Chocolate at Christmas was the start of my recovery from anorexia, and the end of ‘eating clean’
The unlikely health benefits of the Quality Street toffee penny
Everyone has their favourites – be it the green triangle, the big purple one, or (in my case) the toffee penny.
A Christmas staple, it’s unlikely you’ll find a home this year without a box of Quality Streets, Celebrations, or Roses. And too right. Christmas is a time for celebration, a time for great food to be enjoyed, a time for calorie counting to go out the window.
It’s a time for eating dirty. And, a time for me when I realised that tasting something my eating disorder had told me was ‘dirty’ would actually heal me. The toffee penny on Christmas Day was the start of my recovery from anorexia.
We live in a world where we’re force fed bizarre eating habits that have somehow been regurgitated to become an idealised version of eating. And, as a survivor of four relapses of anorexia, I know with confidence: eating clean can be eating dirty.
My toffee penny was a mouthful of chewy, buttery, golden redemption from a hell I didn’t know if I would recover. And I cried after I ate it because it was so delicious. You never know, a green triangle might change your life, and a big purple one could bring you back from a dangerous place. Of course, it wasn’t nearly so simple as this, and no, there aren’t any antioxidants that will ‘cure your hangover’ or ‘freshen you up’ in a toffee penny.
But, ever since I was young, it’s always been my favourite – God forbid anyone who thought they’d eat the last one in the box.
And when I saw how on Christmas Day in 2014 my mum had left a little portion of five or six for me on top of the microwave, clutching onto the slightest glimmer of hope that I might be brave and take a risk, something in me shifted a little. I knew that I had to change what had hospitalised me and snatched over a decade of my life; I had to eat the toffee penny.
One of my earliest memories was sneaking in the garage to get a honeycomb crunch from the box of Quality Streets. Unfortunately, my mum caught me while I was at it and I tripped over the stool the box was sitting on. I still manage to snuffle the chocolate up, though. My family used to laugh ruefully at that memory, longing for the day when I would be the cheeky, chocolate-loving girl they used to know – that I used to know.
Now, for me, eating clean wasn’t the reason for the fourth relapse, but it angers me when I see clean eating recipe books glorified and heralded as revolutionary in the food business. Because they’re a precursor to restrictive eating, a foreword to dieting, and an antecedent to eating disorders.
They’re a form of self-induced editorial control over eating habits that perpetuate the idea of the only ‘treats’ allowed to be eaten are are healthy versions made from substitutes.
No matter how many Instagram posts Deliciously Ella does, her brownies will never be as ‘Delicious’ as my white and milk chocolate ooey gooey calorific delights. And the toffee penny showed me this. It showed me that eating dirty would clean me, would absolve my self-hatred.
Of course, the toffee penny did not literally heal me, with its lack of nutritional health benefits, but it allowed me to taste a world I had evicted myself from for over a decade and began my long path to recovery.
In no way am I saying you should eat burgers every day for the rest of your lives; I’m saying it’s OK to eat them sometimes and not feel guilty. It’s great to love your body by treating yourself. It’s good to eat dirty.
Clean eating recipe books such as Deliciously Ella’s self-titled debut and Madeleine Shaw’s ‘Get the Glow’ became bestsellers because we live in a world where we are constantly shamed for how we look on a daily basis. Women and men are told to reinvent their eating diets to reinvent their outlook on life, and this is an existentially dangerous lifestyle to promote.
So choose cocoa over cacao, choose cakes over carb-free cardboard, and choose eating dirty over a diet that could damage your physical and mental health. If reading this does anything, it should help you reclaim delicious food against the ever-growing surge of clean eating proclaimers.
And to remind you to eat your toffee pennies. Just not if you’re living with me.
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