I’ve loved cooking since I was a child. I remember growing up and begging my parents to sign me up for cooking classes by day and scrawling down my mom’s favourite recipes in my journal by night. Food has always held a special place in my heart, and I treasure cooking as a form of intimacy and connection with friends, family and loved ones. But when I was a teenager I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, which really complicated my relationship not only with eating, but with the entire process of preparing, cooking and serving food.
I struggled with my eating disorder pretty severely for about five years, but over the latter half of the last decade, I’ve been able to find joy in recovery and reconnect with my love for food and cooking.
I want to note that this is the more joyful side of my personal story, as I’m here to showcase the ways in which I worked through the latter portion of my recovery journey. Over time, I found a love for cooking again, but eating disorder (ED) recovery is a long, complicated and grueling process, and I still struggle with a lot of residual symptoms and health complications. So, although this article may provide you solace in a time of need, triggers may lie ahead.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with an eating disorder call the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) at the toll-free helpline at 1-866-633-4220.
Cooking is one of the hardest parts of recovery
For me, a big part of my eating disorder was about control – but to find joy, especially in cooking, you have to be able to let go of that overbearing desire for restraint. Because of that, and because cooking is so closely tied to the process of eating, I found cooking to be one of the most difficult parts of recovery. In fact, when I was in the height of my eating disorder, I never would have imagined letting go of my fears around cooking, let alone sharing about that process through writing.
Because cooking is so closely tied to the process of eating, I found cooking to be one of the most difficult parts of recovery.
I don’t want to get too deep into what my relationship to food was like when I was in the peak of my struggle, but when you’re malnourished, it’s extremely difficult to find the energy to cook. At the time I had no desire to cook and found no love in the process. Because I was in a constant state of exhaustion, grabbing something readily accessible in the fridge was not only easier, it was essential.
In the height of my ED, cooking became a loathsome activity for me, but if I wanted to fall back in love with the process I held so close to my heart, I had to find ways to reassociate food with pleasure.
Surprisingly enough, the pandemic was a pivotal part of my recovery process
The pandemic brought a lot of hardship, but for me, it did bring one positive thing to my life: the pandemic played a pivotal role in my recovery process, especially when it came to my relationship to cooking.
When I was locked inside and had nothing to do, I turned to baking, broiling, grilling and frying. I made a resolution to try a new recipe once a week. These wouldn’t be just any old recipes; I would cook meals that took anywhere from two to five hours to prepare. I began cooking outside of my comfort zone, learning new recipes to fill my time. From corn tortillas to handmade gnocchi to a side of tofu fried rice, I’d cook everything from scratch.
When I was locked inside and had nothing to do, I turned to baking, broiling, grilling and frying.
Through that process, I began to see cooking as an art form again instead of as an annoying, essential tool to fuel myself.
Learning to use food as a form of socializing
As I started delving back into the world of cooking, I slowly learned to use it as a tool to connect with the people around me. Through the pandemic, my roommate and I would cook elaborate meals, building a routine together around the art of food. Every Sunday, we would wake up and spend an hour cooking a complicated brunch together. When it was ready, we’d sit down, share some coffee, talk about our weeks and then watch a show. I found a lot of comfort in that process, which taught me to see eating as a communal activity – a time for bonding and sharing stories with the people I love.
Taking away the fear of eating and cooking alone
Once I established a connection between cooking and community, I knew I had to learn to rediscover a joy for preparing food for myself and eating it on my own.
It took a really long time to get comfortable doing that, but I started by setting up a safe and gentle environment. With each meal I cooked and ate on my own, I’d take my time to not only prepare the food, but to prepare the environment by setting up candles, surrounding myself with books or activities and leaning in to the aesthetic of food through presentation.
As I started delving back into the world of cooking, I slowly learned to use it as a tool to connect with the people around me.
At first, I’d start by dining with plenty of distractions, reading, writing or watching a show while I ate. But then, as I got comfortable, I slowly took things away and let dining be an experience in and of itself. I taught myself to be mindful and ate with intent, looking for the flavours I developed that worked, while discovering the textures that didn’t and learning from those experiences.
I learned to let my journey have peaks and valleys
Most importantly, as I reconnected with cooking, I learned to acknowledge my inner dialogue. Some days, I just didn’t want to cook – and a big step in the healing process was learning that that’s okay. Over time, I’ve learned to be gentle with myself on the days that I don’t want to cook, and to be proud on the days that I do.
Even now there are days where I don’t feel like cooking and, instead of being frustrated by that, I listen to what I need and take a break, knowing that there will be many more days on the horizon where cooking excites me again.