How do you get your body to accept food when you spent so many months or even years telling it not to?
That is the question Francesca Baker and her colleagues, who suffered from disordered eating, asked when they decided to write a cookbook for people recovering from eating disorders.
The book is called Eating & Living: Recipes for Recovery, and it consists of recipes thought up almost entirely by fellow eating disorder sufferers and closely connected family and friends. Baker states on the book’s website that the book “communicates the message that there is no such thing as a ‘good’ food, but everything in moderation is OK, positive, and necessary in a healthy and balanced diet, and that meals are an important and enjoyable part of a happy life.”
Baker came up with the idea while she herself was in hospital for anorexia just last year. Her recovery is an ongoing battle (as it is for most eating disorder sufferers), but creating this book with others in the same boat helped her immensely.
“I think there’s a misconception that people with eating disorders don’t like food, don’t want to eat,” Baker said to Broadly. “But actually, that’s not the case at all. They love food. In recovery, you want to eat, and you find it difficult to. You need a helping hand.”
A large part of Baker’s rehabilitation (and subsequently her book research) involved going to the grocery store and finding food that felt safe to eat. After talking with a few fellow patients, Baker realized the cookbook needed to be filled with simple dishes that are not only easy to make but that strike chords with people’s memories of when food was a comfort, not a threat. As one patient named Jess Reeve comments, it’s about getting past the idea that “food is a medicine” and remembering what it was about food that made it enjoyable.
Hitting that nostalgia button is what turned the corner for many who were desperately trying to break the hold their eating disorder had on them. Reeve recalls one of the first foods she felt like she could eat was porridge with a mashed-up banana in it, because that was what her parents used to make for her. That, in essence, is why she contributed said recipe to Baker’s book.
It’s actually filled with anecdotal recipes like that. In fact, Baker insisted that all her contributors share what made them choose to include their particular dish. One recipe, The Vietnamese Chicken Curry That Made Sarah Cry, references a curry one woman recalls from an awesome bike trip through Vietnam. They’re all triggers that remind the contributor what made food particularly special to them at one point or another in their lives.
Replacing the fear of food with these happy memories of food seems like an incredibly positive step in the right direction. And the fact that our sense of smell is one of the strongest ties to memory likely helps reinforce that feeling as one prepares the food. However, it’s still a long, uphill battle, and one that confronts sufferers at every mealtime. Let’s hope this empathetic cookbook will show them they’re far from alone in this, and even if it doesn’t feel like it now, food does have the potential to be their friend again.