There was a time when I loved cooking. It acted as an outlet for any anxieties or stresses that I felt. It was a time to relax, and a time to create. Then, slowly but surely, as I tried diet after diet, it became a source of anxiety and confusion. Over the years, all of the regimes enforced such strict rules that cooking felt more like a hassle than anything else. Each recipe was scrutinized for the ‘current’ view of what’s nutritious and what’s not. There were too many ‘rules’ to follow, and in short, it just wasn’t fun anymore. But within the last few years, as I learned more and more about what nutrition really means to my body, I figured out how to add the joy back into cooking. I learned to cook foods that nourish and satisfy my hunger, my taste, and my soul. The path back to joyful cooking wasn’t easy, but it was crucial to finding a balanced lifestyle.
Recently, I was cooking for someone who is still stuck within the ‘food rules’. She was over my shoulder the whole time telling me when there was “too much oil”, “too much salt”, or “too much sugar”. I tried to not be disrespectful, so I reduced the amounts slightly. Once we sat down, she ‘guiltily’ ate the food and no one enjoyed it as much because the flavours weren’t balanced. It reminded me about what it used to be like cooking for myself. I was forever trying to modify recipes to meet the current nutritional trends. The level of anxiety she felt over one meal reminded me of the reason cooking became so stressful all those years ago. I was constantly subbing out ingredients to try and ‘health it up’ or I would leave them out altogether. I still remember all the foods that I stopped eating in the past; either because they were “too starchy”, “too fatty”, or plain old “bad”. All of the chatter in my head made it impossible to be fully present to what my needs were.
I remember one morning, during my stressful cooking phase, I was making breakfast. My mind had been racing with questions, “is that the right kind of fat?”, “is it okay to combine those foods?” and “is this genetically modified?” I finally stood back, and I burst out laughing. In the process of cooking breakfast for my family, I had just broken every food rule in the book, and I just didn’t care anymore! I thought “eating shouldn’t be this hard”. With so many food rules out there, it can make it almost impossible to eat anything at all!
These anxieties around cooking and eating don’t just come out of nowhere. When every other article or post online is gushing over the new miracle diet or superfood, the little voice inside our heads start to echo those teachings. The problem is, much of the nutritional ‘research’ out there is misrepresented. Nutritional science is still so young, and most of the studies published only demonstrate short term results. The French Paradox teaches us an important lesson on what ‘healthy eating’ really means. With one of the lowest Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) death rates in the world, the people of France consumed a diet full of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat[i]. To say the least, this twist on ‘low fat’ diets rocked the nutritional science world. Although we can learn so much from research, the science is constantly changing.
This is why I refuse to eat something that’s ‘almost’ as good. It’s not satisfying. If you keep trying to make foods fat free, grain free or sugar free, eventually it will all become taste free. You may get enough calories but you won’t feel done. Then you’ll find yourself ‘cupboard surfing’. Constantly searching to find snacks to satisfy your hunger. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for making things more nutrient dense. As long as the flavour and texture isn’t compromised, then awesome! But when you allow yourself to eat what you want, you’re far less likely to eat more of it. Have a little cup of full fat yogurt, not an entire tub of low fat yogurt.
The joy of cooking goes beyond nutrition, it’s about community. Try to think back to when you were a young girl, and remember the times you spent with your family. Did you share a meal together? Was the food prepared with love? Did the dishes hold meaning to you because they were ‘traditional’? Cooking and indulging in food is a ritual that has been around since cave men were painting on walls[ii]. It’s an essential part of our celebrations. When we work together to prepare the meal, we help the next generation learn. When we sit down together to eat the meal, we share our culture, our time and our history[iii]. Bringing the joy back into cooking builds your tribe, and supports the relationships you have with the special people in your life. Don’t let food rules destroy your heritage, or your community.
Let yourself enjoy your food again; from the preparation all the way to the eating. When you stop focusing on the nutritional trends of the day, you make space for the joy of cooking to return. I love to cook again. I can just turn on the tunes, and get lost in the smells as I create some scrumptious meals to fuel me and my family. Let yourself off the hook, and challenge yourself to throw the food rulebook out the window. It may not be easy, but it’s definitely worth it.
Until next time,
Live Life. Love Food. Be Free.
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