Yesterday my boyfriend, Evan, and I went to Bruster’s for ice cream.
It was a spontaneous choice — seeing the red and white sign as we drove by, slamming on the brakes and careening into the parking lot before we’d even decided if we really wanted it or not.
But I always want ice cream.
To be honest, my ideal nutrition pyramid would list ice cream as its own food group, and I don’t think I’ve ever not wanted ice cream.
Thus, when we went inside and saw nine people in line ahead of us, I was not bothered at all. At least I had enough time to figure out what flavor to get.
Evan already knew what he wanted. He never gets anything other than chocolate, his tried and true. I, on the other hand, am easily overwhelmed by ice cream choices and want them all.
I was too far away from the counter to see the list of flavors, so Evan read it out loud for me.
“Peanut butter cheesecake, mint chocolate chip, caramel cashew, tin roof, strawberry banana…” He continued on through fifteen more flavors until I finally settled on praline pecan.
We took our cups outside and watched the cars drive by. We giggled quietly and watched a man in a giant pickup truck try three times to park straight in a smart-car-sized spot. We talked some, sharing a couple random childhood memories as they came to mind, but otherwise silently enjoying the sweetness of each other’s presence.
In this quiet time, I thought back to ice cream dates I went on years ago. Five, six, seven years ago. I loved ice cream just as much back then, and these dates were something fun that I wanted to savor. Instead, I saturated them with so much self-guilt and tension they were impossible to enjoy.
I remembered the stress of searching for the lowest-calorie item on the menu, not caring what flavor it was or how it tasted, only that it stood the smallest chance of making me fat overnight.
I was embarrassed by my compulsive need to explain to my date that this was a cheat meal, that I didn’t eat like this all the time and I would make up for it later on. I fished for compliments and reassurance that he didn’t find me fat and unappealing because I was ingesting calories I didn’t deserve.
I hyper-analyzed every pretty girl who came in, jealous of any slim body that walked by with two scoops of decadent, full-fat, caramel-laden happiness. I didn’t have a body that deserved ice cream. I assumed my date wished he was with that girl instead, and I withdrew so he wouldn’t feel pressured to interact with me.
I can still feel the agitation that overcame me as I planned how much exercise it would take to undo my indulgence. I remember my anxious vowing to limit my next meal to celery and an orange.
Eventually, a couple years later, I finally ate real, full-calorie ice cream more often than once a year. But not happily.
I remembered depriving myself of food all day, ingesting only an early-morning cup of coffee, then rushing home to bury myself in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. It tasted sickeningly repulsive about halfway down the container, but I scarfed down the whole thing anyway. Then I rolled over and cried myself to sleep.
Whether I was refusing to eat it, or refusing to stop eating it, ice cream controlled me. Its presence was enough to break open the floodgates, to drown me in an angst that renewed and preserved a torturous narrative —
I am not enough to deserve yummy things.
Yesterday as I sat at Bruster’s, relishing the spoonfuls of vanilla ice cream and praline goo punctuated by giant pecans, I realized I am enough.
This time, my anguish over the decision at the counter hinged upon what flavor sounded tastiest, not what was most calorie-friendly.
I enjoyed every bite, two scoops of a flavor I truly found appealing and desirable, knowing my metabolism is strong enough to handle it.
Sharing my favorite food with a person that loves me and has never stopped believing in me, I relaxed completely, knowing there were no assumptions except that everything in this moment was perfect.
It’s taken a year of consistent, sufficient eating (read: not starving myself) to overcome the out-of-control, desperate feeling I used to get around ice cream.
It’s taken a year for my metabolism to be able to see food, get excited, and actually use it, rather than hoarding it because it didn’t know when it would get more.
And it’s taken a year’s worth of conversations with a therapist who frequently reminds me “You are worthy and deserving of good things” for me to at last believe I really do.
After years of punishing myself, denying myself, and feeling unworthy, I will never take ice cream for granted again.
It doesn’t carry baggage anymore. It doesn’t involve shame, jealousy, a sense of failure, or justification.
Ice cream is special, sweet, and fun, but I deserve it.
And so do you.