Learning to Cook and My Go-To Recipes and Cooking Websites

learn-to-cook-leigh.jpg

Cooking can be super intimidating. What does “sauté” mean? Blanch? Deglaze? Is a cube like a dice? What the heck is a pinch of salt? (it’s actually about 1/8 of a teaspoon so fill a 1/4 tsp half way)…

I remember when I was first learning to cook, how nervous I felt (my family is full of great cooks, so expectations run high). I burned, boiled-over, forgot, both under- and overcooked countless recipes, and every time I did, I learned.

How I learned to cook

When I teach cooking classes, I love to use the analogy of running: You (likely) wouldn't run a marathon by just thinking about it. You'd run a marathon by lacing up your shoes day-in and day-out to train, practice, and prepare yourself to cross the finish line.

It takes time, some discomfort and just plain work. 

Likewise, if you "can't" or "don't know how" or "didn't grow up learning how to" cook, then you probably aren't going to get any better by just thinking (*cough* dreading) it. 

How to get comfortable in the kitchen

Instead, here are some proactive ways to learn and prepare yourself to learn how to cook:

  • Look up how-tos (here’s one from Cook Smarts and one from Nourishing Meals). 

  • Find recipes online or pinterest. I’ll admit pinterest is one of my least favorite platforms because it overwhelms me, but they do have an endless number of recipes!

  • Set aside a day once a week or once a month to practice or try recipes.

  • Invite friends over to try out a couple recipes and send everyone home with meals for the week.

  • Also, whfoods.org have some very simple, basic healthy recipes and info about the health benefits of certain foods.

Here are come of my current go-to websites and blogs for recipes. I like these because I’ve cooked several of their recipes, and they work. Plus, they provide modifications for gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, etc. You can often find what you need. I noted those that are strictly vegetarian recipes for anyone who’s already vegetarian to save you time:

What are some of your favorite, dependable recipes and websites? I’d love to hear them below in the comments!

My 5 Days on the Fasting Mimicking Diet

fasting-mimicking-diet.jpg

So, I don’t know why I didn’t share my experience with the fasting mimicking diet (FMD) in real time on my Instagram stories, but I guess I’ll share a little bit of my hesitation before I get into sharing my experience with the plan.

As some of you know, I, like many (all?) nutritionists, haven’t always had the healthiest relationship with food (hello 5’9’’ 119 pounds). When I was at my worst, I would always claim that I had “never followed a diet in my life” and “I ate whatever I wanted.” Ok, well, when you’re obsessively thinking about every single bite you take throughout the day and mentally calculating your caloric intake, you may not be “on” South Beach or Weight Watchers or Atkins, but you’re not living your best life.  

I’ll spare you the journey between healing my relationship with food (if you’re curious, you can read about it here), but I was always hesitant with fasting (and keto) from the start.

I remember about 5 or 6 years ago when my old boss and my nutritionist colleague (we were working in an integrative medicine clinic in an academic med center) started discussing keto and the evidence for certain cancer populations (brain cancer, at that point). Also, there was emerging evidence about fasting for cancer patients before chemo treatments, and that fasting seemed to be helpful for side effects of chemotherapy (less nausea, etc… which I guess makes sense because you don’t have anything in your gut).  

Anyway, knowing that any kind of diet and restrictive eating could be a trigger for disordered eating for me, I hesitated.

So, although I like to think of myself as an early adopter, based on my personal experience (and knowing the risk of a trigger), I decided to read/learn more about the fasting mimicking plan. After reading, listening and watching (documentary Amazon Prime called “The Science of Fasting” where they interview Dr. Valter Longo PhD) more about FMD, I thought about using it with a few clients I’ve worked with over the years. It seemed like it might be a great fit for their needs and their cardiometabolic (cardiovascular + prediabetic/inflammatory-type metabolic pattern) issues. I also had heard from some colleagues that they were having great experiences with the program.

But, before I put a client through the program, I needed to try it myself.

So, the week before Thanksgiving, I decided to do the 5-day “fast,” which isn’t actually a fast, and that’s why they call it the “fasting mimicking diet.”

