The art of food preparation is a very recently acquired skill for me. I would describe the cooking style I used in years past as lazy-beyond-lazy. It's not just that I'd make macaroni and cheese from a box; it's that I wouldn't even wait for the water to boil to make macaroni and cheese from a box. I'd toss the noodles and a little bit of water into a bowl, microwave this for a few minutes, add the powdered cheese sauce and some butter, and eat a concoction that was equal parts crunchy and mushy, neither in a good way. I was addicted to TV dinners. I only ate frozen vegetables. Slicing or dicing any ingredient to be used in a dish was a concept way beyond my reach. It's not that I wasn't capable of cooking. It's not that I didn't have the time. I just didn't see the point. I didn't think it was worth the effort.
I didn't think I was worth the effort.
One of the first lessons I learned when I was working on intuitive eating was the art of slowing down and appreciating my meals. This was actually one of the hardest components for me. I'd become accustomed to scarfing down microwaveable meals in less than five minutes while watching TV, surfing the internet, or flipping through a book or magazine. I'd become accustomed to downing bags of chips or candy while sitting in my car in a store parking lot or while taking a bath. I couldn't get food down my throat fast enough and I couldn't even taste the food when I did.
Cooking, in the beginning, seemed like a tortuous ceremony designed to remind me just how much time I was losing. Spending fifteen or twenty minutes to make a meal felt like a punishment. I would come home after work ravenous and filled with the emotions of the day. The last thing -- the absolute last thing -- I wanted to do was spend my evening in the kitchen, where I'd have to create a mess to create a meal and then spend the rest of my evening cleaning up the mess.
Putting down the remote, computer, and book every time I ate a meal was harder than I ever could have imagined. The silence was deafening. It sounded like loneliness. I wanted to get through the meals as quickly as possibly so I didn't have to sit still and listen to my own thoughts.
I had to practice again and again, day after day, week after week, month after month, the art of sitting still and appreciating my meal. It was a hard-fought battle for me and one I never thought I'd win. Eventually, after a very long time, it became easier. Getting to that point was hellish, but eventually it became easier.
After even more time passed, I started to learn the value of making a production out of my meals. Sure, I could sit by the TV and scarf down a sandwich. But what if I didn't? What if I believed that I was worth the effort of cooking a meal? What if I believed I was worth the effort of sitting at a table with a plate and utensils? What if I put down a tablecloth? What if I lit some candles? What if I prepared fresh vegetables instead of frozen? What if I ditched the frozen dinners? What if I followed a recipe from beginning to end and sat down to enjoy the finished product?
What if I allowed myself to believe I was worth it?
There were so many years when I thought I needed to be small. I thought I needed to get in and out of things quickly. I needed to be quiet. I needed to keep my head down, my voice down. I needed to go from one thing to the next, doing whatever needed to be done and nothing more. I needed to be available to everyone. I needed to say yes to everyone. I needed to take care of everyone. I didn't need to worry about myself.
The truth about people who think they don't need to worry about themselves is that they're falling apart on the inside and as a result they're not a lot of good to anyone around them. They may think they're being helpful. They may think they're being selfless. But a person who's burnt out and exploding inside can't help anyone until she helps herself. And as silly as this may sound, one of the first places you can learn to help yourself is by sitting yourself down and having a healthy, pretty meal.
What does pretty have to do with anything? Everything. Pretty is the difference between dining at your favorite restaurant and getting a value meal from McDonald's. A meal that's more than just food slopped on a dish -- a meal that was carefully prepared and plated -- is a meal that begs to be enjoyed slowly. Try ordering a meal from a fast food restaurant and then forcing yourself to spend at least twenty minutes eating it. That's torture. Try the same task with a meal that someone took time and care to make and you'll want to stop and savor every bite. You'll want to appreciate the textures and colors. You'll want to take a photo because your meal looks so damn good. You'll want to stop, look around, and notice and appreciate the effort that went into making your meal.
These days, I am obsessed with making my meals as fun as possible. To an outsider, this may look like a silly waste of time. The stranger who catches me taking pictures of my meals at restaurants probably assumes I'm a pretty basic person. Whatever the outsiders and strangers think is fine with me. This is what I know for sure: When I take the time to eat real food, I feel satisfied and I don't want to eat again five minutes later. The opposite is true when I eat processed food. When I take the time to sit down at a table for my meals, I appreciate what I'm eating. The opposite is true when I graze while standing in my kitchen or eat something fast in my car. When I take the time to make my food look pretty or cute or fun or festive or photo-worthy, I feel proud of what I'm putting in my body. The opposite is true when I'm quickly shoving bites of microwaved food down my throat.
There are two truths about making my food look fun. One: It's silly. Two: It's not silly at all. There is, in fact, nothing silly about taking my life back and refusing to go through my days numb. Eating fun food means I'm alive. It means I'm fighting; I haven't given up. Eating fun food means I'm staking my claim as a human in this world and I'm refusing to give in to whatever voices encourage me to just get through my days and wake up and do it again over and over again. I don't want to just get through my days. I want to live.
If that means putting a smiley face made out of veggies on my sandwich, that's what I'm going to do.
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