"We are all wanderers on this earth...our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams." ~ Gypsy proverb

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Food and Love

So I am writing this fully aware that I am pmsing this week, meaning I'm not sure how the words will flow. When I wrote in my journal regularly, the words poured like melted candy out of my heavy lidded brain. These days, there doesn't seem to be much time to write...not even in this space, and I have fallen into doing memes most of the week. Which is fine, the meme's are fun, but I think I'm going to take a break from them awhile (except maybe Joy Pockets) and see if I get the juices flowing in my head again.

Lots of writing about food lately in the little circles I wander. In fact most places I visit are full of amazing cooks (yes you) and often share recipes and their delectable creations. I do love that. In fact if you posted a recipe, I probably bookmarked it. If you suggested a cookbook, I probably have it or it's on my wishlist. My desire to really learn how to cook has always been here with me, just waiting and hovering for the right time. I know what I have missed, but I feel like the child staring distantly with wanting eyes at the other children playing together, wishing to join in, but afraid to.

Cooking is such a beautiful skill. Every meal is an opportunity to give a gift of love to our families. You can tell a meal that has the cook's heart and soul infused into it, with dazzling combinations, delicious colors, and flavors that just make you smile and want to stay in that moment forever. My mother-in-law Jill cooks like this. Her menus, especially her holiday menus, are not just any meal, they are celebrations themselves with love and care mingling in every bite.

With every recipe or cookbook I have or covet, I see this opportunity dangling in front of my eyes. I go through every book carefully, like a girl and a shopping magazine, placing sticky note bookmarks on the pages I want to remember to dive into. Every now and then I accept that challenge and create something lovely for my family. They praise me and I put a star on that recipe and write "LOVE", so that I remember to make it again. But those times are few and very far between. I feel shame about that quite often, like I am not loving or nurturing my family enough. It's something about myself I have always wanted to change. But in order to do that I have to go backwards again, which really sucks because I have no desire to do so. I could just accept that I don't want to cook and leave it at that. But I know it's not true. I do want to cook. I want to get lost in the flavors, fill my house with wafting joy, and give my family the pleasure of loving the food that they eat, and not just eating to fill their bellies. What restrains me is a little skeleton that was left behind from a difficult battle long ago. It has lurked with me ever since, embedded like shards of glass in the background, silent but ever present.

I have always known that this disconnect I had with food has remained with me all these years. This battle began at 16 and it wasn't until I was 28 that I faced my eating disorder head on. It took 3-4 years to fully recover. It began as anorexia and evolved into bulimia. It was a nasty little secret, a secret I kept hidden for many many years. But a secret like this will have it's casualties--relationships suffered, work suffered, my health and mental clarity suffered. I began to hate myself and I began to hate food. If you have never had an addiction, this concept of being completely at the mercy of something you cannot control maybe a difficult thing to understand. I was at the mercy of my food addiction. You know you are hurting yourself, you know you may kill yourself, but you can't stop. You can't just stop cold, and 100% of the time, it's not about the substance itself. It's about a seed that was planted within a long time ago, a very powerful and destructive thought that you are not good enough. This thought manifests itself in many ways if not countered with it's opposite. For perfectionists like me, eating disorders are very very common. The need to control outcomes was so strong, as was the need to prove to myself that I was better than I believed myself to be.

Recovery was a long and hard-fought journey. Hours of group and individual therapy, days in treatment, isolation from friends and family, the 12 step programs, sponsors, AA meetings, OA meetings, making amends and admitting my wrongdoings...Little by little I earned my self love and integrity back. I cherish authenticity--towards myself and to others knowing that without it, I could be lost again. Perfectionism still lingers but I can look upon her with fresh eyes and be gentle and kind, then scoot her to the corner letting her know I don't need her right now.

