasy, an object of planning and thinking, a tool to blissfully numb out, etc, while the whole time it is harming their body. Along those same lines, restriction preoccupies thinking, actions, emotions, and body. In the Christian church, your body is viewed as God's temple and your mind should be fixated on things that are good--not things that lead to your destruction. When you read the scriptures, food is used for fueling yourself and for celebrations. Jesus and his disciples did not abuse food; they had more important things to do like their ministry of healing and teaching. I imagine that "gluttony" could be interpreted to mean giving food too much attention in light of what is truly important.

Here are two scriptures that reflect this viewpoint:
Romans 12:1-2 says, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will."

"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." -Philippians 4:8

Sorry to hijack your thread, Carrie. I just get excited whenever someone asks theology questions since I am married to an Master's of Divinity candidate and we talk about theology nonstop in our house :) I think your response to this woman was lovely, and I agree with Maddi--hopefully it challenged her thinking a little bit.

Amy said...

Alley Cat & Sarah -
It was right as Lent started, and it was not necessarily just about food, but about seeking moderation in all things. It just felt really good to hear someone say that being the best restricter/denier isn't virtuous either.

Anonymous said...

Well said! It really frustrates me when I hear people talking like this. The concept of food as a reward, or a guilty pleasure is just plain wrong. Food is sustenance, enjoyable hopefully but it is JUST food.

Crimson Wife said...

I've never heard a man label himself as "bad" for eating greasy pizza or bacon cheeseburgers or whatever. It's always women and it's usually sweets. My suspicion is that the real issue has to do with the subconscious discomfort with sex. After all, chocolate stimulates the same area in the woman's brain that sex does. If we've internalized the message that nice girls shouldn't like sex, it should not surprise us when we feel guilty over eating the cupcake.

James Clayton said...

Crimson Wife: I'm pretty sure that I've heard men chastise themselves for being 'bad'. I definitely have and continue to do so. And then you feel guilty for feeling guilty and the guilt trip goes on.

Great post and nice story though. Good job!

AliciaV said...

I worked in a bakery for 8 months. I heard this all the time. Because I was "in recovery" at the time, I would smile and chat while silently rolling my eyes because I knew they weren't being bad, just distorted. It wasn't until I was relapsed, and then fired (for other reasons) that I began to realize the exact things you posted.

You see, 'recovery' took me 12 years to acheive. By the time I was working there, I was 'healthy', albeit heavier than I ever was. I was happy to be in my body, 'heavy' or not, until a letter from my doctor (which included her full transcription of our appointment), indicated that I was a happy, overweight woman.

It was upon recieving this letter that I felt myself slowly starting to relapse. Six months later, I'm in a full relapse, and I now understand and accept what these women were saying.

It's not because they were bad. They aren't sinful or sacriligous. Instead, society, and doctors, have indeed brainwashed us to believe that eating anything without nutritional value makes us bad and unworthy. The 'slip' of eating a dessert means we have broken our promise to be 'healthy' individuals who only eat proper and healthy foods. It means we have screwed up our health and destined ourselves to be obese, unhealthy individuals.

Funny thing, last time I checked, one cannoli or red velvet cupcake does not equal thousands of calories. They do not equal a cardinal sin. They are just food, a nutritional source of energy for our body. They might not offer any more than calories and fat for our body (both of which it needs in moderation), but it offers pleasure, something the diet/beauty/medical industry has seriously ignored for more than two decades.

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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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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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