Many people do this very successfully and celebrate the number of hours, days or years since they finally ‘got clean.’ But what if your obsessive behaviour involved food? If you want to stay alive then not eating isn’t an option, so somehow you have to find a way to eat ‘sensibly’ but which doesn’t trigger the descent into madness from which you have hopefully recovered.

And I am starting to realise that since my ‘recovery’ from the seesaw of binge/starve dieting about 30 years ago, I have developed a very weird relationship to food.

Believe it or not, the realisation that this is how I approach food is very recent. I’ve long believed that my body doesn’t tolerate certain foods because I have suffered from severe and crippling migraines since puberty. The classic culprits for triggering a migraine attack are known to include caffeine, chocolate, citrus fruits and cow’s cheese. I am also extremely sensitive to alcohol which makes me feel very unwell very quickly, so I never drink it in any form. Then, more recently, I started to experience problems with acne rosacea and discovered through trial and error that bread, chocolate and sugar-laden foods tended to cause severe breakouts of painful lumpy spots on my face. As a result I suppose you could have called me a ‘fussy eater’ although that’s not particularly how I saw myself.

Then, back in May, I had Covid for the first time and with it I lost all appetite. I didn’t lose my sense of smell and taste as many did, I just started to see most food as deeply unappetising. It seemed to exacerbate something I have struggled with for many years; to find food that tempts me to eat it. In fact I think this decoupling of food from pleasure has been going on for years but I have only just noticed because it’s suddenly become much worse. This is not one for doctors because I eat entirely pragmatically, by which I mean that I know which foods constitute the best choices for optimal health and ensure that I include them in my weekly diet. I am also maintaining my weight because I know how much I need to eat in order to do so. So, I thought I’d turn to all of you for some practical solutions, and also for some reassurance that I’m not the only person who struggles with this.

Firstly I am wondering if this is more to do with my age than with Covid. Or it might even be something to do with the long, hot summer we have just had, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on any of these potential causes. Did any of you experience appetite problems with Covid and, if so, have they persisted? Are any of you aware of being able to eat less as you get older? Perhaps your taste buds are less sensitive than they once were? Or do you, like me, experience discomfort and sleep disturbance if you eat particular foods in the evening or if you eat later than usual? And throughout the summer have you been either eating less than usual, or mostly eating cold foods because you can’t face cooking in a hot kitchen warmed further with an oven?

Since May I have stuck almost exclusively to a diet of salad stuff, usually combined with some form of oily fish or shellfish as my evening meal. Breakfast is a cereal that I make myself every couple of weeks from jumbo porridge oats and chopped, mixed nuts, baked in the oven, and then stored to be eaten every morning with milk and a banana. Lunch is invariably two Ryvita often with a boiled egg or some goat’s cheese and tomato. I supplement that with extra fruit, and 3-4 large Medjool dates. For liquids I only drink water and 2 cups of tea a day, and at 4pm when I have my second cup of tea, I eat 4 Nairn gluten free and low sugar chocolate chip biscuits to keep me going until suppertime.

As you can see from that massive food rut into which I have climbed, I need some serious inspiration! However, before you offer me your suggested recipes you will need to understand what I am, and am not prepared to do in order to feed myself:

1. Please remember that I am always cooking for one and that I don’t want massive quantities of food. So, small but delicious would be great.

2. I absolutely loathe all food preparation, so would tolerate 10-15 minutes at most for getting some dish ready to cook.

3. I tend to look askance at anything that has more than around five ingredients.

4. I have a very sensitive fire alarm so cooking which creates smoke (like frying salmon in a pan) tends to be a nightmare. I also find it hard to grill anything in my oven.

5. I am more than happy to eat the same thing for two nights in a row, or for 3-4 days at lunchtime if you can suggest things that will keep in the fridge and can be reheated.

6. I tend to avoid red meat but am neither pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan.

Let me give you a quick idea of a couple of favourite recipes, one for salmon and one for chicken, each of  which I probably cooked at least once a week throughout last winter:

Sesame Salmon

Place a salmon fillet into a dish with some finely diced red onion and cherry tomatoes (as much as you like). Drizzle a little olive oil over the tomatoes and onion. Place in a moderate oven. After 5 minutes, steam some broccoli or asparagus spears for 4 minutes. When broccoli is nearly cooked, take salmon from the oven, coat it with sesame seeds and add a tablespoon of soy sauce. Put the broccoli or asparagus around the salmon and return to the oven for another 5 minutes. 

I like this because preparation is minimal, it only takes a total of 15 minutes to cook and it’s ready to serve. I suppose you could also cook some potatoes but I never do.

Creamy Chicken and Mushroom

Chop some mushrooms and ‘roast’ them in a hot non-stick frying pan without any oil until they soften. Add some olive oil, and half a chopped onion to the hot pan and one diced chicken breast. Cook until the chicken has browned and onions are softened. Meanwhile in a jug mix some single cream with a biggish spoonful of whole grain mustard and seasoning then pour over the chicken and mushroom mixture. Turn down the heat and simmer whilst you steam some veg. Again I like the speed and simplicity of this with minimal prep and not much mess to clear up after cooking.

I hope that gives you some idea of the kind of culinary effort I am prepared to make! I’d absolutely love some of your quick, easy, tasty, favourite lightish go-to supper recipes so that I can extend my repertoire which is currently extremely limited. I’d also love some soup recipes for my lunctimes as I am getting very tired of boiled eggs! Again, anything that takes fairly minimal effort to prepare and make. I have a stick blender and would happily eat a great soup every day for several days if it can be kept in the fridge and then heated up. Please leave your thoughts about food and appetite and any recipes below this in the comment section (or on Super Troopers) as I can then copy the ones that appeal into a document which will hopefully keep me happily and tastily well fed as the nights begin to draw in.

A huge thankyou in anticipation! It would be so brilliant to hear your thoughts about food and appetite in order to understand if this might be a more widespread problem than I think it is. When I was in Tuscany on my painting holiday every meal cooked by the Italian chef at lunch and dinner was greeted with ecstasy by the rest of the group, whilst I would often feel challenged by the prospect of eating so much food. I’m hoping that your suggestions for some simple tasty soups and suppers will spark some enthusiasm for food once more.

Surely eating should be more of a pleasure, less of a colossal chore?

Tricia x

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