In Leaving Large: The Stories of a Food Addict, Michelle Petties reveals that she was once so obese that some insurance companies refused to cover her. A recovering “stone-cold sugar addict,” Petties gained and lost 700 pounds during her 42-year battle with obesity. Then she rewrote the endings of her food stories, like this excerpt on her Aunt Dorothy’s cinnamon rolls. “I realized that I was hungry not for the food itself, but for the feeling I associated with the food.”
By Michelle Petties
My love for cinnamon rolls goes back to the days when my cousins Bernard and Pettis would call me on the phone to let me know that my Aunt Dorothy was making a batch in her kitchen. She lived about a mile away from my grandparents’ home.
“Momma’s making cinnamon rolls!” They would whisper over the phone.
This was always a big deal to us. So big that whenever my cousins alerted me, I would find a way to make my way over to their house because I knew we were about to have a good time.
My cousins and I would gather in the kitchen, eagerly watching as my aunt, a longtime master pastry maker for the Marshall Independent School District, plied her culinary skills to produce what would ultimately become my favorite pastry of all time. Cinnamon rolls, especially after Cinnabon stores became ubiquitous at airports and shopping malls across the United States, would become my nemesis. It was something that I would not defeat until much later in life.
The foundation for my Cinnabon habit was laid during those cinnamon roll-making sessions in Aunt Dorothy’s kitchen, where my cousins and I would stand in eager anticipation and argue over who would get to lick the spoon.
Cinnamon rolls were far from the only thing that this master pastry-maker for the local school district used to make. The same treats that Aunt Dorothy made for the kids at school she made for us at home, only better.
Every day was like a holiday at her house. There was always a beautiful caramel cake — hands down everybody’s favorite — or double boiler banana pudding, sweet potato pie, pecan pie, or fruit cobbler. And if we were in good favor and all the stars were aligned, she would make her special cinnamon rolls, which, I must say, were 10 times better than any Cinnabon I’ve ever tasted. If only my aunt had started a franchise to sell her cinnamon rolls, this small-town pastry chef might have become a millionaire; and Aunt Dorothy’s cinnamon rolls would be known worldwide.
My Battle With Cinnabons
I was in my 30s when I tasted a Cinnabon for the first time. I treated myself to this heavenly confection during an all-day shopping extravaganza at a shopping mall. Long before I actually saw them, the distinct, familiar, and intoxicating aromas of cinnamon, flour, powdered sugar, and sweet butter drew me near. The first bite was paradise. The out-of-this-world sweetness of cream cheese icing. The sugar-sweetened Makara cinnamon swirled throughout the bun. The tender, moist, gooey center, and the stick-to-your-fingers goodness! Cinnabons were good, damn near as good as the ones my Aunt Dorothy used to make.
They were close enough!
I gobbled up the first one, then another one immediately afterwards. I remember my skinny shopping companion saying: “I can get one, but, oh my God, I can’t eat it all at one time. It’s way too rich!” I had no idea what “too rich” meant. I could not relate. I knew exactly what way too good meant. Can’t eat the whole thing? In my mind, the question was, “How can you not eat the whole thing?”
I was hooked. Soon, I couldn’t walk by a Cinnabon kiosk without buying a half dozen with extra frosting. Eventually, I planned my weekend shopping expeditions only at malls where I knew Cinnabons were sold. As if selling them in malls wasn’t enough, the company had the nerve to start selling them in grocery stores and airports.
Sugar, Cravings, and Memories
My cravings for Cinnabons undoubtedly had something to do with my desire to return to the warmth and comfort of Aunt Dorothy’s kitchen. Physically I might have been in a mall shopping, but as soon as I inhaled cinnamon and cream cheese I was transported back in time to those lovely days when my cousins and I eagerly awaited my aunt’s cinnamon rolls.
Chasing the sweetness of a memory, I’ve eaten more Cinnabons than I can count. I had it bad. I was a stone-cold sugar addict who was so obese that insurance companies refused to cover me. At close to 1,000 calories, eating just one Cinnabon a week was responsible for an extra 12 pounds a year.
When I figured out that my sugar addiction, compulsions, and cravings were linked to specific, pleasurable memories, I realized that I was hungry not for the food itself but for the feeling I associated with the food. Prior to that, I had no idea this was going on.
For years, instead of finding joy in my memories, I mistook my emotional cravings as physical hunger. In reality, I was hungry for something that food could not supply – warmth, love, comfort, and family.
Kicking the Habit
I’m not sure exactly when I stopped bingeing on Cinnabons, but I remember finally realizing that I could savor the memory without eating the food.
Now when I walk by a Cinnabon counter, there’s no urge, no craving, no pull. I think less about Aunt Dorothy’s kitchen — the aromas of cinnamon, sugar, flour, and vanilla that always hung in the air — and more about what a missed business opportunity it was for her.
Then again, if my Aunt Dorothy had turned her cinnamon rolls into a franchise, she would have contributed to America’s problem with food, not something I’d want for her.