A NEW cookbook, by one of the most popular contestants on the Great British Bake Off (GBBO), has been heralded as a “revelation”.
Ruby Tandoh’s Eat Up serves a soup made from tinned tomatoes, an old-fashioned beef stew, and an Italian dish that uses store-bought dried pasta.
There are no mouth-watering pictures of steaming food, no calorie counters beside dishes — instead the recipes are peppered through chapters titled Emotional Eating, Digested: A Friendship, and Hungry Human Bodies. What is a revelation about this new book is its normalness and the fact this shame-free manifesto seems to have the whole food world talking.
The sheer popularity of her book proves that it has become abnormal to talk about normal eating.
“We’re in a strange time where food is really polarised between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘healthy’ and ‘junk’, and we’re told that you either pursue the righteous path to wellness or the ruinous slippery slope to death,” says Tandoh.
“Well, that’s not helpful. And that’s not how most of us eat. We need to be allowed to sometimes eat foods that nourish our bodies, but also eat things that nourish our minds, memories, and relationships. A balanced diet is about eating in a way that feels good for all parts of you — not just your waistline.”
The 2013 GBBO runner-up has in the past described health, and talking about it, as a “national pastime” and revealed that when she “found wellness” by cutting out entire food groups, she was at her most unwell with an eating disorder.
Tandoh’s main tip for mental health today has nothing to do with food — surrounding herself with people who want her to do well is what is most integral to her wellbeing.
However, when it comes to people who are struggling with an eating disorder she poses a simple question: “One thing I always tell people is to think about how they’d feed their sibling or lover or best friend. Would you send them out of the house with only an apple for lunch? Probably not. Would you give them plain pasta for dinner? No way. So why would you feed yourself that way?
“You have to slowly, carefully train yourself to treat yourself with compassion and care. It makes all the difference.”
Harriet Parsons, training and development manager with Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, says that how we eat every day changes and that it only crosses over into “eating disorder territory” when compulsion comes into the equation.
“Anything that helps promote the idea of the ‘normalness’ of having an appetite and desire is a good thing — none of us eats the same every day,” says Parsons.
“How we feel affects how we feed ourselves — this is what we would call normal disordered eating. Where a person crosses over into eating disorder territory is when compulsion comes into play — when the person feels compelled to eat a certain way or else they will ‘get fat’ and be a ‘terrible person’, they will be ‘lazy’, all those negatives words — this is when you are talking about an eating disorder and not just normal disordered eating.”
Parsons adds that the distorted food and diet messages that we are bombarded with all the time “feed that compulsion”, but most people can withstand this information overload, safe in the knowledge that they are OK just as they are, but there are others, for whatever reason, who cannot.
Tandoh’s advice to combat this overload and compulsion is to turn inwards and listen to your own body.
“We’re also told that eating what you want means eating chocolate bars all day every day, when actually for most of us — if we truly followed our appetite — we’d tread a more or less happy path, stopping by fast food sometimes, and fresh fruit sometimes, and one too many beers sometimes,” she says.
“That’s not to say we shouldn’t be mindful of what we eat, but creating a culture of shame and fear around food and eating is so not helpful.”
* Eat Up, by Ruby Tandoh, is published by Serpent’s Tail and is available in all good bookstores now
* Eating Disorders Awareness Week takes place from February 26 to March 4
* Bodywhys — the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, bodywhys.ie
*Eating Disorder Centre, Cork: eatingdisordercentrecork.ie