I was never a person to skip breakfast. I guess, that is, until I developed an eating disorder around age 19. Growing up breakfast was as routine as putting on my socks. I don’t remember what I would eat for breakfast on weekdays when I was in elementary school, but I’m sure it was some sugary, Kellogg’s brand cereal and a cup of orange juice. I do remember being very little, sitting in my favorite chair at the kitchen table and picking pieces of dry Cinnamon Toast Crunch out of my white plastic bowl with a unicorn in the bottom; a bowl that still sits on a top shelf in our kitchen cabinet, and that my dad occasionally uses for his nightly bowl of ice cream.
During my middle/high school years, my week-day breakfasts consisted of whatever my mom had picked up at the grocery store that week, always accompanied by a cup of orange juice; half of a (or an entire) large muffin, a cinnamon raisin bagel with butter, a package of Entenmann’s Little Bites, two pieces of toast slathered in Nutella. When I started driving myself to school and valuing my sleep over taking time to sit down and eat at my kitchen table, my routine turned into quickly shoveling down a package of Belvita biscuits during homeroom.
Weekend breakfasts were the exception to this mundaneness. Saturday mornings were marked by pancakes and waffles doused in syrup, chocolate chips, butter, and occasionally, ice cream. I would crawl out of bed at 10 a.m. to meet my mom in the kitchen, where she usually sat in her “house slippers” clipping coupons or preparing her grocery list for the week. If she didn’t offer, I would softly coo, “mmmmm I’m hungry,” pretending to look around the fridge for something to eat. “So eat!” she would say, not looking up from the week’s Giant advertisement that came in that morning’s paper. “Maybe, could you make…pancakes?” She would sigh and her sigh often crept into a smile as she pulled out the griddle and the Krusteaz or Aunt Jemima mix. For my sixteenth birthday, I received my own waffle iron, so I (but usually my mom) could make my favorite, thick, fluffy, full-carb Belgian waffles. Some mornings, when I was feeling like I had had an extra hard week of existing as a pre-teen, I topped my Belgian waffles with a generous scoop of cookies and cream ice cream. I really miss Belgian waffles.
When I still went to church with my family, Sunday mornings were marked by the post-Eucharist trips to the Dunkin Donuts on Chestnut Street. My mom waited in the car while my dad, brother, and I ran inside, my dad ordering his usual, medium coffee with cream and sugar, and my brother and I browsing the donut selection. Some days we picked up munchkins, a box that typically didn’t last until the end of the day, but usually we each picked out our own donut. When I was little, I played it safe, always picking a plain glazed donut. One Sunday while I was in high school, maybe freshman or sophomore year, my dad convinced me to try a sour cream donut. I was always turned off by the name. "Sour cream" and "donut" just don’t sound like they should ever be put next to each other in a sentence, let alone in an actual pastry. For a reason I can’t remember, I decided to give sour cream a shot. After that day, it became my new Sunday staple, and I would wait anxiously in the car on the 6-minute drive from the Dunkin to our house, the brown bag resting on my lap. I ate it with a glass of one-percent milk, picking apart the outer, crisped, edges and saving the crispiest pieces for last. I really miss sour cream donuts.
When I developed my eating disorder, I created a rule for myself that I would not eat before 12 p.m. Regardless of what time I woke up or what I had done that morning, I did not allow myself to break this rule. Mornings were no longer filled with carb-heavy bagels or full-fat syrup. Instead they consisted of drives to the gym and miles pounded out on a treadmill. Usually around 12:30, I allowed myself to eat a Nature Valley chocolate protein granola bar. It was 190 calories and 23 grams of carbs. I don’t know if I will ever be able to forget that. I would strategically break the granola bar into small pieces and eat them with my hands, being sure to never bite directly from the bar. I wanted the process of eating to last as long as possible, knowing I wouldn’t be eating my 7 slices of a single strawberry for at least another four hours.
