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Hand in the Cookie Jar

I’ve been thinking about the expression “caught with your hand in the cookie jar.” The phrase is synonymous with being caught doing something wrong, but the more I think about it, the more uncomfortable it makes me. It implies that getting a cookie is an illicit act, something of which to be ashamed.

Why is this? What’s so wrong about getting a cookie? Why have a cookie jar if you don’t expect people to eat the cookies?

But of course it’s not that simple. Generally, society tells us that you’re only supposed to eat cookies, or any sweets, at certain times (after dinner, for instance, not before), and that if you’re overweight, you should never be eating them. After all, if you’re fat, you should be trying to get thin, and that means you’re only supposed to eat healthy foods in small amounts, period.

This sort of judgment means that anyone heavy who actually eats something sweet and/or fatty in front of others is likely to feel the need to defend what they’re eating, regardless of time of day or if other people are eating the same thing. They may be temped to say things like, “I had a salad for lunch,” or “I went to the gym,” or anything to justify the fact that they’re – gasp! – eating a cookie. Not that it necessarily helps. The judgment is usually still there.

That’s why, if this happens often enough, they’re not likely to be eating sweets in front of others much at all (see my earlier post about being obese and eating in public). At least, that’s what happened with me. I got so angry about being judged and constantly found wanting for my food choices that I discovered all kinds of ways to sneak foods.

That made the time when my mom caught me all the more awful. This was during one of the many occasions when I was trying to lose weight. In this case Mom had convinced me to try a program called Shapedown. But I still wanted sweets, which prompted me to go shopping with her one day and sneak off to buy a couple of candy bars – Snickers and Charleston Chew.

The problem was, I didn’t have anywhere to put the candy bars except to bundle them in my jacket. But because it was a warm day, bringing my jacket into my bedroom when we got home was definitely suspicious. So Mom followed me. When she saw me with the candy bars, her look of disappointment was devastating on so many levels. The only good thing is that it was a tipping point. It got me to finally tell her that the constant pressure about my weight was just making things worse, and she decided to back off on that front.

Which leads to the real irony of the situation: if I hadn’t been so defensive about what I ate, feeling like I had to do it in secret, I might never have been tempted to go off and buy the candy bars to begin with. I don’t know that for sure, but I do know that since I stopped trying to restrict my eating, I have naturally gravitated to healthier foods, because they make me feel better.

In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I had a candy bar. It’s not because I’m worried about what other people will think, though, just that I don’t find them appealing anymore.

But I’m still a fan of cookies, even if I don’t have a cookie jar. If I did, though, I would hope that if I found someone with their hand in it, I wouldn’t mind or make them feel the need to explain themselves, no matter time of day, or the body size of the person involved. I hope I would simply choose to be flattered that they liked my cookies so much and leave it at that.

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