Content warning: This article deals with eating disorders and may be triggering for some readers.
Every Sunday, my mum and I would return from the weekly grocery shop, where we religiously purchased one wholemeal sandwich loaf from Bakers Delight and fresh ham from the Deli. After unpacking our green bags, it was time for me to engage in what had become one my favourite rituals: preparing school lunches for the week. My mum ensured I spread a generous amount of butter (she strictly forbade margarine) and piled it with a liberal amount of ham (she battles with the internal conflict of generosity in servings and portions while lamenting the inevitable waste). I would then slice the sandwiches into triangles (I am still of the opinion that triangular sandwiches are far superior to their rectangular counterparts) and wrap them in baking paper before placing them in the freezer, ready to be deposited into my brother and sister’s lunchboxes the next morning. But not mine, of course. Besides, any lunch that I did take to school routinely ended up in the bin.
During this time, I was also a relentless baker. I made slices, rum balls, cakes and biscuits. I never tasted my creations, but instead took a strange pleasure in seeing other people devour them. I often wanted to bake tirelessly, but came up against the rational, logical argument of my mum that there was no real need for me to bake every day; we were a relatively small household, and we did not regularly host high teas, thus it was plain excessive to always have an abundance of slices and cakes on hand.
My dad wasn’t much of a chef in those days (sorry dad). In his defence, there were eight mouths to feed, including three belonging to teenage boys, so dinner was usually something that was quick, easy and could be made in the requisite large quantities. His repertoire was simple and basic: fish fingers with mashed potato, pumpkin and peas (the “three ps”); bolognese, made from beef mince and sauce from a jar and spaghetti; or maybe a chicken curry, sauce also from a jar, with rice. Not exactly thrilling or exciting to cook, but I always eagerly volunteered. Cooking involved touching, smelling, seeing food. It was almost substitute for eating it, which I wasn’t doing much of during that time.
Watch: Kasey Chambers on living with an eating disorder in her thirties.
So, why this obsession with food? A psychologist once gave the following analogy, which I thought was perfect. Imagine you’re sitting in your living room. Then, someone tells you that you can’t use the bathroom. Before hearing this, you hadn’t thought about going to the bathroom; you didn’t particularly need to go, so it wasn’t on your mind. But now that you know you can’t go, it’s suddenly all you can think about.