• February 8, 2023

How Writing a Comfort Food Cookbook Helped Me Break Free From Diet Culture

At this point, it’s hard to mention cozy home cooking and not think about it Julia Turshen. When she’s not in her Hudson Valley kitchen making food, the writer is Podcast hostand the bestselling cookbook author talks about it. In this essay, adapted from her upcoming cookbook, Turshen explains how to write Just Julia forced her to put her own feelings above her body.

With the privilege of writing a book That’s all about healthy comfort eating. I think it’s important to be honest with my feelings about my own body and suggest all kinds of things that you can cook to feed yours. It’s also important to acknowledge that these feelings are developing.

As long as I’ve always loved food, I’ve been so conflicted about consuming it. A few years ago, I was really impressed by how much time and energy I had spent making myself feel bad, especially about my body. And that made me really sad. So I decided to untangle the knot. I knew it wouldn’t magically resolve just because I wanted to. I had to get some help.

What did this help look like? So many things. I’ve dealt with hard things in therapy, I’ve changed who I follow on social media to learn more about people who have broken free from diet culture, I’ve investigated what diet culture actually is, I have books read and listened to podcasts about intuitive eating, shame, and vulnerability, and I began to speak more openly with my closest friends about their relationships with their bodies. I started talking honestly to my mom about how much I absorbed from seeing how she didn’t treat her own body with kindness. I stopped (I’m trying to stop) and asked my wife, Grace, to reassure me that my body was okay. I hid my scale in a closet and threw it away one day when I finally felt ready.

I’ve had a handful of breakthrough feelings during this ongoing shift. One of them was that after many gentle suggestions, Grace finally got me to watch The Matrix, and it gave me the most helpful framework in which to think about diet culture. Now when I think about it, a culture that prioritizes thinness and urges us to keep comparing ourselves so that we can really feel isolated, I just think: Oh, that’s actually not real.

Another big breakthrough came when I realized that I had limited my feelings to just two options. It hit me one day like a splash of cold water in the face. I had only ever felt two things in my life: happy or fat. I remember feeling like a light switch had been turned on in a dark room. Oh, that’s what’s going on here.

As long as I felt fat, or what I thought was fat, it was almost always a way to describe something other than happy. Not only had I equated “fat” with “anything but happy,” but I also set up a neat, lousy binary file to hold all of my feelings in.

How did I get to this restricted emotional place? So many people I know have traveled the same streets. I have inherited body image and weight problems and internalized the bullying I experienced in my youth when I was repeatedly told that I am fat and taken it as an insult. What else? I steadfastly accepted the idea that thin is ideal and put myself around people who would not question any of it. I listened to doctors tell me I was overweight as shown in tables I didn’t ask about the problematic causes of which, and I didn’t push for more information when they told me my blood count was great but I should do something anyway lose weight. I didn’t ask why. I put my head down.

It shouldn’t feel revolutionary to say that fat isn’t all bad or unlovable, especially when it comes from the author of a cookbook about healthy cooking. But it’s worth saying.

How did I start to work my way out of this dark hole? I started to believe my wife when she said there was a version of my life that wasn’t about feeling bad about my body. I started to change who I was talking to and seeing and listening to. I followed the money and started questioning all the programs and people who told me my life could be so much better if only you did what I sell you. I realized that if I stay desperate, if I stay desperate, they’ll stay rich. I immersed myself in the things that made all the things make me feel other than happy. I started to wonder how do I measure happiness. I learned how many different and more loving barometers there are. I tried to stop using the word “should” (I even got a tattoo that was crossed out on my arm). I’ve stopped equating “fat” with “bad”. I’ve seen the “Fat Babe Pool Party” episode of Shrill on TV so many times (written by Samantha Irby, one of my favorite authors and developed by Lindy West) and I’ve gone from crying to smiling.

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Jack

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