During residential treatment, I was forced to eat breakfast at 8 a.m. every morning. Our meal schedule rotated through a cycle of different breakfasts, savory and sweet, so that we never grew too comfortable. Thursdays were a crowd favorite: cereal day. Perhaps because cereal felt the safest to me, I always looked forward to the Thursday mornings spent in the cramped dining room, mixing my perfectly portioned cup of Honey Nut Cheerios into my vanilla yogurt, sprinkling a tablespoon of slivered almonds on top. Fridays were pastry days: scones, muffins, croissants. While I dreaded these days, there was a part of me that really loved them, my body reveling as it broke down the fat and sugar that it had been denied for so long. I remember sitting on my hands between bites to stop myself from eating too quickly, terrified of letting the others see that I was actually enjoying the food. I felt guilty for taking two bites in a row when I sat next to women whose hands shook as they picked apart their muffins with a fork, or whose eyes watered at the sight of their untouched cinnamon rolls.
It was during residential treatment that I was introduced to oatmeal, my current breakfast of choice. Almost ritualistic at this point, there’s a methodology to making my oatmeal that I have been following for the past 10 months since I discharged from treatment. I take one packet of Lower-Sugar Quaker Apple Cinnamon Instant Oats (110 calories. This is important that they are lower sugar. The normal kind is 160) and I pour it into a bowl. I add one packet of Stevia (0 calories) and a spoonful of cocoa powder (10 calories). Sometimes when my anxiety is high, I use a tablespoon for the cocoa powder, just to make sure it’s not 14 or 15, but 10 exactly. I then add in about 1/8 of an apple, cut up into tiny, ¼ inch pieces. I add one cup of water, and microwave for 2 minutes. While it’s microwaving, I cut up two small strawberries (7 calories?), or one large one. I cut them into thin, circular slices, before then quartering those slices. I place about 8-10 blueberries (10 calories) on the cutting board as well. I take a banana, and cut that into about 8 thin slices, using about ¼ or 1/3 of the banana (40 calories). By this point, my oatmeal is done microwaving, and I take it out to sit. I take about one tablespoon of powdered peanut butter (25 calories) and place it into a small dipping cup. If I ran that morning, I allow the tablespoon to overflow a little bit. I add delicate spoonfuls of water into the dipping cup until the powder reaches a drippy consistency. Once my oatmeal has been sitting for about a minute, I arrange the banana slices around the edge of the bowl. I then add the strawberry slices, and finally the blueberries. I place the toppings around the outside of the bowl, leaving space in the middle to dump my peanut butter. Once I add the peanut butter, I microwave about two tablespoons of low-sugar maple syrup (10 calories) and drizzle this over the entire bowl.
It only recently became this exact and disordered of a process, but I’ve been having roughly the same oatmeal for breakfast for almost a year. When I think about trying something new, the toaster waffles that have been sitting in my freezer for 4 months, the probably moldy English muffins I bought to tell my nutritionist that “I challenged myself,” I am reminded of how much I miss my childhood breakfasts. I miss the smell of the griddle and licking the spoon. I miss hearing my mom laugh at me while she watched me scoop ice cream onto a waffle the size of my head. I miss when breakfast was just breakfast and I could eat in the car or at my kitchen table or in my classroom. I miss when breakfast was just breakfast and not a long list of additions in my head.
When I tell my mom, or my therapist, or my nutritionist that I miss my favorite foods, they say “you know, you can enjoy them again!” But sometimes it really feels like no, I can’t, not in the same way. I don’t know when a package of Belvita biscuits is just going to be a packet of Belvita biscuits again, and not 230 calories. I don’t know when waffles will just be waffles, not carb counts, and I won’t have to portion my chocolate chips out so they’re exactly 80 calories. I don’t know when meal-times will stop being math classes and trips to Dunkin Donuts won’t just be for black iced coffees.
I hear all the time in recovery that the only way out is through. The only way to turn off the calculator in my brain is to just eat everything that it tells me not to. I think that’s much easier said than done, but maybe it’s worth a shot?
Because sour cream donuts fucking slap!