Cooking In Recovery: Building A New Relationship With Food
Kelly Boaz, CNP
Some people affected by an eating disorder love to cook. Some can't even stand to be around food. No matter which camp you fall into (or if you land somewhere on the spectrum in between), your relationship to cooking in recovery will be different.
When I was at the worst points of my eating disorder, I couldn't stand to touch food. As a result, I never really learned to cook, beyond what I'd done in my childhood. That's how I found myself Googling, "how to boil an egg" as a twentysomething.
Cooking In Recovery: The Early Days
When you're first starting out in recovery, it's probably not a good idea to attempt a full Thanksgiving dinner as your first foray into cooking. Start with something small. Learn how to cook oatmeal the long way, instead of relying on the instant packages. Bake something from a mix that only requires adding one or two ingredients. Try roasting a vegetable you'd normally eat raw. Baby steps.
When you're starting out, you'll need lots of help. Recruit a trusted friend who can explain what the recipe means when it says "cook on medium". (Hint: turn the dial to the 5.) Google EVERYTHING. And take your time. Start cooking before you're ABSOLUTELY RAVENOUS. No two ovens are exactly the same, so you may need to bake that sweet potato a little longer to make sure it's cooked through.
Once you've mastered the basics - boiling water, cooking grains, following a recipe - start experimenting. Add a different vegetable to that quiche recipe. Try adding different spices to give the same ingredients a whole different flavor. Just don't get too wild when it comes to baking. You can switch out small things, like replacing the raisins in your cookie recipe with chocolate chips, but baking comes down to science. If your chemistry is off, you'll end up with either cookie soup, or hockey pucks. It's amazing, though, how switching out a few ingredients in a recipe can help expand your food repertoire, in addition to your cooking skills.
For The Experienced Chef
If you're a great cook already, there are most likely still areas you need to change in how you interact with the food you cook. Maybe you've always cooked amazing things for other people, but never partaken. Maybe you've always subbed out ingredients in recipes for "safer" foods. In recovery, it may be time to start subbing a recipe back to its original form. It's DEFINITELY time to start eating what you cook. Start with something you can eat with minimal stress, and work your way up.
Cooking Is Better With Company
Once you're feeling fairly confident in your cooking skills, and at eating what you cook, make a meal for someone else. For as long as humans have walked the earth, food has been a community-building event. While it might be scary to open your food choices and your skills to someone else, it's an important step in your new relationship to food.
For your first shared meal, choose someone who will eat what you cook with few restrictions. It's hard to feel safe in your new food when someone else is requesting substitutions all over the place, whether for medical reasons or due to their own issues with food. The focus of this meal should be on the community you're building, not on the ingredients.
Do I Have To Cook ALL THE TIME Now?
Absolutely not. While cooking is an important skill to have, it's also not possible to do for every meal, every day. Some days, you'll be in a rush. Some days, you'll be too tired to cook. Some days, you'll be busy battling eating disordered thoughts, and it's all you can do to show up to food, let alone cook it. So order out. Keep frozen entrees on hand to eat on the fly. And buy foods you enjoy! Just because you can bake your own cookies doesn't mean you should never buy your favorite store-bought brand again.
Don't get caught in the all-or-nothing thinking that accompanied your eating disorder. Cooking in recovery is a way to cast off your eating disorder's rules, and find freedom with food.
Kelly Boaz, CNP is a Toronto-based Holistic Nutritionist (CNP), specializing in eating disorder recovery and food freedom. After winning her 17-year battle with anorexia, Kelly Boaz turned her life’s focus to helping others do the same. She is also a writer and speaker (TEDx, TDSB), raising eating disorder awareness, and helping people heal their relationship with food and their bodies. You can find out more about Kelly, or get in touch via her website.