Fast forward to these days and I can say that I am a person that eats fairly normally. I can appreciate lovely meals and enjoy eating them, but I take care to never eat too much or love something too much. It's been 12 years since my recovery started, and these feelings of wanting to cook and to love cooking have been getting stronger in the last couple years. I want to do this for my family, as well as for myself. They deserve to have the pleasures of food and not be penalized from my own personal history. Yet the fear lingers beneath the surface of my skin and I'm afraid to give myself to the desire to get lost in the joy of cooking and food. The last time I was lost in food, I was surrounding by self-loathing and anger. To completely convert food into love feels hard, very hard, and something my natural tendencies tell me to avoid.

Don't get me wrong, I do cook, but what I cook is safe, plain, sufficient and without soul. Though every thing I make is very healthy--no fried foods, no cream based dinners, no casseroles, but that's because there is no passion infused in any of it.  Everything is steamed, stir-fried, or baked with olive oil, garlic, soy sauce and herbs, and an occasional crock pot dinner. I know it doesn't sound bad at all--but it's my comfort zone, my safety net, a way to feed without getting to involved in it. What's missing is the love, the inspiration, and the joy, and that is what I want to find. I've never had it. But I want it, bad enough to want to overcome these benign fears.

So where to start? I am thinking like Julie and Julia... on page 1. Not with the Mastering Art of French Cooking-- that would be too big of a step and a sure promise for self-defeat. I am thinking of using the cookbook I shared with you yesterday from Real Simple. 75 recipes, starting with soup and working my way through to the desserts. Will you keep your fingers crossed for me?

It feels good to let this skeleton out in all its transparent glory. As always, thanks for reading, if you still are, and just being there :). I will post my endeavors, as accountability, and there will be joy :), I promise.

much love

PS. We have a family friend, a childhood friend of my husband's, who also battled an eating disorder and won. Her name is Johanna and she is an extraordinary woman who has turned her experiences into a cause to help others. She has built a nonprofit organization called the Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness and also has written a book called Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder. Thanks Johanna for shining a beacon for all those that are lost in their disorders...


  1. MJ,
    Such an important post full of honest, growth, and mostly promise and hope.

    I WILL be keeping my fingers crossed for you and supporting you in this journey as you develop a more joyful and passionate relationship with the food you are cooking for your family.

    Blog posts like this are such an important contribution to the community of women who are all moving toward being (or, becoming) their most authentic selves.

    Sending hugs and kisses!

  2. i'm so happy you are okay beautiful mj. i think you can delve into soulful healthy cooking though! no need to master the art of french cooking! have you ever considered vegan cookbooks? they have such delectable choices that satisfy all kinds of cravings without being unhealthy. veganomicon is a great staple for vegan kitchens and has so many great dessert recipes and even a spinach and seitan dish that is supposed to emulate a great julia childs recipe.

  3. How do I follow my dear friends Anushka's comment? Hmm - it is a big step to write the post that you wrote - it takes courage and bravery and also shows where you have come. A great idea to start simple - lately I have been finding some wonderful recipes in my Easy Vegetarian cookbook (simple and healthy but yummy) and the Cooking Light magazine. Also when I find an great simple recipe with flavor I tend to be able to remember it and no longer need the recipe - you will find these as you experiment. Finding your niche in cooking is all part of the path - enjoy it!!! Sending positive thoughts your way.......

  4. Oh MJ...we have much in common my friend, I'm pretty sure if you were sitting on my couch right now with me there would be tears and hugs of friendship and understanding. You are amazing. I have no doubt that your family knows that about you. I think cooking for family is so important no matter how simple or "plain" it may be. I find guilt lately in just being too busy to do it up properly. hugs to you my friend.

  5. mj, i battled too. you are amazing. thank you for sharing all of this.

  6. i'm glad it felt good to let that skeleton out of its musty closet.
    i've battled with food all my life, mine was a simple and much misunderstood compulsive eating. at one point i was so fed up that i wished i hated food. i'm glad it never got there.

    it's still a daily issue. but i started with making peace with my body image, then with the disorder, and well, you know how it goes, baby steps.

    and that's how you could take this new part of the journey, baby steps. one dish/meal at a time. soup is perfect i think, a true comforting and nurturing meal.

    one thing that has really made a difference for me is the attitude that i deserve what it is i crave at that moment. my personal issue is deprivation, so eating marshmallows or chocolate if that's what i desire right now is better than eating a thousand other things in place of it just to 'eat better'.

    you come from a different angle of course.

    what it comes down to is the same - listening to our Selves and honouring what we're asking for. Don't cook more or better out of obligation, no matter how much it feels the right thing to do for your family. Begin with honouring your deepest cooking needs. And go from there.

