• Wed, Mar 23 2011

Eating Bread Does Not Mean You Have An Eating Disorder

Arianne Cohen, a Marie Claire writer joined Overeaters Anonymous because when she went out with people, she was distracted by the bread basket. She also started eating sprinkles as a snack with a tablespoon.

When she went there she heard stories of people bottoming out, like the one from a woman who went out to “a public dinner” and broke into the kitchen and just tossed all the desserts in her purse and ran, just ran, gobbling a glorious purse-load of tiramisu as she went, floating along on a cloud of sugar and the distant but frenzied cheers of her comrades. Oh, I’m sorry. I was confused. She went out to a public dinner and had “three glasses of wine and, oh yes, the entire bread basket.”

Now, I’m not sure whether this was the best bread basket in the world, but most restaurant bread baskets have around 4 pieces of bread in them. 5, maybe?

Look. Lady. That is not a binge. That is “a good night.”

A binge is when you eat five pints of ice cream in the dark while sobbing hysterically to videos of baby animals on Youtube (and it happens to the best of us). And then you puke. And then you do need to start seeing someone because it is indicative of other issues, and you need to talk to someone for your own sake, emotionally.

But in general, as a rare, “rock bottom” experience, eating the bread basket is not a sin. It should not make you so miserable that you did that one night.

Why? Because food is one of life’s pleasures.

I will say this a few more time because I think women tend to forget. So. Food is one of life’s pleasures. Food is one of life’s pleasures. Food is one of life’s pleasures. Food is one of life’s pleasures. Food is one of life’s pleasures.

Got it?

I think that we’re getting into a problem when we start to always regard food – even low calorie food – as the enemy. Nicole Richie gave a quote to the Daily Magazine during fashion week that she didn’t eat soup, she preferred something healthier. In case you forget because you consume only super healthy oxygen, soup is broth and vegetables.

If Arianne Cohen is distracted by the bread basket, it might be because bread is delicious. It is soft and warm and comforting and great. Bread with a little butter? Maybe some sea salt? I hope the girl in Overeaters Anonymous sprinkled just a pinch of sea salt on the bread in that ill-fated bread basket. I know not every restaurant offers that – it’s sort of rare, really, too rare! Sea salt makes everything better, especially chocolate, which is something many retailers seem to be only just discovering – but oh, when they do, it’s just lovely.  Or those butters with seasoning in them? Isn’t seasoned butter just God’s gift to us?

Balthazar has a bread basket that is just… oh, that bread basket could keep you alive if everything else in your life fell apart. It really could. Especially if you’re getting French Onion soup, and why would you order anything else at Balthazar? Peasant gives you the bread basket and there’s this fresh crusty bouncy peasant bread and then whipped ricotta on the side. And then they give you this whole bottle of olive oil. Which isn’t my thing, really. I find olive oil a little greasy, I don’t like the aftertaste. But I like that they do it all the same. And I go to Bryant Park Grill sometimes not because I like anything else there, particularly – oh, fine they do a great Cobb salad, fair point – but because they make these freakishly perfect olive rolls. Heaven.

I’ll admit that my love of food is pretty consistently at war with my love of remaining thin enough to squeeze into sample sizes. I work to balance it. I do pilates or run 5 miles pretty much daily. I like to exercise.

Arianne Cohen, on the other hand, has tried to be abstinent from, well, it’s never precisely named what kind of foods beyond frosting and candy and bread, but bad foods. She did succumb to a glazed donut on December 27, 2010. She wants you to know that. She also claims that she finally resolved a lot of her problems by learning the phrase “no bread, please.”

I really, really think a better phrase to learn would be “sorry, waiter? Can I just grab one piece of bread and then you can take the basket? Please leave the butter. And the sea salt. Do not take those. They are the best. I am sorry for the inconvenience.” Then eat that piece of bread, and make sure you season it perfectly, and savor the hell out of it. If you are generally irrationally sorry for being awkward, throw in an extra dollar on the tip, but for goodness sake, don’t decide that eating food is a black and white issue where you can either be “good” or “bad.” Because looking at it that way means that when you are bad, you are going to end up eating five pints of ice cream and vomiting them up.

