Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What I Learned from a Piece of Cake

Cake is magical. It's one of those things that has the ability to send me plunging over the weight loss cliffs into the Grand Canyon of binge-eating despair. Something about the mix of fat and sugar... the soft solidity of the cake combined with the creamy mouthfeel of the frosting sends me into some kind of Sensory Overload. It's the mecca of all bingers who are trying to escape reality via food. I could never stop at one piece. In fact, I have eaten more than half of a cake myself, usually for breakfast. Bad news.

Every birthday in my family is celebrated with joy and a made-from-scratch cake. Traditionally, as soon as my kids are old enough to know carrot cake from fudge cake, I ask them what cake they would like for their birthday. They tell me, I make it. Period. I enjoy baking. I am good at it. You cannot buy a chocolate cake as good as what I can make. In fact, there are a lot of chocolate cakes plastered all over my body right now. So when my son asked for a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cake, my eyes rolled back in my head in anticipation of the sugar coma to follow. You see, if you could get inside my head, there would be a lot of buried peanut butter cups in there. They were my mother's favorite candy, and became mine. The smell is just intoxicating. The taste, dear Lord. Who made those up? Evil! And I never understood why they come in a little package of two cups. Who eats two cups?? Not me, not ever. I always would go for the 3/$1 sales because three PACKS of Reese's seemed to be just about the right size for a moderate little snack. See how I got this big? One cup, two cups, that's child's play. Adults need at least 6 cups. Right? Or better yet, a whole bag of those teeny baby Reese's, because they are babies and don't count. You can eat half the bag and when you start to get sick of them, freeze the rest and they become a whole 'nother food, so you can finish them all in one day before the kids get home from school. But I digress.

I got started on this Reese's cake by baking 8 separate layers of a rich yellow cake... a Smith Island cake of sorts. The batter smelled lovely, but I didn't sample it. I made the chocolate frosting it was glossy brown and beautiful, but I didn't taste it. I had a sink full of hot soapy water next to me, and as I finished with a spatula or a beater or a bowl, I'd fling it into the sink before I could even *think* about tasting anything. I went on autopilot. I said to myself, "Self, you are going to get to eat a PIECE of this cake with your family. That is not a license to eat 500 calories in batter and frosting beforehand." I just MADE the cake.

When I started layering it, it got interesting. I was crushing up peanut butter cups to put in between the layers and to press around the outside of the cake as garnish. Every cup I unwrapped was like a flashback. The shiny little chocolate tops, the bumpy ridges. The way the chocolate sort of falls off the edge of the peanut butter center when you cut it or bite it, leaving the salty, slightly grainy curve of the insides exposed. The way the wrappers crinkled and had a little bit of grease on them. I let myself enjoy the scent, but said, "You'll get yours with the rest of the family." I finished the cake, washed my hands, and walked away.

Now, here is my strategy for enjoying a piece of birthday cake with the family:

1. Make sure it is worth it to you. If you don't really care, don't really want to, or think it will send you into a tailspin, DON'T!!! This is the most important rule, IMO.

2. Eat healthy all day. Go easy on the calories. Figure the cake into your daily calorie goal and do NOT GO OVER even if it means eating vegetable soup for lunch. My meals for the day were:
Coffee, oatmeal with flax seed & peanut butter
Leftover chicken fajitas over a bowl of mixed green salad
A fat, juicy chicken sausage with a Caprese salad and Brussels sprouts
which leads me to strategy #3...

3. Eat a huge plate of Brussels sprouts right before it's time for cake.
Hey, it works.
Seriously though, we always used to have the birthday cake and ice cream as a mid-afternoon *snack* and then eat dinner later. Bad idea. This year, we had dinner first and then cake for dessert. As a result, I watched teenage boys who usually eat 3 pieces of cake EACH sit at the table unable to even finish one large slice! It was great. They were dismayed.

Anyway, you're a lot less likely to overdo the cake if you eat a moderate dinner (or a huge plate of vegetables) first.

