• Home
  • Celebrating the body of a foodie.
Celebrating the body of a foodie.

Celebrating the body of a foodie.

2023/02/03

I am a child of the nineties – I grew up idolizing Kate Moss and her jutting hip bones. I still idolise Kate Moss but at the tender age of 36 and with a lot of learnings behind me, now I gaze at her fondly with admiration for her career and what she has done for the fashion industry, rather than a lust for her body. Not that I don’t think her body is stunning but because I now understand that a) a curvy Jewish girl that has a had a penchant for fried food since the dawn of time is never going to have those coat hanger collar bones and b) because finally, after a lifetime of damaging narratives, I am on my way to understanding that our bodies are not what make us.

I think most of my generation can say they grew up with less than realistic ideals of what a woman’s body should look like. When we were growing up women with curves were never represented on screen unless they were the butt of a joke. We were shown Baywatch babes, Page 3 girls and the aforementioned heroin chic runway gazelles.  I am not telling you anything new here, it was a toxic time, we’re all aware. Couple that with living with a mother with an eating disorder who ran a modelling agency and you have a recipe for disaster. I am just going to caveat here and make a point to say I did not have a traumatic childhood (well not that I realised at the time), I travelled all over Europe with my Mum, her band of long-legged lushes, were some of the most amazing women I have ever met. My Mum wasn’t a bad mum, she was so far into her illness that she didn’t know the path she was laying for me. She was  clever at being a functioning bulimic, no one thought there was anything wrong and when she projected her toxic traits on to me, she wasn’t aware of the damage she was causing long term.

I wasn’t allowed ‘fat’ friends, I had to watch what I ate, and I was rewarded for dropping dress sizes rather than educational achievements. Is it any wonder that at fifteen I developed my own form of eating disorder? When I should have been filling myself with calories to help my growing body, I starved it. I lived off Slim Fast and perhaps a tablespoon of rice and grilled chicken with a tuft of broccoli if I felt woozy – I insisted on cooking my own food in case my meal got contaminated with something calorie heavy. On top of this I got up at 5am every morning to do ninety minutes of the New York Ballet workout – I was a mess, but I had the body I wanted and I lived for the compliments my Mum would lavish on me.  My most vivid memory during this time was when I nearly fainted in the bathroom, pulling myself together and walking to my bedroom in my underwear where I bumped into my mother on the landing, and she shrieked “Oh my god look at that body” – at my lowest I was at my Mum’s highest.

But then at 17 things started to change, I got a new group of friends and we had the miraculous things of driving licenses and free periods where we could go to other wordly establishments in the mecca that was the SnowDome in Milton Keynes – Pizza Hut buffets and a cheeky Nando’s became a Friday afternoon ritual, we needed to line our stomachs ahead of the gallons on Snakebite we would later be drinking at the metal bar before rounding the night off with a KFC Twister meal. My body started to change and I was too busy having a good time to think too much about it.

Then came the university years… in London. It was like stepping into a new world. Loaded with our student loans, my housemates and I devoured Dim Sum and Turkish kebabs, the proper kind. We thought we were the absolute dog’s bollocks as we managed to secure a huge town house in Brixton (thanks to one of the residents’ very wealthy Aunts) and hosted over the top dinner parties with gallons of wine, vats of Spag Bol and trays of Bread & Butter pudding. Nights out always culminated in cheese toasties around the kitchen table and even more wine. We all went through various part time jobs as catering staff which meant there was always a box of left overs from the party we had worked the night before sitting on the counter top for breakfast. It was fantastic.

Not only was my appetite growing but so was my desire for knowledge about food, I had always loved to cook but now I became obsessed – reading recipes, learning about ingredients, walking around Borough Market the way a dirty old letch walks around the red-light district. Overflowing tables of exotic fruit and veg was my kind of porn. I began hosting supper clubs and where I had once sought validation about how good I looked, I now thrived off the compliments I was given for what I produced in the kitchen. I got high off making people so full they could burst.

