Well Being

Kitchen Therapy: New Book Aims To Aid Eating Disorder Recovery—With Recipes

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eating disorder cookbook

Therapy, behavior modification, maybe even medication. But a cookbook? That's not something you usually think about as a potential powerful tool for eating disorder recovery. Fortunately, registered dietitian Lori Lieberman did. Along with her co-author Cate Sangster, Lieberman's written a cookbook, Food To Eat, specifically dedicated to helping those with eating disorders gain back a healthy relationship with cooking and eating.

We talked to Lieberman about the book, the importance of online community in eating disorder recovery and how even those of us who haven't been diagnosed with an eating disorder might able to benefit from changing the way we think about food.

So why a cookbook for eating disorder recovery?

Recipe books abound, but this is so much more that a cookbook–it's like having a couple of trusted and experienced friends support readers through the many overwhelming obstacles of getting themselves to eat. There's a wealth of misinformation about what's ok to eat, and how much. And there's the challenge of deciding what to eat, and with being around food while preparing it. Food to Eat helps readers tackle these very issues with easy-to-manage strategies and delicious recipes they can feel good about eating. It helps readers learn to eat and enjoy food again!

Is this book the first of its kind? How, specifically, can a book like this act as a guide to someone struggling with an eating disorder?

There's no other book out there like Food to Eat! In fact, it was created out of need—my co author, Cate Sangster, herself in recovery from anorexia, searched for such a resource without success. Instead, she found support and trusted nutrition information, along with some practical recipes on my blog and proposed a collaboration to fill the void.

Reading Food to Eat, readers get the sense that “we get it” and that we can be trusted for guidance on eating. So like Cate, they feel ‘safe' introducing foods they were avoiding, and they learn to let go of their food rules and eat enough to meet their needs. We address their thoughts and misinformation–major obstacles to normalizing eating that keep them stuck–with clear justification for eating these yummy recipes.

Because of it's format, FTE breaks down many barriers to eating. It's approachable: a manageable size with beautiful photos and a lighthearted fun style–at least that what our readers have said! It meets readers where they're at in terms of their readiness for change. They could simply shop from the pantry list or make some pre-prepared ingredients for a recipe that could be eaten later; they don't have to engage much with the food, if they don't wish. Guidance on putting together a balanced meal is also provided, taking the ‘over thinking' out of eating, too. There are even strategies for helping readers eat just as much as they need, for those who fear they will overdo it.

What kinds of recipes does the book feature? Are they developed for maximum nutrition, maximum ease…?

Food to Eat contains 25 recipes, including 5 desserts– all recipes that Cate—while still in recovery—prepares, tastes and comments on and I respond to. And she is painfully honest about her initial thoughts and initial difficulties and how she changed her perspectives! We include the five recipes she relied on early in her recovery, the few dishes she felt comfortable eating, as well as some of my personal favorites for breakfasts (pumpkin pancakes), lunch (fig and goat cheese wrap), dinners (Moroccan chicken with chickpeas and dried fruit) and snacks.

What readers will find are recipes that are justified based on their nutritional value, but also the sensory experience eating them–how they taste and smell, how non-messy they are and how satisfying.This is a recovery cookbook that challenges readers to eat foods that taste good, with real ingredients–I'm a ‘foodie' with very high standards for how food tastes.  Yet all of the recipes–from granola to lentil stew, gingerbread to Greek style spinach and feta fillet–are easy to make, including plenty of vegetarian choices. Want something ready to eat in 20 minutes or less? Or something easy to make in a crock pot, ready in under an hour? Or perhaps the best you can do right now is to make one of the preprepared ingredients (perhaps for the barley black bean salad)–just to have ready for when you are ready to prepare a full recipe? Food to Eat allows you to take on just as much as you're ready for, with chapters corresponding to the amount of time required to prep the dish.

You connected with the co-author of your book through your blog, right? What role do you think online communities (even online recipe sharing) can or do play in eating disorder recovery?

