I love to cook, but I didn't always like it. Like many other people, I suffered from a mild version of mageirocophobia -- the fear of cooking. In my case, I was reluctant to try new recipes and felt overwhelmed by cooking when crunched for time. Familiar meals like pasta and burgers were no problem. I would page wistfully through cookbooks and watch episodes of the Food Network. There seemed to be a huge gap between wanting to cook and making it happen.
Why does it matter? Cooking can make you a more mindful eater. Restaurants are not doing our waistlines any favors. They give us huge portions and deceptively, innocent looking creations that are simply unhealthy. Cooking a dish yourself helps you know exactly what is in it -- which gives you a much more accurate gauge of how healthy it is. Also, it's difficult to mindlessly consume a dish that you've put time and energy into. When you mindfully cook, you learn how to taste to get the spices and flavor just right. This helps you to savor -- to be more in tune with the flavor and emotionally invested in enjoying the meal.
I've heard the theory that if you can read a recipe, you can cook. So, why is it that so many very intelligent men and women get overwhelmed, throw their hands up in the air and deem themselves incapable in the kitchen? There are many things that stand in the way. In part, it may be perfectionism. What if this dish doesn't come out just right? It's very difficult for many of us to not be good at something on the first try. Not to mention that all change is difficult. Trying something new, in general, can cause anxiety.
If you feel like you don't have time, you aren't alone. This is a common justification (and legitimate reason) for avoiding cooking. Trying a new recipe takes added concentration, time and effort to get the hang of it. Think of how easily (almost mindlessly) you can put together a recipe that you've made for years. Consider that many simple meals can be put together in 10 minutes or so, less time than it takes to drive to a restaurant. Rachael Ray can make a meal from start to finish in 30 minutes flat.
If you want to become a more mindful eater, give cooking a try.
1) Unfortunately, there is the perception that cooking is a burden and chore. Until we turn this around in our minds, we will always be tempted to just go out to dinner or order in. Recognize that cooking can help you to be a more mindful eater. It's an essential tool for managing your weight.
2) Find the right recipe. Choose a new recipe that is simple. I recently read Light and Delish, a "bookazine" that features 400 calorie or less recipes. These recipes don't ask for wild ingredients. Most of them can be found right in your cabinet. Not only are the recipes delicious, as the name suggests, but manageable and mindful of the calorie content and healthy ingredients. The recipes show that when food is healthy, you can eat larger portions and you don't have to be hungry. This week I made, Healthy Makeover Meatloaf.
3)Be open minded. Put your perfectionistic self on hold. If it doesn't work out, that's okay. Have a sense of humor and a back-up plan if all else fails.
4) Pre-cooking. Read through the entire recipe from start to finish several times before even considering cooking it. Make yourself very familiar with the instructions. Too often, we get through half of the recipe only to find that we've done it in the wrong order because we didn't take the time to read through it completely. Buy all the ingredients several days before you get started. Going to the store can be exhausting and sabotage your will to cook. There is nothing more frustrating than realizing you are missing an item or two. Thankfully, cooking can also save you money. In some cases, it can be less expensive than fast food.
5) Cook Together. I've named one of my favorite new recipes, "Sara's Casserole." My friend Sara made it for me one day when I was very under the weather. I complimented it many times and had asked for the recipe more than once. She realized, on some level, that I had mageirocophobia and offered to come over and make it with me. It completely took out the intimidation factor of the new recipe, which turned out to be incredibly easy. Tasty does not always equal hard. It's now one of my staple recipes. So, making a new recipe with a friend can help you approach rather than avoid cooking.
6) Make your dish for a supportive audience. If your spouse is a picky eater or has difficulty with change, they may not be the best test case for your new recipe.
7) Give yourself a 30 day challenge. Try at least one new recipe each week during that time. See if simply swapping a few restaurant meals for home cooked meals helps you to be a more mindful eater.
I'm happy to say that I've completely overcome my anxiety toward cooking. I no longer feel overwhelmed by the kitchen. In fact, I'm starting to create my own recipes. Mindful cooking is one of the tools I use to make me a more mindful eater. So, if you see a recipe with more than three ingredients and say "forget it," don't worry, there is hope.
Susan Albers, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in eating issues, weight loss, body image concerns, and mindfulness. She is author of 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food, Eating Mindfully, Eat, Drink, and Be Mindful, and Mindful Eating 101 and a Huffington Post blogger. Her books have been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, O, the Oprah Magazine, Natural Health and Self Magazine and on the Dr. Oz TV Show. Visit Albers online at www.eatingmindfully.com