If you would have told the ten year old Dayna Altman that baking would be the art which has allowed me to #LiveToTell my story, I would have fallen to the ground. Baking, cooking, the kitchen, food, were all things that only brought shame, never joy. Growing up with an eating disordered mom, I learned very early on that bodies were meant to be hated. I was not officially diagnosed with my own eating disorder until my freshman year of college but I believe I had lived with it for at least a decade before I read the official diagnosis on my college health summary print out. In my family the rules are simple: food is fear and food is bad and you aren’t “happy” or “accomplished” until you are as thin as the woman behind you at the supermarket or the actress in your favorite movie.
It would have been very easy for me to continue on this path. We live in a culture that capitalizes on insecurity and celebrates thinness like it’s a life accomplishment. And yet, there has always been a little glimmer inside me that has kept me believing I am meant for more than a life that is focused on being thin. This is the glimmer that advocated for treatment in college, that has worked toward recovery in several body sizes and the one that refuses to let my eating disorders’ voice “tell” my story over my own.
The pain of recovery from my eating disorder at times feels distant as I would say today I am in a place where I feel I eat more intuitively than not. For the first time, I am really able to stop myself from counting calories and close my eyes and ask myself what would be something I would like to eat. This does leave me feeling left out at times though in my family. They all very much subscribe to the old rules and I am making my own from scratch. However, learning about resilience and recovery from others has been one of the key ingredients that has allowed me to fall in love with life again.
I have always felt confident in sharing my story. That glimmer I spoke of earlier, over time, it has become more like a force of light that allows me to speak confidently about my eating disorder as well as living with OCD and my battle with suicidal thoughts in front of anyone who will listen.
I have always wanted to share that light with others. Vulnerability and speaking authentically to me feels like magic and I wanted other people to experience that. So I created a space designed for it: a mental health baking cookbook that allowed people from all walks of life to share their story and favorite recipe. This cookbook, Bake it Till You Make it: Breaking Bread, Building Resilience, evolved into a movement and now an official LLC that uses food and baking as catalysts for mental health conversation. I am now the proud author of two books (the one above and Mix, Melt, Mend: Owning my Story & Finding my Freedom), am working on a mini series, affirmation card deck, and telling my story in a way I never would have imagined.
Bake it Till You Make it has brought so much joy into my life but my story would not be complete without mentioning the fear. The fear of losing sight of the joy of food I have found (still working on it) and slipping back, feeling isolated as a food entrepreneur with an eating disorder history, alone in my family with this new set of “rules”. But then I take a breath and walk into my kitchen. I see my books on my counter, I take my custom apron off my shelf and the eggs out the fridge. I feel ready to live and proud that I live to tell.
About the Author
Photo by Brenna Stewart Photography
Dayna Altman is a bold and authentic mental health entrepreneur, author and public health professional based in Boston MA. A dual graduate of Northeastern University: MPH ‘18, BS Human Services ‘15, Dayna brings both professional experience and personal expertise into the work she does for her community. Dayna has held several roles in the human services field working with youth in mental health settings and women who have experienced domestic or sexual violence. She has also created several of her own organizations specializing in mental health advocacy. Her entrepreneurial adventures have helped her become a professional speaker, a documentary filmmaker, and an author of two books, using food to create a palatable and accessible way for all to approach mental health. Check out more of her work at bakeittillyoumakeit.co and on Instagram @bakeittillyoumakeitllc or at @daynaaltman