Cooking Up Self EsteemJoy Manning is the restaurant critic for Philadelphia Magazine, the author of the cookbook Almost Meatless , and as you will read below –quite a talented blogger. Her work has appeared in Cooking Light, Food & Wine, Relish, Inked, and SeriousEats.com. When I asked Joy why she writes about body image and cooking, here is what she had to say;
Body image is important because I have struggled with it my entire life; cooking was the single most important thing that helped me overcome compulsive overeating. Cooking is a powerful tool that helps mend our often damaged relationships with food.
But usually, we cook for the love of another person or group of people. It’s steak and potatoes and Cabernet for a date. It’s a hearty casserole for the neighbor who is sick. It’s a generous pile of cookies for the office meeting. This is a time-tested way to show love and respect for other people.
But how often do most of us love and honor ourselves with food this way? Sadly, not very often.
If we aren’t cooking for our kids, our significant others, our neighbors, the PTA, we are not cooking at all.
I have a friend—a single woman who lives alone—that claims to have not been to the grocery store since 2006. Recently, as her weight dipped into health-hazard territory, her doctor gave her a stern lecture about the importance of eating. It should be obvious that we owe ourselves meals. We wouldn’t let the pets go hungry, but many of us cannot muster the same level of care for ourselves. Since her doctor’s warning, my friend has tried to make herself regular meals. This has translated into a frozen pizza ritual; the arctic disk of processed starch and cheese-food takes its spin in the microwave while my friend—a media executive—sits on the sofa, kicks off her shoes, and collects her thoughts for the first time all day as the microwave hums in the background. She eats it on a paper plate in front of the TV.
Is this the dinner you make for someone you love?
In certain circles, the idea that we should love ourselves is unspeakably corny. I’ve worked in offices where my box of illustrated affirmation cards has made me a laughing stock. But self-love is the most fundamental building block of self-esteem and self-confidence—qualities most of us know are vital to success and happiness. If food is love, what does it say about us when we can’t be bothered to feed the most important person in our lives—ourselves? Why is it that we are so willing to cook for date, a family, an office meeting, a bake sale, but we are so unwilling to cook for ourselves?
I have brought this up to my executive friend and many other women who don’t cook for the “obvious” reason that it’s “just me.” Only me. Little old me. To this I say: is there anyone more important to cook for? To refuse to cook for yourself because of the subconscious and pernicious belief that you don’t deserve it, you aren’t worth the effort, is to deny yourself pleasure, health, satisfaction, and well being.
Some women say they just don’t know how to cook; I also once did not know how to cook. My mother didn’t cook, and like so many people now in their 20s and 30s, I just never learned how. To me, cooking meant inserting a box into the microwave and waiting while watching 5 minutes of TV. But this isn’t cooking. None of us would prepare this kind of a meal for a friend or a date. It isn’t good enough. And, therefore, it isn’t good enough for “just you” either.
Perhaps now you are thinking to yourself that I’m right, it is important to cook for yourself. But how can you considering the lack of recipes for one? Cooking for one is no different than cooking for four, which is about how many most recipes serve. You cook, you eat, you pack lunch, you freeze for a future meal. It’s simple. It’s true that this can take some planning, so it’s important to have a small arsenal of easy meals-for-one in your repertoire. (Check out recipe suggestions)
When you first start to cook, especially if it’s for “just” yourself, it can feel awkward and selfish. There are inevitable mistakes and late night calls for pizza. But the process will teach you something, and it’s something more than how to get a great tasting and healthy meal on the table. As you master how to cut an onion and learn how the sound of their sizzle changes as the onions pass from crunchy raw to soft and sweet, you learn about yourself. You learn that you are more competent in the kitchen, and in life, than you realized. You learn how terrible all those processed foods were making you feel. And in the clarity provided by a truly nourished brain, you begin to realize that cooking for yourself is more than worth the effort.
It’s an act of self-care—self-love—that is vital to the well being of your body and your soul.