Your Body, Your Home: How Home Cooking Heals

by Amy Shaw on January 18

YourBodyYourHome1
When we think about food and personal development, it’s hard not to imagine the clichés: the highly stylized raw vegan blog (oh, if only it were all that easy!); rows of Tupperwares in the fridge, neatly labeled by day of the week; the charismatic nutrition guru who insists that no, you really shouldn’t have any soy products; advertisements for supplements so natural they came directly out of a cow’s ass, and all the rest.

With all of the different fad diets out there and new studies emerging all the time on what’s good for you and what isn’t, it’s almost impossible not to feel confused and overwhelmed if you’re interested in making the foray into healthy eating. And if you’re someone who’s suffered from an eating disorder, the flashy marketing and promises of near-godly wellness can be even more intimidating (and sometimes, outright damaging).

In this article, I want to approach food and personal development in a more grounded way, with sensitivity towards those with food and eating issues. As a person who has dealt with disordered eating for most of my adult life, I’m interested in how food can be transformed from an instrument of restriction and limitation to one of healing.

I’m not interested in what the “best” diet is—that looks different for everyone. I don’t care about what foods you “should” and “shouldn’t” eat—that’s a matter of opinion, and a matter of practicing moderation. I’m not even interested in giving you tips to save time in the kitchen because I think our bodies are worth the time it takes to eat well.

So, here it is: I think one of the best things you can do for yourself is to cook at home as much as possible.

Food As Self-Care

By “cooking at home” I don’t mean heating up frozen dinners or frying up some eggs once in awhile, I mean a comprehensive approach: learning to make simple items from scratch, making sure your pantry is well-stocked with essentials, making meal plans, and regular grocery shopping.

All of these activities are important for healing because they are all ways of directly practicing self-care, which disordered individuals often struggle with. When you take the time out of your day to write a grocery list rather than wondering “what the hell am I going to eat?” every night, you feel accomplished. When you know you have all the ingredients you need to make dinner, you feel prepared—safe, even.

Furthermore, these self-care practices directly address some of the specific negative emotions people with eating disorders experience. Some of those emotions include worry, fear, feeling out of control, panic, ruminating thoughts, and more. Specific situations drive these feelings for me: not having enough food in my house, not knowing what I’m going to make for dinner, or eating out/eating processed food too much.

So when I take the steps to fix those problems, naturally, I feel better.

I’ll be honest: I’m not some magic PD wizard when it comes to this stuff, and I’m not some shiny, perfect automaton who never touches fast food. In fact, it’s exactly those attitudes of perfection and purity that I’m trying to combat. So if you do make the effort to cook at home more, make sure you’re not being so strict with yourself that you can’t ever veer from it.

The Sanctity of Home

Those of us afflicted with eating disorders understand that eating out or in unfamiliar settings can be a challenge. Cooking at home fixes that problem because—hopefully—home is somewhere you are completely comfortable. I’ve found that keeping a clean kitchen helps me feel even more comfortable. Cleaning sanctifies a space for me, in a way; it lets me know that the space is “ready” for whatever is about to take place there.

That last sentence might seem odd, but I’ve chosen the word “sanctity” here on purpose. These small steps towards nourishing myself—whether it’s cleaning out my fridge or cooking a nice hearty meal—are like prayers. Or, they’re like intentions. They are my supplications, but they are also my affirmations. No matter what language you use, I like to think of self-care as a special practice that is an act of goodwill towards oneself, and also a wish for wellness sent out into the universe. You can’t go wrong with both, right?

“Sanctity” is also fitting because individuals with eating disorders are often hung up on “purity,” a closely related concept. Whether purity is begotten through thinness, health and “cleanliness” (in the case of orthorexia), or purging, it’s a repressive idea that afflicts many of us. However, using self-care practices with food, again, turns the energy of that disordered thinking back on itself. Instead of striving for purity, we strive for something else: nourishment and self-care.

Re-Directing the Desire for Control

We disordered folks are industrious. We work hard to make sure we have the bodies we want. We go to great lengths—yes, unhealthy lengths—because we want it so bad. I once wanted those things, too—a perfect body, and later, perfect health—but now, I want healing for myself. I want balance. I want normalcy.

