Apple tart tatin

How a Pastry Student Overcomes an Eating Disorder

Pastry & Baking Arts student Luciana Colletti shares her battle between fearing food and loving baking.

Luciana made an apple tart tatin in Mod 1.

After high school, I went to the Culinary Institute of America for a semester and had to come home because of my eating disorder. That regret and anger fueled the rest of what’s happened in my life, and I’m so happy with where I am today, that I know it was meant to be in a strange way.

My whole, big Italian family is from Staten Island, where I was born and raised. That’s all I know. We had cookie days during the holidays and I fell in love with baking more than cooking, which I attribute to my mom. Another thing I dealt with my whole life was my weight. I tried every possible diet and became addicted to challenging myself with calorie counts. My weight, what I looked like and how much I worked out became a complete obsession. Everything I ate became scary.

I love food so much, and this disorder took away my love of food and my love of baking. I found myself at a very dark point when I entered the CIA, and I spoke to a few other girls who shared my problem and never would have spoken up if I hadn’t said anything. We were able to help each other. I get the question all the time from people who don’t understand: How could you have an eating disorder and be a baker? I want to put my story out there for people who love food, but are also afraid of it.

I probably wouldn’t have sought treatment if not for my family. I was in denial for a long time until it got really bad, and I told my parents that I needed to leave culinary school and go to the doctor. Therapy and the support of my family are my treatment, and my biggest form of meditation is drawing or using art through my baking. Creating art is my favorite way to decompress when I’m having a bad eating disorder day. I gained weight back to get healthy, and I decided that I was going to get better for myself because I saw this future for me, and I didn’t want to let anything get in my way.

Luciana Colletti is studying Pastry & Baking Arts at ICE.
Luciana Colletti is studying Pastry & Baking Arts at ICE.

My whole life, I wanted to work at Disney World. I got accepted to the Disney culinary program and decided I was not going to stop getting better until I could go, and I did it, but I wasn’t working with food when I got there. I actually came home again to go to ICE. When I was looking at culinary schools originally, ICE came right up. I looked at a few other schools in New York City, but I fell in love with the combination of the location, the chefs, the alumni, everything down to the curriculum. It’s beautiful, how could you not? This is my happy place. I went to Disney and thought, this is the happiest place on earth, but I couldn’t stop thinking about ICE. I decided to come home and do what I love. I told my parents, “That’s not the happiest place on earth, I found it.” It’s a dream come true to go here.

I just finished my Mod 1, so I’ve been in classes for two months now. We learned a lot of basics: custards, frozen desserts (my favorite, I love ice cream), small cakes, pastries … everything about it was so fun. I just took my practical and had a great time. Chef Dalia [Jurgensen] and Chef Alex [Orman] are my two chef-instructors and both of them are outstanding.

There’s nothing that I don’t love about pastry, but the thing that makes me the happiest is the finished product and giving it to someone. Even as simple as going next door: Once, Chef Alex told me to take my plate to Chef Penny [Stankiewicz] down the hall. The chef picked my plate and I got to give it to someone who I respect, who could eat my product and hopefully enjoy it. That entire process is something that working with food gives me that I can’t really get working with anything else. It makes me so happy to think about making other people happy through food. I can’t wait to continue doing it.

Luciana decorates cookies and made a croquembouche in class.
Luciana decorates sugar cookies to decompress and made a croquembouche of cream puffs in Mod 1.

My life is definitely busy between attending ICE, working at a bakery and taking college courses, but time management is key for me. The distraction between all of that actually helps me with my eating disorder. I’ve had to learn to take care of my body differently. With such a busy schedule, sometimes things don’t work out the way you plan, and with what I have, it’s not easy to accept that. It’s not easy to accept that I haven’t gone to the gym in three days or that I’m at someone’s house and all they have is pizza. But with balance, I’m not obsessing over it so much.

When I finish the Pastry & Baking Arts program, I’d like to work in a few restaurants as a pastry chef. I’m very entrepreneurial, but I want to gain experience through other people and hear from people who are above me, before I start something on my own. My dream would be to start my own business with ice cream, but my goal at ICE is to go through everything and see what I really love working with and what I’m good at in order to develop and narrow down a skill.

If you have an eating disorder, don’t be afraid. It’s going to be hard. Whether it’s food or anything in life, you cannot let an illness get in your way if you can change it. If you have the ability to change it, do everything you can or you’re going to live with regret. I’ll never let anything set me back again ⎯ life’s too short.

Talk to your doctor if you're experiencing an eating disorder or contact the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. If you share Luciana's love of baking, ask Admissions about sitting in on a Pastry & Baking Arts class.

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