Arianne Cohen suggests that many people will relate to her problem because many of us are addicted to something, too. For instance, she says, “maybe you drown your problems in a snow pile of coke.” Well, Arianne Cohen, I don’t know if you know anyone who has dealt with drowning their problems in a snow pile of coke, but often it results in problems other than… what were your problems? You say you never gained much weight so, feeling distracted?… okay, well, anyhow, people who do a lot of coke tend to get paranoid and off-kilter and generally don’t win employee of the month awards. It’s all very much less of a winter wonderland than you’d expect. I’m not saying I have ever met anyone who has done a ton of coke, I’m just drawing from American Psycho, here. But if I did know anyone who had, I would suggest that they fuck up other people’s lives pretty considerably. That is why coke is bad. The fucking up other people’s lives part is what makes it bad. That is why people go to rehab.

In her article, Arianne Cohen has a quote from a Standford psychiatrist saying “I can’t imagine that people who eat do too much damage to others. It’s not like someone who is addicted to heroin.” I think that Standford psychiatrist just buries his problems in a great snow pile of logic.

Do you know why it’s not like being addicted to heroin? It’s because food isn’t inherently “bad” or something we need to abstain from altogether. Yes, some food is fattening. Sure. If you are concerned about that – and given society’s standards, it would be hard not to be – by all means, exercise more and eat them in moderation. But on the whole, food is good. Food gives us the energy we need to go out into the world and work and thrive and be happy. And food gives us pleasure, too, without ultimately detrimentally affecting those around us. Unless we steal it off their plates, I guess. But they forgive that. On the whole, food is amazing.

And I think even Arianne gets that, as she’s ultimately decided that “a dish of ice cream at a restaurant is fine.” She’s “still kind of a mess with Mexican tortilla baskets” though. Arianne? You are allowed to eat tortilla chips. You are allowed to eat them all if you really want to. If you do not really want to – if you are concerned, for health reasons, or vanity reasons – take a (large, because you love them) handful of tortilla chips. Put them on your plate. Send the rest of the basket away unless anyone else at the table who really wants it. Then enjoy them. They’re delicious.

What We're Reading:
Share This Post:
  • S.A.

    I love this article so much I want to drizzle a little honey and butter over it and eat the whole thing.

    • Ellen W.

      There’s a reason the honey/butter combo is used as a metaphor for Good Things in the Bible. It’s that good.

  • andrea dunlop

    Hell to the yes. Love food, love exercise. Do not understand people who don’t see pleasure in either.

  • epilonious

    I, too, love this article. I am traveling back and forth between Atlanta and Santa Ana (3838 miles a week) and so much of my life has involved anxiety around the fact that I eat out All The Time.

    I think I’ll just eat, make it a point not to freak out over the occasional slice of bread or handful of chips… and try to make sure I get food I really, REALLY want.

    And then enjoy the hell out of it.

    Sea salt for everyone.

  • theWickedWitch

    Seriously great article. Thank you for saying all of this.

  • KJ

    This is a fantastic article.

  • Lisa

    Thank you! Lovely. All good things in moderation.

  • Lucinda

    Bread makes me think of toast. Mmm…toast.

  • Chickalupe

    “There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.”

    M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992), U.S. culinary writer.

    (In other words, 100% agree! …Mmm, Bread.)

  • Lauren

    You know what is delicious – cut a piece of French bread in half, brush some olive oil and put shaved chocolate on each half, and add a pinch of sea salt, then broil it in the oven until the bread is crispier and the chocolate is melted – divine!

    • Lauren

      Oh, was this not a bread recipe swap?

  • Jaclyn

    Wonderful article. I struggled with guilt over my enjoyment of food until I watched several people I loved begin a slow starvation resulting from chemotherapy, and I realized that life is too short to regret everything you eat.