You get the benefits of fasting (turning on anti-inflammatory activity in the body, essentially turning on your body’s clean up crew and anti-aging gene activity) without actually having to fast.

Hooray!

Maybe it was after I started noticing forehead lines that weren’t going away when I unfurrowed my brow or (gasp) my first gray hair. And, OK, so I barely wash my face outside of the shower and only recently started using oil at night to prevent wrinkles. So, I’m not gonna pretend like I am excited for this whole aging thing.

Alright, I’ll spare any additional rambling and share how the fasting mimicking diet went for me:

Days 1-3:  

The food/drink: It’s prepackaged food, but for prepackaged food, it’s good prepackaged. For breakfast you always eat a nut/granola-type bar. It’s good (but small).  They always give you tea to drink, and I didn’t read the instructions well enough to know whether I was supposed to drink coffee, so… of course I did.

Lunch and dinners are always soups and sometimes olives and/or flax crackers. Then, at the end of a couple days you get some kind of weird chocolate thing with inulin in it, which I called the “fart bar.” The inulin is a “prebiotic” (fiber), which serves, functionally, to keep the digestive tract moving along, but bloated me something fierce.  

Sorry, Rob.

On days 2-5 they have you start drinking a proprietary electrolyte/glycerol concentrate that’s added to water. I put mine in the bottle they gave me and added the 2 tea bags of hibiscus tea to steep most of the day. I don’t fully understand what’s in the drink, but it was nice to sip on between meals.  

Supplements: They give you an omega 3 (algae (not fish) source) and some kind of multivitamin that I wouldn’t have designed that way, but it was 5 days. They were fine, and I took them no problem.

Energy/hunger: To ruin any anticipation or build up, I honestly felt great, especially days 1-4.

I couldn’t believe how well I transitioned into the “fast” (and maybe it’s because I’d done a short stint of a fast/shortened my eating window earlier this year), but I didn’t have any blood sugar “crashes” or “hangry” moments. However, Rob (my husband) might disagree (read on)…

Mindset/Food obsession: I was really busy on days 1 and 2. I saw clients all day each day and had some evening activities, so I didn’t have much time to think about it. I really liked that aspect (keeping myself busy felt key).

By end of day 2 and into day 3, Rob will tell you that I got more preoccupied with food. I was admiring his bowl of ice cream after dinner and even pining over the regular meals he was eating.

Oh, one other random thing: I had some really vivid dreams and slept very deeply for the first 3 nights.

Days 4-5:

The food/drink/supplements: Same bars, soup, crackers/olives. Some of these meals are even more sparse (just soup), and I would eat like 1/8 teaspoon at a time to draw out the meal longer than 90 seconds. Again, I really honestly enjoyed the food. Perhaps I was hungry enough?!

Hunger: I was talking and obsessing about food/eating. It was actually extremely interesting as I reflect back because I hadn’t been that obsessed with food since I was deep in my disordered eating. Rob would tell you that I was talking a lot about food and fast a lot of the time.  

After day 4 I was ready to quit and had been texting with my friend and colleague Amy about it (she’d done it a few times and had a good experience). I told her, “I think I’m good” and would maybe be finish a day early. She text-yelled at me (coached me) to keep going. She reminded me that the program was designed to mimic fasting and was an evidence-based approach to facilitate autophagy (basically the body cleaning up dead cells). So, thanks to Amy, I made it through day 5.

Energy/temperature: The final (5th) day I remember wearing an extra layer of clothes (it’s also been a cold late fall in Kansas City) and took the dog on an abbreviated walk because I was cold and didn’t have the energy to do our typical 3 mile route.

I was hungry.

Day 6 “Refeeding” Day: They tell you to start by drinking liquids (brothy soups, juices, etc.), so I had some apples that I blended in with some water and strained (too lazy to go to the grocery store, ok?!), and that honestly went really well. I tried some sweet potato and venison chili that Rob had made a couple days before for lunch, and had a teeny bit of gurgling in my stomach, which was likely just waking up after the several days. That evening I ate at my parent’s house (the night before Thanksgiving) and had some scallops and steamed broccoli (and maybe a glass of wine – hello right to my head).

