The Cupcake Dialogues

Enjoy this article from the archives.

I've been thinking about chocolate cake recently. To be precise, I've been thinking about what happens when a piece of bittersweet flourless Chocolate Decadence Cake arrives at a table where a few friends and I have agreed to share the dense, sweet dessert. Eyes light up. Glints of mischief appear on people's faces. Oohs and aahs are exclaimed. The whole environment becomes vibrant, joyous, and thrillingly alive.

The waitress puts the cake down in the middle of the table, and for a moment, there is a feeling of reverence, of hushed silence, as if we were all experiencing a holy event. Forks are lifted. Eyes are cast down. Breathing stops.

Will it taste as divine as it looks? Will it be as good as the last chocolate cake we ate--or the first? Can we get a fork in there fast enough to procure a satisfying morsel or will our beloved friends take such big bites that there will be none left?

In The House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne wrote that for Winnie the Pooh, "Although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called."

Pooh might not have known what those food cravings are called, but I do. They're called desire. They're called anticipation. They're called wanting--and if we let ourselves feel them, have them, and love them for their own sake, we set ourselves free.

I realize that's a radical statement--if you let yourself feel the depth of your food cravings, you will set yourself free--but after 27 years of working with compulsive eaters, I've gotten the hang of what works and what doesn't.

Recently, I had an encounter with one of my students, who said, "I love cupcakes. I love, love, love them. Every time I see them, I have to eat every single one. I am helpless in the presence of a cupcake."

The story we usually tell ourselves about our lack of control--especially if it concerns high-fat or high-sugar foods--is that we need to discipline ourselves and stay away from them. Keep them out of the house. Lock the cabinet doors and throw away the keys.

Okay, maybe you haven't locked your food in a cabinet, but how about those times when you're certain that the potato chips have suddenly developed vocal cords and are calling you from across the room?

If you find yourself bingeing and dieting, making proclamations about which foods you absolutely can't have in the house only to find yourself, in a moment of madness, running to the store and loading up on those exact foods (and telling the clerk that they're for your daughter or that you're having a party), here's the million-dollar question: What are you wanting when you want those potato chips, the cupcakes, that Chocolate Decadence Cake?

I can hear you saying: The potato chips, of course! The chocolate, without a doubt! But remember what Pooh said: The moment before he put his hand in the honey jar was actually better than tasting the honey itself. Then ask yourself: If honey were truly what he wanted, why was it better to want it than to have it? Why is the race to the food cravings or the moment before you eat it equally if not more delicious than actually having it?

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Here's a conversation I had with the above-mentioned Cupcake Student:

Cupcake Student: I want cupcakes.
Me: What about the cupcakes do you want so much?
Cupcake Student: I want the sweetness. I want the richness. I want the feeling of it in my mouth.
Me: When you have one in your mouth, how do you feel?
Cupcake Student: I feel calm, I feel loved, and I feel like everything is good.
Me: So, it seems as if what you really want is to feel loved, calm, and relaxed.
Cupcake Student: Uh-oh. Is this a trick? Did you just talk me out of wanting cupcakes?
Me: Nope. You can still choose to have them if you really want them. We're just trying to figure out what it is you really want when you say you want cupcakes.
Cupcake Student: Well, okay then, I do want to feel loved, calm, and relaxed.
Me: How about giving yourself permission--just for a minute--to want that? To want love?
Cupcake Student: But what if I know I can't have it? I just got divorced and I'm not dating anyone. What's the point of wanting love when I can't have it?
Yes, that is million-dollar question number two: What's the point of wanting something you can't have? Why not spare yourself the pain and turn to something you can have--food--instead?

The point is that when you give yourself permission to want what you want instead of replacing it with a substitution, you make contact with your heart's desire. Believe it or not, feeling the desire itself is incredibly, immensely, deeply satisfying. It's the desire--not its fulfillment--that nourishes you because it's the language of your heart. When you listen to that language, you hear your self. You return to your own true, deepest nature (which is, after all, what we thought that cupcake would do for us).

The things you want are bread crumbs leading you home. If you follow your desire for them, you get closer and closer to who you really are, to what you really want from this life. And what you end up discovering is what good ole Glinda told Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz: It wasn't the ruby slippers, it wasn't the balloon, it wasn't the Wizard. Dorothy had always possessed the power to get herself back home--just by wanting it so much.

It's not the cupcakes, it's not the potato chips, it's not the chocolate cake. If you give yourself permission to want without judging or dismissing your desires as crazy, you, too, have the power to return yourself to what you want most: the center of your own stunning, tender, radiant heart.

You, it turns out, have been the cupcake all along.

