All it needs is a reframe: Cooking all those healthy meals is self care
So, you begin your new healthy lifestyle in good spirits and happily cook your food yourself. And then, after about two weeks, it starts to unravel: you start to dislike (or even hate) it. You procrastinate because you don't want to 'have to cook again'. About halfway through the Whole30 people usually start asking questions about this: will it stay like this, will I have to cook this much for the rest of my life?
Well, it is a fact: when you want to eat healthy meals, there is more cooking involved than when you grab some fast food from a corner shop or a sandwich at the gas station. I cannot change that for you. Harry Potter is not yet a Whole30 coach, so he cannot help either.
What helps me is this: reframe this reluctance! Healthy eating is a radical step toward a better life. Cooking yourself a healthy meal is the ultimate self-care. And taking the time to make ghee or cut your vegetables... it can become a haven in your day!
I put my heaviest cast iron pan on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high. Then I quietly pick up four packs of organic butter, made from milk from cows who were raised outside, eating grass. One by one I put them in the pan and let them melt slowly while stirring with my wooden spoon.
Let's turn the heat up a little bit more.
For the next 10 minutes, I'll be here, stirring... while the butter melts, foams, stops foaming and becomes clear with white flakes, foams again.
I turn the gas off and my butter is clarified. Filter it, and we have delicious ghee for the coming weeks to make delicious omelets and prepare vegetables.
Just the thought of ghee baked sweet potatoes makes this a happy and rewarding moment.
Making ghee used to be a bit of a job – one more thing that had to be squeezed into my busy schedule. One more item on the to-do list. Nowadays, during the stirring, I let my thoughts wander... and sometimes it even becomes meditatively calm in my usually slightly chaotic head.
Stir... stir... stir...
I no longer only pursue the end result, but also the activity itself. I haven’t become much calmer and I still have a lot to do: that hasn’t changed. The only thing that has changed is how and what I think about it. That makes all the difference!
Have to cook
When people are doing the Whole30, they usually get completely fed up with cooking at the beginning of the third week: All. The. Food. They. Have. To. Cook.
It becomes too much for them. It takes too much of their time and they can not stand it anymore.
Psychologist Esther Perel says: "To say that you can not do something is a confirmation bias". “Confirmation bias” is a term from science describing the human tendency to seek confirmation for something that you want to be true because it’s your opinion.
So: When you say it's too much, it takes too much time... you'll start looking for proof this is true. Perel says "Just saying the words or even thinking about it makes your brain look for proof of your position".
This confirmation then conflicts with your Whole30 goals and your promise to yourself that you will work for 30 days on your health, your habits and your relationship with food. That collision causes stress and resistance.
Acknowledgment: it DOES take more time
I will get to my point on how to reframe healthy cooking as self-care... but I think that a lot of people for whom this message is meant will now first focus on issues to prove themselves right. Therefore, this acknowledgment: yes, cooking while on the Whole30 probably takes more time than before. Yes, I sometimes dislike all the cutting, all the preparation and especially all the cleaning up. Yes, I find it difficult sometimes that I can not just order a pizza.
I hear what you say. I understand.
But: you are now on the Whole30, you want to become healthier and continue to eat healthy meals... by opting to be overwhelmed with all the meal prep, you only make it more difficult for yourself.
With that out of the way, check if you’ve accidentally stepped into one of these common pitfalls (and after this, we’ll talk mindset):
- You cook exactly enough each time, so you don’t have any leftovers.
- You set the bar too high and expect 3-star, chef-made meals three times per day. Simplify. Keep it super simple.
- You spend too much time searching for and making new recipes, so you can not cook on autopilot.
- You take preferences of the other people in your household too much into account and end up cooking three different meals. Look at the common denominator; what everyone can eat and give the responsibility for adjustments to the person who wants an adjustment (if they are old enough).
I once coached a mom of four kids (ages 8 to 15), and every day two of them had 'help mom in the kitchen duty'. The other two had to walk the dogs and the next day they switched.
For me, the magic happened when I reframed the way I look at cooking. So actually I use a bit of that confirmation bias that Esther Perel cites but to my advantage. And you can also have that mechanism work for you! When you consciously reframe your resistance, you will start looking for evidence of how that is true.
Habit expert Charles Duhigg says: "If you can somehow turn a chore into a choice. If you feel like you are in control, you are making a decision... for some reason it triggers a part of our brain that gives us a lot of energy for motivation."
Reframing does that: it turns a chore into a choice. That has not only worked for me but for many people I have coached through their Whole30.
They tell me that on Sunday afternoon, while the children are playing, they cut the vegetables for half a week in a quiet way. Perhaps by doing it sitting down at the kitchen table, with some nice music or an interesting podcast on, it can even turn into a pleasant activity. You can enjoy the different colors of the vegetables. Prepare bags or containers with combinations of vegetables and look forward to when you're going to eat later this week.
Cooking = self-care
When you look at it that way, cooking is self-care, in many different ways:
- While you are doing your preparations in a quiet way, you can reframe that as quality time with yourself.
- You can also easily send people away who are disturbing, because: you are busy doing something. They'll respect that in a way that they won't if you reading a book or meditating.
- You invest in your physical health (and possibly your family’s).
- That then pays for itself: feeling good in your skin, other Non Scale Victories and ...
- Maybe because of this, things do not happen either (you do not get the flu or have it less severely than others around you). The benefits from having things NOT happen is usually unaccounted for when analyzing the total benefit of a task.
- By reducing stress, your results are also better. At the Whole30 Coach Summit, Dr. Will Cole lectured to our group of Whole30 certified coaches. He stated that healthy eating is great, but that serving yourself 'a big slice of stress' everyday, can undo all your gains.
- You experience more fun while on your Whole30 round... and therefore do not just look forward to day 31 when it is (finally!) over.
- You will therefore also pay more attention to the positive results and enter the reintroduction with more energy.
- By seeing healthy cooking as self-care, the step to make it a healthy lifestyle is much easier one to take.
- You can also apply this lesson from the Whole30 to other parts of your life.
Bonus: pay attention to the energy that goes into the food!
This is the part where I embrace the WooWoo side of me.
I once learned, the hard way, that the energy with which you prepare the food is literally an ingredient of the meal. When you are in a state of stress, you literally stir the stressful energy into the meal.
In 2014, I even wrote a blog about how I was the cook of a team of volunteers in personal development training. That when I was cooking nobody dared to come into the kitchen because I was stirring the pots like an evil sorcerer. I would slap the food on the table with a bang so that it could be devoured like we had to catch the express train…
The trainer kept pulling me aside, giving me feedback: ‘This is not good enough’. And I would stress even more cooking the next meal…
Until the penny dropped: it is the stressful way in which I am preparing the food that is not good enough... not the food itself!
In this way the meals will not only be much less satisfying, but mealtime is actually stressful.
Side note: I also think that children communicate much more with energy (because they are not so good with words yet) and that they will eat worse when food is made and served in this stressful way.
When (all the) cooking in your new healthy lifestyle (or your Whole30) is the stumbling block, see if you can simplify it by creating leftovers, making meals that you know by heart and by letting good, be good enough.
In addition, get started with your mindset: see all the ways in which spending time on your food is positive. The effort that you put into yourself because you are worthy to take care of. It really is the ultimate form of self-care.