COOKING UP A STORM

I have always been an extremely skinny girl. You could have easily counted my bones if you’d seen me naked. I take it from my father, who was just as skinny when he was young. Having said that, I have also been underweight all my life because I barely ate. Just as for being a tomboy, to me not feeling hungry and eating the tiniest amount of food was nothing strange.

I just never felt the need to eat. No, I have never been anorexic, nor I ever had any eating disorder. I was born with it. I grew up nicely and hit every milestone with a swiss clock precision, but I simply ate nothing at all. My mum, who has always been an extremely anxious person, had me checked millions of times by any doctor she could find. My father still recalls the embarrassment of having a doctor who just left the house crossing his path with another one that was about to get in, waving at each other and commenting “first child syndrome?” “yeah, good luck!”. Anyway, no matter how many consultants my mum rang, the diagnosis was always the same: “Madam, your daughter is just not hungry enough”.

You would think that, after 100+ doctors, my mum would just resign to the fact that there was nothing that could have “healed” me from this “horrible issue”, but we are talking about my mum here, who always knows best and who definitely knows more than any doctor in her (often deluded) head. I don’t know, to this day, why she took it so personally and why she made such a drama about it (she still does, by the way: when I told her the other day that my personal trainer at the gym put me on a diet – to build muscles – she screamed blue murder because “YOU? DIET? YOU ARE SO SKINNY YOU LOOK LIKE ANOREXIC”). All I know is that, even though she was doing it for my own good, she made my life hell on Earth.

fotoOK, to be fair to her, in addition of not feeling the need to eat, I became quite soon an extreme pain in the arse with my fussy eating habits. The combination of having an extremely low level of hunger with an extremely high level of fussiness and squeamishness, meant that almost everything triggered my “nope, my stomach is closed” feeling. Believe me, it was so dead easy to upset me. If cutlery, glasses and plates were not absolutely spotlessly clean (including no water stains) I just couldn’t bring myself to eat, and because I have a very sensitive nose, these better not have smelled of eggs (it is still one of my pet hates today!). Meat had to be cut into microscopical pieces, because I would have spit everything back on the place if any amount of fat reached my mouth. My plate had to be half full. Pasta had to be barely cooked. Fruit had to be as unripen as possible as I couldn’t eat it if sweet (I still have a thing for sour flavours) and in case it had a stone in it, like peaches or apricot, my mum had to dispose it before I saw it or – shock horror – touch it: It makes me feel weird just thinking about it (And writing about it, aaaaahhhh), it gives me goosebumps and it totally freaks me out.

Lunches and dinners were dramas, with my mum trying to feed me anything she could and me refusing it. The story was always the same: she put food on the table, I would barely touch it, she proceeded in losing her cool, frustration would rise to the roof, she would demand I eat, then she would start threatening, then yelling, then my father would intervene by barking at me to fucking eat my food and I would end up crying staring at my plate, praying my food would just evaporate like water in the heat. This drama at some point changed though: my mum discovered a medicine called Carpantin: it was liquid, it had a sweet, absolutely vile taste and it made me drowsy as fuck. I think my mum made me drink litres of it throughout my childhood. It stimulated hunger, and it kind of worked as, during “the cure”, as my mum would call the month or so she made me have that shit, I ate more than I normally would. Whenever I saw those bottles in the medicine’s cabinet, my heart sank. I don’t remember why, at some point, this hell ended (I think that there has been a shortage of it and my doctor just stopped prescribing it because “enough is enough”).

The mantras I heard day in, day out, was that I looked sick, that I was skin and bones, that I looked like a stick with clothes. When I was a child, I almost felt a sense of pride: I looked like a boy and I didn’t mind, I fit into tiny clothes, nobody teased me for being overweight (though in the 80s being overweight was rare) and it just seemed a fun thing, so I was welcoming those negative comments about my body because to me they were something cool.

Well.

Not so much when teenage years started: my peers started to have boobs and curves and well, I still had bones on show. Hearing constantly “you will go to the hospital because you are all bones! “you have only skin attached to your bones!” “look at you, you are so skinny you look sick!”, “you are a stick with clothes on”, “you should stay in the science room as you’d be perfect as a skeleton” went from fun to steadily eroding my self-esteem, and once that was gone, it fuelled hate for my body.