  7. such an honest post, so brave mj. might i also recommend ruth reichl's books? begin with tender at the bone...so very good.

  8. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post with us. I can only imagine what your personal struggles must be...but I can relate to having a life long battle with food fueled by body image issues. I have only recently begun to accept my body as it is, and changed my perspective from wanting to look perfect to wanting to be healthy. I have tried to eliminate as many processed foods as possible and moved towards a real food approach, using moderation and activity as the main modes of maintaining good health. It is not easy, let me tell you! But it is worth it! So embrace the pleasure of food! It can be good and healthy and bring you much joy!! :)

  9. Fingers crossed! Thank you for being so authentic; that takes a lot of courage. (and it helps the rest of us who are so nervous about our own skeletons, whatever they may be) I'm so glad that your appetite for cooking is being stoked! You're an amazing mom MJ and I'm so glad we're friends.

  10. Dear friend. Thank you for sharing your heart. your truth. your fears. your hopes. your love. I can't write more as I'm too pms-y and weepy now, but wanted to let you know that I am so amazed by your courage! xoxo

  11. Overcoming an addiction is like no other struggle. I don't know you in "real" life but I feel proud of you for getting this far in your journey - can't wait to follow your cooking adventures!


  12. dude, you're my hero. not just for overcoming - but because I've been reading you long enough to know that sharing this took effort and decisiveness on your part. I love your honesty. It will help someone - if not more than one- it will be used for good. God bless, my friend! and, happy cooking!

    I really really love that old mixer on your counter! I heart them-

  13. What a beautiful, honest post! And think this project you've taken on is wonderful. Enriching your cooking skills will probably be healing for you. I look forward to reading about your progress.

  14. I'm so happy for you to have found the strength and courage to share this. I'm sure it will help others, and hopefully help you to heal.

    I'm keeping you in my thoughts, and sending you lots of positive energy to help you on your journey.

    You're such an inspiration to us all, beautiful friend!

  15. Beautiful MJ, you are so clever to look deeply into your life to uncover it's true meaning. Reading all the comments you have many beautiful friends here too. You are a very fortunate person. May the angels continue to bless you. You might also like the Kundalini Yoga Cookbook. With love and respect, Katie x

  16. MJ, thank you for sharing a little more of your soul with us. What a journey you have had and what a long way you have come. May your cooking journey enrich your palate and tantalise your senses too! Jacinta x

  17. lovely mj, what a beautiful and brave soul you are to share! Thank you for sharing your journey with us. I struggle with gaining weight easily but was able to find my cooking desire outlet with raw food, and raw desserts. Always found something incredibly satisfying and creative about working with the earth in her natural state. If you haven't checked her out yet, I'd recommend Ani Phyo's raw dessert "un"cook book for inspiration on healthy desserts that your family will worship you for!
    : )

  18. Oh, I wish I could hug you right now! Thank you for this brave post, and for sharing of yourself with us the way that you do. I will definitely be keeping my fingers crossed for you, and looking forward to sharing a love of cooking with you across virtual spaces. I hope you can find exactly what you want as you take this step. xoxo

  19. Wow. So happy for you to delve in. You have been through I lot. It's so hard to work through our s*** sometimes. Or, perhaps all the time.
    I had and still have, as you know, an ongoing off and on again passion for cooking and baking and the like. I am envious of those who ALWAYS love to cook and do it well and passionately. So, as you are doing, I think it's important to commit fully to it, even on the days I don't feel like it so much. Your wrap looks AMAZING by the way. I'm so making something like that today!

