How Working At A Cupcake Shop Changed My Relationship with Food

My friend Hannah wrote the best post about eating ice cream for 60 days straight and I loved every word, then immediately texted her to ask if I could jump on the bandwagon and write about working in a cupcake shop. During the very last portion of my internship, I did a quick business rotation with The Cakery Bakery in St. Louis, MO, then got hired at their sister shop, The Cup, to do some baking.

I took on the gluten-free baking which tends to have a smaller demand than gluten-full cupcakes, so I would come in twice a week to bake and frost, take a menu item as I left (#jobperks), and head back home happy and covered in sugar.

A common and powerful tool in dieting recovery is food exposure - trying previously forbidden foods. Sometimes this gets done with a dietitian, sometimes no - please know that you deserve help if you need, and the path to dieting and ED recovery is different for each person.

A type of food exposure may look like picking one forbidden food and stocking up on it/scheduling it into your eating. So if dieting created anxiety around X food, you'd eat it daily (hopefully with the support of a counselor, friend, dietitian, or loved one). The idea is not to "get sick of" that food, but to decrease your emotional response to the food so you can approach it more calmly.

All that to say - working in a cupcake shop was basically a very structured version of a food exposure. I felt like a pretty normal eater by the time I worked at The Cup, but there is always room to grow and learn from food and experiences.

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Here's how that job taught me about my eating habits:

1 | The more freedom you give yourself, the more you learn.

I didn’t know this about myself until this job, but I don’t actually like all cake. And I don’t actually like cake all the time. I got to take something home off the menu every time I worked - so I was guaranteed a gourmet cupcake twice per week. Sometimes that felt like the right amount, sometimes I needed more and different desserts throughout the week, and sometimes I split my items with my family or friends.

I also learned that, while I like cake, I only feel strongly about a few kinds and flavors of cake. I could take or leave chocolate cake and I'm not huge on red velvet, but if chocolate chip cake or gooey butter cake popped up - I'm happily all over it. Without rules to dictate what and when you eat, there's so much more room to be discerning about what you actually like.

2 | Dessert does not ruin your day.

This is such a common component of a diet mindset - that eating something off-plan "ruins" your day - so you may as well eat more of it later since the day doesn't count. And then the week doesn't count. And you end up eating all of these off-plan foods "while you can" without regard to if you want them.

I don't mean to imply that normal eating never includes dessert or whatever else was "off-limits" for you - because it absolutely does! But it changes the mindset around these foods entirely - you can eat for reasons other than it being a good or bad dieting day. You can choose what you want freely and know that your body can handle it, and you can eat the food and be done with it instead of keeping it on your mind far past the actual eating experience.

3 | There are a million more ways to talk about food than nutrition facts.

I spent way too long referring to foods as a "good protein source" or "low calorie option", etc. It was like learning a whole new language to talk about how a cake paired with its buttercream flavor or toppings, which cakes went best with an icy cold brew, or which flavors pair together to create a cohesive looking and tasting wedding cake.

To be fully honest, I still have no idea what it means for something to taste fruit-forward, or for wine to have "good legs." But I do know that we should be talking about the textures and tastes of food just as much, if not more, than we talk about nutritional content.

Note: there is a way to do both, and it's called gentle nutrition - read more here.

4 | No food rules = more room to be picky

More than a year later, I still have found a happier rhythm and less anxiety around dessert after working at a cupcake shop. When I was in a diet mindset, I would say "yes" to every dessert, let it "ruin" my day, and not even stop to consider if it had been satisfying. But that satisfaction is so key to normal eating - so I've found I typically pass on certain kinds or flavors of cake just because I know what I like. 

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Have you had an experience with food exposures you'd like to share? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!