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Gooey Butter Cake


--Talk of real lived experiences and the struggles that come with having an ED.

--Mention of: calories, food rules, etc.

Gooey Butter Cake

Written by: Empowered Member and ED Warrior, Aly Wayne

Eating disorders have so many rules. You can’t eat more than “x” calories. And you can’t eat more than half of those calories before 4 p.m. You can’t sleep past 7 a.m. because you’ll burn less calories by sleeping more. You have to pace back and forth while you brush your teeth, otherwise you are wasting your time. Eating disorder rules even differ among people with eating disorders. For example, my eating disorder was deathly afraid of chips, but my treatment friends seemed to be able to eat them with ease. The list goes on.

As I have progressed in recovery from my eating disorder, my eating disorder has given up certain rules. For many years, I would only allow myself to have one item of what I then labeled as “junk food” each day, and the item had to be under a certain number of calories. I could not break this rule without enduring severe distress afterwards, perhaps even enough to lead me to completely avoid any “junk food” for several days following. Baked goods with unknown calories were on another level, and I feared them intensely. I lived in St. Louis—where I began my recovery—for seven years. And it wasn’t until two months before I moved away from that city that I tried their infamous gooey butter cake.

I’ve had an eating disorder since I was fourteen, but I wasn’t diagnosed until I was twenty-one. I am fortunate to have received a diagnosis, as not everyone struggling gets such a privileged label. The physician who diagnosed me, Jennifer Hillman, was instrumental in encouraging me to take my first steps towards recovery. She was the first physician in my life who made me genuinely feel cared for, and she was invested in my recovery for my growth and my well-being as a person. I wanted to do recovery for her when I didn’t feel like I had any other people in my life who cared enough. Doing recovery for another person is often a necessary step in the early stages when you may not have yet found the motivation to do it for yourself. Jennifer was that person for me. Jennifer also inspired me to go to medical school. I wanted to be for others the doctor she was for me.

Naturally, when I graduated college and could no longer be her patient, I kept in touch. She continued to mentor me through the ups and downs of recovery as I dabbled in adult life for a few years before moving to Massachusetts for medical school. We met up for coffee before my move, and she ordered gooey butter cake for us to share. This was my first time having it, and it was SO good. I couldn’t believe what I was missing out on. But not only was I missing out on the joy and deliciousness of an authentic St. Louis dessert, I was also missing out on memories with others that I failed to accumulate because I was afraid of food.

Gooey butter cake tastes exactly how it sounds, although it’s not exactly a cake-like consistency. It has a moist but chewy crust with a sweet, gooey, buttery filling. There are a lot of different ways to make it, and I got my recipe from one of my best ED dietitians, Lori Adams. I recalled my conquering of the gooey butter cake and the circumstances under which I did so to Lori in our session following my meet-up with Jennifer. That’s when Lori shared her own recipe with me. I made it for us to eat together during our session the next week, which was also our last before I moved to Massachusetts.

When I left St. Louis, I brought Lori’s recipe with me. I shared it with my anatomy group and my faculty mentor in medical school. No one in Massachusetts had ever heard of gooey butter cake, and they all loved it. I shared its story with those I trusted. It was empowering to share gooey butter cake with others as I took on this new chapter in my life. It meant a lot to me to have recovered enough from a deadly mental illness to make memories with people through food, something I once feared deeply.

I can’t say I’m no longer afraid of food, but I have come a long way, even since I started medical school. I recently returned to eating disorder treatment, which I don’t see as a failure but rather as a necessary step to address the ways I was still holding onto my eating disorder despite many years of recovery. When I returned home from treatment, my roommate had a homemade gooey butter cake waiting for me on the kitchen table. It was so special of her to think of me in this way. And over the course of the next several days, I ate all of it. I can enjoy other baked goods now, too, like donuts, surprise pastries at Starbucks, and homemade bagels, along with chips. And all of these foods have special connections with different people in my life.

Even though recovery is the hardest thing I’ve done (yes it’s harder than medical school), I am grateful for the relationships and the joy it has given me that have made my life much more worth living. If you are reading this and you are in recovery, I see your struggle. Please trust me to just keep going <3

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