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Christina Pirello Headshot

The Cook's Brain

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As the holiday season approaches, it seems we all want to channel our inner "Martha" and cook up a storm... which I love, since cooking is my life. So I offer some food for thought on being healthy through the season of partying.

Change begins with our choices: how we move through the world, the footprint we leave, the products we consume. But nothing (in my view) will create as dramatic a change as what we choose to eat and drink.

I think we have lost our way when it comes to food. Each day we hear statistics that are scarier than anything that Stephen King could imagine. We're confused and scared witless! So we change nothing, literally paralyzed by fear and confusion... and robust health eludes us.

What if I told you that it's simple, delicious, and totally relaxing to eat foods that will nourish your body and soul, help you achieve your ideal weight, live peacefully and compassionately, and slip right past all the obstacles that keep you from making healthy choices?

We live in a culture that sets us up for failure and cashes in on our insecurities. Every television ad we see is telling us that we are losers, but if we buy their pills, perfume, lotion, burger, drink, mouthwash, clothes, or car, we will be sane, sexy, smart, funny, healthy, fit, and thin. These messages reinforce the notion that we cannot be whole, complete humans without stuff -- and lots of it.

As a result, mindless eating and unconscious living leave us eating too much of all the wrong things; we exercise too little; we depend on pharmaceuticals to keep us up and keep us down. We get into a rut.

Our life becomes routine, replete with habits that are not contributing to our health and wellness, so we have to give ourselves a good shaking up or we'll continue in this downward spiral that is typical of this culture of indulgence and convenience that is eating us alive.

To move forward, you must ask yourself what your life will be like as you change. How will your life be enhanced? Your mind is a powerful tool. Use it to your advantage.

New habits, healthy habits, can be created by reprogramming yourself and taking your brain off auto-pilot -- until you change. The key to lasting weight loss and health is to simply reinforce a new practice.

But here is the cool thing: Whatever actions you take -- and repeat -- could become automatic in as little as a mere month. Just as your present lifestyle may be killing you now, it can quickly be turned around to become your source of strength, health, and fitness.

If you have never cooked before, it can be a daunting idea. You are heading into unfamiliar territory, like a 99-pound weakling walking through a sea of muscles and tattoos for his first gym workout. But with understanding and some basic skills, in a few short sessions in the kitchen, you will be whipping up meals as though you have been cooking all your life.

When I changed my diet almost 30 years ago, I was on the clock, so to speak. I had been diagnosed with cancer and given only months to live. If I was going to affect my condition with my food choices and regain my health, I had to change and change completely.

I cleaned out my kitchen and re-stocked IT with whole grains, beans, fresh vegetables and condiments needed for my health. I was miserable, food-wise. It was unfamiliar and overwhelming. I didn't know where to begin, how to progress, how to move forward. I felt paralyzed. I hated the food. I never looked forward to a meal. I missed my frozen candy bars.

I knew I had to make this change, but I was lost in a sea of doubt and fear... and flat-tasting food.

It took about 30 days of cooking, struggling, and praying for strength before I discovered how delicious natural foods can be. It was like a veil being lifted from my eyes. I was a complete and total slave to sugar, fat, and salt. The most challenging thing in my life was giving up my devotion to sugar. I was an addict; there is no way to clean it up. I could not go no more than an hour or two without a "fix."

Now, I admit I had incentive. My choices were sugar or death. It made the commitment a bit easier emotionally, but not physically. The withdrawal symptoms were not unlike withdrawing from drugs. I struggled and fought for my life every day those first few weeks. But once I broke the stranglehold that processed food -- in particular, sugar -- had on me, it was like life began.

Changing your cupboard is the best place to begin. It was the thing that made the difference for me. If the food in your pantry is designed for health, then you are more likely to use what's on hand and eat well. You need to make it completely inconvenient to eat poorly. Look at each ingredient in your pantry and think about how you can improve the quality of it. Read labels. Remember that choosy mothers would not, in fact, ever choose Jif. Rooting out the products in your pantry and replacing them with healthy alternatives will begin the process of re-thinking your food.

You may not like the food at first, so eat well for other reasons: your daughter's wedding, your family's future, so you can play catch with your son, to avoid a heart attack, to fit into a little black dress for your high school reunion, to avoid cancer or diabetes. Choose a reason that will motivate you to eat well and will keep you motivated until your taste buds adjust and you discover the truly delicious nature of a diet of plant-based, whole, unprocessed foods. You may not want to change for the esoteric love of the planet or because I tell you parsnips are sweetly delicious. You are more likely to change your food if you think it can alter your future, help you avoid disease or lose weight.

I do not care why you change, just that you do.

For more by Christina Pirello, click here.

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