Honesty has a profound power. We pay a lot of lip service to the importance of authenticity and "realness", yet the versions of reality that we're allowed to see are typically filtered and augmented, especially when it's a version offered to us by someone with a public profile. So I'm deeply shocked, and oddly comforted by chef Lorraine Pascale's openness and honesty about her history with disordered eating. On her blog, she wrote "I have picked on myself physically (and mentally) so much in the past and the result usually is me going to the shops to eat too much of something.
"I spend a minute eating it and then the rest of the weekend/week beating myself up for doing so and feeling crappy about my body. And so the cycle continues as the beating-up-of-the-self moves me to again 'emotionally eat' for that fleeting moment of feeling better."
I suspect that many of us are familiar with that cycle, but it's not a story that gets told out loud. The media representation of eating disorders is typically, poisonously glamorous – young girls and models fainting for fashion, and pictures that seem to celebrate slenderness and fragility, regardless of how they're captioned. Nothing that acknowledges the day-to-day sadness of feeling bad, feeling better then immediately feeling worse, knowing that you can't have a happy or neutral relationship with the activity that you're supposed to do three times a day in order to live.
I love Lorraine Pascale's work, because when she's on the screen, her relationship with food seems so positive. She's passionate yet practical, and her recipes are nourishing and delicious. I was shocked to learn that her relationship with food isn't as easy as it seems. Then I remembered about how I learned to cook when I was in the grip of an eating disorder. Being around food was a way of connecting with it, and trying to redefine the way I interacted with it. Food brought me pleasure and pain, but if I was making it, not eating it, it couldn't hurt me – and, in theory, I couldn't hurt myself. I felt powerful when I baked a batch of biscuits and didn't even lick the batter off a spoon. Cooking was a way to maintain my obsession with food. I wasn't eating much of it, but it was all I thought about.
Living in a world of lovely food is a pleasure and a privilege, but only if we can be allowed to maintain that relationship without being made to hate ourselves
When you have been dangerously obsessed with food for a long period of time, you know what that obsession looks like, and how to spot the red flags. I think that culturally and collectively, we're in serious danger. Everything is about food, and it's marketed in a moral way. It's good, clean, naughty or dirty. There is a growing industry dedicated to redefining the way we eat – it's called "wellness" and there's evidence to suggest it's damaging the mental and physical health of its most dedicated followers. We play with our food, snapping it from 11 different angles before it goes in our mouths. Food is status. We laugh at the idea that in the 18th century, fashionable people would hire pineapples, simply to be seen with one. But how many people order the #avotoast, post the picture and let the plate go cold? It's the same thing.
It's all quite revoltingly, wastefully Western. Arguably, a society that has a problem with eating disorders is a society that has mismanaged its wealth horribly. It makes no sense that we live in a world in which some people have no food at all, and others have more than enough, yet they've been given the tools to use it as an instrument of psychological torture, not a fuel source. But when we're bombarded with conflicting emotional messages about how food is supposed to make us feel, what chance do we have? We can't opt out of the relationship. We have to make it work on some level in order to survive.
Lorraine's moving words hit me hard because they are so personal, and simultaneously so universal. Together, we've forgotten how to eat to live. I know when food makes me feel excited, angry, happy, overwrought, critical, edgy and consumed with self loathing. The feelings that I still struggle to recognise are "hungry" and "full". We are so lucky to live in a world where food is thrilling – so many of us have access to a previously undreamed-of array of cuisines, ingredients, fruits and flavours. Food is how so many of us celebrate. Sometimes "I made you dinner" is the best way to say "I love you". But the people who sell us our food know how to exploit us, manipulate us, and manage those feelings. Living in a world of lovely food is a pleasure and a privilege, but only if we can be allowed to maintain that relationship without being made to hate ourselves.