Abolishing Your Fear of Cooking and Learning to Cook for The Right Reasons

"Two of the main goals in recovery is to one, reconnect your body with your mind and two, to restore your relationship with food. I believe that no matter what your eating disorder behaviour looked like (binging, purging, exercising, restricting) that cooking can be extremely powerful in learning to refuel yourself well and give your body what it deserves."

I now love to cook and I love to eat and share what I have cooked. I really enjoy creating recipes and then cooking those vegan recipes for myself and others. Cooking is both spiritually healing and very therapeutic. Creating recipes has definitely been an element of my recovery and has strengthened my love for the earth. 

However in my past years when I was drenched in anorexia I have experienced very crazy times with cooking. From the mad 'obsession' with cooking shows to the 'odd and craving need' to cook for others and stare at them eating it but not allow myself to eat it too. I bet many of you are nodding at this point that you have felt and very likely done the same. 

This bad relationship I had towards cooking didn’t mean I became less interested in cooking. On the contrary, I became obsessed with food. I was consumed with food thoughts but empty of real food. I spent hours looking for recipes and watching food programs, collecting cookbooks and worrying about what my family was eating during the day. 

I have also been through patches where I could only eat what 'I had prepared' as I was so paranoid people where poisoning me (purposely fattening me up) that nothing I ate was something that I hadn't cooked myself. My journey with cooking has been so up and down that there where also times when many of my 'social and bonding times' I purposely evolved around baking or cooking together. For example I would always be the one to make Christmas cake and Mince pies with my Nana and I would always go round my friends to 'bake' but then never eat our bakes and just take it home in a cello-taped napkin in which it was never unwrapped again. It was crazy, but I think I did it all on purpose, I almost planned it like a 'test' to see if I would give in and 'eat it' or not. 

Obviously back then it was always 'not'. This made me feel powerful (my anorexia more so) and definite against my hunger and sweet tooth especially- which obviously made my voice sing with praise for me. Watching endless programs of "Come dine wth me", "The great British bake off" and "Masterchef" became torturous to the point of my stomach growling like a dragon. What a gruelling test that was, to watch so many plates of beauty on a screen that my mouth would grow sticky with hunger yet simultaneously my mind would be chuckling like an bitchy bully, "You're not getting any of that". I guess at the time I always knew I wouldn't give in, I was far too ruled by her at the point in time. I think that's why my anorexia wanted me to do it. She knew I wasn't going to give in so why not just try to pain me more anyway. I was addicted and hooked on watching people eat and I was addicted to the 'joys' of refusing to join them. The feeling of 'her' praise felt equal to the taste of foot in my messed up mind. 

Soon after my love craze with cooking shows I began acting like the constants themselves, I would cook a meal and serve it to the 'judges' (my family and friends). I wouldn't eat it, I would just simply await their approval and feedback and watch them spoon in mouthfuls. Analysing now why I used to do that it was probably my way of trying to both 'fatten them up', or an attempt to make me feel more skinny and 'strong/in control' against food and more than anything was most likely about testing myself once again but this time in reality when the food is right below my nose, simply an arms distance away rather then a screen.. It's was almost the 'level up'. 

But now... levels don't exist in anything other than pissing off my anorexia. I now choose the eat to piss off my anorexia rather then choose to not eat to feel praise for her (please excuse all the language). I enjoy cooking for the right reason now: refuelling myself, socialising with others, repairing my muscles, reconnecting myself to my Veganisum and embracing my recovery, but it hasn’t always been like that, everything used to be 'test' that my anorexia challenged me with to see if I was 'worthy' of her praise. 

Think about your own situation. Do you spend hours surfing the internet to look at food images and recipes, without making them for yourself? Do any of my experiences echo in your life? 

You cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if you haven't ate well. I know this from personal experience, 3am hunger strikes, faded relationships and a brain made of thunder storms really are not worth it.

The obsession with food can make a person with an eating disorder so stressed and afraid of cooking that he or she won’t cook at all. I remember one of my self-imposed rules for an entire month of being ill allowed me to cook and eat only when I had not ate the night before. My black cooking rule book has become lines of nightmares that were so extreme I would only laugh at the thought now.  