Partly because of my fussiness, and partly because I wanted to gain weight and shush all the “skinny bitch” shit, I started to learn how to cook by myself. My mum is worldwide famous OCD: if anything is not spotless (especially her kitchen), hell will break lose, so she never taught me anything in case I made a mess in her house. I didn’t mind, I wanted to do things my way and learn flavours, techniques and recipes all by myself: yes, I’m a loner when it comes to learning and I thrive when I am left alone to do my own things (this is also the way I managed to get a Law degree: no classroom, just me, my books and a tutor for help).

Turned out, cooking became a relaxing session for my brain: I didn’t have to think anything but what I wanted to eat and what steps I had to follow in order to feed me what I wanted. There was no fussiness, no anxiety, no drama: I had total control on everything: the flavours, the portion sizes, the recipes. Moreover, it helped me be more curious about food, more inclined to taste and give it a go. An amazing world of possibilities opened its doors for me and I loved it because I was the undisputed Queen of it.

Cooking became my life saviour when my post-natal depression took a turn for the worst, and I lived on a chain of endless panic attacks. Guess what was the main thing who triggered my attacks? Yes, food: I became scared of dying of an anaphylactic shock from a random allergy. I know, rationally, that it was absolutely insane, but there and then? No way, Jose. It took me 2 years to discover that the feeling of suffocating and dying triggered by food was due to a combination of asthma and gastric reflux, but in the meantime it was constant horror.
Anything that was not plain pasta (and I mean just boiled, no oil, cheese, nothing), plain rice or water sent me in a terrible meltdown. I lost so much weight in the space of two months that I (truly) became a skeleton with clothes on. No one seemed to care though: doctors brushed me off with “first time mum syndrome”, “it’s just baby blues”, “cheer up and enjoy this moment”, like I was having a blast living in that horrible.

I could have never tolerated anyone cooking for me at that stage. I would have never, ever, trusted anyone to cook exactly how my anxiety dictated and with the only few things that spared me a panic attack. I spent more time than I’m happy to admit staring at my kitchen thinking “here we go again… Russian roulette bring it on….”. I started re-introducing things little by little, one item at a time. Depending on how brave I felt in that moment, or how strong I felt to push myself, I increased variety, I added spices and flavours. It took ages but being the master of my own resurrection has been very empowering (but please, if you read this, don’t feel like there is no help out there: there is. Don’t surrender like me. SEEK HELP. I beg you), but it left massive mental scars that only now I’m managing to heal.

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A cake I made recently to celebrate Seb Vettel’s victory at the Belgium Grand Prix

Now that I’m better, I am back at loving cooking for what it is. Over the last couple of years I have also improved my baking skills, and every now and then I test my creations on my colleagues. Funny thing is, when I started bringing cakes at the office, their feedback was “good”, “nice”, “ok”, “amazing”; now that it happens quite often, they are used to it and their feedback is like Michelin Star inspector: “needs more moisture”, “this was good but slightly too lemony”, “amazing, but decoration could have been neater”.

By the way, since I see that my blog gets read all over the world, if you have any recipe please please please share it with me (any good dhal recipe would be greatly appreciated!)!

BREATHE IN STRENGTH, BREATHE OUT BULLSHIT

I must admit, I have never truly appreciated the power of meditation till after my ex broke up with me. Before that, it was just an exercise I used to do (when I was arsed enough to do it). I used to sit, spend 5 minutes or so trying to clear my head, get bored to death, decide I was done for the day, tick the box of “I did it”, the end.

One day, the shitstorm happened. Meditating quickly became the only resource I had to preserve my sanity. My brain was in overdrive with all the negative emotions, my heart was bleeding, my body was in pain, I was in the eye of the storm and hell was breaking lose. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think straight, I was exhausted. I needed a mental break. I clinged to this practice like my life depended on it and I never abandoned it since.

Let me set the record straight: meditating is HARD. It is one of those things that everyone brags about doing, it is so hipster it hurts. Everyone will try and shove it down your throath:
Be more mindful!
Mindfulness is the secret of success!
Meditate or die!
And so on. So, you think “yeah, why not, lemme give it a go”. You google “how do I start meditating” and you find a mammoth amount of all these coaches and teachers that explains what to do, making it look so damn easy: sit there, breathe, clear your mind, see your thoughts as clouds passing by, imagine this, imagine that, visualise stuff, add a mantra or two and job done!

YEAH RIGHT.

Believe me, it is so fucking hard. Do not believe who says it is a piece of cake. REAL meditation requires training, dedication, and an unbelievable level of discipline. You must practice it over and over and over again, every day, and you won’t get the benefits of this practice till you master the art of it. Proper meditation means that you have total power and control over your body and your brain. If you have an overactive mind like mine, where you just cannot stop thinking and overthinking, meditation won’t come naturally to you.