This day went extremely smoothly, and I was pleasantly surprised that my body adapted back to food so smoothly. I think one key is taking the morning slowly and not eating any large amounts of foods or anything out of your typical norm of eating.

Thanksgiving: We didn’t have a normal thanksgiving meal on this day, but we did eat well. I felt just fine, and transitioned fully back to eating. As a general rule, I avoid (with my mom, brother and Rob) gluten, so that wasn’t hard because that’s built into our family.

Overall Reflections: To be honest, I would probably do it again. It’s 5 days, it’s laid out of me (exactly what I had to eat and clear instructions). My only hesitation and caution I would give is to make sure you are mentally/emotionally fit for taking on something like this. It can easily trigger obsessive thoughts about food, disordered eating and could feed into further yo-yo dieting (if that’s something you’ve historically done).

The evidence for fasting (to me) is fascinating. I love the idea that it turns on anti-aging genes and allows our body to “clean itself up.” I also love the idea that throughout history, many cultures and religions have fasting built into their lives. Ancient wisdom is fascinating.

So, what else do you want to know? Comment below!

My Journey: Thriving After Struggling with my Relationship with Food

leigh-wagner-my-journey.jpg

I can still picture sitting in class my senior year of college listening to my professor, Dr. Eunice Basler, display on the projector a description of “normal eating.”

Copyright © 2018 by Ellyn Satter. Published at www.EllynSatterInstitute.org. You may reproduce this handout if you don’t charge for it or change it in any way and you do include the copyright statement.

Copyright © 2018 by Ellyn Satter. Published at www.EllynSatterInstitute.org. You may reproduce this handout if you don’t charge for it or change it in any way and you do include the copyright statement.

I will never forget that class.

I was a lean (teetering on underweight) college athlete. An anxious perfectionist who mentally tabulated every bite I took from morning until night. I analyzed and re-analyzed exactly what I had eaten and what I would eat. I was so consumed with what I ate that I didn’t have much mental space outside of that and school to think about much else.

Needless to say, I wasn’t the life of the party.

I can hear my friends snort with laughter reading this. Who am I kidding?! I rarely even went to parties (ok, fine, I never did). I’d blame it on being an athlete, but the reality was that it was a combination of social social anxiety, perfectionism, and having some weird lack of FOMO in college. Who was I?!

My sophomore year of college I had actually changed my major from pre-business to nutrition because I found myself reading my friend’s nutrition textbooks.

I was obsessed.

My relationship with food

I’ll be the first to admit that I came to studying nutrition out of an unhealthy relationship with food. I was the teenage girl watching morning television at home during the summers and listening to the morning talk show hosts talk about calories and weight loss and the dangers of being overweight. In my mind, they were talking to me. I was determined to never be overweight, and I knew (from their talk show lessons) that I could avoid that by counting every calorie that did, would or ever could pass my lips.

So, that’s what I did. I lowered my fat and calories as much as I could while fueling enough to get through track practice. Looking back, it is so sad, but at the time, I thought I was being healthy. Well, for every fat gram I eliminated I steadily lost the same amount of my sense of humor, my love for being active, my ability to feel feelings. I was felt completely numb.

What is normal eating?

Fast forward a few years to that classroom with Dr. Basler, staring at Ellyn Satter’s definition of “normal eating.”

I read these words on the projector and had a sense of relief. Normal eating is being overly full sometimes. It’s also feeling hungry. It’s eating something that you don’t really love or stopping when you’re satisfied.

During that class, we were assigned to read the book “Intuitive Eating” by Resch and Tribole, and that was another level of exploration. I could eat anything and that was ok. I could trust my body to tell me what it needed. I could pay attention to foods I loved and also take note of foods that I just didn’t enjoy.

You’re probably like “umm… duh! This is the life of a veggie hater!” I know. But, from the perspective of a fragile, perfectionist college nutrition student, eating something that was not “healthy” (in the classic sense, at the time) was unfathomable.

I seriously remember one of the girls in my sorority (sorry, I think it’s weird to say “sister”) casually eating a piece of cheese like it was no big deal, and I was like “how can she do that? Doesn’t she realize how much fat is in that?!”

Wow, Leigh. You’ve got problems.

