Thursday, 1 March 2018


Act One, They Meet

(Old Ms. Pac-Man arcade game music here)

Ever since I saw it on an old season of the Great British Bake-Off, I’ve been thinking about the Prinsesstårta. NB: This isn’t quite as sad as it seems. I didn’t start watching GBBO until I got back to London, and I don’t think about this cake every day!

It’s really been in my head since late last month, when I met up for dinner with a Swedish friend and another friend (Welsh, for the record), both of whom raved about the cake and a particular Swedish bakery in London where it’s served. All three of us have similar tastes in dessert -- our WhatsApp group actually is called Crumble Lovers, in homage to a restaurant we like where the apple crumble is so good we threaten to order it as an entrée and then again as a pudding. (For the record – and lest we sound super-piggy -- we stumbled upon the rather unlikely Crumble Mecca because we were in the area for an absolutely brutal VersaClimber class.)

Anyway, I went home after dinner and looked up the bakery. It turns out it’s about a five-minute walk from my counselor’s office. I promised myself one day after an appointment I’d go there.

I wasn’t at all sure I would.

You see, I’m not sure how religiously I ever ate the suggested two puddings a week the dietitian suggested. I think maybe I did at the beginning, though I always behaved with them the way I did about calories on a restricted diet or points when I was on Weight Watchers – I always wanted to bank them. I’d tell myself I was saving them for something amazing – or because I thought I might binge if I used them up early and didn’t have any leeway for several days – and I’d never use them. The rainy day never came, so to speak, but always, inevitably, there’d be a binge.

I realized the other day that I haven’t been eating any puddings. For awhile, it was because I ate so off piste in Thailand that I actually wanted a few weeks of simple, on-plan eating. But then it became: Oh, but I have this trip coming up and then this restaurant and then… Except yes, there always will be something on the horizon. But I realized if I never eat puddings kind of randomly – for no special reason, only because I want them – this is where the restriction and bingeing cycle takes root again.

And so today, even though I would happily have gone home to my regular snack (these days it’s so cold I’m loving porridge, to be honest) – even though I’m feeling so anxious about so many things – I went and bought the Prinsesstårta; braved the fear that it would not be enough, would kick start a binge.

I didn’t buy it to take home and eat where no one could see me do it. I bought a slice on a plate and took it and sat at a table with it, with no phone or magazine out, like I deserved to eat it and wasn’t making any apologies for eating it and wasn’t pretending I wasn’t eating it. I talked to the couple next to me – on a first date, I think – about travelling to Iran. And I ate my cake.

It was divine. I didn’t wish I had more, I didn’t debate buying anything else, and I have felt as good as I can feel tonight, under the circumstances (extreme anxiety about other things.)

Bring on the bonus round. 

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Constant Craving Redux

 I had decided I would wait until I could get to Ottolenghi for my cake. And in the meantime, when I’m in Covent Garden this week, I’d try Prinsesstarta from the Swedish bakery my (Swedish) friend recommends.

And yet the need is still there: for cream, for cake, for frosting, for too-fullness, for… I don’t know. Maybe the certainty that comes with a binge? That shrinking of the world, that excuse not to do anything much but get through the day, that acceptance of crappy things because I feel that is all I deserve, or because I’m too defeated to ask for more?

Life feels scary and filled with uncertainty at the moment. Bingeing is – to paraphrase the director of the treatment center I went to – “shit but it’s warm.”

I left dinner tonight with a friend where I couldn’t eat almost anything on the menu – something that’s never happened to me before, but I was allergic to one ingredient that happened to be in everything, including sauces. But I had a margherita pizza (their normal pizzas have my allergen – bell pepper – in the sauce) and a piece of my friend’s halloumi cheese (which was in the dish I originally wanted but that they wouldn’t make without peppers.) And I was thinking about dessert, which she didn’t want, and we aren’t good enough friends that I felt comfortable enough to get anyway.

I could feel myself detaching slightly from the conversation, slightly impatient, slightly thinking about where I could go for something afterward. I kept bringing myself back around. (For the record, I had gotten some fairly destabilizing news just before dinner; in fact had been a couple of minutes late because I was on the phone.) I could tell I wasn’t desperate – something that’s never happened before – just kind of seeking.

