As you may have heard, last year I got divorced. One of the big shifts I dealt with after the split was adapting to solo food preparation duties… and in fact, completely relearning my relationship with hunger, food, and nourishing myself. In my marriage, I didn’t do much of the cooking… and I have had a lot of emotions in my mid-’00s yuppie kitchen. The countertops shine with tears, and I used to bend over the oven and cry over his cooking, his cooking, his cooking.
But wait. Let’s wipe up that mess, because here’s the new reality: I actually prefer how I eat now. It’s simple and straightforward — a focus on protein and produce, nourishment and color. There’s almost no flourish, no recipes, no elaborate kitchen tools or single-use appliances needed.
A big part of this shift was relearning how food feels in my body. Grief works on the body in weird ways, and one of the things it can do is strip away your appetite completely. For several months, food was just a thing I had to chew and swallow to stay alive. There was no pleasure in flavors, no sense of satisfaction… ever, really.
As my body’s normal functioning systems started coming back online, I decided to use the blank slate as a way to relearn food. Once I was hungry again (honestly, it took me almost a full season to have any desire to eat), I used my very quiet, empty house as an opportunity to listen to my body a bit more — I was eating to see how the food actually FELT.
Here was what I found about how certain foods make me feel:
- Sugar, which had always been my most-craved food, made me feel jacked and spiky, amped and bitter. It tasted so good in my mouth, but made my stomach sour and my bloodstream feel skittery.
- Wheat, my second most favorite food (especially when combined with sugar!), made me feel tired and lethargic, heavy-lidded and depressed.
- Meat, which had never been a big part of my diet, made me feel satisfied and energized, physically strong and mentally capable. This was really weird, because I’d never really cared much about meat.
- Yogurt was my perfect food.
- Vegetables were alternately exciting (SALADS SO CRUNCHY AND FRESH!) and comforting (…soup so warm and nourishing).
I want to be very clear about this: I’m NOT saying these are the foods that will feel good to everyone, just that this was what MY BODY told me it liked. Your body might tell you something different. I’m 100% NOT here to be prescriptive about what anyone else’s diet should be.
Once I got clear one what my body actually liked, it was easy to assemble a roster of common meals to make.
My favorite meals are a tour of healthy college cooking:
- scrambled eggs and salad
- hash browns with chopped veggies
- crockpot soups with chicken and veggies
- sausage and kale
- And my most favorite meal of all time: greek yogurt with blueberries, almonds, and maple syrup
Of course I also eat out a fair amount, but eating pretty bare-bones at home saves money, feels healthier, keeps things simple, and fits my skills and interests. I don’t need rich food or complex food or elaborate recipes. I just need some protein and some produce.
For me, that’s how it boiled down: protein and produce. I guess if you were to categorize my diet (which I’m not), it would be lazy-Paleo?
I’ve had several people ask me if now’s the time to finally learn to cook more complex meals, and I think the reality is more this: I know how to cook. I cook some really simple things that me and my kid enjoy, that keep us both healthy and nourished. I enjoy preparing these very simple meals because they take about 15 minutes and involve color and arranging things like little puzzles.
If it takes more than 15 minutes or 5 ingredients, I’m outtie. I just don’t enjoy it, and you know what? I’m good at and enjoy lots of things. I don’t need to be good at everything.
I serve guests hilarious platters of kindergartener snack food, and sliced fruit, and a spread of snacking veggies, and everyone laughs and rolls their eyes … and then eats every single fucking thing on the plate because it’s delicious.
Even when I eat out, I tend to stick to the same very simple things
I eat lunch at Ada’s Technical Books almost daily, and it’s almost always the same thing: a scramble with a salad, english muffin, and homemade jam. Pretty familiar, with the simple protein and produce, with luxury of some extra oils and baked goods.
On the days when I’m extra active, I sit alone at the bars of Seattle’s 15th Avenue E, inhaling plates of medium rare hamburgers and piles of fries dipped in mayo, comparing indica/bath/napping routines with bartenders. This is as much about nourishing my connection with my neighborhood as it is about refueling my engines.
The loss of sugar and wheat cravings is really weird
Running leaner these days is a form of behavior training where the feeling of not having as much sugar or wheat in my body is so pleasant that it’s trained most of the cravings out of me. It’s gotten to the point where the displeasure of having the cookie in my stomach and bloodstream isn’t worth the pleasure of having the cookie in my mouth… I mean, when it comes to cravings. Of course I still eat cookies and ice cream. I just don’t crave sugar as much.
