I believe strongly in the power of cooking and eating a single meal: that it can boost your mood, comfort you, and help you heal. Cultivating a healthy, positive relationship with food has been extraordinarily helpful for my physical and mental health.
Food means a lot to me – which is why cooking is how I show my love for others.Cultivating a healthy, positive relationship with food has been extraordinarily helpful for my physical and mental health. Click To Tweet
My relationship with food wasn’t always positive. Since I’m an anxious person with PTSD, my anxiety would reduce my appetite. As a result, I developed some disordered eating patterns. I also have a tendency to obsess over new things, which means I’ve had issues with continually tracking my food and restricting the food I ate in the past.
When I lived in a university residence, my stomach was always homesick for cooked meals. We couldn’t cook our own meals in the dorms, and my budget as a student was limited. The cafeteria food wasn’t awful, but because it was mass-produced it lacked the hominess I longed for. I used to think about the love my family poured into their cooking. Food tastes better when the cook knows who’s going to eat it.
My memories of residence are cloudy. I think it’s because I cried nearly every day: in the spacious, unfamiliar showers, on my bed, in the bathroom stalls. I was depressed, fatigued, and constantly dissociating. I needed a lot of support and therapy. Something else I needed? Food. I needed to know I was worth cooking for and worth feeding.I needed to know I was worth cooking for and worth feeding. Click To Tweet
My life has changed since I lived in a residence. I now work full-time, I have a kitchen of my own, and I know how to cook and bake pretty well. I’m now in a position to ease the homesickness of my past self. My mind is clearer and my brain chemistry feels more stable now, but my friends aren’t always as lucky as me.
Many of my friends are younger than me. Most are students, meaning they have a limited budget and not much time to cook. Many of them also live in a university residence or dorm – and not self-catering ones, either – so they don’t get the opportunity to make delicious meals for themselves. In other words, they’re in a similar position to the one I was in.
Like I did, they often battle with homesickness and mental illness. And as many of us know, cooking when you’re depressed or burnt out is a challenge in itself.
Recently, a friend of mine went through a tough time. Their pain was so visible to me, it was nearly contagious. When I hugged them I could feel their muscles aching. “I don’t know what to do,” they said. “I’m so out of it, I don’t know what to do.” It threw me back to the times I lived in residence, and the times I was in a deep depression. I know what it’s like to feel so broken you’re not even sure what you need because I’ve been there.
But now, I knew what could help my friend. It’s what I needed in my darkest hour: food. So, I made them a nourishing meal. As I cooked, I finally understood what it means when someone says they made food ‘with love’. When they ate my food, they seemed happier, like they had a short respite from the difficult circumstances that surrounded them. I was happy that I could bring them a little joy. That’s exactly what I needed when I was at my lowest point.I finally understood what it means when someone says they made food ‘with love’. Click To Tweet
Cooking isn’t the easiest thing in the world. It involves skills, planning, time, money, and energy. It’s laborious. But this also means cooking is a brilliant way of showing love. It tells someone they’re worth the effort.
I’ve healed broken hearts in between mouthfuls of soup and salad. I helped tired, stressed people by saying, “Don’t worry, I’ll cook tonight.” I’ve made people’s lives easier by telling them I can cook to suit their allergies and intolerances. I’m not always great at giving advice to people in need, but I can always make food. That’s my superpower.
It’s hard not to be bombarded with toxic ideas around food nowadays. In a society that glorifies thinness and discriminates against fat people, food is often seen as a means to an end. We’re encouraged to restrict ourselves. We moralize food and judge it as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ based on how many calories it contains. Even in ‘healthy food’ spaces and the body-positive community, people often discuss food in terms of how it will affect their weight, not how it can fuel, delight, or heal them.
This makes it all the more important to think of food as a potential tool of love and nourishment.Our society has toxic ideas about eating - which makes it all the more important to think of food as a potential tool of love. Click To Tweet
When you consume nourishing food, you aren’t just eating something delicious. You’re telling your body that it’s worth fueling. Similarly, when you give food to someone else, you’re telling them you want them to be nourished.
To me, that’s love made visible.