We said goodbye at the Tube, which normally I wouldn’t be taking three stops, but it was too cold and icy to walk the half hour home. Which maybe was lucky. I watched her recede down Parsons Green Lane and turned back to the Coop. I saw Dunkin Donuts, thought about the aching sweetness of a jam doughnut, and then remembered that the last time I’d had Dunkin Donuts I’d decided it was just too sweet. I wandered the aisles and there wasn’t anything that fitted the brief of what I wanted and – here’s the kicker – I just did not want to binge. I didn’t want to feel the way I would feel; didn’t want to wake up tomorrow and have to try to recover.

I bought myself a Cadbury Crème Egg – something I have eyed up several times but haven’t had yet this year – and came home and had my evening snack anyway. Prinsesstarta tomorrow. Ottolenghi… as soon as it stops snowing.

Monday, 26 February 2018

Constant Craving

In the supermarket I pass a small, boxed chocolate cake and I want to buy it and eat the whole thing. I walk down the street thinking about vats of steamed puddings. I eat a ready-made lasagna for lunch and it barely seems to touch the sides. There’s another in the refrigerator and I could pop it in the microwave and just keep eating, I think.

It’s on me right now, this desire to binge. It seemed to come out of nowhere yesterday afternoon. I was walking home from the Tube, having just been to lunch with an old friend, visiting from the US, and all I wanted was cake. Not just any cake, but cake with frosting. Preferably a layer cake or my favorite Ottolenghi cake.

I’d just had a Sunday roast, but I wasn’t full from it. It was in some bog standard pub by Paddington -- because he had to get on the Heathrow Express and go back to New York -- and it wasn’t very good, but I ate the whole thing anyway, almost without noticing. Well, without noticing anything but that it wasn’t that good and – like an old lady in the Catskills – that it wasn’t very big.

I kept walking, trying to think about where I could go. My favorite coffee place, where I always scrutinize the cakes but have never ordered any? No, there’s a reason why I’ve never ordered any – they don’t look sufficiently amazing. I kept walking.

Any of the chain coffee places near the tube? It was freezing and if I couldn’t think of something specific I wanted, I perhaps shouldn’t go looking for it. I kept walking.

The ginormous Tesco? Ditto, plus I’d almost automatically set myself up for a binge, with the quantity I’d have to buy. Kept walking.

Should I turn around and go toward South Kensington and get a Ben’s cookie? It was freezing (and yes, in that moment I was almost grateful it was freezing) and that really wasn’t what I wanted. (Don’t get me wrong; if it were in front of me, I’d probably have eaten it.) Almost home.

For the first time, though, I was considering and rationally discarding options, as opposed to becoming more and more frustrated to the point of a binge by my inability to get what I really wanted.

I thought about eating the random individual Christmas pudding I still have in my cupboard, but I knew it wouldn’t satisfy anything except the need to feel warm, however briefly. Well, that part, at least, I could satisfy. I went home and had some porridge – warm and stodgy – and decided I couldn’t face the cold again (and it was Sunday night) and I’d deal with procuring cake today.

Except it’s snowing and I’m inexplicably exhausted and I cannot face the trip. Cannot face the trip even for cake? I’m somewhat amazed that I can be this person – and also a person who can decide I will hang on until I get what I really want. The only trouble is, I’m not sure – in the face of all these cravings – how long I can sustain it…   

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Shades of Gray

I’ve started so many posts about so many things – started them in my head, anyway! – and after this amount of silence, it gets harder and harder even to think about either distilling it all into one post or settling on one thing to write about.

There are things I’m not ready to share because I’m superstitious and other things I’m not ready to share perhaps because following the train of thought required to write them here might take me somewhere I don’t want to go. (Spoiler alert: this entry is the latter.)

If I sound gray, I am, a bit. As gray as a London winter. That post-Christmas nothing-nice-is-ever-going-to-happen again feeling has settled in, especially because I had a trip to Thailand to look forward to right after New Year – and to shop for, since I owned no proper summer clothes -- and now that’s over, too. (It was maybe the best trip I’ve ever taken as well as my first proper holiday in years, and I suspect the abrupt removal of sunshine combined with the record cold here has also contributed to my current low.)

I feel a bit unmoored at the moment; peripheral. After so many years, my industry – on its deathbed practically since I got into it – really does seem to be dying, and I am struggling to work. There’s been a fair share of family drama that is ongoing. A handful of friendships that have really sustained me over the years – or in London over the past 18 months -- just… don’t anymore. Some are because I’ve changed enough that things I used to do – in some cases, because I didn’t think I deserved more – I’m trying not to do or to tolerate. Others are because things in their lives have changed drastically.