Food to Eat could not have been created without the internet and the blogosphere. Through my blog, Drop It and Eat I met Cate, who says it best in her personal introduction:”One of the best things I've ever done on my recovery journey was to open a blog post on Lori's blog. And although I lurked around unseen for ages, what I read opened my eyes to how I was living-and more importantly how I could be living. Lori was the first person to make me believe that I could recover from an eating disorder, that I could take control over my recovery even though having an eating disorder was not my fault. “I frequently hear from readers that it's reassuring knowing that someone really gets it and doesn't judge them–and gives them hope. Much more than online recipe exchanges, blog communities can provide a supportive network for those who suffer silently. They may live with two identities–the person everyone knows who seemingly functions just fine–and the individual spending much of his or her waking day thinking about what and when she can eat, calculating her every calorie consumed. The virtual world is a very comfortable place where those with struggling with eating disorders can share anonymously and get support and direction from professionals as well.

You advocate for everyone to improve his or her relationship with food, no matter what our past experiences might be. What are some of your suggestions? Why do you think many people have a fraught relationship with food, even if they haven't been diagnosed with an ED?

So many have lost their trust in their body's ability to know when it needs nourishment and when its had enough to eat. Instead, they rely on rules they've been bombarded with–rules about what times they should eat, about white carbs and gluten, about the need for fiber in everything they consume. So while Food to Eat was created for those recovering from an eating disorder, I'm finding that it's so valuable for anyone who has repeatedly dieted and lost confidence in knowing when and how much to eat.

How to break out of this trap, you ask? Here are my 10 Ingredients for changing your relationship with food:

1: Give yourself permission to eat–whenever you need to, regardless of the hour. It allows you stop when you've had enough–knowing that you'll have another chance, that it's not now or never. And you'll learn to honor your hunger–which is the first step in learning to honor your fullness and knowing when to stop eating.

2: Cut back on fluids, so you can learn to distinguish your hunger from other eating triggers. At least, don't start drinking non-caloric drinks when you're feeling hungry!

3: Mix in realistic goals that match your readiness for change. Taking on more than you're prepared for only sets you up for failure, making it more challenging to get back on track.

4: Spice up your diet with foods you really enjoy and see as forbidden. Otherwise, you'll continue to long for what you feel you can't have, and overeat when you finally do have a “weak moment.” That's what happens with deprivation. And why would you stick with a way of eating you don't enjoy?

5: Add patience as you shift your approach and relearn how to eat again. It took many, many years to develop your unhealthy behaviors, so be kind and patient as you relearn how to eat mindfully, and to distinguish your physical need for food, for fuel from all the other reasons we find ourselves eating.

6: Don't rely on willpower. Rather, avoid going more than 3.5 to 4 hrs without eating to increase control around food. It will help your energy level and make you less vulnerable when confronted with food. And it will allow you to better meet your needs without getting uncomfortably full.

7: Pre-plan–even if you don't pre-prepare, allow for flexibility and spontaneity. Having a mental plan for what you're going to eat, or having snacks on hand can help and make mealtime less overwhelming.

8: Stop comparing yourself–your size, your food intake–with others. Everyone's needs are different so comparing is dangerous. Our needs depend on height, muscle mass, our activity levels, whether we are growing in pregnancy, whether we need to be gaining weight or not. Everyone seems to be an expert on what you should be doing, but you know what's not working for you, and when it's time to change direction.

9: Let it go and strive for a clean slate versus a clean plate. Compensating for overeating with restricting, or with continued overeating. Try to be as compassionate to yourself as you'd be to your best friend.

10: Add supports, such as friends and loved ones. Too much information, including the wealth of misinformation we're bombarded with, may make you feel like a deer in headlights, unable to make any change. So be selective about where you go for nutrition information and who you call on for support. Bad information can be more damaging than no information!

Is there anything else you'd like Blisstree readers to know about your book, eating disorders, or eating disorder recovery?

Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder, and those struggling don't have to be emaciated to be living with these potentially life threatening diseases. People with eating disorders can be any weight, gender or age. It's not too late to seek help for recovery, and yes, people absolutely do completely recover!

Photo: Food 2 Eat