I had all of this planned in advance. It worked out fine, I stayed under 1700 calories even with a slice of cake and a quarter cup of ice cream. But the cake taught me a few unexpected lessons, as well:

1. When you've been eating healthy, cake doesn't taste as good. It's too sweet. It tastes like eating from a sugar bowl. And it makes you feel kinda ill.

2. I no longer need a "regular" sized piece of cake. I used to always have a HUGE piece, and more likely TWO huge pieces, but this time I made a point of cutting what I thought was a "smallish" regular-sized piece. Guess what? It was WAY TOO MUCH. Way!!!!! I kept nibbling at it because I *could*... because it was a planned indulgence.. but in fact I would have been happier and would have even enjoyed it more if I had cut a piece half that size. A mere sliver would have been plenty for me to satisfy my curiosity and desire for Reese's cake. I did stop and leave a few bites on my plate, but I felt uncomfortably full and exceptionally dulled by the sugar.

3. I feel icky on sugar. It is a darned good thing I ate some protein first, or I think I would have been so buzzed! I am sure I would have been sick if I had eaten it on an empty stomach. I have ZERO desire to eat any of the leftover cake. NOT happening, not even a temptation.

And the last thing the cake taught me:
4. I have changed.

I really like who I am now. I like that I can control my own intake, make decisions about what I will or will not put into my body, and learn something new about myself each day. I like that I can eat birthday cake IF I WANT TO and the scale still shows a pound lost the next day. I like that the focus of my life is not FOOD anymore... even healthy food. It's my kids, it's my friends, it's everything I want it to be instead of being a blur of sadness between binges.

Life really is out there for the taking, people. You don't have to stay fat, you don't have to be sad. When you change your relationship with food, the whole world opens up for you. Don't trade it for an affair with a cake. Real life, real love, is so much better.


Jack Sh*t, Gettin' Fit said...

You HAVE changed, and it's both exhilerating and a little scary, isn't it? People don't realize that these good habits DO set in over time. Our bodies are amazingly adaptive instruments, and I've come to realize that they do want what's best for us. It's just up to us not to condition it to believe that cake and sugar and snack crap are the answer.

Good for you for taking a very important step on this journey.

Diana said...

Good for you. :)

Rachel said...

I noticed something similar when I banned sugar for awhile once - after only feeding my body high quality foods, I could tell such a huge difference between the quality of snacks - for example a Hershey's bar tasted chemically and waxy, but a Green & Black's bar tasted creamy and delicious - plus a square was satisfying whereas before I'd only have stopped if I felt dizzy and sick.

Paula Rodriguez said...

Lynn, most times I read your blog, and I think she pulled that right from my head. The way you describe those reeses put me right there with you.

You have a great strategy for eating cake. I tried something similar this weekend with a baptism and birthday party in one day. I tasted a slice of each cake with a tad of ice cream, but before hand, I had a nice salad. I didn't quite enjoy the cake so much but something weird happened. I continued to eat cake the next day. Even though it made me sick... I don't know why I do that to myself. Obviously, my body doesn't like sugar the way it used too as most of us have figured out. Maybe I've kicked the sugar habit "physically" but not "emotionally." If that makes sense.

Congratulations on your triumph over sugar.

Autumnforest said...

Yeah, I'm a sweets type of folk myself. I'm not interested in food at all, only sugar for fast energy. When I was younger I was a hummingbird and perpetually thin that way, now it's definitely catching up to me.

I discovered something while watching the food channel and that's this... cooks are either like Mario and Barefoot Contessa and really love to cook foods and eat them, but there's also those ones like the Giada (spelling?) and Sandra Lee who are skinny cooks. How do they do it? Well, in my most anorectic days as a model, I was obsessed with food and recipes. Controlling food by being the one that makes it and diving into recipes and trying things and seeing people's reactions is where you get high. You get high on being around food without having to devour every drop. That kind of discipline is part of a form of anorexia, actually. I don't know many anorectics who aren't obsessed with recipes.

