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?