31 responses to “The Cupcake Dialogues

  1. This is a powerful lesson, laid out in perfect simplicity for all to grasp. What we want – really want – is our connection to our heart. Too often we choose to bury that desire under some other form of gratification that leaves unsatisfied and sick. Thank you for this gentle and profound lesson.

  2. OMG! I think I might understand now. All I truly want is to be loved and to not be ashamed of who I am. Oh, how I wish I could attend one of your workshops. They’re just so far away and so expensive! Will you ever be in upstate SC? I NEED to spend a weekend with you!!!!!!

  3. Geneen, what a wonderful way to explain the love of the cupcake. I have felt that way about chocolate many times and I know it is truly about loving yourself. Thanks for all your inspirations and support. I love your articles and the quote on Monday’s. I have the quotes in my office so I can read and ponder what you are saying. Many days I have been down on myself and they have lifted me up!


    Patsy Brooks

  4. I finally get it. Your remark that we don’t want the ice cream sundae, we want our life to be an ice cream sundae. This is a beautiful essay that I will save on my desk top if I can. “I’ve gotten the hang of what works and what doesn’t.” Well that’s the understatement of the universe. The only thing that works is not being ashamed of desire, giving it lots of space and lots of compassion. Extravagantly loving even myself. I’m going to keep working on this. Being a butterscotch milkshake! As always, thank you Geneen.

  5. Have been looking at myself for a long time and I know it is pain or wanting comfort that drives me at those times I choose food, but this seems novel, not sure why. Aware of my desires but will be more conscious
    of acknowledging those desires at that particular time when the feelings are just all consuming. I end up feeling them anyhow, a box of gelato bars later.

  6. Geneen, I am a lone voice at times, in a medical setting, in my attempt to help people move away from external to internal connection and process re: their relationship with food and strategies to work with it. Now I offer a caveat to the prescription in this article – For decades I have attempted to make peace with cravings, inability to control sugar/carbs. I’ve felt there was a biological process occuring due to the history of alcoholism in my family. Finally, in my mid-fifties, I was prescribed Metformin, despite not having diabetes, which acts on glucose production in the liver. It has been life changing. In one day, I noticed the lack of urgency around sugar and carbs. I can eat a bit of something and not need anymore. I now feel hungry for things like salads. My system has been helped to achieve a balance others find easy. Sad that it took 40 years to convince a doctor it wasn’t related to depression, anxiety or poor choices.

    So I will continue to be a loyal fan and advocate, but know that for some people there can be powerful biological processes that will truly not allow someone moderation of sugar/carbs, and that it sets people up for failure to suggest otherwise.

  7. I agree with what you say, up to a point. I do agree, definitely, with giving yourself permission to really dig deep into what we actually are craving and really what the desire is. Perhaps, when we do recognise and cherish and hold the real desire , we are ‘satisfied’ to a large extent.
    However, there is also chocolate for chocolate’s sake. Freud said, ‘ Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar ‘.
    And you, yourself Geneen, even said ( and I hold onto this even when I have found the feeling/desire/craving), ‘Sometimes, only ice cream will do !’
    Winnie the Pooh did recognise and discover the true desire – and he also enjoyed honey !

    I am your true fan since you began !!! Brava,Geneen, brava, bravissima ! xxx

  8. I LOVE THIS!!!!!! We are definitely the cupcakes, the ice cream sundae, the whole enchilada. How can we give ourselves more of what we truly desire? How can we feel our true desires when we were brought up to think that anything we really and truly want, must be something we simply are not allowed to have, let alone to even want? Undoing years of brainwashing takes a Zen master. Thank you Geneen!! Keep on speaking the truth.

  9. I fulfill my need for someone to take care of me with food. Food takes care of me by giving me strength and happiness. When I have a physical need for food it is just what I need. When I have a physical or emotional need for attention and someone to take care of me I get nothing. I don’t have to ask food to do what I need so why should I have to ask my friends and family?

  10. Thank you Geneen! YOU are the cupcake!…….( and so am I.) Seriously, I loved this article. You reminded me that when I am able to slow myself down, and take a moment to ask myself “What am I really looking for right now?…..then what comes is clarity and power. POWER!! Thank you Geneen. xo

  11. Thought-provoking blog. I don’t give myself permission to want what I want. I don’t have a clue what I want!
    Often, I feel nothing but despair and resignation. Easier to stay put in that despair.
    Trying to find what my heart desires is so difficult. I wonder why?

  12. Wow! The best explanation you’ve given yet! Thank you- I needed to hear that. However, there is still the discomfort with the negative emotion or sadness that leaves me wanting something perceived as positive ( sweet, salty, greasy foods). What do I hold in that space instead, after acknowledging and being with the feeling?