One weekend I returned home, we went to a local pub for lunch and mum was sinking the wine. After a ‘what seemed too long even for her’ trip to the bathroom, I went to make sure everything was OK. I found her on the floor, coming round, unsure as to how she ended up there – that’s the thing with refusing to intake solid calories but enjoying a bottle or four of wine, it soon catches up with you. I picked her up and said she had had enough to which she replied “why would I take advice from you? Look at the state of you”. She didn’t say the actual F word but I knew exactly what she meant. To this day I don’t think I have ever been so hurt or felt so ashamed. Now looking back and after A LOT of therapy, I realise what was happening, it was all projection and nothing to do with me, but as an early twenty-year-old, still figuring shit out, I was broken.

Following that I began to distance myself from Mum. I had to put boundaries in place to allow myself any semblance of healthy young adulthood. Some may say I did the wrong thing but the thing with addicts is that you can’t help them until they decide to help themselves and I stand fast in that the child should not be expected to become the parent.

At thirty I met my partner and was introduced to a love like none I had experienced before. It was unconditional. The first year of our relationship was long distance and every other weekend we spent together was an event, a true celebration. He would make the long journey; I would plan the menu. Friday night would always be the grand feast, slowly learning all his favourite foods and preparing them lovingly, enhancing them in some creative way, book ending a simple bangers and mash with pretty starters and rich desserts, sourcing wine pairings. Saturday mornings he would creep out to the local coffee shop and come back to wake me laden with pastries and lattes. Saturday night we would go out for dinner, working our way around the city’s food scene and Sunday, without fail brunch at OUR place – a cute indie café that did the best fry up you’ve ever had - before he began his shlep home.

Celebrating the body of a foodie.

Soon after we got together I embarked on a road trip down the East Coast of America which was predominantly structured around diners, lobsters shacks and BBQ joints. I kid you not with this next part. We hired a Mustang sports car, you know, the ones with the seats that sort of hug you in – by the end of that trip I was hugging the seat, not the other way round. Being the Instagram whore I am, I of course documented the whole thing, every fried plate of it. A friend messaged me and said “you’re going to explode”. Of course, she meant nothing by it and would have been devastated if she knew how much it triggered me but it did – these wounds that are inflicted on us at a young age cut pretty deep and the scabs never truly heal.

Celebrating the body of a foodie.

When I met Jon I was a svelte size 10 (this time through healthy life choices) I loved being this size but it wasn’t natural to me, it took work and in honesty, I loved the size because that is what I had been conditioned to love. It didn’t take long for my body to grow back to its natural, fuller state. Slowly my self confidence ebbed, nothing to do with my partner but more the gremlins from my past that despite no matter how hard I tried, could not be laid to rest.

And then came MasterChef, a dream come true, a once in a lifetime experience. One that involved recipe testing every waking moment of the day. Whipping up vats of pomme puree at 6am, followed by countless attempts at chocolate fondants and pork belly fritters. It was a short period of my life, three months maybe, but those three months saw me ingest more butter and cream than Paul Hollywood has during his whole Bake Off career. It is safe to say I swelled and then swelled a little more. MasterChef had been a family favourite in our household for years – ironic I know – and I wanted to share this time with my Mum. I hadn’t cut her off completely, just maintained a healthy distance. I was in a good place – good job, great partner, nice house and now this, I thought I was strong enough that I couldn’t be shaken - but I was wrong. As I picked up the phone to dial her number I sub consciously put a hand to my now pretty round belly and thought there is no way she will want me like this and so I put the phone back down.

Celebrating the body of a foodie.

My career in food took off, I became a private chef, a food writer and a restaurant reviewer – all jobs may I add that require you to eat. A lot. I started having more frequent conversations with Mum and every time she would ask when she would get to see me again. I always had an excuse, work was too busy,  I was too tired, life was too manic etc. In truth I knew I just didn’t want to be greeted with those eyes from all those years back that say “what the hell happened?” and because I couldn’t confront it with her, I couldn’t confront it with myself. I began wearing shapeless clothes, I pulled away from my partner, I made a company-wide statement to my social group that no photos were to be taken of me at any time. By this time I was actually longing for my Mother, I missed her and I wanted to rebuild our relationship but how could she ever love me when I was the physical representation of everything she hated?