It will be a struggle.

Couple of minutes after you sit down and get into it, you’ll realise that everything is actively conspiring against you to make you fail. The more you’ll try to clear your mind, the worse your chain of thoughts will become. If your brain will not succeed into making you give up, your body will work against you and you will start becoming restless. You’ll feel the urge to scratch a sudden itch on your foot or your head, a song will pop up on your mind and you won’t be able to make it stop, then you’ll be thirsty, or your throat will feel dry, you’ll feel too cold, or too hot, your clothes will be too tight, or too loose, then you’ll need to scratch yourself again; if you are in the lotus pose (I beg you, from the bottom of my hearth, do not attempt to do it or meditate in that pose unless you have few months of yoga under your belt), pain will drive you to the brink of madness and then you’ll think “mmmm maybe I should move a bit so I can feel comfier…that’s it… so… what was I thinking about anyway?” and you will give up shortly afterwards. Oh, did I mention that you’ll feel like it was a very stupid idea and a waste of time? Yeah, that will happen too.

However.

Don’t surrender. Please, don’t. If you stick to your guns and impose yourself to keep going, I promise you, meditating will be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself. It took me a while, but now I consider it a pampering session for the brain. My days are less stressful, less emotional, less chaotic and I am much more relaxed that what I used to be. I try to do it first thing in the morning and right before I go to sleep.

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Namaste! Ole’!

My morning meditation gets me all geared up for the day: I go through a list of my tasks, I visualise them in front of me and I’ll prepare myself mentally to face them. It really helps if you struggle with anxiety like me. Then I add few positive affirmations: these acts like an injection of power and strength. I know, it seems totally dumb telling yourself stuff like:
“you are strong”
“you are fierce”
“you are beautiful”
“you are full of love, and energy, and power, and you can accomplish everything”
“there is nothing that you won’t be able to face”
I swear though, it works. BUT! You really must BELIEVE that those affirmations are true for them to work. Just saying them for the sake of “there, I said them, ok?” with a “this is just bullshit” attitude it’s a no-no.

STOP IT: I know what you are thinking right now. It is something along the lines of “yeah right, because I’m going to sit there, telling all this shit to myself, right? How embarrassing is that? Only losers would do it.” How do I know it? Because I thought exactly like that too. I was “better than this bunch of crap”. Until I ended up with my arse on the floor, desperate to try anything to feel better.

I gave it an honest, humble go. I didn’t have anything to lose. I chose to believe. I chose to re-wire my brain with positive messages. It is SO.DAMN.HARD. But. It works wonders. The more you do it, the more it gets easier, and at some point, you’ll realise that you won’t need to force yourself into believing those affirmations: you will own them, and saying them will become a “reminder” game to keep you in the positive loop.

To think what you want to think is to think the truth, regardless of appearances
Wallace Wattles, The Science of Getting Rich

My bedtime meditation is my decluttering, release-all-the-stress session. This is the moment where I let go of everything that happened during the day. If there are lessons to be learned, I will acknowledge them. If something pissed me off, I will analyse it, I will take any positive thing (if any) and then I will let it go. If something made me happy, I will cling on the beautiful feeling I experienced. I will say another round of affirmations, then it’s sleep time, goodbye world, see you tomorrow.

I am, by no means, an expert on meditation, so what you just read is nothing more than my ritual; of course, I invite you to try it and do the same, but you may find out that you’ll need to tweak a thing or two (or everything!) to make it work for you. And that’s the beauty of meditation: once you learn “the basics” and you get the hang of how it works, you’ll make it work for you, there is no right or wrong, good or bad: whichever way you’ll do it, so long as you’ll do it and you’ll do it seriously, you’ll experience the benefits of the practice.
If you are a total beginner, I suggest to start with some guided meditation. Having someone talking you through the process it’s incredibly helpful: it takes away the stress and anxiety of “I don’t know how this shit works, what do I do now. Am I doing good? Am I doing anything meaningful?”. Plus, it makes it easy to learn how to focus and how to deal with all the thoughts that will run around your head, since you basically have to follow the lead and do as told. I still use guided meditation, especially when I’m tired, or sick, and I need to be dragged into my subconscious because I don’t have the strength to do it by myself.