This might be in part because the house is so quiet that I don’t have anything else to do but listen to my body more.
I still have a lot more learning to do about food
I want to get a few more simple meals in my repertoire, and get better about preparing batches of food in advance so that I’ve got meals at the ready in the fridge. I want to stay mindful with my portions. Grief reset my body, and, going forward, I want to fuel it as well as I can.
What foods make YOU feel your best?
Comments on Food that FEELS good vs food that just tastes good
Illness reset my body, and also reset my views of food. I’ve loved experimenting and finding new things for me and my husband to eat. We were fast food junkies, but I have really focused on introducing veggies into our diet and I think it has helped us mentally and physically.
Yay! I used to HATE salads (and was forced to eat them almost daily) growing up. I’ve never really craved or wanted one. But when I started eating keto, back in October, salads magically became delicious. Maybe it’s the spinach (no iceberg for me), high-fat/sugar-free dressings, or the fact that I sprinkle red pepper flake on them, but the texture, the flavor combinations, the way I feel afterward….now I actively crave them! Odd how that happens. 🙂
When my mom left my dad, he spent the first year starving, learning to cook out of necessity (and resenting it). But he discovered the opposite of #fuckcooking- he loves it, and he’s good at it! Cooking for one is a big challenge, as even adapting recipes designed for 4 can be a disaster. But he took to it like a duck to water. You and he are both proof that divorce can be emotionally, mentally, and physically tolling and also strengthening and educational.
Simplicity is key when looking for meals that are nourishing for body and soul. I’m a huge fan of soup, especially the “throw ingredients in crock-pot variety”. Munch plates (or munch boxes if I’m at work) are my lazy way to get what I need. Raw fruit and veggies, some hummus, cheese, some other protein, maybe a simple cracker or naan bread. Everyone likes it, it’s a cinch to throw together, and my body gets the fuel it needs.
I love this post. I went Keto last year as a strategy for my Type-2 Diabetes, and I realized as part of the process that I didn’t really feel great after eating carbs, but that I felt amaaaazing eating all the cheese on the planet with a side of meat and crunchy veg. I realized that my carbs were basically vehicles for my cheese. (and then i learned how to make “bread” with cheese) Bonus, my blood glucose came under great control, my cholesterol has never been better, and my doctor is happy with where I am. I’ve fallen off the keto wagon lately, but it’s so interesting now when I eat bread or pizza that my system basically says “No, thank you.” So now those things are a once in awhile treat, not an every day staple. I’ve also learned that it’s ok to go 80/20 or some other ratio that I don’t math out every time. I have varying levels of effort on low carbing, and it’s ok, because OVERALL, my health is still doing well.
It’s so important to listen to our own bodies and fuel our bodies with what we need! Thank you for this incredibly health-positive post on overcoming not only grief, but with your adverse relationship with food.
It’s interesting what you say about cheese – I’m pregnant, and in the early weeks found that cheese was often the only thing I wanted to eat. On crackers, mainly. I even bought some of those cheese slices to keep at work so I had access to cheese at all times. I completely lost interest in bread, though at 14 weeks that’s coming back as long as it’s decent bread.
Going gluten-free for health reasons actually reconnected me with my relationship with food and made me love to cook. Last year I took it a step further and switched to zero waste which intensified that relationship and made me really thrifty and proud of my time in the kitchen (homemade chocolate sauce, ketchup, etc) — added bonus was that it’s made our food bill lower and we’re eating so much healthier — it weeded out what made us feel like crap (like that list you mentioned). I think once I felt good about how food made me feel it made me enjoy the process of cooking more, because I was so lazy before.
If you’re looking for inspiration on quick and easy recipes, check out CookSmarts!
This is an ongoing process for me but I have recently discovered that a high fat, mostly raw, and not much meat diet is what works best for me. This means lots of nuts, cheeses, salads, smoothies, and meals that are really just food-assembled-on-a-plate. I enjoy my food more when it looks pretty, so I spend time on that, but hate cooking so make things as simple as possible.
I was astounded at how much easier my relationship with food became when I really started responding to my body.
I know what you mean, I don’t do well with complicated meals and recipes as well. I still have issues eating in these fancy restaurant where even the simpliest salad has lots of ingredients and mixes of tastes. I personally like to cook, but all my meals are pretty simple and yet tasty.
