German Restaurant Offers Tea & Sympathy For Eating Disorder Survivors

A restaurant in Berlin caters to a group with very special needs: recovering anorexics.

Almost five years ago, Katja Eichbaum, then 33, opened the restaurant Sehnsucht ("Longing") in Berlin with money loaned by her father. Eichbaum had struggled with anorexia and bulimia for over ten years; in a piece for NPR by reporter Emily Harris, she freely admits that running the restaurant is a therapeutic enterprise for her. And for the many staff members, including the chef, who are at various points in their own recoveries from eating disorders.

Eichbaum's idea is to normalize food, and to make the serving and consumption of food non-threatening to ED sufferers. "I have very normal food on the menu. Girls should take this kind of eating into their normal routine and stop depending on carrots or nibbling on the garnish at the edge of the plate," says Eichbaum. All of the menu items are given allegorical names (a rhubarb and vanilla dessert is called "Mixed Feelings," a rack of lamb is called "Ravenous") so that none of the customers has to dwell on the idea of food when ordering. But the dishes themselves are, apparently, simple and delicious. "We offer lamb curry, duck breast in orange sauce, very, very tasty things. They don't have to be afraid because the portions are normal. They don't overeat, and it's not too little, either." (Of course, you can order the Thieves Platter, €0, which is an empty plate and a set of cutlery, to allow anyone who doesn't want to order their own meal to poach from the dishes of their fellow diners.)

Sehnsucht is located across the street from a day center for people with eating disorders, and Eichbaum wants her restaurant to be a kind of low-key therapy for her patrons. "Girls will have no pressure to eat here," she says, "they can just drink tea. They'll have the chance to confide in someone here, I think...Maybe something like this would have helped me? I don't know, nothing like this existed." Partly to avoid stigma, and partly to attract other customers, nothing on the menu mentions the eating disorder focus.

A psychiatrist who treats patients with EDs quoted in the piece thinks the restaurant can be helpful, but only for people who've already come a long way towards recovery: "It also depends where you are with your problem....Some are really afraid of being observed, or stigmatized." Anyone who's seen an anorexic become an expert food stylist at the dinner table, pulverizing individual beans from the 1/3 serving of chili they've allotted themselves, or stripping the lobes off a broccoli stalk one by one, knows that not everyone with a problem might find Sehnsucht helpful; indeed, there's a danger that such an institution might actually enable certain sufferers. The last thing the world needs is another caloric-restriction anorexia-is-a-lifestyle pro-mia apologist; thankfully, it's absolutely not Sehnsucht's intention to normalize the disease, but to normalize the idea of being around food for its sufferers. Easing people who've had tortured relationships with food back into the pleasures of eating sounds like a great thing to me.

Painting, titled "Meat Painting II - In Memoriam René Magritte," by artist Adrian Henri, from here

Redux: German Eatery Caters To Anorexics [NPR]