My New Year Cooking Resolution Is About Making Peace with Food
How negative body image can hinder you from cooking, not just from eating
I took on a challenge for this year, to learn to cook 12 different, special dish throughout the year — one new dish each month. It might not sound like a huge accomplishment for some as there are so many options, so many recipes, so many culinary specialities available at arm’s length. But for me, it’s an enormous step towards healing my problematic relationship with food.
When I was around 12 or 13 years old, heading home from school in an early afternoon, I sat down on the bus and took out the sandwich my mum packed for me for the day. I didn’t have time to eat it during that day and the lunch at school wasn’t good — as usual. I took a bite, pensively looking out the window when a couple of older boys started to make fun of me, at first just laughing among themselves, then addressing insults to me. “Come on fatty, you surely can devour the whole thing at once.” “Why does someone so chubby even want to eat!” “Go on a diet, you pig.”
I was a tall, normal bodied kid — definitely not a thin one, but not fat either — I can tell from the photographs from that time. I had friends and classmates who were thinner and prettier but I never really thought I was fat or a pig.
The bite turned bitter in my mouth, I was desperately trying to swallow it, but as if it grew bigger with every mean word they uttered, I felt sick. I made my way off the bus a couple of stops before my usual stop, spat out the bite to the nearest bin and threw away the sandwich too. I was struggling to swallow back my tears and I heard the boys mocking me through the open window of the bus as it went by me.
I walked home, devastated and sad. And I never ate in public ever after that.
In fact, I started my long struggle with food and diets — giving in to every promising solution, trying out everything possible, from skipping breakfast to starving myself as a teenager and I tried every fad diet available later on as an adult. I did lose weight, and then I gained it back again, only to restart this vicious circle of self-loathing and shame.
And I blamed food.
Food was bad because it took away my ability to be pretty and loveable. It ripped me from the pretty privilege I saw around me. It was keeping me away from getting a boyfriend and falling in love in high school. Food was evil, and I hated it — except that I loved it.
Food was a source of shame — as I learnt. For someone like me, food wasn’t supposed to be something to enjoy. My brother was a professional athlete and he could eat like a horse, devouring extreme quantities of food without putting on any unnecessary weight — while I was nibbling on empty lettuce leaves and plain fat-free yoghurt becoming more and more desperate with each bite. Life was unfair, and it was the food’s fault.
Later on, I learnt a lot about diets and exercising and I managed to keep a healthy weight — but never easily. It has always come down to limiting my food intake, to restrict portions and calories or cutting out specific food groups. I convinced myself that I hated the taste of chocolate and everything sweet — and I told it to myself for so long that I started to believe it. I stayed away from fats and fatty meat because I convinced myself it was disgusting. I cut out bread and rice and pasta and I announced that I hate them all.
It wasn’t true. I loved food. I loved eating. I loved the taste and texture. But it betrayed me — I thought, so it had to go.
Last year — mainly out of shame, despair and loneliness — I started to exercise and diet, aiming for the long run finally. I told myself that no matter how long it takes, I will lose the weight that hinders me from being happy. Because this is what I thought, that my unhappiness and loneliness it due to my fatness.
And in some way, it was the reason. My fatness caused my unhappiness, but not in the way I thought.
I believe in body positivity and I would encourage every one of my friends and readers to embrace who they are and to be grateful and kind towards their bodies. I do believe that we need to learn to love ourselves and that our confidence is not directly linked to our physical appearance. But in my case, my self-loathing didn’t stop at hating my body, I also hated who I was in this body. The people-pleasing, insecure, hurt chubby girl who is willing to settle for anyone who shows any attention towards her, who is ashamed of her accomplishments and who cannot speak for herself — only in theory. Because on the outside I heavily compensated my insecurity, with arrogance, with sarcasm and witty comebacks to prove that I don’t need to be “just a pretty face” because my thoughts, emotions are the things that make me into who I am, not my looks.
The pandemic hit us and for me, it came at the perfect moment. I was deep into my transformation without external feedback, without anyone asking me why I was dieting, cutting out this or that food or do an extra exercise on an otherwise stressful week. In my social isolation, I had nothing better to do (homeschooling and surviving aside) but to focus on myself without an end date. The pandemic came and it was here to stay — and I was given at least a year of transformation without external interference from others.
10 months into this indefinite transformation journey, I lost 50 lbs, 4 dress sizes and countless inches all around. I still have another 10 lbs to lose but I am closer to my ideal weight than ever before. It’s been a long journey, full of downs (rather than ups) and struggling. Full of hungry nights, full of frustrated, angry and anxious days. I dreamt of devouring food, I dreamt of having a belly full fo junk food and doughnuts, I dreamt of gaining it all back overnight.