Yes, I really did. And, I can honestly say that the class I took with Eunice Basler (paired with finding an amazing therapist) saved my health (mentally and physically). After taking her class, I ate what I truly wanted to eat and what I actually enjoyed. This, however strange it might be to read, was a big deal for me.

This allowed me to regain my life. I started thinking about things outside of classwork, my track training schedule (technically field, I was a high jumper), and what I was going to eat.  

Intuitive eating and what is “normal”

Now, I can eat comfortably around others without anxiety. I don’t worry about calories, and I fully trust my body to tell me when I’m hungry or full and eat (or stop eating) accordingly. Sometimes I overeat (especially when my parents cook), and sometimes I undereat (especially when Rob and I haven’t planned). At times, I choose what to eat because it’s healthy, and other times (and now more often) I choose what to eat because it tastes good… healthy and tasty are definitely not mutually exclusive - check out my recipes. I, by no means, have a “perfect” relationship with food, and I never will. But, I know that I eat “normally,” and that’s what’s most important to me (and my mental health).

So, how did I get to this point?

Well, it’s taken a lot of time, hard work, appointments, honesty, reading, listening, and a wonderful support system of friends and family (seriously, I know how lucky I am). Here are some of my main self-help mechanisms:

  • Read the definition of “Normal Eating” by Ellyn Satter

  • Read Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

  • Sought counseling with a licensed therapist

  • Received massage therapy (it was helpful to develop a healthy relationship with my body and it continues to be an important part of my self-care)

  • Talked with friends and family I could trust about my struggle

  • Continued to read and listen to self help-type books. Some of them:

I remember one of the breakthrough moments of my progress after I had started therapy in college. It was after I finished jumping at a track meet where I jumped worse than I ever had, even in high school. My parents had come to the meet, and after changing out of my high jump shoes I went over to sit with my mom in the stands and I literally sobbed in her lap for a good 20-30 straight minutes. I remember thinking how relieved I was to actually feel feelings. That’s how numb I was. I remember when I finally laughed again, felt the feeling of being annoyed, and being grateful because I actually had feelings again.

Finding support for heathy eating

If you can relate to an unhealthy relationship with food, the bottom line is that you’re not alone, and I want to support you to get help. It’s definitely a journey without a final destination.

I’d never wish on anyone the struggle I’ve gone through (and I also know that many others have had a much harder and riskier journey than mine), but I’ll always be grateful for it. I would never be who I am today without it, and I know that I am better able to help my clients because of what I’ve gone through.

I realize that now most of my work as an integrative and functional medicine dietitian revolves around helping clients identify foods that cause inflammation and/or dietary problems to address chronic disease. Sometimes (often) this involves elimination diets - possibly the antithesis of intuitive eating?

So, this isn’t the end of the story, because our relationship with food is complicated.  I'll share the next chapter in another post, but it involves interviews and input from experts like Ellyn Satter, Evelyn Tribole and other experts who know a lot about how people develop healthy relationships with food and eating.

I’m excited to share more.

Misapplied Information is a Bigger Problem than Misinformation

Copy of Copy of Magnificence.png

To be completely honest, there’s a ton of really good information available to us. Yes, there’s click bait and spammy junk. But, you can also access pubmed abstracts and sometimes even full articles. Many of the most well respected schools and institutions provide free training and information online (Stanford, Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic and others).

And although there’s some training involved in navigating through the nuance of scientific studies, what I’m more concerned about is the misapplication of good information.

What I mean is this: We see others close to us (friends, family members, people we stalk on Instagram) make diet, exercise or other lifestyle changes. We think: well, I like them, trust them, admire them and I want their results. I SHOULD DO WHAT THEY’RE DOING!

What we don’t realize is that their metabolism, genetics, health, family and life histories, and myriad other things are different than ours. We’re AREN’T THEM! And--news flash--that’s a GOOD thing. So, I’d say if you try a new way of eating and it just doesn’t quite feel right, what your body tells you are hints to you that maybe something isn’t quite right.

So, although there’s unending good information available to us now, we should check in with ourselves and honor what your body and intuition tells us. Is this right for ME or someone else?