Lasagna - Multi-Layered, like Me! / by Michelle Cowan

I made myself lasagna tonight. Not a bad first attempt I must say, especially considering that I mishmashed different recipes together until I had included all the elements I enjoy. I'll use less tomato sauce next time (I tend to get overzealous with the 'mato - I love them so.), have a more compact layer of pasta/ricotta cheese/caramelized onions and mushrooms/pasta in the middle, and find a more inventive ricotta mixture.

I love to cook. People struggling with and recovering from eating disorders have a wide range of attitudes toward cooking. Some avoid it; others revel or even obsess over it. Although I didn't cook much during the midst of the disorder, I remember being quite the baker before. I made heavenly cakes, and still can. My ability to follow recipes to the letter leads to that. Perfectionism has a few advantages. Cooking, as opposed to baking, requires a bit more creativity, so I like doing both for different reasons. At this point, my relationship with this expressive art (as I do consider it) seems healthy.

I have endless patience while cooking because it is such a pleasant, meditative time. I love coming up with new, more colorful combinations or getting totally immersed in the execution of a challenging recipe. It's flat-out fun. Plus, I don't mind the taste too much either.

Confessedly, though, I haven’t been trying many new things in the past few years. I still question my ability to control myself around food, and planning meals often feels like obsessing. Plus, cooking can be a hassle I just don’t have time for. Check it out! I’m like everyone else, eating disordered or not.

Tonight was about stretching. I undertook a more involved recipe with a baking time that requires a span of time without eating between the actual assembly of the lasagna and the plating of it. I tend to start grazing while cooking and then just continue on into the meal once it's finished. (I'm great at 30-minute wonders.) But tonight I proved that I could complete a full preparation/cooking/plating cycle without getting full before mealtime. I decided what I wanted beforehand, shopped for the ingredients, prepped, cooked, and ate, all without feeling compulsive. I ENJOYED it. The recipe included challenging ingredients for me, so it stretched me a bit there, too.

In any case, I'm proud of this achievement. A lasagna, I know, simple. But I'd been wanting to do this for weeks, if not months. And lately, I'd been fantasizing about it more.

Usually, constant fantasizing about something means I need to look into what the obsession is about. Is the fantasy leading me somewhere good or somewhere harmful? For me, food fantasies can be either.

In this case, I shied away from the fantasy because preparing this kind of a meal (with lots of prep-work involved) requires an extended focus on food. And I don't need help focusing on food! I always fear that cooking that sort of meal will lead to an increased food obsession in me.

However, I am examining my food more closely lately and trying to take chances. By cooking what used to be a complete no-no food for myself, I worry that it might lead to a binge. However, the case more often than not lately has been that eating a fear food DECREASES my binge urges. It may increase my anxiety, but I usually am able to put the fork down. This is what happened tonight. I feel fine. I stopped. It tasted good, but the meal had a beginning and an end.

I am slowly dismantling the power my fear foods once held over me. After many successful lasagna meals and similar patterns with other fear foods, I know the reality and liberation that results from diminishing their stronghold. Reintroducing foods like lasagna takes a while, but I am usually able to succeed. In the beginning, I often try to make the food "safer" by choosing certain ingredients, or I'll make it myself before attempting it at a restaurant (or vice versa, depending on the nature of the fear). I usually freak out or stop short of eating enough to be satisfied a few times before I get really comfortable. But my comfort level with the food typically increases naturally. If I'm having difficulty getting over a specific one, I pray for moments when I'll be forced to stretch. Usually, I get what I ask for (a challenge from the universe I usually have to accept begrudgingly and with much fear).

This has only been possible in the last few years of recovery. For a long time, I felt no desire to include no-no foods in my diet. Eventually, though, I saw that my anxieties were inhibiting me. At parties, at restaurants, in moments when nothing was available but a fear food, I found myself weak and disappointed in myself. I decided that reintroducing these foods would enable me to feel freer about food and my body in general. I would also be more likely to get the amount of calories needed to sustain a healthy weight.

The urge to eat these foods has come back slowly, and I still display marked resistance to certain items. But countless foods have moved into my consciousness over the past few years, things I want to try. And by acting on those visions responsibly, instead of just ignoring them and starving or bingeing on “safe” foods, I have become a far healthier and more relaxed eater.

My fantasies typically guide me toward the next food or activity I want to try. Yes, I added activity. I follow this same pattern with anything I fear - or I try to. I decided a couple of years ago to start living based on faith instead of fear. A treasured friend once told me how she had started examining her decision-making process and day-to-day living by asking herself, "Am I acting out of faith or out of fear?" She decided to make choices that required faith instead of avoiding things that caused fear. I now challenge myself to the same test. Following faith has always acted in my favor.

I am not talking about rushing into rash actions simply to fly in the face of fear. When acting impulsively, reasonable caution can be mistaken for fear. To rebel against that caution is not the same as looking at a situation and determining what will take more faith.

Do I always choose the shaky path of faith, wading through a boggy field of fear? No. But I try to go that way.

Right now, I'm admittedly afraid. Eating the lasagna was an attempt at finding strength. Afterward, I feel content but also an undercurrent of trepidation. I don't want to start bingeing, gain too much weight, or sit here forever alone, eating lasagna… The fears run deep – to issues seemingly unrelated to food.

Why are these fears coming up? Well, I may address that in future posts, for lasagna is not the only fear-inducing fantasy I have actualized in the past few days. I broke up with my boyfriend - my best friend - last weekend.

To clarify, this was not a couple-month fling blown out of proportion by my romantic mind. We have been together long enough to develop something remarkably special. If anything was meant to be, we were.

Although I recognize that breakups are a typical kind of tragedy, it hurts and brings up many issues for me. I knew it needed to be done; the persistent fantasies of breaking it off indicated that. Nonetheless, making healthy choices can be difficult. Trusting myself to be alone can be difficult. To still love someone but not want to be with him anymore hurts, as I'm sure most of you know.

But that's for the next post. No doubt that I use food to express my feelings and care for myself. For now, let's just be proud of the lasagna-enjoyer over here!