But I never wanted to give up. Every day, especially when it was terribly difficult, I wanted that day to be over so I can be motivated again. I took progress pictures and looked at them on my worst days. I looked up recipes I never wanted to cook before and promised myself to cook and eat it all the next day, always the next day — and the next day came and I never did it.
Food is still a touchy subject for me. I don’t like to eat in front of others. I don’t like family dinners — except if I am the one cooking and serving everyone, because then no one notices that I barely touched my meal. I like eating alone where no one judges me, and when I am not judging myself for eating either. As I am single, there is no one to cook for (but my kids) and no one is taking me out for dinner. This sounds pathetic, but I am actually happy about it.
As part of my new year resolution set, which consists of a plank challenge and no-alcohol for January, I decided to make peace with food. But how? How do you get rid of long decades of shame that is linked to giving food to your body?
During my diet, I excluded a lot of food groups at first. The usual suspects were the first to go. Sugar. Carbs. Fat. In the first period of motivation, it wasn’t hard to do. But soon, as months went by, I started to slowly add some meals I was longing for — and lo and behold they didn’t hinder my progress.
I realised — I know, I’m a late bloomer — that it’s all about making mainly good choices and not about avoiding all bad choices. Bad choices are about being human — slipping up is not the end of the world, quitting because of one mistake is a lot worse. Restarting is always difficult, so I incorporated “bad” food into my diet as I carried on with my diet. I refuse to call the cheat meals, as I am not cheating, I am simply giving in to some cravings — very consciously. My all-time favourite is the silliest thing, a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s. Terrible, right? I eat it at least once a month. The next ones in line are sushi and pad Thai noodles. Not the lowest carb of all, huh?
During the long months, I got to understand that one cheeseburger, sushi or pad Thai wouldn’t stop my progress — but it will give me the strength to carry one longer. Knowing that I can shamelessly and unapologetically eat something like them gives me a sense of sustainability. I still stay away from a lot of things but in general, nothing is really off-limits. Choices.
As January came, I wanted to take this one step further. I wanted to be the one again, who once enjoyed making food for herself and for others. Cooking for kids is not exactly rewarding. Unless you are happy with making the same three dishes and you can put up with their faces lighting up at frozen pizza a lot more than it should, it’s not really cooking. My kids, three different ages, are not exactly appreciating tasty, strange meals. I am happy if they are actually happy about the same thing on the same day and I don’t need to pull out chicken nuggets from the freeze at least for one of them.
I wanted to be excited about cooking for myself — and enjoying it when eating it. So I decided that I will learn to cook specialities from all over the world that I always liked and wanted to try to make at home. And I wanted it to be a bit challenging — similarly to my exercise routine, I wanted to work for the accomplishment.
January is sushi month. I decided that throughout the month I will make sushi at home a few times, to see how I can conquer this dish, if I can. I always loved sushi, the taste, the texture, the look of it. And it’s not the easiest put it in an air-frier and done kind of meal, but you need to work for it and you need to practice.
Sushi was a perfect choice. It’s only the 11th today, but I made it twice already — sharing it with friends and then teaching my daughters how to roll it. We are only making maki (the small ones with just one or two ingredients) and futomaki (the bigger ones with more ingredients), but I also tried an inside out version too which fell apart but was very tasty.
And I ate it. Without guilt. I enjoyed making it, I enjoyed spending time in the kitchen. I enjoyed spending fun-time with my kids with our hands sticky with sushi rice. I enjoyed putting them on plates and making it pretty. And I enjoyed eating as many as I wanted to — because I earned it and deserved it. For the record, I did the food shopping by walking, and the ten thousand steps of it gave me the right to enjoy it all guiltfree.
We have been collecting ideas for the coming months, and the calorie-content never made the criteria. We will be making paella, spring and summer rolls, pad Thai, and some Indian food like Chicken Korma or Palak Paneer with naan — in the coming months.
I am looking forward to it. I am boasting about it. I am sharing pictures of it with my friends on Instagram. I am proud that I am making and eating food — something that I never found possible.
And I am hoping to God that no one will think why is this fatty cooking instead of going on a run… But if they do… well, I know how much I worked for accepting this body I have now. I know how many runs I went on and how many planking minutes are behind me, how many killer kickboxing training sessions I crushed. And I know that me and my body we have a long way to go, but maybe we could be friends, and we could be friends with food too.