I came across an easy low cooking recipe y’all might like –
Sweet potato – baked or microwaved
Broccoli – I used frozen broccoli and microwaved it
Cheddar – if everything else is hot enough it’ll melt all on its own
If you’re feeling fancy, add bacon crumbles. If you’re baking the sweet potatoes, you can do oven bacon at the same time.
I divorced a professional chef (insert wailing.) I HATE cooking, and I’m awful at it. My sugar craving is still in full effect, and I’m relying on a lot of pasta. I don’t eat meat much and I won’t cook it, so it’s usually when I go out. But I buy organic, and try to work in some fruit… I do my best to eat like a hippie’s 6 year old, basically.
But…making the switch from daily eggs and toast for breakfast (which my husband would make every morning) to yogurt and granola (because I’m not going to cook first thing wtf) has been AMAZING for my guts. I’ve always had sort of mild ongoing IBS, and now unless I do something stupid like eat fried food or gassy veggies, I feel…pretty much normal. I ate yogurt before, but not on a daily basis like I do now (I’ve also been bringing drinkable yogurt to work, so like… we’re talkin’ a lot of yog.)
It took me entirely too long to realize that my body really likes fat. Not deep fried everything, but the kind of fat “healthy” eating had led me to eliminate- cooking with a bit of oil, using regular meat instead of extra lean, adding some cheese or nuts or butter, etc. Unless I overdo it, these make my body (especially my gut) much happier.
Yes to fat! Did you see all the stuff last fall about how the sugar industry lobbied to demonize fat? http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/well/eat/how-the-sugar-industry-shifted-blame-to-fat.html
Yes, though sadly now I’ve started to see things swing in the opposite direction to where sugar is blamed for everything. Sure, the industry was shady- that doesn’t mean we all should be watching our fruit intake (real advice I’ve seen!).
That’s why I appreciate the emphasis here on eating for noursishment and listening to your body rather than the newest fad.
i had the same body-experience going vegan last year – it just got all so different with what i want to eat and what feels good when i eat it.
i also realized that i love the memory of how something tastes much more than the actual thing – i used to love me some black tea with lots of milk and sugar, like liquid caramel. i had a cup this christmas – it tasted awful. but i still love it, i just don´t want to have it anymore. ^^
and for easy: i throw a potato, an onion and a sweet potato in the oven, time depending on size, and have that with hummus and fresh veggies to dip. easy and delicious!
Chili is my favorite make ahead, have in the fridge, solo meal – fill it with whatever meat/protien, beans and veggies YOU like and top it however you want. Chili stores and reheats beautifully! (and is full of protien!)
I have recently been rediscovering veggies from my childhood with a new prospective. Brussel sprouts are now something that I make several times a month and people actually request them. You slice them in half, toss in olive oil, salt and pepper, and lemon juice. Arrange them in a pan (cast iron if you’ve got it) cut side down and just let them cook undisturbed over medium-high until they start to brown on the bottom. Then slide that whole fucking pan into the oven at 400 and go watch something on Netflix or something. Pull them out around 40 later or when the outside leaves are dry and crispy and the inside melts like butter.
I’ve been away from the site for a bit from my own relationship difficulties, and my husband and I have recently separated. I didn’t know you were going through it too, Ariel. I am definitely in the “don’t feel like eating” stage of grief right now.
I’m currently living with my sister’s family, and her little kiddos inspire me to cook more. I am finding some personal source of power from knowing I can cook a comforting meal. My sister is enjoying the addition of some vegetarian meals to their typical dinner routine.
I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through it too. You may find some comfort here:
Fuck cooking. I’m so with you on this. I’ve never been able to concisely express to husband, family, or friends why I hate cooking so much, but I just derive no pleasure in spending hours in the kitchen cooking, then 20 minutes eating, then an hour cleaning up. Like you, if total prep time is longer than 15 minutes, it’s not worth MY time.
Funny story, we lived in a stove-less apartment for four years. We were free to buy one and take it with us when we left but we got used to not having one and anything you can do on a stove you can do with a combination of a fry pan, toaster oven, and double burner. When we bought our house in the fall the most common question I got was “Aren’t you so excited to have a stove?” Nope, not at all. I was excited to have a house, the stove was just a thing that came with it. We’ve lived there for just under two months and the first time I touched the stove was three days ago. I made stir fry. You know what? It took a helluva lot longer on a stove then it did in my old fry pan at the apartment!