One in particular: My closest friend from treatment, who was also one of my closest friends here, seems to want nothing to do with anything recovery-related anymore. All the routines I had with her are gone; when I saw her last – just before Christmas (this is someone I used to see at least once a week and whatsapp a squillion times a day) she had gained enough weight for it to be visible.  I say this not in judgment, but to say I can guess what’s going on with her, and to imagine – no, remember, because I have done this before – that the world of recovery can be excruciatingly painful when you feel you are failing at it.

We weight-loss bloggers, or those of us who started that way, all know this instinctively, I guess. I mean, it was usually the reason for a long since on a weight-loss blog. It isn’t the reason for the silence on mine, though.

For the record, I’ve had my own slips – for the record, my counselor from treatment definitely didn’t believe perfection is possible with eating disorders, or (I think) even in counting days, though she wasn’t allowed to say that. But all it takes is one for some of the shame and fear to start creeping back in; the craving for control that makes me want to manipulate my world so I can stay home and eat safe things. Most of the time I recognize that’s what I want to do and don’t allow myself to do it. At times I’ve dipped into the gray area between overeating and bingeing, and -- on the other side of the danger scale for me – at times exercised too much. I haven’t weighed myself in at least two years, though, and even if no one is going to see me, I get dressed – in clothes with fitted waistbands – every day.  And they still fit, even if one or two days I confess I’m happy to get out of them.

I’m vowing to be back here more often. This blog and its readers, though few (certainly at this point!) have always been a huge source of comfort to me. In these gray times, I need to appreciate that.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Cake Tapas

On Sunday, Friend Bearing Chocolate became Friend Bearing Cake.

She’d been to cake school (yes, this is a thing), and when we met for coffee she brought me a container (funnily enough, it was for some sort of horrendous sounding no-sugar ice cream that must have been consumed by her housemate) filled with bits of things she’d made.

I looked at it, wondering if it were six servings? Two? Four? The only thing I was pretty sure was that it wasn’t one serving, which is the only way I really knew how to eat such a thing.

It sat on the table like a bomb. I’d so so SO nearly binged the night before, and one of the ways I’d gotten myself not to was to promise myself I would have something worth eating, not the sort of shite one can buy at midnight in Earls Court, after a really awful week and a rather triggering dinner with a newly gluten-free, dairy-free friend (English, but living on the west coast of America) who also doesn’t eat meat and a whole host of other things.

None of these cakes the friend came bearing were things I tend to crave. They were lovely, sure, but with the exception of the mince pie, none were things that would ever be my top choice. I imagined myself trying one and then the next, finishing them all looking for some particular taste none of them offered, and then ending up bingeing.

I thought about them a lot while we had our coffee. I’d throw them out after FBC left, I decided. She would never have to know. I’d done it before and I’d do it again.

And as we were leaving, I hesitated. I do eat everything these days – meaning no weird diets – and though I try to eat things that are worth eating, isn’t homemade cake the definition of that? Plus, part of what keeps me from bingeing, I think, is truly believing I can eat anything – and that I’ll stop believing that if I pass things up too often. The fear of them will solidify, like liquid turning to jelly.

Plus, plus – I also know I can’t, in the moment, eat things I suddenly start craving. I don’t go out and buy something the minute I think about it. If I’m still thinking about it the next day, then I have it. Usually I’ve forgotten about it. But again, what if I stop believing I can have these things – that I will always delay? That’s a binge waiting to happen. (In case you’re curious, I’m perfectly fine eating unplanned things at restaurants. But I don’t in the middle of the day get up and leave my house and go buy, say, Ottolenghi cake just because I think I have to have it. I know; it’s complicated. I’ve spent 16 months trying to work all these things out.)

Anyway. Just as we were leaving I said to FBC: “I have to ask you something.”

She looked worried.

I confessed I had no idea how to eat the cake tapas, which is what I’d mentally nicknamed the box.

I saw her face: Slightly shocked. But she recovered fast. Then matter-of-factly she suggested what she’d do, and the order in which she’d eat them (some would go off faster than others, which I wouldn’t know – when have I ever kept cake in my house long enough for it to go off?)

And so I had three days of cake. It was delicious. And fully worth the 30 seconds of embarrassment.