Cultivating Joy in the Kitchen: A Caregiver’s Take on Meal Prep in Eating Disorder Recovery

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As the primary caregiver of an adult with an eating disorder, I often find myself navigating multiple roles as I support my partner in her recovery. On days when her eating disorder is particularly strong, I play the “parent”. I prepare and plate her food for her according to her meal plan, regardless of any excuse her eating disorder might have. One might think that at 29 years old my partner should be able to feed herself, but recovery in a sense, is about starting over. It’s about learning to feed oneself without their eating disorder controlling food decisions.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get frustrated at times when I have to take on this role, but it helps when I remind myself that food is thy medicine. I have to remind myself to stay present and that right now food for her is her prescription. She can’t miss a dose.

This is not always an easy task. If only a “spoon full of sugar” would help this medicine go down. As I help her complete her snacks and meals, I recognize and subsequently attempt to work through the internalized stigma and shame that I have recently become aware of that I hold. As someone who thankfully has had a “normal” relationship with food my entire life, I sometimes struggle to be understanding and compassionate.

Preparing dinner in our kitchen is part comical, part loving, part gratitude, part frustrating, and part sad. Food prep involves constant inquiries from my partner because she actually doesn’t know how to make something or she feels like she’s not cooking something “right” or she’s anxious and her mind is racing (it’s probably a combination of the three). As an observer to this, it’s interesting to see the eating disorder’s black and white way of thinking continually play out, even in moments of recovery. The dish she is helping me prepare has to be either correct or incorrect, which often leaves her slicing up vegetables or preparing sides dishes, while I cook the main dish.

This amazes me because this is the exact opposite as to why I love cooking and find it therapeutic. I too, like my partner, have a tendency to lean towards perfectionism, but in the kitchen I find that I can be haphazard and playful and the dish will still turn out great. I prefer cooking over baking because I don’t have to measure anything. I know that this lack of methodology and measuring cups is difficult for her, as it leaves much about the dish “unknown”. I know that sometimes it’s easier for her to not be in the kitchen while I’m cooking so she doesn’t see what’s going into a dish.

While I accept this struggle as where we’re at in recovery right now, I’m looking forward to see her move past the side dishes and be able to truly cook meals together that we are both excited to enjoy. Cooking is a past time for me. It’s a way for me to evoke and maintain joy and memories and I want to show my partner that experience with food is possible.

in love and support,

CJ


Jamie Dannenberg (CJ) is the primary carer of her partner, also named Jamie but referred to as OJ, who is in recovery from an eating disorder. As the partner of someone with an eating disorder and a registered dietitian, CJ has had to learn to navigate various roles in their relationship. With OJ, Jamie has become involved in global advocacy work and together they share their experience as a queer couple in recovery on their blog thirdwheelED. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

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