I used to HATE cooking. I mean, the whole process totally stressed me out! Going to the grocery store was like heading into battle… I had to brace myself every time and prepare for the onslaught of temptation, self-loathing, and shame I would feel before, during, and after each trip. So when I chose to live on frozen Digiorno and Indian takeout as an alternative, the act of cooking became completely foreign and definitely out of my comfort zone. Of course if I did build up the courage to finally cook something, which was often as a result of starting a new diet, then the guilt would slowly creep in as soon as the meal was over... “Did I eat too much? Is it ok to want more? Oh crap, I ate the whole thing and was supposed to have this for lunch tomorrow too!” The whole thing was a mess, so why bother, right?
After moving from Louisiana to Seattle, hell-bent and determined to change my life and knee-deep in the process of losing 130 lbs., my whole ‘not cooking’ thing became a lot more complicated. I became a master assembler instead, and Rotisserie chickens and bagged salads were my jam! I also remember being afraid of having too much food in my house at the time... I mean, seriously, the contents of my refrigerator often summed up to a 12-pack of Diet Coke, a bag of lettuce, a couple of salad dressing bottles, an old rotisserie chicken carcass, and maybe some Whole-Foods pre-cut pineapple, but that was it! A barren wasteland… So much so, that on the 4th of July one year, my 45 lb. dog crawled into the refrigerator, because she was petrified of the fireworks!
And the thing is, I always wished I could be a fabulous chef, who knew exactly what spices something needed or who could cook anything on the fly. However, when you’re afraid of having food in your house, the idea of cooking and experimenting with flavor kind of flies out the window. So instead, I subsisted on dining out as much as possible, Whole Foods Grab n’ Go, and a hell of a lot of rotisserie chickens… My late best friend used to always tell me, “I’ll know you really love ‘em if you’re willing to share your chicken.” It was truly some of the best dating advice I’ve ever received, not to mention a great story to share with any man who has ever been fortunate enough to receive a chicken leg!
As I continued navigating life in a constantly stressed-out, yet full of chicken state, I started getting sick every day and couldn’t figure out why... After going to way too many medical doctors, WebMD’ing myself into hysteria, and taking more pregnancy tests than I’d like to admit, I finally discovered that my gut health was completely out of whack. Through the help of a Naturopath, I realized I was dealing with a fair amount of food allergies and intolerances that were wreaking havoc upon my body in ways I never would have thought possible! And as relieved as I was to know there was something I could do to heal my body, it also meant that the whole “I don’t cook” thing was no longer an option…
- GENEEN ROTH TO THE RESCUE! -
Upon needing to navigate a hard-core gut health elimination diet, while simultaneously dealing with a lifelong history of disordered eating, I turned to Geneen Roth for help. Geneen is a trailblazer in the emotional eating world and her famous books on overcoming emotional eating and learning how to heal your relationship with food became my lifelines. Because although I had found a way to lose the weight, I never healed my insides and continued to be tortured by a constant and hateful monologue surrounding all things food.
So I voraciously read through as many of her books as I could get my hands on (and there are a lot!), as I was exhausted, fed up, and needed some serious support. At that time, I already knew the “why” of my dysfunctional relationship with food as I had clocked more hours in a counselor’s office than most people do in a lifetime, but I still couldn’t figure out the “how” that would help me actually get out the binge and restrict cycle for good. And that’s where Geneen came in. She paved the way with all sorts of “hows,” and through some pretty radical practices, I began to chip away at my own “Mean Girl” iceberg, slowly but surely.
- OH NO, YOU LIKE TO COOK?! -
Fortunately and unfortunately, when I met my boyfriend, Eric, I was a bit of a hot mess… I was knee-deep in the process of healing my relationship with food and also recovering from a pretty serious and traumatizing concussion. So although I was barely able to focus my eyes on anything for too long, when I did find myself staring down the empty bag of Boom Chicka Pop popcorn for the umpteenth time, it came with more intention, more acceptance and lot less criticism. It was progress and I was beyond excited about it!
