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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Exploring Anxiety: Food and Emotion Pt. 2

(Starting today, I'll be on vacation until November 5th or so. Blogs and recipes will still be posted, but I wont be around on Twitter or here to reply to comments. Please enjoy the blogs, regardless!)

In Monday's entry, I talked about modifying your relationship with food...the relationship that was forged during the earliest years of your life. But I don't want to give the wrong impression...I don't believe that food should be viewed strictly as a necessary part of life that's entirely pragmatic and unrelated to pleasure or stress relief or anything else. Cooking, eating, can be it's own art form, and flavors, textures, and forms can be endlessly intriguing.

Consider the current leanings of pop culture and food. Chefs have never been so celebrated in America as they are right now, and many cities are embracing whole new palates of flavor from all over the world. Food Network has done a great deal to further our embrace of rockstar-chefs and our own abilities to create delicious dishes at home, but many other avenues of communication and entertainment are plugging into the trend as well.

But far beyond the current pop-culture food climate, food has represented so much for thousands of years, often used as everything from currency to peace-offerings to a sign of respect or a measure of wealth. Why deny all that history and heritage by reducing eating, and thus food, to a strictly functional thing with no pleasure involved?

One of the most important and perhaps most difficult aspects of the Anti-Anxiety diet is preparing the majority of your food. It isn't that this is a legalistic sort of rule, and it isn't that you can't find pre-prepared food that is healthful (if you look), it's just that it's often a great deal cheaper to cook your own meals than to seek out and purchase the pre-prepared variety. Logically, when you need to pay attention to everything that you put into your body, making your own meals offers a certain level of  security. When you create and knead the dough yourself, you know your bread doesn't contain any harmful chemicals. When you chop all the vegetables for your soup, you know they were ripe and delicious and well-washed.

But if cooking is nothing but a chore, then the benefits can quickly seem meaningless, and if the act of making food causes enough stress, it can undo the benefits of a diet designed to minimize anxiety.

Fortunately, cooking doesn't have to be a solitary activity, nor a stressful one! In fact, once you start making your own food, the simple activity can become a major stress relief, a social activity, a creative outlet...or a few moments of time to yourself amidst a busy day. And when the food that you create is delicious and healthful, and you can feel the difference? It's pretty easy to fall in love with flavors and textures and everything that goes into delicious food.

If faced with a busy schedule, create a few days or nights a week that you focus on making food for the week. Invite friends and make a party out of it. Collect recipes that you'd like to try and keep them in a file on your computer (or in a folder in your bookmarked links, like I do), go to the market and try new items, new ingredients...have an open mind and try new things. Plan something simple like a slow-cooker roast or soup for a busy weeknight, something more elaborate for Sunday dinner or whatever time your whole family can sit down and enjoy themselves. If it's just you, create your own occasions, invite your neighbors...whatever works!

I'm convinced that nothing brings people together the way that delicious, warm, healthful food can...the type of food that feels good in your belly and makes the whole world seem alright. The point of the anti-anxiety diet is to enhance your quality of life and improve your mental and emotional well-being. With that said, eat, be healthy, and enjoy life!

The Calm Cook

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