Content warning: This article discusses the writer’s experiences with eating disorders.
I’ve never been a picky eater.
Picky eaters need to be reminded to pay attention to their plates, to quit playing a game of Operation with their meals, or be urged to try new foods.
I was never like that. I never forgot about my food. After all, it was such a significant part of my life. I would watch my mom cook in the kitchen while I sat on the countertop beside her, watch cooking videos on YouTube during my free time, or carry out failed mug cake experiments in our microwave.
Growing up, I never thought twice about my eating habits. I was incredibly fortunate to be raised on a sustainable balance of healthy foods — never overindulging, but never restricting. Being hyper-aware of my diet was never on my radar. I had my favourite dessert after dinner and never said no to an extra slice of cake or pizza at a party.
Of course, my path into adolescence came with the eventual spiral into social media that every teenager endures. Although I have always felt strongly that I shouldn’t compare myself to others, I foolishly bought into the “wellness” trend — a trend that dangerously meshed with a very unhealthy mentality toward food. We all know the one; fitness influencers make their living convincing young women to buy into diets and fads in hopes of looking just like them. More often than not, this is nothing more than a clever guise for promoting disordered eating habits.
I still never forgot about food, but this time in a terrifying way. A plate of food in front of me felt impossible, like something I could never truly conquer or escape from. I had to plan each meal thoroughly, “saving” calories for when I couldn’t get out of eating, so that I wouldn’t feel miserable about going over my limit.
But there was always shame.
I became an expert at casually refusing second helpings, expertly avoiding dessert, and spitting into napkins when nobody was looking. I found subtle ways to avoid eating without being questioned: I’d offer my lunch to friends at school, or claim that I’d already eaten if we were going out.
In reality, I knew that there was a marginal uncertainty to my body’s reaction to everything I ate, and that fact alone made heat creep up my neck. I was lauded by calorie-tracking apps for staying under my dangerously low calorie limit for the day. The best part was: nobody knew. It was my little secret, just between me and my screen.
Physically, I appeared as though I had normal eating habits, but I suffered mentally. The physical hunger pangs in the pit of my stomach were a given with the way I had been eating, but warring hydra heads wreaked havoc upon my mind as my emotional starvation worked to scream over my physical hunger. It eventually became easy, though, to pretend like no wars raged on in my mind.
The thing is, a lot of people with eating disorders are still secretly foodies. The inconsolable guilt of eating is all that stops us. And, like many who choose recovery, cooking quickly became one of my loves. Reclaiming something that I had battled with for so long was truly empowering.
During my recovery, I began experimenting with new recipes and ideas, indulging in foods I had long barred myself from eating. And man, did I miss peanut butter. As quickly as it had left, my infatuation with cooking took on a new light, and I was enjoying the culinary world once again. I even started baking — something that I absolutely loved, but wouldn’t have dared to do in the past.
A while after my eating habits had settled into something more sustainable, I started sending pictures of my cooking to some of my close friends. It began innocently enough — just taking pictures of my meals and telling them the recipes. However, the more I did it, I realized that it was a subconscious way to hold myself accountable for the food I ate, and a crucial step in my recovery. Something about sending pictures of my food to people made me feel a responsibility to eat it — after all, what if they asked how it was?
While it’s tempting to blame everything bad on social media, it’s important to know that it can also inspire and influence positively. I began sharing these little food creations on my Instagram story, just for fun. I was proud of the dishes I created, and experimenting with different techniques and flavours became very cathartic for me.
Eventually, I made my own separate page for cooking. While it might look like an amateur food Instagram, it means a lot to me — it means recovery. My Instagram handle, @kitchenhater, is sort of an ode to that time in my life. Now, I wouldn’t dare toss away a packed lunch, especially not one that I’ve made myself.
While I still can’t forget about food, it’s now in the way that you can’t forget about something you love. Sharing my meals means that now I can have my cake and eat it too — guilt-free.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder at U of T:
- Visit the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) website at nedic.ca for information on how you can help them.
- Call the toll-free NEDIC hotline at +1-866-633-4220 anywhere in the EST timezone or at 416-340-4156 in Toronto between 9:00 am and 9:00 pm.
- Contact Sheena’s Place, an organization that offers support to adults with eating disorders, at sheenasplace.org, or call 416-927-8900.
Speak to your physician about the Eating Disorder Program at Toronto General Hospital. The program offers treatment of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders — but not obesity or binge eating. For more information, visit the University Health Network website, or call 416-340-3041.