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When a biscuit becomes your best friend

In this new book about mental health, a therapist delves into her client’s struggle with an eating disorder

Food can trigger an emotional response (Unsplash)

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‘I don’t know how to control it,’ Rahul said, a serious frown on his face. ‘It’s not good for my diabetes. But I can’t stop.’ Rahul was a relatively new client, and not always forthcoming about his personal life. He had come in saying that he felt confused and stuck about his career, but as it often happened, the conversation in therapy moved across different areas. He came across as the responsible, staid provider for his family. He had described his childhood as an only child, living in a house with his parents and aged grandmother, and having learned early on to be a self-reliant kid who ‘never caused any trouble’.

So today I was seeing a new side to him, and I repeated, ‘So, you’re saying it’s with biscuits in particular that you have no self-control?’ ‘Not just any biscuit,’ he said emphatically, ‘those damn Bourbon biscuits.’ I was familiar with the rectangular chocolate biscuits he was referring to. They’d been around a long time. My own relationship with Bourbon prompted my next question. ‘Has this been a long-standing thing for you, with Bourbon?’ ‘Not really,’ he screwed up his face as if trying to remember. ‘I’ve been good with my diet overall, ever since I was diagnosed five years ago. Last month, my wife got these biscuits home for the kids, and I saw them lying on the table, and—well, that was it.’ ‘So, what is it that happened when you saw them?’ ‘I just felt like trying one, and so I did. And it just tasted so good. Maybe also that I don’t usually eat sweet things. No one was around, and before I knew it, I’d finished the packet! My wife would be so angry if she knew.’

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‘And since then?’ ‘Since then, I have been buying them on the way back from work, maybe three times a week! And when I get some time alone in my room, after dinner, when my wife is putting the kids to bed, I just eat the whole packet.’ ‘Even though you know it’s bad for you.’ ‘Yes. I tell my wife I’m just doing a little puja for some time and lock the door . . . then I polish off the Bourbons! I do pray after that, feeling really guilty. And ever since this started happening, the other things, like my portion control, are going out the window too—I’ve gained 3 kgs in about as many weeks! I am not taking care of my health the same way anymore . . . I know I need to think more about the family . . .’He looked despairingly at me. ‘Why do you think this is happening?’

‘I really don’t know,’ I said honestly. ‘But would you be willing to try something unusual?’ ‘Sure.’ ‘Can you become Bourbon?’ He looked blankly at me. ‘Become—how?’ ‘Just imagine you’re the pack of Bourbon biscuits. And speak to me as that pack.’ He looked doubtful, but his interest in uncovering what lay beneath this strange pattern seemed to override. ‘Just stand up, walk around the chair, and sit down again. When you sit down, embody the biscuit pack.’

He played along with me and walked around the chair and sat down. ‘Okay. I’m the biscuit pack, I guess.’ ‘Hi, Bourbon!’ I said cheerily. ‘Hello,’ he replied, looking amused. ‘Can you describe yourself to me?’ He started to speak, haltingly, ‘Well . . . I’m rectangular and brown. Kind of like the biscuits I contain. They are really tasty, full of chocolate in the middle, and have little sugar crystals on top too.’

‘Ah,’ I said. ‘You sound like a real treat for Rahul.’ ‘I am,’ he said, smiling. ‘He is very fond of me.’ I could see that he had moved into the role. ‘Why is he so fond of you?’ He suddenly looked thoughtful. ‘I’m more than a treat. I’m his friend.’ ‘His friend, huh?’ I said. ‘Tell me more about that?’ ‘I was his favourite biscuit when he was a kid. But his mom always hid me in the storeroom. His Dadi always said not to feed him sweet things, because he was chubby.’ ‘How are you feeling right now, Bourbon, as you remember this?’ ‘I’m a little angry with him.’ Rahul said after a pause, ‘He forgot his only friend!’ ‘You were his only friend?’ ‘He was lonely. He was the only kid at home, and he didn’t have many friends either. After school, he would often come and pick me up from the storeroom. It was when Mom was out, and Grandma was sleeping.’ ‘Yes? He came often to the kitchen to do this?’ ‘He told his grandma he was praying; there was a little puja area in the storeroom, but he would come and sneak me out, and take a couple of biscuits at a time. Never more than one or two, or the adults would know.’ How do you think he felt when he did that?’ ‘He felt happy!’ Rahul was really getting into the role now. ‘He was doing something that he liked. He thought he deserved a treat now and then! But of course, he then also felt guilty and then studied and worked extra hard. He wouldn’t want to let his family down in any way. They all depended on him.’

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Excerpted with permission from And How Do You Feel About That: Breakdowns and Breakthroughs in the Therapy Room by Aruna Gopakumar and Yashodhara Lal, published by Penguin Random House India

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