I’m a food blogger recovering from an eating disorder, and I’m not alone. I know a good many people with eating disorders who have channeled their food obsession into a legitimate profession. The number of dietitians, personal trainers and chefs that used to, or may still have eating disorders is great. Can writing a food blog help you get over an eating disorder? For me, the positives outweigh the negatives. (But of course, if you’re struggling with an eating disorder, consulting a doctor or other professional is the first step. This is just my experience)
I was scared to come out on Hello Giggles as someone who dealt with an eating disorder. I’ve been keeping my food blog, Scrumptious Gruel, up since 2010. And after writing the Hello Giggles Book Cook column for two years, I worried people would glance askance at my food-related activities. I thought they’d think “Oh, she says she is in recovery. Why is she still obsessed with food?” After all, there are probably plenty of people who photograph pretty pictures of their food and don’t eat it. I feared people would think I was a fraud, telling them how great the food is when it never crossed my lips.
My disorder of choice, straight off the eating disorder menu was a delightful deluxe combo of anorexia and exercise addiction. The thing is, my eating and exercise disorders were not necessarily about food and weight loss. At least not at the beginning. Granted, after one suffers from an eating disorder a long enough a time, as I did, the disorders become about EVERYTHING. They are about self-denial, control, self-worth, body shape, addiction and more. They are the safety net that catches everything. But if I had to pick the biggest factor in my disorders I’d say they had to do with self-love. Was I worthy of being kept alive? Had I earned a spot at the metaphorical dinner party of life? Most of the times my answer, to myself, was was “not quite.” Not unless I’d worked and exercised myself half to death. Then I could sit down and eat a little something.
Of course, chemicals kick in, the biological thing in the brain that makes people obsess about food starts up. Studies have shown that the starving brain fixates on food as a survival mechanism. Your body wants to stay alive even if you don’t. Once you’ve been starved, whether by choice or not, you are going to have food on the brain.
I was always obsessed with food, though. Tasting, making, serving: I love it. I sometimes think of myself an artist at large and food is one of my mediums. My pies belong at the Louvre. (Well, I think they do.) But then I fancy myself a pie connoisseur. I actually say I know I’m falling for a guy when I start to imagine what I’ll cook for him. I tend to think of food as a way of sharing myself with the people I love.
Granted, during my truly sick years I’ve done the thing where I make giant feasts and eat none of them, watching jealously as the sane members of my family enjoyed the goodies. Gradually, as I recovered, I ate the things I made, although rarely would I make a recipe without attempting to coax it into a fat-free, sugar free, calorie-free tortured existence. In retrospect they were probably taste-free too. Or they tasted good, but compared to the real deal? Pretty lame. The thing is, at that time my taste buds were just happy to be enjoying more than cauliflower and coffee.
When I started Scrumptious Gruel I felt I could still doctor recipes to be fat-free and more filling. For that blog I was cooking what I wanted. But then I got the occasional gig reviewing restaurants and the control over what was in my food was out the window. Then I started writing the Book Cook—and testing cookbooks required making the recipes accurately. I have my journalistic pride and I wanted to keep my integrity in check. So in came the real butter. Out went the artificial sweeteners. The last shoe to drop was buying full-fat cream cheese. That was a big one for me.
It has been positively delightful. Mostly. I found out there are a lot of foods I “didn’t like” for years that I actually do like. I realized I “didn’t like” them because I was scared of them. Like pretty much anything with fat. And not just unhealthy fats. All fat. But hey, what do you know? I LOVE cashews! I DO like a good cheesy casserole.
Being a food writer has helped me get better acquainted with my own taste buds, and getting more and more comfortable and flexible about what I eat has been a boon. Food is one of the great shared joys of human existence. It’s vital to our survival and a way that we bond with each other. Part of the isolation of someone an eating disorder is avoidance of anything involving food. Well, guess what? Pretty much every social event involves food. So instead of partaking you make up excuses and stay home. And then, even when you get more comfortable eating, there are those “challenging” foods. So if your friends want to go somewhere and share a pizza and you are not comfy with carbs and/or cheese you make up an excuse why you can’t meet that night. It is lonely.
I suppose there is a down side. I still obsess about food. I know that blogging could also become a portal to justify the problem, if I’m not careful, or talking about what foods you should and shouldn’t eat. But for me, food blogging has been very helpful. It has enriched my life, nourished my body and brought a lot of joy. Do I need to keep an eye on my habits? Yes. When I start calculating the calories in two recipes so I can make the one with less, then yeah, I worry. When I start telling myself I need to fit in a second workout to merit the cake I’m making? That’s a problem. Until then, I’m going to keep eating this life up.
(Image via iStock)