One of my favourite cookery books is My Relationship With Food by the wonderful Lisa Roukin. Lisa’s journey from unhappy, overweight child to healthy eating champion and Le Cordon Bleu chef is inspirational and I’m delighted to introduce her as guest blogger. I’m also very excited to share with you that Lisa will be coming up to Manchester to share her tips, expertise (and demonstrate a recipe or two) at two charity events. These are on 1st and 2nd March in aid of the Big Birthday Appeal to help local children with special needs. If you’d like more info and to buy a ticket, please contact me. Lisa will be back guest blogging next week, when she’ll be sharing one of her favourite recipes. In the meantime, here she is telling her story. Over to you Lisa…
My relationship with all things food was indeed a dubious one to begin with and was in no way beneficial, self-serving or empowering. Everyone has his or her own relationship with food. In my case, I was quite an introverted child and didn’t know how to express myself, and I think the way I found my voice was through food.
The journey to where I currently reside has been an arduous one with many bumps and potholes along the way. Whilst challenging in transit, it has been ultimately enlightening and one of my biggest blessings.
As a child I was in a battle with food, constantly monitoring my intake in a bid to control my body weight and, therefore, battling with deeply mixed feelings towards the thing I was most passionate about – food. It became both an enemy and a friend.
Food was and still is the centre of attention in our household. Family gatherings would always revolve around food and any celebrations or holidays would create an opportunity to experiment with new recipes. Plus, we always loved visiting the latest restaurant in town to open its doors.
Growing up, I used to love to watch my mother and grandmother cook, sharing and creating recipes together. The bond between a mother and a daughter cooking together is truly special. The passion and enthusiasm that goes into creating a recipe with love is certainly one to be cherished.
I used to love making cakes from scratch – collecting all my ingredients, measuring, cracking and mixing. My favourite time was sitting by the oven and watching something I had put together transform into something else before my eyes – I was fascinated by how
different ingredients in precise quantities came together to create something new. The smiles and appreciation on the faces of my loved ones around the dinner table meant more to me than anything else. Priceless.
Unfortunately, the amount of pleasure I found in cooking I also found in eating. I became dependent on food as a way to make me feel good. Eating gave me comfort. So I did a lot of it. You can guess what came next – the weight piled on and I became an overweight child. In fact, when I was 13 I weighed as much as my father: 180 pounds! As you’d expect, I was teased about my weight by my classmates, which in turn made me unhappy and so I ate more. And there the cycle began.
In my teen years, I realised that I was hiding behind this weight and I set about doing something about it. My relationship with food changed. Food was no longer a comfort but became the enemy. I turned my back on all the items that had made me happy. Worse yet, I couldn’t see the difference between ‘good’ foods and those that had assisted in the weight gain. To me, food was my adversary and the only way I could ‘win’ was to be in control. What I didn’t understand was that too much control either way is anything but beneficial. There needs to be balance.
After years of struggling with being overweight and through my control of intake, I eventually lost the weight and was then faced with a new issue. “Wow you look amazing, you’ve lost so much weight!” In my mind it was affirmed – being fat equalled ugly and bad… and thin meant I was winning.
I was now old enough to venture out to parties and social events. I was constantly obsessing about how I looked and felt. I knew that I couldn’t get bigger again, but holding on to my new body shape was overwhelming me – it was a constant battle. I started to eliminate more foods from my diet and eventually it got out of control – I became underweight and my hair started to fall out. I lost my laugh, happiness and then my periods stopped. At this point, I knew something wasn’t right. I admitted to myself that this relationship with food wasn’t enjoyable. Something had to change. I had developed a full-blown eating disorder. The cycle of harmful food exclusion had to stop. I had to re-establish a better relationship with food.
It didn’t happen overnight, but with my strength and determination I got myself back on track. It took a wise older woman, my grandmother, to finally put me on a healthier path. She asked, “What would make you happy?” My answer was given without hesitation. “Cooking”. So that is what I did.
It was during this time at the prestigious cookery school Le Cordon Bleu that I learned about portion control, nutrition and complementary food preparation. I realised it wasn’t solely about the ‘exclusion’ of convenience foods but the ‘inclusion’ of healthy ingredients that would keep me fit and nourished.
I woke up one morning after five years of changing my eating habits to realise that I hadn’t regained the weight, my skin was clearer and I had more energy. What I also acknowledged was that the journey to get past the food addictions wasn’t easy and it required an amazing amount of support from family and friends. I was fortunate in that I had the opportunity to receive a formal education about food and the time to think about the things in my life that were causing me unhappiness.
I’m hoping that my book, My Relationship with Food, will help others struggling with some of the same issues. I’ve included a Q&A section with some personal advice and 100 recipes – all gluten-free and low in refined sugars. There’s even a Non-Cheater’s Cheat Sheet, which offers healthier options to common cravings.
When not cooking or formally teaching, I research new, healthy ingredients and read blogs from other foodie writers. I also contribute teaching time to a UK-based project helping adults with learning disabilities to become more independent. If you’re in Manchester at the beginning of March, I’d love to meet you at one of the Big Birthday events!
Lisa Roukin is a chef, teacher and writer who runs her own cookery school, Cook With Lisa, as well as being a prolific blogger for titles such as the Huffington Post.
My Relationship with Food is available from: www.myrelationshipwithfood.com.