When I was in the throes of orthorexia I would spend hours obsessing over cookbooks, before and after stories, dietary plans. I spent a lot of time reading and almost zero time actually cooking because what the hell was I supposed to eat? What if I was doing it wrong?
I didn't trust recipes anyway. Most of them used ingredients I had come to think of as toxic or poisonous, or just bad. There was no safe place to hide in the kitchen. I didn't trust myself. I didn't even trust what l was reading in the last days of my dance with orthorexia, because I was finally beginning to admit to myself that all of the years of obsessing and following strict eating regimes had been a totally waste. My health hadn't improved. My life was a mess. I was afraid all of the time.
When I realised how out of control my phobia of food was, I didn't know what to do. I knew I wasn't alone. But I also knew that the more I read about people like me, the more I was told that I could never have a normal relationship with food again.
I started making progress when I stopped thinking about food at all. I distracted myself as much as possible with the outside world, and ignored my inner world totally. I spent no time in the kitchen at all. Minutes at most. I think I pretty much survived on ready meals for the first couple of years. The irony being even doing that made me feel stronger and more healthy than years of restrictive, obsessive eating...
Then, one day, a couple of years down the road I started feeling differently. The kitchen wasn't a scary place any more. I trusted myself in there again. I looked up a few of the recipe books that I used to obsess over. I didn't want to have them in my house in the way I used to, but I quite liked the idea of having the newer versions of them. Like both technology and I had evolved in our own ways since the last time I had read them.
I downloaded them onto my phone, bought myself some new cookware sets (I really did live on ready meals, I wasn't kidding). And I had so much fun getting to know my kitchen again. I enjoyed using the actual ingredients, as opposed to my own "safe" approximation of them. I loved cooking for people. Spending quiet time in my flat baking. All of it.
I think what I most enjoyed was feeling like I had come full circle. Like I could accept the past and everything I had put myself through over those long years. Food was no longer the enemy. But neither was orthorexia. It really was over. Food was just food. I was safe to enjoy it or ignore it. Neither was going to hurt me.
I do spend a lot more time in the kitchen now. I just never think about food unless I'm cooking it, or glancing through a menu in a restaurant trying to decide what lovely thing to eat this time. I consume the food now. The thoughts of food no longer consume me.
And that's how I know I've come full circle.