Great British Bake Off has seen many a finalist open up about their history with eating disorders.
There’s John Whaite from series 3,
Ruby Tandoh from series 4,
Steph Blackwell from series 10,
and countless others who have not yet disclosed their struggles to the media, I am sure.
And so, this begs the question…
‘Why do so many people who have struggled with eating disorders/disordered eating in their teenage years, go on to forge a career in the food industry when they reach adulthood?’
‘Why on earth would someone who has spent so long being ‘at war’ with food- with food involuntarily taking up so much of their headspace- want to spend the rest of their life voluntarily thinking about food all the time?’
Although the answers to the above questions will not be the same for everyone, in my opinion, the overwhelming reason why so many ex-eating disorder sufferers become involved in food professionally, is because of the consuming nature of the illness.
People who spend so many years of their life with food being the main subject of their attention- with it occupying so much of their headspace- know it pretty well, one could say, and therefore they might feel ‘equipped’ to forge a career in such an industry. What’s more, they probably just really like food. If you’re reading this thinking; ‘wait a minute, someone with a history of eating disorders, liking food?!’, don’t be so shocked, for, the idea that people with Anorexia just ‘don’t like eating’, is, in my opinion, as far from the truth as one can get.
The reality is that most people who suffer from an eating disorder, myself included, don’t restrict food because they ‘dislike it’, but quite the opposite. For me, I have always loved food. As a child, I was never a ‘picky’ eater- I loved the taste of fresh fruit and would always get excited about trying new things. Even when I was diagnosed with Anorexia at the age of 15, I still loved food. I denied myself of it, yes, but despite how much I tried to convince myself and others that I just ‘disliked’ the taste of it, that was most definitely not the case. So, why did I do it? Why did I become so obsessed with not eating?
What I now realise, is that the ‘fuel’ to my restriction (pardon the pun), was my desire to feel ‘in control’ of my life, and, depriving myself of one of the things I loved the most in this world- food- that gave me such a feeling, albeit a false one… You see, when I ignored my cravings and stuck to my ‘healthy’ eating, I felt a sense of superiority, like I was finally doing something that I was genuinely ‘good’ at. Having spent so long with a blisteringly low level of self-confidence, I welcomed this feeling, and so it became addictive. I was ‘addicted’ to eating as little as possible.
I am pleased to say that I have largely recovered from that period of my life now, because now I have no desire to be ‘good at not eating.’ These days, I’d much prefer to be good at living, something which remaining trapped inside the tight constraints of an eating disorder allowed me no room for. And so, I did the only thing that would allow me to live- I decided to recover.
Now, I should mention here that recovery wasn’t as quick a process as may be suggested above. In fact, it wasn’t quick at all. It took almost two years of failed community treatment, and seven months of forced inpatient treatment, for me to finally want to get well. Even then though, even when I was sectioned and forced to be in hospital, against my will, I still loved food- the taste, the texture, everything about it. It was my mind that made food become such a warped concept to me- convincing me that I had some how done something ‘wrong’ by nourishing my body, that eating what I wanted to eat was a sign of ‘weakness’, and so, what did I do? I didn’t eat what I wanted to eat. My mind won. Now though? Now I win- Lisa, for I am in control, not my eating disorder.
Now I love being in the kitchen- it’s my ‘happy place’- where I cook and bake food, discovering new and exciting recipes, and sharing the delicious results amongst my family, giving myself permission to eat my home baked food, too.
I love to devour a takeaway at the weekend, without being consumed by so much guilt afterwards, guilt that leaves me questioning; ‘why even bother when it makes me feel this bad?’
I just love food– the memories associated with it, the taste, the texture, just everything about it. And, the really great thing is, I no longer feel ‘ashamed’, or, ‘afraid’ to admit that because, why should I?!
Food is amazing,
and life is too short to deny ourselves of it in its entirety:
At the end of the day, no one will get to the end of their life thinking to themselves:
‘I really wish I hadn’t eaten that cookie on Wednesday 5th January 2022’,
‘I really wish I had opted for a salad instead of a takeaway on Friday 18th June 2016.’
If anything, you will get to the end thinking:
‘I really wish I had sampled some of that gelato on our family holiday to Italy’,
‘I really wish I had said yes to more spontaneous café trips that would’ve led to the creation of happy memories and the sampling of great food.’
So, the ending message, is this:
Don’t get to the end of your life regretting that cookie you said ‘no’ to,
wishing that you had said ‘yes’ to that takeaway.
Eat what you want to eat.
Live your life, to the full.