Cooking As A Weapon
Trigger Warning: The following article discusses Eating Disorders, calorie counting, and mental health.
I come from a family of southern cooks. When I asked my mother for an Easy-Bake Oven, she told me, “Adele, that thing is a light bulb in a box. If you want to learn, I’ll show you how a real oven works.”
Cooking came naturally to me. I loved the power of creating something from words on a page. Manifesting a meal like magic.
And then, I developed an Eating Disorder. And the magic became something else.
If cooking is my power, the Eating Disorder turned that power into something evil. It forced me to count my calories. The goal of cooking was no longer to make something taste good. It was to make the food as low–calorie as possible. If it tasted good, I was lucky. I swapped real eggs for egg whites, and meat for vegetables. Anything bread or pasta had to be a diet version. Cheese and sugar were a luxury. The counting became so bad that I stopped cooking. I relied on frozen meals with the calories already calculated. Protein bars were often a meal.
Because I wasn’t eating enough, I became obsessed with collecting recipes. I would fantasize about the food that I wouldn’t allow myself to eat. Instead of cooking, I ate up cooking television shows. I looked up restaurant menus and fixated on the food I wouldn’t order. I never stopped wanting to cook. But cooking had changed. It was tainted. If I ever decided to make something for myself, I came armed with three things: a kitchen scale, my phone, and a calculator. The scale was so that I could weigh out my portions. The phone was to look up the number of calories in that portion of food. The calculator was to add everything up.
It was exhausting. Cooking a meal took me three times as long because everything had to be calculated precisely.
I cooked this way for seven years.
In 2018, I committed to my recovery. I started with smashing my food scale with a large hammer. I can’t say that things got easier after that. But the magic that had once surrounded cooking slowly returned. I started incorporating “forbidden food” back into my diet. As time went on, I cooked new recipes more and more. Once cooking without rules became normal, so did eating without rules. As time went on, pictures of food took over my social media posts. Food that I was proud to claim as something I made. And ate.
Cooking is now a source of comfort and power for me. Every meal I make is a direct resistance against my old mindset. When I commit to a recipe, it’s because it looks good, not because it is the lowest calorie option. There are days when I catch myself counting. The Eating Disorder voices won’t go away. They may never go away and I accept that. However, I can do my best to ignore them. And fight them. Because eating food based on taste is so much better than eating food based on a number.
And cooking using a real oven is a hell of a lot better than cooking with a light bulb.