  20. yes honey, begin with your real simple book. it's a perfect place to start. i heard your enthusism for it the other day. everyones suggestions are good, but i think they may only add to your confusion on not knowing where to begin. you already have the book you like.
    sometimes i become overwhelmed by too many choices and end up not doing anything.

    my cooking has changed pretty dramatically a few times in my life, i think that's normal as a part of the constant evolvement of us. just now as my children have all moved out and away, i'm experimenting more for my husband and myself.

    i think you need to treat your sweet self to a new cooking pot or untensil, something to reward for all the love and effort you put in in the kitchen and everywhere. hugging and encouraging you from here,
    lori xxx

  21. Powerful post. What a journey you've had and thank you so much for sharing. I think The Bread Bible can heal all wounds. There's some serious meditation in kneading, and some serious happy-heart exuberance in eating a hot, buttered slice of homemade bread.

  22. I love you, MJ. I think that's all I can say right now. I've got tears in my eyes and I'm so, so proud of you. xoxoR

  23. Such a wonderful post.
    Isn't interesting so many times we cannot get past our polite little comfort zones and be real once in awhile, until we feel our "unreal" feelings of PMS? I really admire you for being honest, bearing your soul.
    May God bless you in your endeavor to love your family and yourself more.

  24. MJ, what a brave journey to share. You're a true beauty and your ongoing dedication to tackling demons from your past is a testament to your personal strength. The fact you are eating is a wonderful thing. Eating healthy food as opposed to beautifully crafted food - well, the former is so much more important. For what it's worth, I've a stack of gorgeous recipe books that I never get to use simply because cooking for a young family (sans dishwasher) is more about necessity cooking/early evening meals/encouraging eating. I like to imagine that when the kids are older, there will be time to focus on creating special dishes, consumed slowly with wine and good conversation.

  25. I truly believe everyone has struggled with some type of addiction at some point in their life -- I'm no exception. It's a daily battle.

    I'm glad you shared your history and how you intend to change the way you look at and prepare food. Good luck with your journey. :)

  26. You are a wonderful, beautiful, talented and brave woman. *hug*

  27. there have been such great suggestions here, my suggestion is heidi swanson's site 101cookbooks, she has soulful but nourishing, healthy meals. her new book super natural everyday is quickly being marked up with those little sticky notes you were talking about as well as splots of drippings.

    sometimes i know it feels freeing to let something as this out to the world, but it can be scary as well, so for that i am saying you are very courageous.

    my heart is with you mj. we all have our burdens we have carried. finding our self-worth is about as big as they come. treat yourself kindly always and remember all that love you are stirring into each pot.

    perfection is a nasty bitch. i struggle with her too in other ways. we all have our journeys right? being honest with ourselves is a good way to begin.

    i saw this quote from pema chodron the other day and it comes to mind as i read this:

    "Awareness is the key. Do we see the stories that we're telling ourselves and question their validity? When we are distracted by strong emotion, do we remember that it is our path? Can we feel the emotion and breathe it into our hearts for ourselves and everyone else? If we can remember to experiment like this even occasionally, we are training as a warrior. And when we can't practice when distracted but KNOW that we can't, we are still training well. Never underestimate the power of compassionately recognizing what's going on."

  28. MJ, thank you so much for sharing. You are such a brave individual for becoming aware of your situation and then working to overcome it. That truly takes strength. I just can't imagine. And I think now, your awareness of wanting to make food with love and soul is such an amazing thing. It always begins with awareness. That is the first and hardest step. I wish you all the best in beginning your cooking journey. I myself have found it easier to put more soul into my baking, which I can share. Cooking for one is not that fun ;P. I know you will find your peace with food. *Hugs*

  29. I suppose we are all addicted to something, because we all have that tiny little "not good enough" message in there somewhere. Isn't that the human journey, away from the lies we internalized and toward "good enough"?

    I love your blog, the carefully chosen words, the meditative images, the honesty and integrity...goodness.

    Thank you for doing your work.


“Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
~ George Bernard Shaw