  • Eileen

    It’s really sad how much the anorexic mindset seems to have permeated society – that any kind of food is the enemy and the fact that we eat at all is just proof of our human weaknesses. Food is delicious, and you have to eat it to stay alive, so this mindset is really only successful in making you miserable every day of your life.

  • marie

    Thanks for posting this. I think the blog world has created this culture of “I felt kind of panicky about food one time so I must have an eating disorder;” or “I had some weird habits in college so I am recovering from disordered eating.”

    EVERYONE eats in a disordered way SOMETIMES. It doesn’t mean you have an eating disorder. And I’m not trying to slight anyone who actually has an eating disorder, but…yeah…exactly what you said.

    And, yeah, there are very few similarities between eating bread and snorting cocaine. (And having done both, I think I can say that objectively.) To paraphrase Bob Saget in that stoner movie Half Baked, I’ll bet Arianne Cohen never sucked d***k for a basket of bread.

    • Jennifer Wright

      Of course not. Everyone knows you hold out for lobster.

  • Julie

    Jennifer Wright,

    I feel so hurt and insulted by this article. I understand that the intent was to be uplifting and motivating, and may be trying to get people to let their hair down every once in a while, but have you ever struggled with an addiction or eating disorder of any kind? Did you take NOTHING to heart from Arianne Cohen’s article? (Found here for anyone who ACTUALLY wants to read it: http://www.marieclaire.com/health-fitness/advice/tips/inside-overeaters-anonymous)

    While Arianne’s article went to some very dark and thought provoking places, this article came across to me as a way to ridicule people struggling with various food addictions. It seems like you’re trying to diminish the emotional and turbulent experience of someone struggling in Overeaters Anonymous, or ANYONE struggling with an eating disorder or food addiction. It isn’t always about bread; it could be anything. Everything. Look in your fridge. Is it off limits? Is it “bad”? That’s your binge food. Is it a stick of butter? Is it a jar of pickles? Is it an entire block of cheese, some SLIGHTLY (but still edible in your mind) moldy strawberries, or a package of sliced deli meat? What if it’s all of it at the same time?

    It isn’t about enjoying the bread. It isn’t about savoring a piece of this or that. It’s about abstaining from foods that could trigger you to binge and fall off YOUR wagon of healthy eating habits (sweets, or in Arianne’s case, breads) and from situations that drive your disordered brain and eating habits to eat whatever is closest to you.

    It isn’t about counting calories or running 5 miles and doing pilates. It’s about reclaiming the only body you have from the brink of shutting down on you because your emotional triggers are too closely tied with your compulsion to eat. Standing in front of the fridge, you know that it’s not healthy to shove whatever you’re about to eat into your mouth (because you’re already full), but you are in a state of panic. You know you’re already three times heavier than you should be, and your weight has contributed to your high blood pressure, aching joints, low self-esteem, your infertility, and your husband is going to leave you because (while he’s deeply considered adoption) he wants biological children, and you acknowledge all of that about yourself, feel MORE shame, and you eat anyway. You eat in private because everyone knows you’re “on a diet”. You eat over the sink so nobody sees. You step outside and eat on your back porch.

    You do it because you have an eating disorder, and you are powerless over food, not because bread isn’t tasty.

    • CS

      The problem with this response is that nothing the author refers to in the Marie Claire article is actual “bingeing.” Here is her own quote:

      “I’m not fat, I have never been the 5,000-calorie binge type, nor have I ever required rehab.”

      She’s not talking about actual, clinical binge-eating disorder, by her own admission. What you’re describing – eating an entire block of cheese, eating the entire contents of one’s refrigerator, regardless of what they are or what state of decay they may be in – is absolutely objective bingeing behaviour, and I have much sympathy for you, if you’re writing from personal experience, and those who struggle with this disorder.

      However, eating the contents of a single bread basket is not a binge. It’s what is called a “subjective binge” – something that comes up in anorexia, when the patient becomes so hungry and food-obsessed from never allowing themselves to eat normally that they “give in,” eat a few brownies (or whatever), and talk about how they just “binged.” In talking about a perfectly normal eating behaviour and equating it with binge-eating disorder, not only does Cohen reveal how unhealthy her attitudes regarding food are, she belittles the difficulties of people who actually have this disorder.