How do you overcome this fear of cooking and enjoy cooking for the right reasons? How can you become friends with the kitchen in recovery? 

Two of the main goals in recovery is to one, reconnect your body with your mind and two, to restore your relationship with food. I believe that no matter what your eating disorder behaviour looked like (binging, purging, exercising, restricting) that cooking can be extremely powerful in learning to refuel yourself well and give your body what it deserves. Instead of being afraid of cooking, you can learn to embrace the challenge of cooking and enjoy a delicious meal afterwards. Be proud of what you created and then receive the benefits from it too... but eating it! 

The best part of cooking is that you can cook crazy combinations and create incredible unique recipes. For instance, I love using about a million different spices in each meal and I love discovering how many times I can get away with 'improvising' while cooking until someone calls me up on it that it tastes a mess. Over the years I’ve figured out some methods of make it all less daunting so that you can finally just cook in peace! 

Make a plan of making sure!

You don’t want to come home from a day at work, school, university and especially coming home from exercising with nothing left in the fridge. It's not so much planning your specific meals in advanced as I am definitely one for improvising with what you have so it's more just simply making sure you have food to cook. I’m not suggesting to become a perfectly organised person with a food diary or meal router as I think all these things only make you more abnormal and inflexible to change. However having a rough idea of what you’ve got to eat or what you can use to cook will help to prevent a lot of kitchen stress! Jotting down a few mental notes of meals that are both balanced and substantial is a good place to start, but make sure they refuel your output of energy and if you are currently weight restoring make sure to create meals targeted at this while staying balanced too. Perhaps you could also put to together a shopping list of items you can buy in advance on a regular basic so that the food cupboards never look bare. 

•Use your creativity!

The kitchen is a great place to let your creativity go wild. Try something new, look for inspiration beyond your classic go-to-cooks. Don’t hold yourself back to step out of your comfort zone. No one will be affected when the meal turns out to be a disaster, they are what make the best stories. Make mistakes, and learn and laugh about them. Something I like to do every now and again is what I call ‘you'd never guess what.' This mostly happens when I am in either a very 'Margi mode' or when I am cooking for others. What I do is grab random ingredients, a handful of spices, an odd fin of beans, an onion or so, perhaps a potato of two, a load of greens and a couple of dashes of 'hope' and try to make it into a nice and tasty evening meal. In this incredibly inventive and slight risky meal I ask to see if anyone can actually guess the ingredients and 'whats in it'. This is also a wonderful challenge for your own creativity and is also a great way to use up leftovers. Give it a try! It will save you a lot of issues for your possibly 'last minute meals' and can result in some pretty tasty ones! 

•Keep it simple! 

Start with something simple and build from there. Look for fresh ingredients and whole foods. It doesn’t need to be 'professional' but just hearty and wholesome. Homemade meals shouldn't cook like Michelin starred plates, they should look soulful, colourful and welcoming. I always find those large white plates with Just start with a basic balanced healthy meal. If you don’t understand terminology used in recipes or need advice on how to cut an ingredient, look it up online. That is how I learned some really awesome cooking techniques, I am now like a knife ninja when it comes to carrots. 

Enjoy the experience!

Make cooking a reward rather than a chore. Instead of seeing it as a necessity shift your mind to see it as a way to unwind. Cooking in a way is a massive form of self love as you are caring for yourself. While chopping vegetables or stirring stews you can clear your thoughts and calm your mind. Turn on some music, the radio or an inspirational podcast you like. Allow yourself to enjoy creating a tasty, nutritious meal for yourself! 

•Make cooking meaningful.

Cooking can be really meaningful in restoring your relationship with food and reconnecting your body and mind. Consuming a meal that you’ve put the effort and energy into will also help you to eat more mindfully. Allow yourself to feel proud of what you have made and enjoy it, the flavours, the texture and the soul you put into it.

I hope these words of advice help you and remember to be patient with yourself when you’re recovering from your eating disorder. It took you many years to develop your unhealthy and destructive behaviors, so be kind when you work towards restoring them. Your relationship with food and cooking may take time to grow and flourish. But after time you will be able to enjoy both the smell of food and consuming it, trust me.

Photography by: Daniel Brookman

Photography by: Daniel Brookman

Margherita Barbieri