When I created and published Eating & Living – Recipes for Recovery, a few people who were not informed about eating disorders thought I was crazy. How could something about food and eating support someone whose very difficulty this is? But as the recipes came in from across the world and positive feedback flooded in from sufferers, carers and professionals, I was reassured.
Because Eating & Living is a recipe book for those in recovery from eating disorders – by those who have been there – it’s pretty unique.
It’s a collection of recipes that have been shared by people who are recovering or are recovered, carers, friends and family of sufferers, professionals and health experts – and each of them has told their story as to why this recipe matters. There are meals that evoke memories of childhood those tried for the first time in recovery, those lost in the ill years and found again in recovery. Some stories are funny, some poignant – all of them offer a hint as to why caring for yourself with nutritious meals matters so much.
Born out of conversations by patients on an inpatient ward, it is testament to resilience, hope and belief that recovery is possible.
The conversations on the ward centred around the foods that were once adored, now missed, that were longed for again. Eating disorders are mental illnesses and not caused by food. But with very severe physical effects (around 20% will die prematurely), the fact is that to recover you have to eat. And eat a variety of foods, without shame, with nothing off limits, that gives your body enough energy to live the life you want to live.
Many people with eating disorders can no longer understand what they need or want, and this is when guidance helps.
It can be hugely reassuring to simply have a recipe to follow. Sometimes, the decisions to be made about what to include in a meal, how much of it, going shopping and the process of cooking can stunt progress and make it all seem too much. Often individuals in recovery get stuck in a routine, either always eating something that feels ‘safe’ or sticking to a tried and tested meal in order to minimise anxiety around making decisions. Being able to be flexible and try new things is hugely important in developing a good relationship with food, and so using any recipe book is a good way to come up with new ideas and add some variety to your diet. Having some guidance can make the practical steps towards recovery a little bit easier.
Many of the recipes in the book have been submitted by people who been through an eating disorder, and used the recipes in their own recovery and beyond. Many of these recipes do include frequent fear foods – but they became normal once tried repeatedly. Knowing that people have got over an illness, and eat these dishes for enjoyment and health is proof that eating disorders can be beaten – if you put the work in. Some of these include cheese on toast from Tabitha Farrar, Shani Raviv’s Grannie’s Mac’n’Cheese and Maxine’s Apricot Glazed Chicken. All of these show how your relationship with food can change, and that what was once terrifying can become amazing and nourishing.
Knowing that it’s helped people makes the whole process worth it, as scary and vulnerable as it was. Across the health sector, the importance of knowing what other people with similar experiences have to say and the value of their support is being increasingly acknowledged.