Brain Food Column Month Seven: A recipe for change

Every month, Amerley Ollennu challenges you and herself to road-test research and healthy strategies to help change the way we think about food once and for all


Brain Food Column Month Seven: A recipe for change

‘Can cook, won’t cook’ is the phrase that sums me up. I’m the kind of girl who’d eat out for every meal if I could, as I don’t really think about food until I’m hungry or in need of comfort. And my food-related laziness has a direct impact on the way I eat: I’m unprepared, rarely make a packed lunch, and often find myself with no healthy snacks for the day. Why do I refuse to think about food since I’m so keen to live a healthy lifestyle? Could it be my unhealthy love/hate relationship with cooking that’s stopping me?

The challenge

‘We need food to survive and when we make the right choices it can give us energy, help us fight illness, support overall health and be truly enjoyable. But many of us struggle to reconcile the positive aspects of our experience with food with the guilt, anxiety and other negative emotions that eating can trigger,’ says psychologist Elaine Slater. I can relate. Throughout this journey I’ve been trying to find balance, to eat well, to lose some weight and to get fit. But this has induced new anxieties – am I eating the right amount? Did I have too many carbs? Is my snacking a form of controlled comfort-eating? All these pushed me back to my old ways of not wanting to deal with it. So I knew my next challenge had to be about falling back in love with food.

The experience

Nutritionist Yvonne McMeel suggested a cooking class. So while on holiday at the Almyra Hotel in Cyprus, I had a cooking lesson with chef Rob Shipman, whose synergetic style of cooking (pairing different ingredients together with the aim of achieving more nutritional value) sounded right up my street. We cooked an incredibly tasty yet simple aubergine dish, and I vowed to carry on cooking at home. But my choices were adventurous and I became overwhelmed by the number of ingredients and quickly went back to my old ways, which often meant my meals weren’t balanced or I wasn’t eating enough, as I was conscious not to overeat. McMeel advised me to ‘try one new recipe per week; something with only a few ingredients that can be cooked in less than 30 minutes. That way, you avoid being overwhelmed by more difficult dishes.’ This was the best advice, and I soon realised simple dishes could taste as good as more complex ones.

The result

After a few hiccups, I’m beginning to enjoy cooking, especially when I’m making food for family or friends. To ensure I eat well all week, I cook meals I can take for lunch the next day or freeze to eat later. I still eat out, but what’s interesting is I’m less inclined to pick dishes I’d previously been drawn to because I couldn’t make them myself. Now I cook healthier versions at home, so I don’t feel like I’m depriving myself of anything. This feeling of  deprivation often caused me to binge, as I felt sad that I couldn’t have what I wanted. Cooking for myself has also made me more mindful. I’m even eating food I’d sworn off, from vegetables to quinoa and pulses – and enjoying them. I feel like I’m feeding my body so much goodness, I don’t need the unhealthy foods I was once drawn to.

Amerley Ollennu is Beauty and Wellbeing Editor. Find her on Twitter @AmerleyO