And so I strive to create those very things. I haven’t abandoned my obsessiveness; I have re-directed it. The difference is, it’s not bad to be diligent about ensuring you have food, and making sure you know how to prepare that food in the best way possible, which is whatever way appeals to and nourishes your particular appetite and body. It’s not unhealthy to have a clean kitchen. It’s simply being an adult, and being an adult can require a lot of work sometimes!

People with eating disorders strive for control. Cooking at home gives you plenty of that. However, I’m conflicted about control, myself . . . is it wrong to want control over what goes in your body? We don’t always have complete control, and that is rather frustrating to me still. But I do believe I’ve taken control in areas where it’s healthy to do so, and that takes a certain edge off my anxiety.

Presence

Aside from helping you feel more in control of your life, cooking a meal helps the anxiety dimension of eating disorders in another way. Cooking requires you to be fully present, and that can have a grounding effect on your mental state. You have to pay attention to timing, measuring ingredients, adjusting temperatures, and a whole host of other tasks – there’s not much time to feel anxious when you are so occupied. Truly, cooking is a task for obsessives and neurotics—just the right amount of salt; get the pan at just the right temperature. It’s almost comical, how again, the energy turns back on itself and is re-directed to something good, something nourishing.

How to Do It

So how can we turn a very ordinary space—the kitchen—into a grounding, positive space for ourselves? In the next couple of articles, I’ll be sharing some tips on making common foods from scratch, and keeping your pantry stocked with the most basic essentials for any style of eating. Stay tuned!

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Amy Shaw

Amy is a part-time teacher, part-time freelance writer and editor, and full-time building a life out of her passions. Always seeking new, fresh ways to improve herself, Amy's approach to personal development has shifted over time: she has been influenced by everything from Tibetan Buddhism, to New Age spirituality, to Mark Manson's "slap you in the face" style of self-help. She claims no status of guru-ship, but she hopes that you can find yourself in her down-to-earth, reflective writing. Amy is Spiraling Up's editor, and she can also be found at Fiction Edit. She loves cooking meals from scratch, drinks espresso multiple times a day, and plays in a rock band called Dr. Martino.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue Rawlinson January 18, 2016 at 7:28 pm

Thanks Amy, I look forward to the follow-up articles.

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Sim January 18, 2016 at 8:49 pm

Great article Amy!

This resonates with me a lot.

I personally have never had an eating disorder or never was really a “dieter”, I’m not huge on following any strict routine. The pattern seems to be occasionally I will start getting interest in learning about something like raw food, or veganism and learn about it somewhat and integrate some ideas into my diet, but I never fully commit, because I know it would take me down a path of judgment and obsession. So I guess, I just learn a little about these lifestyles but I am also mindful that I always know if I get too involved I could easily get sucked into the whole “lifestyle”. It actually has happened to me recently, started learning about high carb, low fat, veganism (on youtube) just as pure curiosity and then I could see I started getting sucked in to the hype about how much “weight you can lose”. So I guess I stop myself before I take it too seriously.

I have food sensitivities, which has forced me though to be on a rather strict diet I suppose (I wouldn’t have done but had no other choice as I was getting so sick), and it has been a really good thing. I have always naturally been a more on the nourishing/home cooked/less processed food type of way of thinking (thanks to my mum), but lost myself a for a little while when I became unwell and was too tired and unwell to know what foods were helping me and what foods were not (because I was getting unwell on both healthy fresh foods as well unhealthy foods. I have issue with yeast and and certain preservatives), but this diet has cleaned everything up and taught me what works and what doesn’t work for me and so I just stick to mainly a “whole food” approach, but don’t punish myself if I have a treat now and then. Taught me to get back to basics!

I love making things myself from scratch as well. I don’t make overly complicated meals, because I am a bit lazy, but I like salads, fruits, beans and I also carb it up a bit at night with brown rice (did get that tip from the high carb, low fat, vegan thing) and hasn’t effected my weight and feel less hungry all the time, protein for some reason doesn’t help me so much. I am always still hungry when I eat lots of protein, but on carbs I am much better. I’m nuerotic when it comes to cooking, “I am a lets experiment and get it done quickly type, with the least amount of mess” kind of gal” 🙂

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Sim January 18, 2016 at 8:51 pm

I meant “I am not nuerotic” when it comes to cooking 🙂

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