For your meditation resources, Google is your friend, and in Amazon (or any other shop, virtual or physical) you can find books, CDs etc… and then, you got YouTube. Speaking of that, I want to close this post with a bang and share with you the BEST meditation ever. Marge, my close friend and partner in crime, found it and shared it with me. Disclaimer: it is rude, so if you get easily shocked by swearing, maybe don’t click on the following link…

An Honest Meditation

We listened to it so many times that now we know the words by heart, and to thank her I bought her (and myself) the book version. We love it! I even got the app! The best bit? If one of us is feeling a bit low, or is having quite the day at the office, the other one will start reciting this meditation… and we’ll be laughing our assess off till tears.

“..and as you slowly open your eyes, greet the world and everything in it with a new, beautiful breath… of fuck that!”
Jason Headley, F*ck That, An Honest Meditation

LET’S GET PHYSICAL! PHYSICAL!

I wanna get physicaaaal let’s get into physical (hey I’m a child of the 80s, I can’t help it. Here is the link if you fancy blasting this song out loud  Let’s get physical).

I have a weird relationship with the gym.

Sitting here, in the comfort of my sofa, I love it like crazy. I love sweating like a pig whilst I row on the rowing machine or run on the treadmill; I adore exercising till everything hurts like I just got run over by a truck on full speed; oh, that feeling of finally dumping myself under the shower, closing my eyes and… aaaaah, peace at last. I end up so tired I can’t even think. Oh, and the best bit? Checking myself in the mirror, see the results of my hard work and bask in my own glory for a minute or two (“fuck yeah! Check these abs bitch! Uuuuh look at that ass! Your arms – wow!” and so on).

When I actually have to go to the gym, well, it is a total different story: I HATE IT.

I hate it with a passion. Gosh I hate going to the gym. I hate the smell; I hate exercising; I hate gym clothes; I hate all the machines, none excluded; I hate weights; I hate barbells and don’t make me start on dumbbells and kettlebells; I hate classes; I hate personal trainers and I hate myself for going there even though I absolutely hate it. I’m a lazy arse who just wants to eat lasagne and be left alone ok?

In the building where my office is located there is a little gym. Most of my colleagues are fitness fanatics, and when you don’t see them killing themselves in the gym during lunch break, it’s because they are running 5k outside “to get some fresh air and train for running a marathon”.

For the record, I hate running. I can barely tolerate it on a treadmill. I tried to run 5k twice in my life and believe me, I don’t think I will put myself through that again unless I get paid a lot of money. The first time I did it I was working at the BBC. I surrendered to the pleas of my good friend James, who’s leader of the running club. I am embarrassed and ashamed to say I made those 5k a nightmare for him and his mates. I moaned and moaned and moaned some more for at least 3k; when my legs told me to do one, I found a bench, I sat down and I kept moaning to myself; when James and the other runners finished their run, I moaned non-stop all the way back to the office.

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Things you do for free food

Put it this way: if he is still my friend after that, it is only because he is amazing and has a very big heart. The second time happened two years ago, at a charity event organised by JP Morgan. I knew that enrolling into this race was a horrible mistake, but my colleagues convinced me by saying that, at the end of the race, I could have enjoyed free barbecue and drinks. I can’t say no to free food, I just can’t! I’m not proud to admit that I ended up running less than 1k, then I got bored and I just played PokemonGo for the remaining 4k. I arrived at the finish line an hour and too much time later. The barbecue was over. I wasn’t happy. At all. Damn!

I have never had a good relationship with my physical appearance. I started hating my body at a very young age, when I became aware of what I looked like, and I compared it with what everyone else looked like. Hating yourself is a slow and deadly poison. It creeps into your brain, one negative comment at a time, and before you know it you can’t think of anything else but “I’m fucking shit”. Constantly. Worse, it spreads in every aspect of your life: everything you do, everything you experience and everything that comes into your life gets filtered through this dark cloud of negativity. It becomes your everything. It permeates your reality in such a wicked way that you succumb without a fight.

The ideal Italian woman has always been sexy and curvaceous. I have always been the exact opposite: skin and bones. Not even a remote idea of boobs or bum. Everyone, from my friends to my parents, told me I looked like a stick with clothes on. I knew that if I were to cut my hair short, I would have easily passed for a boy. Now, imagine being in a locker room, full of girls who-look-like-girls, who behave like girls-should-behave: I started comparing myself to them. I started asking myself why I was like me and not like them. WTF was happening (or not happening) that I got stuck in this joke of a stupid body, on top of having a stupid brain? It didn’t take a lot of effort to convince myself that I was not only different, but also U G L Y.

