The change came when I realised just how much thinking about not eating was dominating my life. I constantly monitored what I put in my body, how much I weighed and viewed my thinness as a trophy. I would look at a beautiful meal my mum put in front of me with dismay, not pleasure, and squandered the limited time I spent with my long distance boyfriend thinking about food and hating myself for any transgression. I may have looked good, by the standards of a dysmorphic and unrealistic society, but I was so unhappy that none of the very few benefits were worth it. Paradoxically, during this time I still loved to cook. I would bake cake after cake, loving the sensation of making something and seeing others enjoy it, but too often not partaking in it myself. This masochistic need to nourish others but deprive myself is a trope endlessly perpetuated by society: an image of a 1940s housewife providing for her husband while retaining an impossibly tiny waist and a set of shiny pearls springs to mind. However, my way of overturning this twisted relationship perpetuated by consumer culture was to see food for what it is; not an enemy but something good for me.
Moving away from home was a positive step. Rather than regressing once more into bad habits I turned my controlled eating into a love of cooking. While my Mum is the best cook I know and definitely passed her passion and talent on to me, I had to take my nourishment into my own hands to truly love food again. Cooking was revolutionary. Selecting, buying, preparing and assembling ingredients made eating pleasurable and I still had the control I craved. Knowing exactly what I was putting together to make a meal left the power in my hands, but now I was enjoying the product. I put on weight and learned to love myself by learning to love what I was eating, because I was creating it. As a creative person, the act of making food is very therapeutic for me: refuge after a long day at work or from the stress of university. Importantly, cooking makes me very aware of what I'm putting into my body, but not in a negative way.
Recently I watched a documentary on Netflix that explored the processed food industry, and a dietitian told viewers to eat macaroni cheese tonight if they felt like it. And a bacon cheeseburger, and apple pie, and cookies and ice-cream, on one condition: you had to cook everything from scratch, yourself. 'I guarantee you won't eat that cheeseburger, or the apple pie, or the cookies', he said, and he hit the nail on the head. While pizza is my favourite indulgence food, when I'm working I'll grab anything that's going for the sake of not starving, and sometimes there is just not enough time in the day, for the most part I eat healthily because I cook my meals myself. I'm by no stretch of the imagination a 'clean eater' and I think subscribing to that lifestyle is as damaging as any other obsession, but it's inevitable that when you make something from scratch you're more conscious of everything you put in it. Putting good stuff in my body makes me feel good. Fast food is wonderful and everything has its place, but personally I need to get the best from food to feel my best and the easiest way to do that is to make it yourself: you're less likely to overindulge and more likely to love what you eat. Nourishing our bodies means we can recreate a healthy, organic relationship with them, overcoming the unhealthy mindset society inflicts on us by dictating an ideal. Reclaiming food by creating it myself allowed me to reconnect with my body and view it once more it as a friend, not an assassin. Now I am much healthier, happier and while I will always have bad body days, I figure that's ok. I can go on a health kick if I want, or eat less snacks without going overboard. The stigma that once connected eating with ugliness in my mind is no longer there. I make the best macaroni cheese I've ever tasted and my cakes are great, but the most important thing is that I'm in control in a good way. No one can dictate to me how I should look, feel or what I should eat or cook apart from me, and now that I love myself once more the relationship between me and food is a good one.
In part one of this blog I mentioned The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood, where the protagonist eats a woman made out of cake, which she has baked, to reclaim her body and her identity. While I'm not suggesting that eating as a way of being in touch with the self need be so literal, (although I did bake heart shaped cakes so I'm sure there is some latent symbolism at play) I thought I would finish this blog off with a cake recipe in the spirit of Atwood and self love. Filled with lovely ingredients, this is my 'Special Carrot Cake', a recipe I used to bake back when I didn't want to eat the final product and one I enjoy much more now. It's easy to make and very delicious. I hope if you try baking it, it makes you happy. Thank you for reading.
Special Carrot Cake
Ingredients (To make a large cake, double layered cake. Half the recipe for a batch of cupcakes.)
Preheat your oven to 170 degrees and grease and line two deep 20cm cake tins
For the cake:
- 300g plain flour
- 300g soft light brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- 300ml vegetable oil
- 1 tsp bicarb of soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 300g carrots, grated
- 100g nuts of your choice (I use mixed unsalted nuts for the variety)
For the icing: (Again, half quantities for small cake/batch of cupcakes)
- 300g icing sugar, sifted
- 50g unsalted butter
- 125g cream cheese
- Put the sugar, eggs and oil into an electric mixer (or use a hand blender) and mix with a paddle attachment until all the ingredients are combined.
- Gradually add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt and vanilla extract. Continue to mix slowly until well mixed.
- Stir in the carrots and chopped nuts by hand, making sure they are evenly distributed in the mixture. Spoon the mixture into the cake tins and smooth.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the sponge is golden brown and bounces back when touched. Testing with a knife or skewer is also a good indicator, but as this is a moist cake it may not come out completely clean even when fully baked. Better to go on colour.
- When done, let your cakes cool in the tins for ten minutes before turning out onto a wire cooling rack. Meanwhile, make the icing.
- Beat the softened butter and the icing sugar carefully until well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and stir until completely incorporated. Then beat until it is smooth, light and fluffy.
- After your cakes have completely cooled, ice them. If making a big cake, sandwich the two layers together with icing and then decorate the top. If making cupcakes, dot some on the top and then smooth out with a knife. Decorate with more nuts and ground cinnamon. The wonderful thing about this recipe is that it is versatile enough to make lovely cupcakes or a large cake and both stay delicious and moist. I usually make half the quantities when in Glasgow so I don't end up throwing any out.
*P.S: Just wanted to make clear that I don't think any type of body shape is bad, I am just referencing my own previous attitude to eating, which was unhealthy.*