On that interesting note of observation, I've decided to transition my food attitudes to that of the skinny cooks, obessed with getting it just perfect and handling all these things and getting high on my self control.

If that doesn't work, I can always snort brown sugar. hee hee

Anonymous said...

I always made fun of that line in the Weight Watchers commercial about "changing your relationship with birthday cake" but you really did it. I hope, one day, I will not be tempted by sweets. For now, it's a struggle. You're my hero.

Georgia Mist said...

Oh, wow! Amzing post! I love your hints, too, about eating beforehand.
I'm proud of you and your willpower -- and envious, too!

Andra said...

Good on you! Taking away the forbidden factor of any food makes it much less appealing. I'm so happy you enjoyed the cake without undoing the whole day. That's the point of planned indulgences and they really work. Thursday is my friend Lisa's birthday. The girls are getting together and I'm so looking forward to it. I'll have a sensible slice of homemade cake and a hot cup of coffee built into my day and that will be that.

Lyn said...

Thank you all :)

I really have to add... this is *not* something I have had much success with in the past. In fact, most of my derailments and regains have been because I let myself have "just one" cookie or "just a bite" of cake, and it led to an out-of-control binge. The *only* reason I was able to do this was because I assessed my emotions, my stability, and my need for comfort/zoning out beforehand. And I was really OKAY. I'd just gotten news that my best friend's medical issue is NOT currently life threatening, and I was happier than you can imagine. I had *zero* need to zone out with food. If I had, this whole scenario would've been much different.

--cara said...

I've been craving birthday cake for about a month, now. I've been able to keep the craving at bay for the most part, but this past weekend was my husband's grandmother's birthday. I didn't know what I was going to do. I knew there'd be cake there. So I ate before I went over. You'll never guess what they had when I got there?? Sugar Free Cake!!! I'd never thought of that before. It was only 5 WW points for the piece of cake. I was able to thoroughly enjoy every bite of that cake and not feel guilty one bit and the cake didn't taste like splenda or any other artificial sweetener at all. It was amazing! Craving satisfied. Life is back to normal again. :)

spunkysuzi said...

You know you're on the healthy path when something really high in either sugar or oil really does a number on your stomach :) Oh and the next day i usually have absolutely no energy and have really bad cravings for any with sugar or oil!!

Leslie said...

Excellent post. I can't even comment of the candy mentioned because it's also mine and I don't want to set the hamster in my brain running on his wheel about having even a mini one of them. I'm not where you are yet, but for now I don't need to be. Great work, Lyn.

Certifiably Fit said...

Isn't it amazing how after you are eating healthy for a while that you will recognize the revolt your body goes through when you feed it some sugar?

I never recognized how crappy I felt on my high junk eating plan until I was eating healthy for a while and then had a treat. Sure does make me think long and hard about when I want to have something that is a treat. Most of the time I change my mind and choose not to have the treat because I hate how it makes me feel physically afterward.

Way to recognize all the things that you are experienced with the cake. You are on such a good path right now.

Vickie said...

I think the true test of this type of thing isn't just the evening of the cake - it is for many days (weeks?) AFTER to see if it impacts your WANTS.

Will be interested to see if there are any echoes for you - or if it was truly done with the one tiny piece.

I know people that use your same philosophy (eating real food first) and then use the three bite rule. If it is calorie worthy and not likely to set them off - then they do three bites.

I also wondered if you had still made a large cake - or if you had scaled down the servings in general. (I realize the kids might want large. I did think about a pedistal cake plate - wondering if that would fool the eye.)

And I did think about angel food cake molds - because those are size foolers. I wonder if there is anything like that for a standard type cake recipe.

Anonymous said...

You are where I am heading!

I don't have a cake thing per se, but Reese's PB cups, uh, yeah. I can overeat those SO easy! I haven't eliminated them, but now I try to only buy ONE package of two cups occasionally and be happy with that.

Too much sugar does give me that sick feeling also.

Anonymous said...

Way to go!! Your right, I notice when I don't eat sweets and have been eating healthy, deserts are not as tasty.

Tammy said...