I Just could not accept who I was, even less than before. I looked at the mirror and everything was a no: my hair? Barely average. My face? Please…. With these horrible, messy teeth? Hardly worth of looking at. My body? Or should I say, my skeleton? Only appealing at Halloween, maybe (though in Italy we didn’t have Halloween, of course, catholic!). I spiralled into a self-esteem crisis, where I felt (and convinced myself) that there was nothing I was good at: I was a failure as a girl in every possible aspect.

You can imagine how “glad” I could have been to go to the gym with a background like the one I just described. My mantra has always been “don’t bother because nothing will change”, even if deep down inside I wanted to look good and feel good about myself. I am embarrassed thinking of all the gym memberships that I paid in the heat of the “this time I’m going to train like I’m on fire!”, only to end up not going there. EVER. Not even for the induction session. I know. Don’t make me start on the very few times where I did go, but instead of exercising I just roamed around, not even pretending to try and put some effort. I even had a personal trainer once: I thought that this way, I couldn’t cheat and I had to force myself to go. If only I’d have been less stupid and used the same energies and efforts to do what he said, rather than to trick him into believing I was training, I’d have had the body of a bodybuilder.

Over the years, I have avoided any form of exercise like the plague. I didn’t want to even think of the remote possibility to do anything at all. Even walking for more than 2 minutes was something I could not contemplate. Life had other plans for me, however, and when I moved to London, I found myself surrounded with healthy fanatics & sport addicts who kept trying to drag me into whatever they were into. I dumbly resisted any temptation because I thought I knew best and, whilst everyone was shaping their beach bodies, I was sitting at my desk pretending I didn’t care (but I was secretly envying them hard).

When I started reading all those motivational books, I realised how stupid I have always been for wanting things and never actually work hard toget them. My “ideal body” included. I got fed up of looking at the mirror thinking “if only”. Enough! Do I really, really want it? How about I do something about it? My brain, used to my negative ways, was having none of it.

“Yes, ok, but you don’t have a great track record with gym attendance, you know that”

“well, how about I challenge myself?”

“how about you don’t fool yourself into thinking you can, when you know you will fail?”

“well, how about for once I don’t try to talk myself out of something and I simply give it a go?”

And so I did. I went to buy a pair of trainers, some yoga pants, I dug up a shirt from my (extremely old) gym clothes and I asked one of my gym fanatics colleagues, my beloved Elena, to take me to the gym no matter what. I imposed myself to stop overthinking and to start doing. And I enjoyed it. And I haven’t stopped going since. And when I want to stop, which is like every time I have to go, I know I just have to wait for Elena to hover around my desk; she will start by kindly asking me to grab my things and go, and when I start “mmmm I don’t feel like it today…. I’m mmmmm not ok…” she will cut my crap there and then and force me to overcome my laziness. She will put up with my moaning like a pro, so long as my legs are moving towards the gym. And then, she will endure a class with me huffing and puffing and ranting “what the fuck have I done?” “why did you make me do it” “this is the last time I swear” “fuck this shit I’m out of here” “I’m dying and I’m not inviting you to my funeral” etc… I know, I’m so bad!

britney
You better work bitch!

Oh my, the time I had the brilliant idea to ask the personal trainer of our office gym to give me a lesson. I was so geared up. I spent all morning shouting positive affirmations, blasting heavy metal out loud, I was on fire. I went to the gym all motivated and ready to slay it.

“Farrah, I got dumped and I want a revenge body: I want amazing abs and a bum hard as a rock! I want to be a goddess”

“how hard are you prepared to work?”

“BRING.IT.ON”.

She did bring it on. Oh God, she did.

She gave me an hour of total hell. She pushed me, and pushed me, and pushed me some more, till I begged her crying that I just couldn’t take it anymore. She didn’t give in and pushed me even more. My body hurt for 2 weeks solid afterwards. I felt paralytic. I put my heartbreak into perspective: yes, it hurts, a lot, but I take that anytime compared to wishing to chop off half of my body.

I am proud to say that I didn’t surrender. If anything, it made me want to do it again. And

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gym time!

I kept training hard. Because I hate it, yes, but I love it too. I really do. It is helping not only my physical health, but my mental health as well. For once I not only feel great, but I also look great. On the path of my personal greatness, I have embraced this torture and, for the first time ever, I’m really putting an effort into it: I changed my diet, I changed my attitude, I stopped telling myself “Silvia you can’t” and swapped it with “Silvia, how about you try?”. I even ended up lifting weights! I’m proud of my body and I’m proud of myself.

… what’s today class, by the way? Total Core? Oh no. I’m too tired. I can’t be arsed. I’m just staying here today, I think I can give it a miss…. Elenaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa help!!!!!!!!