I remember being deep in my eating disorder and tragically dreaming about the foods I would one day allow myself to eat.
The perfect Italian stone-baked pizza with all my favourite toppings, my customised fantasy tub of Ben and Jerry’s, my mountainous Christmas dinner with random roasted elements my mind craved.
It’s also safe to say I was pretty obsessed with food porn. As in, scrap Netflix, I’ll be watching videos of a random guy in New York eating 12 half-baked red velvet cookies covered in Nutella (that I don’t even like) and slurping a milkshake made from maple bacon and crisps. Yum. 🙄
The truth was though, starting recovery, most foods did not meet these ridiculous idealisations and I probably wasn’t going to have those black bean noodles I had dreamed about from so many Mukbang vidoes.
In fact, being thrust into a hefty meal plan curtesy of the NHS, meant most food was pretty grim. It did the job, and compared to the feeble foods I was used to eating over the past 2 years, it was reasonably flavourful. But it certainly did not reach my ridiculous expectations of my epic return to eating,
I soon learnt that it was ok for food not to always be amazing. Even after being discharged and returning home food was boring, sometimes it wasn’t the ideal temperature, sometimes I just ate the closest thing I could see in the fridge because I was so hungry.
I mean, there were definitely foods that were amazing, but it wasn’t every single thing.
But that’s recovery! It’s normalising eating. It’s not just getting that melt in the middle pudding one time then having “safe” foods for the rest of the day. It’s a commitment. A big one. Long-term. It’s learning that food does NOT always have to be perfect to be eaten. It can be messy, greasy, mushy, a bit burnt, a bit too salty, a bit wonky, a bit mono-tone.
Nothing in our lives is perfect, including food. It isn’t something to be micro-managed and neither are our bodies. Food is supposed to be enjoyed, yep! But it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Just enjoy it, for as it is. And if it’s not perfect, that’s perfect! Anorexia LOVES perfect. Nothing is perfect, all of the time, ever.
There are going to be times where I don’t like the food I’m presented with. Times where I would have liked something else a bit more. Times where I’m not ravenous or even hungry. But I know, especially in recovery, I still have to eat. More than, more than enough.
Having said all that, I would definitely call myself a foodie. Growing up I LOVED food, eating out, baking. Whenever we went on holiday, I was known for trying the dishes that were wacky and the fruit that looked extra-terrestrial. So when anorexia came along, a lot of people said to me that they would never have said that I would get an eating disorder (whatever the hell that means?!).
But the truth is, most anorexics are foodies. So when you spend years of your life depriving yourself of something that you don’t just need to keep you alive, but that you love, you build your hopes up for what it will be like when you finally have it again.
There are foods that I love. Ice cream, for example, has been and always will be positively ambrosial to me. And I have dishes and snacks that I’ll remember for years (the pasta in Dubai, MooMoo’s milkshakes, the spring rolls in The Black Cat in Phuket), but most food in my life is pretty mundane.
Since starting recovery, I’m not obsessed and completely engrossed with food like I used to be. I don’t have literal dreams in my sleep about food like I used to. I don’t spend my lunchtimes in the Tesco Express staring at the biscuits for fun like I used to. I don’t watch 10K calorie challenges like I used to. I don’t scour menus in my spare time, I order the food and eat it. Then I move on with my life.
Setting such high expectations of your food can really hinder your recovery.
So, I guess the main message is that food doesn’t always need to be perfect. It’s an unrealistic expectation that could hinder your recovery. Food is and can be amazing, but the reality is most of the time it is your fuel. Fuel for thinking, breathing, laughing, concentrating, living.