On my personal social media account I share pictures of the meals I make for my family. Recently, after getting quite a few encouraging compliments, I started reflecting on my deep love of food and cooking and especially about how so much of my life I saw food as an enemy.
Growing up in America in the 80s and 90s I, along with the rest of the country, was bombarded with unhealthy messaging about food, bodies, and desire every single day. Whether it be in commercials, movies, TV shows, magazines, or even from the mouths of some of my own family and friends, the message was clear: women are expected to be little, want little, say little, and eat little.
And as a neurodivergent girl with big feelings, big desires, big needs, and big things to say, I didn’t fit societies expectations very well.
I bet most girls didn’t - neurodivergent or not.
Due to this constant barrage of unhealthy messaging and also due to the anxiety I experienced living life as an undiagnosed autistic/ADHD person, I developed issues with disordered eating in elementary school and have continued to struggle with disordered eating to varying degrees and in various ways throughout my whole life.
Fact: Eating disorders are a common comorbid condition in people who are neurodivergent (autistic, ADHD, etc).
Food wasn’t something I was supposed to desire or enjoy. Most of the “healthy” or “diet” food, marketed mainly towards women, was bland and left a lot to be desired.
Flavorful, vibrant food wasn’t a regular part of my life until I was an adult and even then only occasionally and/or only after I had dutifully punished my body enough to “deserve” to indulge a bit.
The only way to resist my desire for food, was to find a way to quit wanting it. Sure, I needed to eat to survive, but I didn’t have to like it.
Cutting off my desire for food helped me maintain control over it.
But without desire, we are never able to be satisfied.
In hiding away from my desires I also hid away from ever feeling satisfied.
I thought I was protecting myself, but I wasn’t.
I have spent years learning how to feel and express my feelings in healthy ways instead of trying to escape them and I have also worked hard to heal my relationship with my body and with food.
I don’t want to live in denial and deprivation anymore.
I want to feel it all.
As someone who has an eating disorder it is important to me that our kids grow up having a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. T and I have made conscious efforts in how we talk about food and about our bodies in front of our kids and to each other.
The more our kiddos learn about the foods they eat, where it comes from, and all the different ways to prepare it, the more likely they are to (eventually) eat a wider variety of foods and find mealtime a time of enjoyment and experimentation.
And while my kids aren’t always the most appreciative audience for my food creations, they are seeing me do something I love to do every day.
They are old enough now that they are starting to help me prep and even cook almost by themselves. Seeing them love food and want to learn how to cook makes us happy.
Even though right now my kids are picky eaters (as are many neurodivergent folks) we do our best expose our kids to all kinds of meals from lots of different cultural backgrounds even if they don’t like it or only try a few bites. I never would have thought when I was a pick eater as a kid that I would ever be able to branch out and be an adventurous eater, but here I am!
Learning to love food and enjoy cooking has been a huge part of starting to heal from a lifetime of disordered eating and body image issues.
While I am still working on my relationship with food, food is no longer the enemy.
I would even go so far as to say that the whole process of choosing recipes/planning meals, purchasing ingredients, prepping the ingredients, preparing the dishes, and then sharing them with my family is deeply therapeutic and healing for me in many ways.
Being curious about food and how to cook it -including the various ways different cultures and countries eat- has helped in healing my fear of enjoying and desiring food.
Challenging myself in the kitchen in creating ever more complex meals has helped build my self confidence.
Feeding my body delicious meals is a form of self-care and self-love that heals those places in me which were harmed by years of denial and withholding.
Keeping mealtime novel and exciting by trying new recipes and having a large binder of favorite recipes helps my ADHD brain stay motivation and focused.
We prioritize making sure I have the space and ingredients I need to cook, because continuing my journey in healing my relationship with food is vital to my mental health.
That being said, there are some evenings I just don’t feel like cooking, even if I had a meal planned. When that happens, I just don’t cook!
We always have backup options ready to go or we go out and pick something up or have a meal delivered.
Enjoying a burger from our favorite place down the road or ordering a pizza is something I cherish and look forward to. As much as I enjoy cooking, I also love eating food I didn’t have to cook myself.
I share the meals I make on social media, not to brag (but a little to brag) because I am proud of where I am today. I have come a long way from drinking two shakes a day and a sensible dinner (of lean pockets) to creating healthy, flavorful meals from all around the world for my family.
I am still healing and continue to struggle with some food and body image issues.
But one of the first steps in loving my body well, is to feed it well: to stop punishing it and denying it the nutrients, flavor, and satisfaction it desires AND deserves.
I lived so much of my life trying to be as small and as convenient as I could be.
But I’m done shrinking for everyone else. I am done living a life satisfying everyone else while I feel dissatisfied.
I am done punishing myself and my body in order to please society’s hunger for a perfection that can never be satiated.
I am going to love my body, enjoy food, feed my healthy desires, and pursue the things that bring me joy and fulfillment.
I hope you’ll join me in doing the same for yourself.
You deserve it.
*If you or anyone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or wonder if you/they might be, please check out this website for more information or call 1-800-931-2237. There is help and there is hope. You deserve to live a life filled with joy and satisfaction.*
This is great advice for everyone. You are doing the right things to live a healthy life.