Eating disorders aren't about the food. Not really. They're about distress, shame, low self esteem, fear, and a whole host of other difficult emotions which manifest themselves through food and weight. But they're not really about the food. And they're certainly not about vanity.
Because there comes a point when they are about the food and, whatever form of disordered eating someone is suffering from, you have to face the fears and start eating in a way that is right for your body. Beginning to do so will open up terrifying sensations that food, exercise and weight control might have been used to numb, squash or avoid, and that's why it can so often be pushed away.
I do think that generally most people have a good idea of what a balanced diet looks like, but it can be hard to put that in to practice, and having some support in any form can be very helpful. We live in a world where the messages and advice are not always clear, and become even more muddied by such a relentless and constricting illness.
Sometimes it's good to have some help. So I, with the help of a lot of other people, have produced a book.
Eating & Living is a recipe book for those in recovery from eating disorders - by those who have been there. This collection of recipes has 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.
Perhaps surprisingly, the idea came from conversations on an inpatient ward in North London for severe eating disorders, where patients would often talk about meals that they loved and wished they felt able to eat again. We joked about how we should make a recipe book, what with all the food knowledge and meal ideas we had, as we told stories about those delicious foods we feared we had lost. These stories were also not exclusively about the food. We all know that great meals are so much more than a nice taste. Circumstances, company and memories all play a role. Losing the ability to engage with food in a 'normal' way cuts you off from all of these things, and it's that which really hurts.
Meals are meant to be an important and enjoyable part of a happy life. It can be hard to remember that.
So when I decided to actually make this book happen, I wanted people to not only give me a list of ingredients and step by step instructions, but tell that story. There's 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. It's inspiring to read how individuals like Tabitha Farrar fought her fear of fat and found cheese on toast again, or Jessie Moore of Cake Spy can now bake and eat delicious sweet creations, and knows when her body needs them. Shani Raviv tells of how her Granny's Mac'n'cheese was rediscovered and allowed her and her grandmother to bond again, and former model Nikki Du Bose shares her recipe for bread.
There is a real mix of recipes for different meal times, tastes, and budgets. The meals are broadly balanced to try to address the nutritional and physical aspects of recovery. The book communicates the message that there is no such thing as a 'good' food, but that the old mantra 'everything in moderation' still rings true.
Anyone who's ever had a meltdown in the supermarket or stood in front of an open fridge for hours will know that some of the biggest challenges come with grocery shopping, planning meals and facing the cooking, and so there's tips on how to tackle some of those challenges too. I've sought support from nutritionists and dieticians to make sure that people can feel confident in the advice being given (although the book cannot and is not intended to replace professional and medical support).
I hope that the book is not only a used resource, but also symbolic of something. Testament to resilience, hope and belief that recovery is possible. Recovery is hard. But to live, you must eat.
The money raised from sales of the Eating & Living are going towards B-EAT, the UK's national eating disorder charity. B-EAT provides helplines, online support and a network of UK-wide self-help groups to help adults and young people in the UK beat their eating disorders. They campaign, raise awareness, organise events and offer support to change the way everyone thinks and talks about eating disorders, improve the way services and treatment are provided, and to help anyone believe that their eating disorder can be beaten.