I get a lot of people asking how I do it. How do I stay healthy?
You might think that as a nutritionist I have a much more informed view of what I put inside my body, and in many ways I do, but knowledge of the biochemistry of vitamin B12 or the metabolism of L-glutamine doesn’t make me healthier.
Actually, nothing I learned about nutrition in college and even when apprenticing with a highly trained integrative and functional nutritionist (which I did for 4 years), or while working alongside doctors with decades of experience beyond me has made me healthier.
Not at all.
Knowledge is great and my internal desire to understand how and why things work makes me very good at my job (hello folks on my waiting list, I haven’t forgotten about you!), but it does not make me healthier and doesn’t put me at an advantage health-wise compared to anyone else.
What does is a skill that I learned far before deciding nutrition was even something I wanted to study.
I was 12.
It’s hard to put an exact date on it, but that’s around the time I became obsessed with food.
Not the pre-teen negative body image kind of obsession, but the “I want to know what this [fill-in-the-blank-ingredient] is and how to make it taste good” kind of obsession.
Not exactly your usual 12 year old’s preoccupation.
I wanted to think like a chef and I wanted to be a chef.
I watched hours of Food Network TV shows, back before they were meant to be entertaining. Before Emeril uttered “Bam!” (which remains annoying years later). I’m talking about shows like Two Fat Ladies (still a favorite of mine), The Naked Chef (not what you think it is), and Sara Moulton’s show (what was that called again?).
(Don’t know who Sara Moulton is? She’s just, ya know, just the former long time executive chef for Gourmet magazine.)
Back then the network created shows that showcased certain skills, like how to take the backbone out of a chicken so it’ll cook evenly on the grill and the trick to melting chocolate without it “breaking”.
They wore chef coats, not designer jeans and low cut shirts. They actually taught you how to cook, not make you feel jealous of their high-end dinner parties at their house in the Hamptons (Ina, I really do love your show though!).
The most important thing I learned about nutrition I didn’t learn in school (apologies to my awesome professors) nor in clinical practice. And it happens to be one of my most valuable life skills. So what is it?
Hear me out. The only way I’ve been able to stay healthy is because cooking isn’t all that hard for me. Health is not about accumulating tons of knowledge, it’s about knowing how to put it into practice easily.
Now before you think to yourself, “Yeah Lily, but I suck at cooking!”, know this:
It wasn’t always that way.
Cooking is only easy for me now because I’ve tried and failed at making just about every dish. (Actually, I continue to fail at cooking regularly!)
The nice thing about cooking is the more you fail, the better you get.
So my challenge to you today is to be open to experimenting in the kitchen.
What’s one recipe you’ve been yearning to learn how to cook?
Why not try that?
And hell, if you “hate” cooking, look up a favorite recipe with the words “slow cooker” in front of it. Slow cooker recipes require minimal skills. Think of something like pork chops. Those are wrought with opportunities for failure. Did you season it enough, cook it at the right temperature? Is it over-done (ruined) under-done (hazardous to eat)? But something like slow cooker pulled pork is fool-proof, even for the most kitchen phobic.
Same goes for anything roasted. Stir-frying is advanced compared to roasting, so why not try roasting a pan of vegetables instead of slaving over a hot stove?
By the way, there are many recipes for making vegetables taste good in my free ebook, Veggies: Eat Them Because You Want To, Not Because You Have To. It’s no coincidence that many of them are roasted. You can snag your copy here.
Sometimes it’s fun to make something complicated (if you like cooking, of course), but most of the time we need things to be easy.
So find a dish you love, try making it a few times until it becomes easy and then move on to the next culinary adventure.
I strongly believe becoming better at cooking will make you much healthier than reading countless articles and books about nutrition.
Remember, it’s about putting it into practice!
I might be the only clinician to tell you this, but maybe getting healthier starts with turning on the TV and tuning to a food or cooking network.
Now in the comments below, I’d love to know:
What keeps you from cooking at home?
What new recipe are you going to learn to make?
And just for fun, what’s your favorite cooking show?
Until next week,
11 CommentsLeave a comment
Lily, I love this post! Being able to make your own good food is the key. My level of cooking is salads, roasted vegetables and anything in a crock pot. Just bought some pomegranate molasses so I can finally try your roasted cauliflower recipe!
I agree, Mare. Also, that roasted curried cauliflower recipe is so yummy! Report back when you make it.
Lily, you’ve hit upon my weakness – I’m not a great cook and I don’t enjoy it, despite the fact that I am the (reluctant) cook for my family. Part of the reason is lack of time, but as I will be staying home full-time shortly, that excuse is gone. Another reason is that my kids don’t like anything (is it the kids or my cooking?). However, I’m looking forward to having the time to experiment and see if I can find some new dishes that my family will enjoy. Or at least not whine about. Whichever. I have your veggie recipes so will be trying some of those for sure.
Ah yes Beth, if cooking is not enjoyable for you, I’d look for the easiest way to get food on the table. Crock pot meals, casseroles, salads… Working from home makes it a challenging because there isn’t a separation from “work mode” and “home mode”, however you have the flexibility to take 10-15 minutes to prep ingredients and get dinner started if you’re so inclined. 🙂
Even through a time of great tiredness through ill-health, I have continued cooking because I couldn’t bear to waste the vegetables from the allotment but I often simplified the meals and haven’t been very inventive. However we recently bought a halogen oven and I am much more inclined to roast a meal as it takes a much shorter time than my main oven and doesn’t heat up my kitchen unbearably in the summer so I am having a lovely time cooking more recipes. Gadgets can help to make life easier. Thank you for all your excellent advice.
Angela, I’m impressed you’ve kept cooking a priority through the energy ups and downs. It really does pay off and often times the simplest of meals are the tastiest. Also, that sounds like a wonderful kitchen gadget!
Thank you for this post, Lily! I love cooking! Sometimes I haven’t got enough time or feel exhausted, but thankfully, my husband is an awesome cook. I’d love to try some new healthy dessert recipes.
Speaking of older cooking shows, I highly recommend the vintage Julia Childs “The French Chef”, 1960’s episodes. It’s so amazing to watch her invent the genre of cooking shows working with a spiral electric cooktop, narrow countertops and Revere Ware pans. No Viking, All Clad or granite countertops necessary. She cooks real food like green bean, french onion soup or pork chops and doesn’t use anything more exotic than shallots. What really amazes me is her portion sizes. She allots a half pound of cooked vegetables per person, but a nice modest slice of a rich cut of meat. I think there is a lot we can learn about normal, healthy and very enjoyable eating from those shows.
Love Julia! She cooked real food and wasn’t not afraid of fat, that’s for sure. 🙂
I learned to cook in order to help out my mom when she had to go back to work after my parents got divorced. I’m so grateful mom taught me to cook. I learned to enjoy cooking when I started cooking for myself in college. But I also loved watching cooking shows growing up (no cable then – pbs was it, and even then it was scant). I too have learned so much from watching people cook on TV. Cooking has always felt creative to me – maybe that’s why I enjoy it. Have you watched Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat? Only 4 episodes but I loved it. That’s my favorite kind of show – where they teach. Also love the quick videos Sarah Carey does on Martha Stewart’s website.
Yes, I’ve watched that series. I agree about the importance of all of those elements in good cooking. Thai cuisine seems especially good at balancing flavors with those principles in mind.