I've read where you've written about your homemade cakes before, so I was a little nervous when I read the last post about an upcoming birthday, lol. I'm so glad to see that you figured it into your calories, the piece you planned was more than enough, and the icky feeling afterwards is enough to make you not be tempted by the leftovers. That's real progress Lyn...you're really on your way to a life of freedom. :)

screwdestiny said...

Fan-frickin'-tastic. :D

This is a wonderful change that you've made. Especially when you were baking it. It's hard to resist that delicious batter and frosting! But it's so great to hear that you did.

Theresa said...

it is funny that you said an "affair with cake". That is exactly where my brain went as you were describing the mouth watering "undressing" of the RPB cups. Too funny. It might has well had a negligee on!
Awesome post Lyn!!

Kelsey said...

You have a steel reserve! It's really hard for me to eat healthy at lunch- If I know I'm going to splurge at dinner, I try to eat something at lunch that is at least a little bit of a treat, like a few M&Ms, crackers, or a frozen dinner I really like.

teebopop said...

I think we might be of the same genetic family as I was salivating over your description of the RPBC preparations.

In my freezer, right now, are 4 DARK RPBC's.

I hate knowing they are there. I hate worse knowing that this is the second time I've replaced the original four packages.

I wish I was you.

Someday SkinnyMinnie said...

Hi there! I just started on a weight loss journey and started a blog to go along with it. I found your blog and after reading some of your posts added you last night.

I read this post and at the begining I was salivating and thinking that this would end badly for me but I made it to the end and really appreciate everything you wrote. Thanks for your perspective! I'm looking forward to following you!

stephseef said...

Lyn, you've made me cry twice in the history of your blog.

This is one of them. Peanut Butter Cups are the end of me. There have been days when they have been my last thought, and then my waking thought the next morning. Sicko, eh? I am so encouraged to know that I'm not the only one. Your success today made me cry... and I think I just might see a glimmer of something that looks a little like...


Bless you.


kelly said...

Fantastic post!!! You are so inspiring...keep it up. You are doing great!

Ruby Leigh said...

This is really encouraging to see!

Erin said...

Yay!! So impressive. I'm incredibly happy for you and your family :)

DownsizingDoc said...

Great Post. Exactly what I needed to hear

Anonymous said...

"Life really is out there for the taking, people. You don't have to stay fat, you don't have to be sad. When you change your relationship with food, the whole world opens up for you. Don't trade it for an affair with a cake. Real life, real love, is so much better."

That really hit me.

PS: I have no idea what peanut butter cups are. I don't think we have them in the UK, but the description of them was mouth-watering!

Cake is my downfall. I drink so much tea and I always as a matter of habit think I have to have a biscuit or a slice of cake to accompany it. Your post really struck a chord. For some time I have been aware of this craving for cake....and now, to satisfy my sweet tooth a allow myself two raisins with tea or coffee. I suck them. I make them last for minutes in my mouth. Sad, I know, but the sweetness of them does it for me. I no longer eat very much cake and I don't buy chocolate any more.

You sound so determined about how you are going to lead your life Lyn. I wish I could buy determination and motivation. I need to move more, but the urge hasn't been stronger than my desire to sit self-indulgently for too long each day.

Anyway - thank you for your inspiration. I always feel more in control after the boost your posts give me.

DBee x

carla said...

you have changed entirely, Lyn (which leads me to ask: are you able to make it to Fitbloggin 10? ID LOVE LOOVE for you to come)

and I k now the biggest thing you mentioned for me is the "is this worth it to you?"

frequently the answer is YES and thats ok.

I just consumed a lot of EH NOT REALLY I DONT EVEN LIKE THIS in my life before I realized that...

Anonymous said...

What a joy to read of your success with this challenge!
I'm impressed with your comprehensive, self-aware approach to dealing with it. 'Reading' yourself beforehand is something I'm going to start adding to my food practices. It's such a caring, loving way to deal with yourself!
Thank you!


Anonymous said...

Wow - that is AMAZING progress. Great job!!!