Celebrating the body of a foodie.
Celebrating the body of a foodie.

I took guidance from people who had gone through similar situations or were recovering from ED’s, I followed the right Instagram accounts and deleted the wrong ones. For a long time nothing happened. I still had to avoid mirrors and cameras and shop windows (tbh I still do have to avoid shop windows – why are they so unflattering?!) and I resigned myself to the fact that I would just have to live with this body that I hated and that was my lot.

And then slowly things started to change. Like some sort of osmosis, the good I had surrounded myself with had seeped in. I caught my reflection in the mirror one day and thought ‘shit I look good’ despite not having lost any weight. I looked at my curves with admiration rather than disgust, proud that I waddled around with an all natural Kardashian butt. Through some subtle life editing I had managed to curate a narrative that was full of love and empowerment and acceptance. If people didn’t align with that, there wasn’t room for them at the table – literally.  I got into the habit of buying two items of my favourite jeans so that when those days come when I’m bloated or have over indulged, I can grab the next size up and feel great in what I am wearing as I have bypassed the whole ‘lying on the bed to do the zipper up’ drama.

As I slowly began to fall in love with this body, in a similar way people fall in love with their best friend who has been hanging around for years, patiently waiting for them to realise I understood it wasn’t just the aesthetic I was in to, it was what it represented.

These curves, this belly, that arm wobble are physical representations of everything wonderful in my life – my friends and partner who I love to feed, a career that I thought I could only every dream of coming to fruition, being alive in a time of Deliveroo and an outstanding restaurant scene that we are so unbelievably lucky to have available to us. The opportunities to travel and eat around the world.

Praise be we are now living through the dawn of the body positivity movement. There is still work to do and a long way to go but thanks to forward-thinking media campaigns and influencers of all shapes and sizes embracing their curves it is beginning to get a little easier. It feels there has been a shift in energy and as a whole we are being a lot kinder to ourselves but I implore you, next time you catch a bit in the mirror you don’t like, ask yourself what that ‘bit’ actually represents. Is it a meal you had with a loved one? Is it a takeaway you treated yourself to in an act of self care? Is it your body showing you, you are a woman and should be fucking proud to be one?

I should mention that I am indeed human, I have many a wobble and this body positivity stuff doesn’t always come easy – the way I look at it, it is like trying to unlearn how to write with one hand and learn with the other. And in those low moments, I remember something my partner said to me “I’m not going to lie to you, you have put on weight since I met you but you have also grown so much as a person. You used to work late every night for a company you hated, eating to live not living to eat. Now I come home and most nights you are dancing around the kitchen, cooking, tasting, drinking and you have never looked happier. Not a chance in hell would I swap this for that sad skinny bitch. Your body, this way is a celebration of everything good in your life and all the bits that make you, you!”

A couple of weeks back it was my Mum’s birthday. I am usually away for summer and so the excuse is ready made but this year she knew I was home and kept casually calling and asking what I was up to. I bit the bullet. For the first time in years I invited her into my home, I cooked a feast and I cooked it with love, proud of the food I was putting on the table and knowing that if she had a problem with any of it being ‘too much’ I would be ok. I wore a dress that showed my curves. For the three days leading up to it there were sleepless nights, snappy arguments as I got more and more anxious. I even called in back up in the form of a best friend who is FANTASTIC with neurotic mothers. The day arrived and it was pleasant, Mum was unusually quiet but I figured that was better than insults and snide digs. A few days later I received a card through the post, in it was written “Thank you for a wonderful birthday, sorry if I was quiet, I was overwhelmed - I have never been more proud of the chef and the woman you have become, all my love, always Mum”.

Celebrating the body of a foodie.
Celebrating the body of a foodie.
Hannah Gregory

Hannah Gregory

MasterChef quarter finalist, food and travel writer and mental health muser Hannah Gregory is always on a quest for her next adventure. Happiest with a glass full of wine, a belly full of food and sun on her skin, she is constantly on the hunt for food led travel destinations.