Eating My Way Back to Myself

Right after I began this blog, I received an email from a very dear friend who had just read the whole thing. She wondered in her letter what it is about food, even reading about food, that is so healing?

I'm not exactly sure when I started baking.  If I had to put my finger on it, my baking likely began the year after I graduated from the University of Kentucky, the year I lived in Louisville, Kentucky and served as an AmeriCorps volunteer. There were a lot of things that ignited my interest in baking at that particular time. I lived alone (first time) and didn't have easy access to premade meals (no meal plan), I couldn't afford to eat out (AmeriCorps), Pinterest had become incredibly popular, and I was fighting disordered eating while stuck in an abusive relationship. It makes a lot of sense to me now, five years later, why baking became such an important part of my life during that time. I needed some healing, and I needed to do it myself.

Me at restaurant in Cincinnati, ordering exactly whatever the fuck I want without worrying about calories.

Right after I began this blog, I received an email from a very dear friend who had just read the whole thing. She wondered in her letter what it is about food, even reading about food, that is so healing? I suspect the reasons are a little bit different for everyone, but there must be some common themes. We have to eat. To be able to feed ourselves is empowering. It is self-reliant. To be able to feed others, and have them enjoy it, is joyous. For me, it goes a little deeper than that. After I left my last relationship, I read an essay by a woman who used baking as a tool of empowerment during her abusive marriage. I remember her writing that each time she baked, she took a bit of the house and a bit of herself back from her abuser and eventually left the marriage. I wish I could link the essay here, but I've looked many times and never been able to find it again. I didn't realize it when I began baking, but baking was one of the ways I was able to redefine myself in a relationship that had chipped away at who I thought was. In that relationship, I had become completely incapable of seeing myself. I could only see myself through the lens of my partner and that lens was ugly. I felt stupid, weak, incapable, unattractive. I felt lucky that someone wanted to be in a relationship with someone as unimpressive as I was. 

Baking was also one of the reasons I was forced to come to terms with my disordered eating. My disordered eating had begun as a result of anxiety and being in a relationship where calorie-counting was a competition. When I got home each day, we compared meals (never nutrients) and the person who'd had less to eat was the winner. If I'd had more to eat, I felt I had let my partner down. If I'd had less, I feared the repercussions of "beating" her. One of my best friends at that time (and still) regularly told me that she was concerned about the way I approached eating (she also had some understandably strong feelings about my partner at the time). I didn't fully realize how right she was until I read a list of habits and traits of those suffering from disordered eating. Included on that list was constantly baking for others, but never enjoying the dessert for yourself. During that period of my life, I baked fairly regularly without ever tasting what I had created. I'd take cookies, brownies, and bars to parties and leave them on tables with the rest of the food. I'd make myself a plate of fruit and vegetables, a small teaspoon of dip. I never went back for seconds. I'd stopped enjoying eating. Eating was terrifying. I held blueberries in my mouth for what felt like entire minutes, rolling them between my teeth and around my tongue. The slower I ate, the less I ate.

Eating was terrifying. I held blueberries in my mouth for what felt like entire minutes, rolling them between my teeth and around my tongue. The slower I ate, the less I ate.

During this time, I also discovered I had food allergies (it was a whopper of a year, you all). Most of them were minor, but I have a severe allergy to avocado (A big shocker and disappointment for people. Who doesn't love a good guacamole at a potluck?). I already suspected this before my allergist told me the news, and really avocado was what had sent me to the allergist in the first place. The week prior to my appointment, I made dinner for myself and my partner. Loaded nachos with fresh guacamole. I began to feel sick after about the third bite. I couldn't imagine putting one more chip into my mouth. I was sweating, my hands were clammy and shaking, it was difficult to stand, my throat and stomach were constricting. The gem that my partner was, she still wanted me to run an errand with her. I don't remember making it down the stairs or outside, though I'm confident it had to be a very slow process. I was able to make it into the passenger seat of her car and two blocks away from the apartment building before I yanked the door open and vomited into the street as two cars drove around us. She said, "Man, now you've had fewer calories than me." I don't remember the rest of the drive and, unfortunately, that wasn't the final straw that pushed me out of the relationship. 

When I did leave, it was a long process of healing. A long process of getting to know myself again, of seeing myself the way those who loved me did, and of loving food. Baking was part of that process. No, it wasn't the shining star. That title goes to the wonderful, beautiful people who showed me that most people won't treat me like a pile of shit or make me feel like one, who saw my best qualities and loved those enough to forgive my flaws and, in some truly amazing cases, made me realize those flaws and work on them. Those people deserved, and still deserve, all the cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and brownies in the world. And broccoli, brussels sprouts, roasted carrots, and watermelons too. 

Baking is a perfect act for me, for what many a Buzzfeed quiz has called an "ambivert." I love to be alone. I'm so productive when I'm alone. I write this blog. I work on my novel. I bake. I read. But I can't do that all the time. I love conversation. I love meeting people. I love asking questions. I love to learn, and there's only so much of that you can do on your own. When I bake, I begin the process alone in my kitchen, figuring out the flavors and textures and making the final product as beautiful as I can. But in the end, I get the great pleasure of sharing what I've created with other people. And hopefully, they enjoy it. It's a lot like writing in that way too.