A couple of years ago, my Father died, and through an unfortunate series of events, it turned out that we had to have three separate funerals for him. Sometime during the weekend of the 2nd service, several boxes arrived from a bakery. They contained huge doughy-buttery-sugary cookies, covered in thick, brightly-colored glazes.
As some point, I started to have one. I had been really tightwalking up until that point with my eating and emotions, and when I took the first cookie, it was with a sort of resigned numbness. Too much was going on for me to process whether this was a worthy food choice.
The explosion of sugar and fat in my mouth was remarkable, especially because I had pretty much weaned myself off of refined sugar products for the prior two years. Like an alcoholic taking a swig of scotch, this first cookie hit me like a ton of bricks. No wonder they call them ‘trigger’ foods.
I began breaking off more and more pieces, and then when I thought no one was looking, I took entire cookies and ate them up quickly. Eventually I began slipping more and more of them out of the box, and hiding in my Mother’s basement while I greedily scarfed them down.
It was on that day, at that time, that I trace my eventual re-gain of ten uncomfortable pounds. Because even though the binge itself was over in 36 hours, the emotional and physical repercussions were immense. I was both remorseful about overeating, and completely hooked on the feeling that I got from ingesting refined sugar in such large doses. As I flew back to California, I felt something had snapped inside me.
I’m strong, and I held the line as much as I could, using every strategy in the book (seeking help, journalling, exercising a lot, sleeping, more veggies, etc.). But week by week, month by month, my weight edged upward as the occasions I slipped up began to outnumber the days I stayed in control. The best I can say is that I eventually stopped gaining, after about six months.
Yesterday, in the checkout line at Whole Foods (of all places!) I spotted a basket of nearly identical cookies. Thick white-flour sugar cookies, coated with gobs of sweet glaze, brightly colored, in the shape of flowers.
And in my mind, all the events of my Father’s funeral were triggered like some kind of an uncontrolled avalanche.
So I did something I often do these days — I pulled out my camera phone, I snapped a picture, and I e-mailed it to my friend Richard. Richard is used to getting random food-photos from me all day long (I hope he just deletes them!). What he understands, I think, is that once I share this visual with another person, and remark upon my reaction to it, the temptation is somehow remarkably reduced. Whether its greasy pizza, piles of donuts, bags of chips, mountains of candy, or whatever, sending a photo to Richard is something that helps me process that single emotional moment.
Just describing the situation, the trigger item, and the subsequent consequences to Richard left me feeling worn out and impotent. But his reply was so comforting:
Your story tells us how terribly vulnerable we are to triggers sending us right back into eating patterns we hoped or thought we had grown beyond. Is it the Marine’s motto? ‘Ever Vigilant’ We can never let our guard down. Which I guess means we can have one cookie, but not a dozen in the basement.
It was nice to have a good laugh after such a traumatic memory. And I realize that letting go of past behaviors doesn’t mean letting go of our memories and experiences. Yes, those cookies called my name. Loudly. But I didn’t have to answer. Amazing.