Anorexic Takes Up Baking to Gain Control Over Food

PHOTO: Camilla Kuhns is a 29-year-old anorexic with a penchant for baking.
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Camilla Kuhns of Kirkland, Wash., makes the best cookies in the world. Ask anyone but her.

Kuhns is a 29-year-old anorexic with a penchant for baking. She has never tasted one of her own confections. Her younger brother, Seth, samples dough and final products to let her know if anything is off, and her mother, Ilene, tastes the frosting.

"Yeah, my mom's my angel when it comes to the frosting," Kuhns told ABC News Seattle affiliate KOMO-TV right before she entered an inpatient treatment program for her eating disorder two weeks ago. "I don't know what it is, but it makes me very anxious."

On her blog, Kuhns said she is 5'8" and weighs 104 pounds with her shoes and clothes on and while holding her purse. She baked challah breads, cakes and pastries for others to enjoy while her own daily intake amounted to a head of cauliflower with hot sauce and a tablespoon of nuts. To ensure she burned off every single calorie consumed, she exercised for three to four hours a day.

Her best friend, Amber "Nic" Poppe, said that Kuhns has suffered from various eating disorders since she was 11. Both her anorexia and the baking escalated recently after a tough year that included the death of a friend and a messy divorce.

"Baking became therapeutic for her. I know it sounds strange but it seems like her way of overcoming her issues with food," Poppe said.

Actually, it isn't so strange. Experts have long noted the connection between eating disorders and baking, as well as cooking, watching cooking shows and collecting recipes.

In a famous 1943 study known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, men put on a semi-starvation diet for six months developed such an intense obsession with food, they daydreamed, read and talked about it constantly. The fixation was so persistent that more than 40 percent of them mentioned cooking as part of their post-experiment plans. After they left the study and regained their weight, three of the men changed their occupations to become chefs.

"I see it a lot this in my practice," said Jennifer Thomas, an assistant psychologist at the Klarman Eating Disorders Center at McLean Hospital in Boston. "Patients will prepare elaborate meals for friends and family while they themselves go hungry. They get a vicarious joy and a sense of superiority from watching others indulge while they don't allow themselves to eat."

As someone who was anorexic for five years, Victoria Casciaro said she can relate. The 20-year-old college student admitted she was also a starving baker who constantly made treats she never considered eating herself.

"I would look at what I put in the mixing bowl and it would scare me because I didn't have the nutrition facts, so I couldn't calculate whether or not it was a safe or dangerous food," she recalled.

Not only would Casciaro resist her sumptuous creations, she would wash her hands frequently during the baking process to prevent herself from accidentally tasting the ingredients. She'd carefully avoid taking even the tiniest nibble for fear that she'd gain weight or set off a binge.

Haley Anderson, a 20-year-old recovering anorexic, said she'd often whip up copious amounts of baked treats for everyone else, then talk herself out of trying them.

"I'd tell myself that taste buds have memory," she said, "and if you can avoid a certain food long enough then you could forget what it tastes like and no longer be tempted by it."

Kuhns has admitted to similar thoughts and behaviors on her blog, Milla the Night Baker, which she started because she often turned to the kitchen when she couldn't sleep. In recent months, she used the site and her baking to help raise money for treatment.

Poppe said Kuhns felt too much pressure to take specific requests so she baked whatever she felt like and posted pictures of it on Facebook.

"She didn't want to sell it so she asked for donations," Poppe said.

One cookie at a time, Kuhns raised $7,000, enough for one week at the eating disorder clinic, Utah's Center for Change, where she is now a patient. Thomas said she usually asks her patients to avoid cooking and baking until their disorder is more manageable but she thinks Kuhns' approach could serve as part of her healing process.

"Normally, I worry about this kind of behavior but if she used it to help pay for treatment, it could be viewed as constructive," Thomas said.

But it will take a lot more than a bake sale to pay for the full six months of in-patient counseling Kuhns needs to get well. Her father, David Kuhns, put the cost for his daughter's intensive psychological counseling program at more than $100,000.

"We'll pay for the rest of it by taking loans, applying for grants and asking for donations," he said.

Kuhns continues blog from inside the treatment center. Because she's not allowed Internet access while in therapy, she gives her entries written in longhand to her father when he visits on the weekend and he posts them.

Her recent posts don't mention baking, though she has expressed hope that she can soon return to the kitchen - and that cookies will be her comfort food, not just by making them, but by eating them, too.

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