Maisie's Story - From Food Phobic to Food Fanatic

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Maisie's Story - From Food Phobic to Food Fanatic

"If I’d have told my 14-year-old self that eight years down the line, I’d be studying for a Diploma in Food and Wine, I think I may have just laughed in disbelief." Hear from diploma student, Maisie, as she touches on her complex relationship history with food, and her personal journey into the Leiths kitchens.

If I’d have told my 14-year-old self that eight years down the line, I’d be studying for a Diploma in Food and Wine, I think I may have just laughed in disbelief. 'Why?’ you may ask. For the rather significant reason that at that point in my life I suffered with multiple eating disorders of varying degrees.

For many, this wouldn’t be the most obvious start to a food career, but for me, it almost helped drive me into the food industry.

To give you a brief overview of my life back then, I’ll take you back to the beginning. Coming from a family of loud-mouthed, fussy eaters I was often left waiting for what seemed like eternity to finally eat my cooked-from-frozen roast potatoes, steamed carrot batons, and precooked roast chicken.

This is because my convenience meal loving mother insisted on giving into our ridiculous wishes and making four separate meals for my family and I, as we all craved different flavours. Bored of the constant waiting, I decided to take matters into my own hands and to start cooking my own food. Although no Nigella, cooking my own food gave me a sense of control over my life that I hadn’t felt before and I wasn’t prepared to turn back.

After getting a little bored of Spaghetti Bolognese dinners, I thought I’d challenge myself to lose weight for the summer. And as I was an alright (self-proclaimed) ‘chef’, I decided to take it up a notch and try different styles of cooking - and I don’t mean trawling the internet for Thai Green Curry recipes. I began digging into the world of diets. It was as if someone had paid me to try out the top 100 biggest diet fads of the century. Just to name a few, the 10 bananas a day challenge, the one chicken and spinach salad a day diet, and the one where you consume nothing more than air and a frozen slim fast shake (a personal favourite).

As you can imagine, this period of my life was really not very fun and often consisted of me either throwing up what I had eaten, or just not eating for days on end.

Then came along orthorexia. Many people haven’t heard of this term as it is still not a recognised eating disorder, yet it is heavily on the rise so raising awareness is crucial. I lived with orthorexia for about a year and a half, and it is a dangerous disorder as the signs aren’t as obvious.

The term ‘orthorexia’ was coined in 1998 and means an obsession with healthy eating. Although being aware of the nutritional quality of food eaten isn’t a problem in itself, people with orthorexia become so fixated on ‘healthy eating’ that they can damage their own well-being.

I even decided to cut out entire food groups and made myself gluten sensitive – fortunately those days are gone after slowly reintroducing it back into my diet. Making (and eating, of course) bread is one of my favourite things to do now and fortunately one of my better skills – I’ve even been thrilled to get 5/5 from our teachers on bread-making days.

Of course, if you meet someone with a food intolerance it’s still important to take their needs seriously; doctors say these are on the rise in our society and anyone with an intolerance will know the misery of hours of tummy pains after eating the offending food. But for me personally, cutting out food groups was a huge part of my Orthorexia.

My personal experience with orthorexia consisted of exercising for hours on end and daily panic attacks if I didn’t eat food that I deemed to be ‘safe’ – my worst foods being cow’s milk, white bread, and margarine. This was always followed by a grueling ‘punishment’ of either an hour’s run or 10 minutes of hanging my head over the toilet.

Thankfully, after a lot of support from friends, my brother, and a long course of therapy, I can fully say that I am recovered and I can’t ever see myself turning back. It did encourage me to educate myself and study Human Nutrition at university, which for a girl who didn’t know the meaning of ‘fortified’, was rather eye opening. After realising that this wasn’t the path for me and doing some product design experience, I met an ex-Leiths student who opened my eyes to the life I was so craving to live. That being the Leiths life – I mean what food obsessed human wouldn’t want to be here?

From reflecting on my teen years where a healthy relationship with food seemed impossible, it’s incredible to see what a couple of years of growing up and learning more about myself has done. Admittedly, my first week or two at Leiths seemed rather daunting – it didn’t help that on my first day I was late. I’d been left with a hat covered in both sweat and foundation, and I’d cut myself on my razor-sharp peeler leading to the bathroom looking like a scene straight out of a murder mystery documentary (damn you Oxo).

But soon enough, I’d started to find my feet and it’s been nothing less than the best experience of my life. There’s definitely been a few ups and downs (I once cried for 30 minutes straight over filleting a fish), but mostly ups for sure! One of the main perks is the amount of food we all take home - no more getting to the checkout and realising I’ve forgotten to grab the last thing on my list.

Future Leiths students, be warned though. There will definitely be a few occasions where you’ll be commuting home with a whole raw chicken or fish – yes you do get the weird looks you’d expect. But my favourite thing above all about my Leiths experience so far is the people. Spending eight hours a day, five times a week with the same people could seem a little off-putting. But when the people are as caring, passionate and positive as the group I’ve gotten to know over the past few months, there’s no possible way that I could ever have a bad day at Leiths.

“"my favourite thing above all about my Leiths experience so far is the people"”

I sit here writing this, just about to head back for my first day of the intermediate term. Reflecting on my first few months as a Leiths student, I can honestly say that I am closer to the person I’d like to be. I put a lot of that down to my time at Leiths and the experiences I’ve had there so far. Not only have they helped teach me a lot about food, but also about myself. I’m going back as eager as ever and I’m looking forward to seeing what the next term brings. Here’s hoping that a new intermediate student hasn’t nabbed my ‘self-designated’ seat in the dem room!

I didn’t want to share my story for the sake of it; I’ve done so as I want to try and help educate people on the all-consuming eating disorder, orthorexia. It was never an issue with food for myself, it was a way to have some essence of control over my life. A large reason it is becoming more and more common is because so many of us feel as though we lack control in some part of life, whether it be with work, family, friends or just life’s struggles in general. Orthorexia was definitely the eating disorder that took the biggest toll on me, but it was also an experience that changed my life for the best as it has led me to where I am today. Please always look out for the signs of orthorexia, which can be found following this link with more information on what you can do to help someone struggling:

Author: Maisie Chandler


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