    • Julie

      For someone NOT in recovery from binge-eating disorder, three glasses of red wine and the entire bread basket may appear to be a “subjective binge”, but for the recovering food addict, isn’t it still a binge and a relapse? Should Jennifer Wright be so openly mocking them for sharing it? I think that’s awful and hurtful.

      For me, this article came across as a way to humiliate and invalidate the experiences of those suffering from these disordered behaviors, no matter the degree of severity. I’m sure everyone would LIKE to have a piece of delicious salted, buttered bread at dinner in a moderate portion, but for some people, a slice of bread is a step onto a path of destruction.

      Arianne Cohen shared her personal issues with what she considers binges, and expressed how pieces of the OA structure helped her life. No, her story didn’t fit the typical OA mold. Jennifer Wright’s article didn’t just address Arianne’s story, it addressed the individual personal story of EVERYONE who has struggled with an addiction to food, because gosh, it’s nothing like a REAL addiction to something like heroin.

      You can quit heroin. You can completely free yourself of that drug. Some people take methadone for that to taper down week by week, day by day. With FOOD addiction, you can’t quit. You’re stuck forever ingesting something in careful metered amounts, and abstaining from things that trigger you to go overboard.

      If bread is your trigger, you should be allowed to abstain without people mocking you about how NORMAL it is to eat bread. A binge is a binge, and whether it was a bite of something you’ve sworn off, 4,999 calories of bread, or your entire kitchen, you should be allowed to have and recover from your own experience without articles like this.

    • CS

      Julie, I’m sorry, but you very obviously have your own issues that you are projecting onto this article. Saying that a person who thinks eating one basket of bread qualifies as “bingeing” and having an eating disorder is being ridiculous is NOT the same as ridiculing all people who actually do have eating disorders. I can’t believe I even have to explain that. Where in this article does Ms. Wright say anything implying that all peopl who claims to have issues with food need to get over it? Certainly, there are people out there who genuinely do not feel that they can trust themselves even with what seems as minor as a basket of bread and a few glasses of wine…because they have a history of using something like that as the starting point for serious, health-damaging bingeing. Ms. Cohen explicitly states in her article that that was NOT, and never was, the case for her. The bread itself – again, a normal eating behaviour – was the “binge,” as far as she is concerned. Read it again: She NEVER actually had a disorder. Ergo, she is not “recovering” from anything. Simply feeling as though you ate too much on a few occasions – a basket of bread! Egads! – is not a “disorder”…except to people who, as Ms. Wright mentions, regard ALL food as the enemy, and see any kind of indulgence as a sign of unhealthy and disordered behaviour.

      Binge Eating Disorder

      Diagnostic Criteria: DSM-IV

      A. Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode is characterized by:

      1. Eating a larger amount of food than normal during a short period of time (within any two hour period)

      2. Lack of control over eating during the binge episode (i.e. the feeling that one cannot stop eating).

      B. Binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:

      1. Eating until feeling uncomfortably full

      2. Eating large amounts of food when not physically hungry

      3. Eating much more rapidly than normal

      4. Eating alone because you are embarrassed by how much you’re eating

      5. Feeling disgusted, depressed, or guilty after overeating

      C. Marked distress regarding binge eating is present

      D. Binge eating occurs, on average, at least 2 days a week for six months

      E. The binge eating is not associated with the regular use of inappropriate compensatory behavior (i.e. purging, excessive exercise, etc.) and does not occur exclusively during the course of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa.

      *From the DSM-IV, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition, Washington D.C.: American Psychiatric Association, 1994.

      I don’t see “occasionally consuming more food than is ‘proper’ for a ~woman~” on that list. Also, I find the following quote from the Cohen article extremely telling: “I realized that I’d never actually eaten well-rounded, sizable meals before, and I found them rather satisfying.” If you never let yourself consume a decent amount of food during regular meals, it stands to reason that you will eventually “binge” when you, being only human, can no longer control the hunger that has built up from constant deprivation. This is not a disorder. I am sorry for your problems with eating, but this is obviously not what’s going on here.