However, when Eric mentioned how much he loved to cook, I was nervous about how that might affect my progress... You see, I had crafted a pretty small, albeit comfortable food world, where I knew exactly what I could and couldn’t eat and didn’t deviate too far from said plan. When he also revealed he was an avid supporter of the Ketogenic Diet, I was freaked out even more! How on earth were we supposed to work out when he was Mister Dairy & Eggs and I was Miss Meat-Eating-Vegan over here, with a dairy and egg allergy! I knew he was a keeper when his response was, “Challenge Accepted!” though, so we decided to give this whole cooking together thing a try.
Through A LOT of trial and error and an extra 10 lbs. from attempting ‘Keto’ myself, we started to figure out what did and didn’t work well for us. I also started learning how to use my voice when it came to food and how to navigate the ups and downs of continuing to heal while also in a new relationship. But what I found most surprising of all, was that I actually liked cooking! When I got out of my own head and turned cooking into a fun activity, versus just a way to lose weight, I found it super empowering! Being able to make a meal that tasted really good, but was also healthy and nourishing to my body, kind of changed the game for me.
So Eric and I turned our date nights into cooking adventures. We’d swap recipe ideas during the day, head to the grocery store together after work, and then came home, cracked open some wine, took turns playing DJ, and hopped to it! We challenged ourselves to get creative and made our meals as delicious and nourishing as possible, while also operating within the framework of our dietary restrictions. We also had fun with plating, took countless food photos, and even started an Instagram account as a diary of our meals we made together! It was pleasantly surprising to find that cooking had become something I actually liked doing, and we both savored the fact that we had found something fun and healthy that we could do together. And although we do still go out to dinner from time to time, we often get a little smug when we realize we probably could have cooked something more satisfying at home… How the tables had turned!
- COOK LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT -
But when I think back on my history with cooking, it’s no wonder I absolutely hated it. Whenever I cooked anything new in the past or even in my master salad assembly days, the primary reason for cooking was always WEIGHT LOSS. I cooked because I had started a new diet and “Today was the first day of the rest of my life!” And when the food you’re cooking is depressing, super bland, and feels restrictive, it’s bound to leave a bad taste in your mouth…
Honestly though, the way everything unfolded created the perfect storm for a shift in my mindset... Being hungry for change, enjoying the fun of a new relationship, and having a new lease on life from surviving a traumatic concussion all majorly contributed to my success in making cooking a now integral part of my life. However I also had to decide to not let food, macros, dieting, and weight loss rule my life anymore. I had to decide to let go and let my body naturally land at the weight where it wanted to be. I had to DECIDE TO LIVE for more, be more, and do more than be in a constant pursuit of thinness for the rest of my life!!!
Because although there is so much discovery and personal growth work to be done when it comes to healing your relationship with food, there are also decisions to be made and actions to take. You have to choose to think differently, act differently, and do things differently. You have to want to break down the barriers of change and want to let those lies go that aren’t serving you any longer. You have to make the effort, get uncomfortable, and be willing to try new things. It’s not easy, and if you’re like me, the tears are gonna flow, but I can promise you it’s totally worth it. You CAN eat delicious food and still be a healthy human. You CAN have fun cooking and turn it into an activity you do with the people you love. You CAN learn to trust yourself around food again and allow it to live in your house. And you CAN break the cycle you’re in right now!
So make the decision right now to put down the boiled chicken and broccoli, sister… Let go of expecting perfection from yourself and start working on your relationship with food. Talk with a Health Coach (like me!), read Geneen Roth’s books, and/or hire a licensed counselor and let us help you figure this thing out! You don’t have to do this on your own and there absolutely is a way to make this work for you and your life. Whether you’re overworked, exhausted, feeling out of your element, or have a Labrador living in your refrigerator too, you’ve got this, and can absolutely change your relationship with food! The first step is acknowledging that change is truly possible and the second step is asking for help. And please know I’ve got your back if you need a helping hand, so don’t hesitate to raise yours if and when you do.
With lots of love and rotisserie chicken,