Let's Eat

"Food became the enemy - it took overmy life"

Lisa Roukin's new book shares how creating healthy, colourful food helped her overcome her troubled history of eating disorders


Like most of us, Lisa Roukin loves to eat.

"My world revolves around food. As a child I spent most of the time in the larder - arranging the shelves, and having a snack here and there," smiles the chef and cookery teacher.

This led to a struggle with her weight from the age of seven to 13 - when she weighed in at 180 pounds. "I weighed as much as my father.

"I was bullied at school and constantly heard people around me saying 'Should she be eating that?" and 'Can she have that?', which led me to become a secret eater."

At the age of 16 she was ready to shed the weight, but this took her in the opposite direction of deprivation and anorexia nervosa.

Lisa's tips for satisfying eating

● Cook with plenty of colourful vegetables.
● Cook larger quantities so you have leftovers for the next day.
● Increase the variety and types of food that you eat.
● Add texture to your food by adding nuts and seeds.

"Food became the enemy. It took over my life. I wouldn't join my family for meals and stopped eating at certain places. If I went on holiday, I would fax the hotel to ask them to order in special foods. If they didn't have it when I arrived, I would go crazy."

A spell in two clinics eventually helped her to get back to a healthy weight, but clinicians told her parents that she should avoid working with food.

"As an addict, you are never really cured," she explains.

But Roukin's passion for food proved stronger than her addiction, and after school she made a career in the catering industry; working in the kitchens and offices at Tony Paige and Schaverin, as well as heading up the events team at Le Caprice. But this proved not to be a positive thing.

"The glamour of these jobs meant my appearance was even more important than before, but I was struggling as I was always surrounded by food."

After a particularly stressful day, a heart to heart with grandmother, Jackie Weintrob, to whom she is particularly close, helped her come to the realisation that what she really wanted to do was cook. So in 2008, she enrolled at London's culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu, before spending time in several professional kitchens.

"I discovered food preparation is only half the learning - you are also taught how to eat, about portion control and how food is presented. Slowly a new relationship was started. I learned about nutrients and about balancing not only flavours, but food groups."

This was her light bulb moment, and she discovered that by eating a certain way she could achieve her ideal weight and be happy.

"I listened to my body. Eating gluten gives me a form of psoriasis on my hands - I come out in itchy bumps and blisters - so I cut it out; heavy carbs like potatoes made me sluggish and tired and I found dairy gave me a sort of reflux, so I stopped that too." She also cut down on refined sugar and animal fats.

What worked for her was three balanced meals each day with snacks.

"I'll eat poached eggs with avocado or tomatoes for breakfast, something like a quinoa salad or soup for lunch, and for dinner, either soup, an omelette or maybe a stew like a Thai green curry with plenty of vegetables. I make sure I have food ready for a meal in my fridge so I don't need to pick while I'm cooking. If I do need a snack in between meals, I eat fruit or one of my raw chocolate brownies."

Having come through the other side of an eating disorder, she was happy to advise those still struggling, or putting her cookery skills to good use teaching clients who had been advised to stop eating gluten or dairy.

"Confident cooks who may have had a child diagnosed as gluten or dairy intolerant panic over cooking for them. I educate them how easy and exciting it is," she enthuses.

She is also passionate that youngsters should learn to cook. "I want to encourage those with kids to cook and share their skills with their children - it is so important that we eat home-cooked meals."

These strands have come together in her book entitled My Relationship with Food (published this week) which is a collection of her favourite recipes organised by season.

"I have given quantities for four to six people for each recipe, as I think that if you're going to cook, you might as well make enough for leftovers to eat the next day."

The book is mostly, kosher style. Roukin, who lives in north west London, excludes dairy from 98 per cent of her recipes so the benefit is that creamy flavours in meaty dishes, such as curries, are from coconut or almond milk. Similarly, desserts are pareve.

The free-from angle does not make the recipes - all of which have gorgeous images - any less appealing. You want to rush home to try them out. If Roukin's healthy glow and interesting recipes are anything to go by, it looks like the love affair is going to last.

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