I found myself connected to one of the founders of Ben & Jerry, Ben Cohen, who has very little sense of taste and smell. When he and his partner Jerry Greenfield developed their signature ice cream in the 1970s, anosmic Ben advocated chunks. He became the texture taster who would determine whether the teeth could be satisfied even when the tongue couldn't. After three small spoons I put the ice cream back in the freezer and did not allow myself to eat any more.
Competing forces often play a role in my recovery. The healthy side of me that realizes I need to eat more and indulge in foods I like and the old eating disorder that tells me not to.
The next day, family friends brought in a homemade broccoli and cheese casserole, coloring books for my kids, and a dozen bags of foods we love to eat: cinnamon and raisin bagels, red grapes, smoothie mixes, and more. All I wanted to do was enjoy the homemade food that looked like my mom made it. I ate some of it, but not enough.
When our symptoms subsided and our two week quarantine ended, I began to notice the effects of not eating enough. I could see it in my slightly sunken cheeks, could feel it in the contours of my hipbone, could hear it in my stomach moaning in the darkness of the night. I took a picture of myself and realized that I was too thin. My husband noticed it too. He assured me that my tastes would return and he reminded me of how much traction I would lose if I got stuck in the kickback.
Over the years, I've had to change my perspective on what it means to recover. I used to strive for a "full recovery" – a life without slips or setbacks – and always felt like I had failed when I faltered. Now I focus my thinking around what I call "the middle seat," that sticky space between illness and full recovery. I make it my goal to cross this space continuously – for myself, for my family. Recovery is about realizing that I am in control of my decisions, even when anorexia knocks and asks for another chance. During Covid, I opened the door a crack, but finally closed it.
My sense of taste was gone for about five weeks and when it came back I started to regain my footing and eventually the pounds I had lost. The taste first showed up one morning when I was eating a banana; soon more flavors reappeared.
And then, on a Sunday afternoon, I ate creamy tomato sponge cake and felt, smelled, and tasted every single spoon. There was the warmth, the hearty tomatoes, the bliss of the basil.