Saturday morning pancakes are significant. In the throes of my eating disorder, pancakes and pleasure were forbidden. Now, they’re a food I eat again with pleasure. It’s taken a while to get to this point. Eating disorders (and even diets) are life stealers. Here’s part of my story…
Growing up, pancakes held a special place at my house. They signified Dad or my grandfather (Papa) cooking breakfast and time spent together in the kitchen before everyone else was downstairs. Always an early riser, I’d come down to a glass of Donald Duck orange juice and either of them sharing the “secrets” to a perfect pancake. Admittedly, I never knew anyone who made pancakes as good as my dad and Papa. No burns. Always an even light brown on both sides. The perfect amount of fluffiness without being too cake-like.
Papa always cooked extra silver dollars for his dog Lucy and we took up the tradition at our house, feeding Sunny, the basset hound, tiny dog-sized pancakes as she barked for more. It was my favorite after breakfast ritual.
During the iterations of my eating disorder, pancakes or any other sweet breakfast food were forbidden. There was the time I psyched myself into thinking the grainy rice protein powder pancakes I made were as good as the real thing. But seriously, who was I kidding? There is a strict limit on how much satisfaction one can get from substitute foods that leave you longing for more. In addition, eating disorders thrive on social and emotional isolation. It’s not just food rules that create starvation. Psychological and emotional hunger are the real deal.
And then there’s the root: my eating disorder kicked in shortly after my dad’s death. He wasn’t around to make us pancakes. And none of us could get it “right.” There wasn’t much point in trying to recreate something (even if we were using the same Joy of Cooking recipe) if he wasn’t there to laugh with us and share the joy of Saturday morning together. Talk about all kinds of hunger: emotional, spiritual, physical, mental… So much longing.
Eating disorders are often about control and trauma (other life situations impact it, too). I know that’s where mine stemmed from. I couldn’t control my dad’s cancer, the illness that took parts of his body bit by bit, and left us devoid of his presence at a time we were building a deeper relationship. I didn’t know it at the time, but the unconscious belief stood: If I can control food, people will like me. I won’t feel so upset. I can get my world upright. I’ll be able to move on from this devastating loss. I’ll be able to prevent cancer and illness, thus eliminating the possibility that I will hurt others the same way I’ve been hurt. I won’t suffer and die. (The paradox is eating disorders are the most deadly mental health issue).
What eating disorders actually did for me was isolate me from other people by creating a food rule wall around my emotions. Further, my eating disorder kept me distracted from engaging whole heartedly in my life (because it felt too damn scary). Helped me survive day to day, but limited my bandwidth to remember things because I was so consumed by counting calories, sizes, reading food labels, etc. …and a whole host of other things that limited living fully and freely.
Years after my dad’s death (and many hours of therapy and “come to Jesus” moments later), I am able to understand these dynamics better. Trigger foods, eating disorder rules, rigid diets, and thoughts about the “evils” of certain foods, were things I thought would keep me safe. Instead, safety comes from knowing I can have these fear foods. At this point, I know my eating disorder voice is a barometer letting me know some other need isn’t getting met.
I’ve started making pancakes again. They’re definitely not the same as Dad and Papa’s. But they’ve become my Saturday (and other mornings) tradition. Where pancakes once lived in Food Restriction Jail (a prison not about food, but one that kept me trapped and starved), they now signify freedom and connection. (Sounds almost presidential). I can live free of “black and white” thinking that labels foods as good or bad or too much. I am free of the notion that I have to build walls before connecting. I’ve learned more constructive ways of dealing with my own internal and external stimulation that triggers food freakouts. Eating disorder rules no longer control my life.
And the dog is happy because she gets silver dollar pancakes. I’m happy because I feel so much more connected to myself and my family. I am nourished in so many ways by the significance of food in my life. I am grateful.
If you find yourself longing for food freedom but continually trapped in Food Restriction Jail, please reach out to folks in your life or get in touch through my website. It is possible to eat pancakes (or your other beloved meals) again without guilt, shame, and feeling out of control. I hope you’ll choose freedom and connection.