The first and most obvious reason I don’t cook at home is that I don’t have a kitchen. I live in a dormitory on the campus of Tunghai University in Taiwan, and space itself, let alone a set for 30-Minute-Meals-with-Stefani-Ruper, is a bit scarce. So when I moved here, I woefully resigned myself to having to eat out all of the time. It was worrying. Now, I couldn’t be happier than a clam.
The Paleo movement is all about Real Food. It’s about food awareness, and it’s about hands on interactions. The idea is that, cooking at home, we have a greater ability to do and to be these things, and to eat the healthiest foods possible. Duh. We get to control our health. This is completely awesome. I love to cook, and while I had a kitchen for a few months this fall I had some amazing experiences with all sorts of paleo goodies. I got to experience those things precisely because I had that exact control over my diet.
What I did not have, however, was control over my stressful environment, control over my boredom, or control over my wandering hands. Instead of having control over paleo foods, paleo foods began having control over me. THEY WERE IN MY HEAD, GUYS. I’ve written before about how it’s possible, and in fact quite unreasonable for people to think otherwise, to binge on paleo foods. When we get our brains wired into food-response reward systems, trust: we can still really get at it. Example: I’ve eaten a whole chicken. Example: I’ve eaten three pounds of carrots. Example: I’ve eaten a whole paleo cheesecake, with a meal and snacks aside. I weight 110 lbs. A binge can be my caloric load for three whole days.
Now these choices were made fairly mindfully, and I didn’t exactly have a problem with the huge quantity when I ate these foods. I don’t want to lead you to believe I have a serious problem. I learned to handle binges and guilt a long time ago. It is definitely still an evolving issue, but I barely struggle at all these days. Moreover, instead of being a unique, struggling case–because I am not–I consider myself instead to be one of millions of people with Food On The Mind. If and when I “over eat” it is more often than not in the form of grazing. I want you to know this because, in my experience, the whole ‘appetite regulation’ deal doesn’t always work. Certainly it helps, it helps so much, but the psychological is a giant part of the battle. I have leaned on the comfort and safety and serotonin boosts of food in my past like it was my job. I know scores of others who do the same.
So being around food all the time meant that I could precisely choose my foods. And it meant that food was readily available, all the time. This lead to grazing, to careful preparation, to doubt, and to guilt. To Obsession. And general overthink, I think. Before meals, I would think about what to make. Between meals I would graze or wish I was grazing. And after I ate I would be a really critical judge: “Was that butter really the best choice? Shouldn’t I have used coconut instead? Why didn’t I eat fish today? I have all these beets and I can’t believe I let them go to waste!”
Being away from a kitchen has liberated me from those thoughts. I have no food around me, and it’s the fucking bomb. It is now an adventure, rather than a psychological need, when I get food. And so often it is a surprise! And so fun! Last night I stumbled on a woman deep frying chicken livers, and it was tasty and SO GOOD. I know that she was using high-PUFA, possibly trans-fatty sesame oil for her frying, but I weighed the benefits of the livers versus the omega 6 fats, and considered how much omega 3 I get from the rest of my diet, and jumped in line. They were delicious, and they were a meal, and I went home without a thought of food at all.
Eating out is difficult because it is expensive and because it can be time consuming and because you never actually know what exactly you’re putting in your body. However, if you have a general awareness of the cooking process, and are comfortable with the choices that you are making for your health, it can be a godsend. This is easier for a paleo dieter, I believe, in a nation such as Taiwan that sells hard boiled eggs on every street corner, but it is possible, I guess, any place with a couple of restaurants and a nice chef. What’s more, I think I can handle some trans fat for the psychological freedom. Ouch, I know. But I do my best to mitigate it, and to avoid it, and to move on. I do my damned hardest every day for holistic health, and these are the correct steps for me, right now.
The problem with disordered eating is that defeating it requires mindfulness: “What the fuck am I putting in my body?” But it also requires mindlessness. It is a constant war that is won with balance. Yes I need to know what I’m putting in my body, and Yes, I need to make sure it’s healthy, but No, I don’t need to obsess about it when I plan my meals. No, I don’t need to feel guilty afterward. No, I don’t need to fret about how much I’ve left on my plate.
This is why being kitchen-less is a godsend for me. Now, when my body sends me satiety signals, I don’t keep walking past them with my fingers in my ears going “Na na na na na na I can’t hear you.” Instead, I feel them, and then I move on to a different activity, and even when physiological hunger comes up on me again I can work through it just fine. I wrote a post on healthy relationships with food a while back. I stand by everything I said. Yet the most, absolutely the most important part of a healthy relationship with food is being able to let go. Don’t obsess. Don’t let it control you. Don’t think about it all that much. Food is great and food is omg so tasty but it’s also just. food.
So if you have a psychological need, think about what you can change in your life to put food in a new context. For me, it was physical distance. It was also, a little bit, adventure. I still eat paleo, even if its a little less consistent than it was in my last life, but this is perhaps an even more important aspect of my holistic health. These are my needs, and I prioritize them appropriately.
What are your needs? If you think you need to be less mindful, like me, maybe you can rearrange your kitchen so your fridge is less accessible, or move your pantry to another location, or only shop for food on certain days of the week… the list of ideas is endless!* On the flipside, if you need to be more mindful of your food, you can do that, too! Go shopping on specific days, make yourself a calendar, put pictures of food up around your desk, line your kitchen table with fitness and health books.* The world is your oyster, and you’ve got to shuck it like yo’ mama taught you.
*If you need help brainstorming, drop me a line!Tweet