    • Julie

      CS, you’ve completely missed the point and spirit of my responses, as well as the fact that the red wine and bread basket WASN’T Arianne Cohen’s story – it was the experience of another woman in the OA group she attended, but maybe Jennifer Wright missed that too.

      I give up on trying to explain this to you. Every time someone explains that they feel like this article was mocking, insulting, and an attempt at invalidating someone’s painful experience, you try to justify it by showing me medical cut-and-paste medical criteria, and explaining that they can’t possibly have actually ever had a problem.

      The only thing I’m trying to project here is the fact that eating disorders are serious and sad, and the people suffering from them shouldn’t be a source of entertainment for Jennifer Wright. Please actually read both articles someday.

    • CS

      Hee! Julie, you’re funny. I would think the numerous quotes I used FROM both articles would make it clear that I did read them…but whatever. I’m a psychology major with a focus in eating disorders, but you’ve made it clear that the fact that you have a serious martyr complex…I mean, eating disorder…makes you the ultimate expert. Peace out!

  • Deborah DeStefano

    They have my only grandson, 2 1/2 yrs eating rice cakes. In training to be anorexic like the mom.

  • Patricia

    Maybe because I come from a place where bread is almost a cultural institution reading this disturbed me beyond words. I don’t know, feeling it’s necessary to defend one’s acceptance that food is good and write a 400 something words piece on it seems so disturbing to me. Is this really necessary? Telling people eating is normal? Reading this seriously freaked me out.

    One last thing, Arianne says she cannot focus on anything else besides the breadbasket on the table. Even I can see that’s an unhealthy reaction to food and mocking it so relentlessly seemed cruel and uncalled for, considering you actually are an amazing writer.

    • CS

      “One last thing, Arianne says she cannot focus on anything else besides the breadbasket on the table. Even I can see that’s an unhealthy reaction to food”

      Yes, it is an unhealthy reaction to food…and one that is very common in anorexia, bulimia, and starvation. A study was done with college men in the 1940s that showed that systematically depriving people of sufficient calories caused them to become obsessed with food. Do a search on “Minnesota Starvation Experiment” – the men’s caloric intake was cut down to 1,560 calories per day, which is actually more than many women in our culture, even ones who do not consider themselves to be actively dieting, will allow themselves. So yes, I do think Ms. Cohen’s response to a basket of bread is indicative of disordered thinking about food…but not in the way she thinks it is (i.e., being an “overeater”).

  • Sunday

    The best thing I’ve read in weeks and weeks. Beautifully done.

  • epilonious

    Step one: Leave comment saying you loved the article.
    Step two: Have comment system subscribe you automatically to the article.
    Step three: See lots of other people saying they love the article 1-2 days after it’s been posted
    Step four: See lots of haters or otherwise bad attention seekers come out of the woodwork, posting on how much they detest the spirit of the article, or how it somehow promotes eating disorders by being humorous. These start showing up 3-4 days after the article posts because it takes that long to construct the flimsy justifications for this reaction.
    Step 5: Unsubscribe from article comments as now people who can get their feelings hurt by an Internet Article must defend their stances in perpetuity, and nothing good can come of it.

  • Jaclyn

    You see, I do know how serious an eating disorder is. I know how strong and powerful you feel when you are walking around, stomach growling, starving to death. I also know how powerless you feel when you come to from a 10,000 calorie binge. I know from experience and I still think Jennifer Wright’s article is funny as hell. In recovery, I have learned that eating disorders are a form of self- isolation and self-absorption, and if you keep moving(not exercising necessarily, although that does make your body feel good), and focus on positives , such as loving yourself and helping others, you slowly begin to heal without realizing it. I am not an expert and I will be in recovery for the rest of my life, but I didn’t get here by obsessing over a breadbasket. Most compulsive eaters have thousands of trigger foods, not just one.