When the Kitchen is No Longer Scary
I used to be terrified of the kitchen. Not of the room itself, of course, but what went on inside it. Back then, I was deeply entrenched in anorexia and was convinced that food was my worst enemy. So the kitchen, with its cabinets packed with snacks and sweets and its appliances that would produce pastas and pizzas and cakes and cookies and more, was my living nightmare.
I still remember all the evenings my thirteen-year-old self would anxiously hover in the doorway, my head peeked around the corner, watching my mom in case she tried to slip an extra pad of butter or tablespoon of oil into whatever that night’s dinner would be. I still remember all the afternoons I spent reading labels on the backs of cans, bags, and boxes until the calories were ingrained in my mind. (Many still are to this day). I still remember all the mornings I’d wake up to the tantalizing aroma of a homemade breakfast or fresh-out-of-the-oven baked goods wafting from the kitchen and instead of allowing myself to get up and enjoy it, I’d lay in bed with my stomach empty and my mind full of prepared excuses.
“I’m not hungry.”
“I’m not in the mood.”
“Thanks but I’ll just have cereal.”
This naysay mentality towards food and cooking dictated my life in the years to come. For too long, I lived in constant fear of what I’d eat—of what my parents would make me eat—and would only ever venture into the kitchen when I absolutely had to. As a child, I loved to help my mom cook and subsequently gobble up her delicious recipes so I know this sudden aversion was especially hard on her. One day, I was sampling sugary dough while she baked chocolate chip cookies; the next, I was adamantly refusing to eat those same cookies because I was convinced they’d make me fat.
Overcoming my fear of food was a process that has taken time, patience, and repeated exposure. The more comfortable I felt eating a slice of pizza or chocolate chip cookie, the more safe and secure I felt being in the kitchen. I no longer worry that my mom is sneaking calories into my food, just like I no longer wake up filled with dread and anxiety about what I have to eat in a given day. I don’t read labels close to as often as I used to, and when I do, it’s only to ensure I’m getting an adequate amount of protein or another essential food group or nutrient.
More recently, I’ve discovered that I enjoy cooking. I attribute my newfound interest in cooking to three primary reasons: my recovery, the online cookbook Nourish I co-created with my mom last year, and my transition to veganism (more on that soon). I love discovering new recipes, transforming old ones, and, most of all, nourishing my body with wholesome homemade food. From banana bread to spicy lentils to sweet and sour tofu to my old frenemy mac & cheese, I feel like I’m reshaping the kitchen into the safe and happy space it used to be one dish at a time—and in a new way that works for the new me.
I’m by no means free from food anxieties. Part of me wonders if I ever will be. I still instinctively gravitate towards lower-fat recipes and am more cautious with oils than I’d like to be. But I also have an appreciation of food and my body that I previously lacked. I’m able to make (most) food choices based on hunger levels and desire, instead of what has the fewest number of calories. I recognize the impact my diet has on a larger global scale, beyond just myself and my taste buds, and try to honor that as best I can. I enjoy food and genuinely look forward to eating after spending most of my teenage years eating because I had to in order to survive.
These newfound freedoms are not ones I take for granted. I constantly remind myself of how far I’ve come, and I also look forward to continuing to expand my variety of foods, teaching myself new recipes, and leading by the example that a balanced diet and kind food choices are not only possible for most people but key to health, happiness, and sustainability.
The kitchen doesn’t scare me anymore; on the contrary, it’s a room I love, appreciate, and spend an ever-growing amount of time in. Speaking of which, I’m off to make myself some lunch now. One buffalo cauliflower sandwich, coming right up!