Primary Care — Why learning to cook is the most fundamental skill for your health
Most days, when I leave the office and take the train to the other side of the river, I see my fellow travelers carrying home brown paper bags, plastic bags emblazoned with Chinese characters, or the familiar rectangular cardboard boxes printed in red, white and green, the colors of Italian pride. Currently there is a food delivery company advertising its services — colorful ads are plastered all across the subway, with the tagline ‘How New York Eats’.
It makes perfect sense — why bother investing our precious time into the efforts of preparing a meal when we can have our favorite foods from any part of the world delivered right to our doorstep? Something with such little shelf-life — pun intended — to be devoured in just a few moments, seems completely ludicrous in a ‘city that never sleeps’, and so presumably also doesn’t have time to cook.
After all, the convenience of having everything just one click or phone call away is part of what enables us to accomplish more in our ever so busy day-to-day schedules — or at least that is what we are led to believe.
Cooking as Self-Care
Self-care has become a thing. In 2016, Google Trends recorded the highest increase in search for the term ‘self-care’, in the past five years.
As with many originally well-intended phenomena, once they become trendy, marketeers also become interested. And so, ‘self-care’ quickly becomes a way to capitalize, a potent marketing tool to make us buy more magically healthy products to help us succeed in our wellness endeavors.
Yet, caring for oneself does not require fancy green powders in beautiful packaging advertised by models that swear it is their main trick to staying in good shape.
Before anything else, self care is an inside job; quite literally. Listening to our physical bodies, attending to what we need in each moment, what our bodies are asking for: that is self-care. Feeding ourselves, amongst a few other things, is the most primary form of self-care, yet in my experience, so often the one that is overlooked.
When a new client comes to see me, chances are he or she does not know how to cook, or hasn’t cooked in a while. Clients often feel like they either don’t have the time, or find that it’s just not really necessary, and this is exactly why I encourage them to begin with one simple meal a week. Just like the time they invest in my services, their personal trainer or acupuncturist, scheduling a home-cooked meal is a proactive and profound way to start caring for themselves, and learning about what their bodies need to be vital and energized.
The Chipotle Effect
With healthy food chains and on demand services catering to any dietary preference, from vegan to paleo, healthy eating is no longer exclusive to a small percentage of food bloggers and wellness enthusiasts and is making its way into the mainstream.
Just the other day, I was sitting at one of the popular chains that advertises their healthy bowls, and got into a conversation with an elderly couple. They told me how surprised they were to find these types of healthy chains popping up overnight lately, and how they loved that they could grab fast food without the guilt they felt after visiting one of the famous taco places.
Whilst the health and wellness culture becoming mainstream is an evolution I welcome, there is a flip side. As with many things that become popular, the original intention can become diluted, sometimes even lost entirely. The fastness of food, both in obtaining and consuming it, is one of these things. We already run at one hundred miles an hour, and taking the time to eat is simply not a part of that. Without realizing, this instantaneous culture we’ve become so comfortable with, creates a disconnect with our food, affecting our health in more ways than many of us are aware.
We were born as hunters and gatherers and the act of feeding ourselves, gathering and preparing our own food is an integral part of supporting our well-being. In fact, it’s a natural instinct within the human survival system.
Eat fast, get sick in the long run
Research has shown that cooking at home, even though it is has become so rare, is the easiest way to health and longevity. What’s more, studies suggest the risk of chronic disease and mental health disorders like depression are significantly reduced when one cooks at home.
By choosing to neglect these facts, we choose to neglect an integral part of maintaining health and preventing disease. Coming from Europe, I always felt challenged by the American tendency to not make time for something so essential as food. And the concept of fast food — even the healthy kind, does not quite make sense to me. After all, I see a lot of clients with digestive challenges, that come with an array of side effects. Personally, I would choose a leisurely Italian-style pasta lunch (yes, I’m referring to the bad guy gluten) over a salad that is wolfed down in an environment where everyone is stressed.
According to a study published in Forbes Magazine, Americans spend less time than any other Western country in meal preparation, at only thirty minutes a day in total. They also spend less time actually eating, at one hour and fourteen minutes per day. Contrast this to the OECD average of an hour and forty one minutes and we can see that taking time to eat certainly is not an American habit. Ironically, even though such little time is spent on food preparation and dining, the obesity rate of thirty four percent in the United States is double that of the OECD average.
Beyond the nutritional value of the ingredients of a meal, there is the energetic component to food and food preparation that leaves an imprint in the more subtle layers of our bodies.
When we source our food, prepare a dinner with our own hands, pour our love into it, a tremendously beneficial connection is built between the external world — the food — that is about to become part of our internal space. In this way, we prepare our physical bodies to receive the nourishment awaiting.
The act of cooking is a sensory experience involving touch, smell and sight — sending important signals to the brain. It calms our nervous system, helping to shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic mode, a key factor in digestion and proper nutrient absorption. As with most forms of exercise or, even in love-making there is a piece of preparation, of facilitating the space for what is about to happen. It quite literally whets our appetite, giving our bodies the opportunity to release saliva, that includes salivary enzymes to break down carbohydrates. An entire system is activated by our presence and engagement in our nourishment. What’s more, this appetite is not derived from stress — that feeling of “I’m starving”, (which is quite a ridiculous statement, given our constantly overfed state in the first world, yet very significant for the fight or flight mode in which we tend to consume our food) or emotional hunger, building a connection that leads to greater satisfaction, fewer cravings and an overall feeling of harmony.
Cooking is good for our mental astuteness too: by approaching cooking as a new skill to learn, we tap into something called neuroplasticity. This essentially is the lifelong capacity of the brain to create new connections among neurons (neural pathways and circuits) and all new experiences create new neural structures. In this way, experimenting with new recipes can help us to strengthen our brain like a we would a muscle in the gym.
Honoring Your Needs vs Settling for Less
The American Novelist Thomas Wolfe once noted that, “there is no spectacle on earth more appealing than that of a beautiful woman in the act of cooking dinner for someone she loves.”
I would interject and say the same applies to men, and does actually begin with cooking for yourself. I personally find the term self-love to be overused, yet one of the strongest statements of self-love is making yourself a nourishing meal (mental note to all those who to say that ‘cooking for one doesn’t make sense’).
Every time we eat out, we are not in charge of what we are eating or how the food is prepared — with love or without- or crucially whether the ingredients used will be supportive or potentially harmful to our health. What’s more, we are also not fully in charge of what we actually want to eat. In other words; we’re compromising on our needs.
Anyone who’s ever found themselves in the position of looking at a menu, and then deciding on what to order, has probably encountered the scenario of ordering something that is closest to what they’d ideally want to eat, though not exactly what they had in mind. And unless you’re best friends with the patron, you are not going to be able to make a number of adjustments and substitutions to your liking. In that moment, your choice is based on settling for less.
Perhaps you are on the other end of the spectrum; you feel overwhelmed by the amount of choice, don’t have the time to think of what you want to eat and so leave that decision to someone else who you believe to be better informed on what you need than yourself. Both scenarios, if continually practiced, end up putting us into a state of disconnection with our physical needs, and on another level, dishonoring our truths.
There’s another way to look at this: When we desire to find our life partner, or build lasting success in our business, we need to stop settling for less. The same applies if we want to establish lifelong health. It’s a commitment, and self-care begins by making the time to care for ourselves, and by listening and connecting with our true needs. In doing so, we then tap into the broader aspect of self-care, which essentially is Self-Leadership. Learning to cook, nourish ourselves is one profound way to do so.
A different perspective…
is what I hope to offer, and if you liked this article, share with friends and click the💚 below so other people will see it here on Medium.