  13. I find it difficult to quiet the voices and learn what My body and soul wants. You help me most by reminding me to be curious instead of shameful or psychoanalytical around my eating like a tornado.

  14. Wow! I think I’m a bit confused (Which, I’ve been told is a high state because I’m saying I DON’T know, rather than pretending I DO). I’m confused because, like the Cupcake Student, I’ve left my marriage and what’s happening lately is I’m feeling a bit of pain. Not huge gobs of it like the last few months, just moments when I realize I’m alone. And even though I have much to be grateful for- wonderful friends, belief in a spiritual power, a great psychiatrist, who actually does therapy- I still feel alone because I am. I’m no longer part of a twosome. I left my marriage because I couldn’t stand what my husband was doing, how he was behaving etc, etc. Now-yay!- I get to look at my part in that messy relationship and all the unhealthy, negative beliefs I had/have about relationships. Voila! Mask comes off. I’ve somehow stopped doing the work of feeling feelings and the pain is minimal but I’m no longer privy to who I am, what comes next, what I DESIRE. Not a good trade-off if avoiding pain means feeling numb. How odd that just acknowledging my confusion would begin to show me how to move through it. Thanks for this piece, Geneen, because it triggered a new beginning.

  15. Geneen this is a great article! I am relating to it! I don’t want sweetness from sugary food, i want love and self-confidence which i am getting there! I know it now, thank you!

  16. I wanted to let you know Geneen that this article is perfect. All of you books, words and thoughts speak to my heart and this article just raised the bar again. I thank you and bless you for sharing your wisdom and kindness.
    Please visit us in the UK. We are desperate to meet you.

    Much love, Tina xx

  17. Do-over! Do-over! My last post was entirely wrong. I am NOT evading feelings; I do NOT need to feel my feelings( Other than the calm, peaceful ones I’ve been having in the last little while). I am not comfortable with peace and tranquility; when I’m not being jarred by drama and/or feeling chaotic I think something’s wrong. THAT’S unnerving but not completely surprising; I’ve conditioned myself to be hyper-vigilant because my ground of being is that the world’s not a safe place to be. So this new peace and contentment is truly wonderful even if if I’m not used to it. It’s funny but doing grief work when my marriage ended has taken me to a place I couldn’t have imagined nor been privy to had I not left my husband. Suddenly, I have an experience of myself at two or three and there is nothing wrong with me. I’m a perfect little being. Unfortunately, my parents don’t know how to love in a healthy way and that’s probably when I started believing there was something wrong with me. Geneen, you talk about giving your own sweet self the attention it wants from you. Well, I’m making an inroad to that by having this glimpse of myself that I’ve never been able to see before. Again, thank-you for this piece and all that you do to help me and others reclaim our goodness. And of course, our wardrobes; life is less complicated when I can fit into most of my clothes!

  18. Geneen, you are the cupcake, filled with sweetness and the flavor of life. Thank you so much for this email, it has given me a whole new prospective on the power of the cupcake. I will never look at a cupcake the same again.

  19. Thank you for sharing the whole conversation here about cupcakes!
    It’s nice to here the question which rings loud and then receive the anticipated answer, without being teased and challenged!

    This is so important to understand! Thanks again for sharing.


  20. The first time, lovely BRILLIANT Geneen, I heard someone say,”You won’t die from craving, but a part of you dies every time you bury the craving with what you “think” you are craving.

    We know when we simply want a piece of cake. We enjoy it, and it holds no magic other than giving pleasure. Then, we move on. When we are riveted,fixed, rigid and blinded by the piece of cake….when the whole world and heaven and hell is the cake, we are far, far, far away from “home”.

    I love you, Geneen,

  21. I am sitting here reading this and crying my eyes out. Last weekend I received a very distressing call from my adult niece. I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise and I wanted to scream. I kept control. When I got off the phone I wanted “Bear Claws” (pastry). In reading your article I started to cry when I realized I wanted: 1) my niece to listen to reason 2) I wanted her to realize how many people’s lives she’s messing with 3) I wanted her to get help and lastly 4) I wanted her to be healthy physically and mentally. Not going to happen, so I wanted Bear Claws. This scenario has occurred in my life over and over and over again.
    This all makes since after being on the planet for 63 years, it makes sense.
    with love,
    Chrys Demopoulos

  22. I am the cupcake. I am the cupcake. The cupcake is me. It is my friends and relationships. It is books. It is nature. It is sunshine. It is children. It is color. It is silver rings. It is yarn and fabric. It is sadness. It is loneliness. It is tears. It is hikes. It is fresh air and safety. It is a good sleep. The cupcake is me.
    Thanks Geneen! This was a powerful post.

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