I am 10 days into the Whole30 program and have been documenting my cooking adventures via my Instagram. The Whole30 is an eating plan meant to push a “reset button” on your health by eliminating processed foods, alcohol, sugar, grains, legumes, and dairy from your diet for 30 days. Being on the Whole30 has been very challenging but I have greatly appreciated how much clarity there is in the restrictions. This clarity is precisely the type of tough love I respond to. I decided to try Whole30 after having been told by my doctors in my struggles with anxiety and depression and in my preparation for undergoing IVF later this year that my diet is a factor in my healing and potential success. So I said ok, let me try this restrictive but very clear thing to see if I feel better.
I attempt to get through each day by answering a simple question: how can I still have a good meal and get my food needs met when there barriers and restrictions? So here I am 10 days in thinking the same daily mantra: “Ok. I can’t have this. I can’t have that. This does not mean I can’t have a good meal!” It is an overly optimistic thought that doesn’t always work to keep my spirits up. I have felt my share of darkness and sadness over the food I can’t have. Food that I crave and miss. I have resorted to doing weird stuff to scratch the food itch. On day 4, my hubby and I were on our way out to dinner and I asked him to pull over at the Popeyes Chicken we passed on the way to the restaurant so that I could smell the fried chicken grease air. We parked behind that Popeyes for 5 minutes or so until I got my fill of that delightful smell. At home, I am a resourceful enough cook to still make yummy stuff in the midst of these limits.
For the last 10 days, I have been cooking up a storm. Making stuff I used to buy in the store from scratch and trying to create similar compliant versions of the things I miss, like fried chicken. My kitchen has never been messier, warmer, or more fragrant. The book and people who have done it say that Whole30 is supposed to change your relationship with food. Maybe that is right. In my experience in the last 10 days, Whole30 has changed my relationship with my kitchen and with myself.
Since starting Whole30, I have reconnected with the wisdom of my home. I have been reminded that my kitchen is the heart of my house. A heart that I had been ignoring for quite some time. It has felt really, really good to use this space. To spend more time here. To be standing, making, and doing things with my hands like making salmon patties, mayonnaise, and almond milk all from scratch. To get to impress my chef hubby with my skills and creations. Whole30 has reminded me that my relationship with food is about the process of cooking. The memories that certain meals evoke, the lessons certain dishes have to share with me about my life, and the gifts I see in myself when I cook.
I am not a classically trained chef. I am a simple home cook. I really love to cook with instinct and intuition. I grew up being influenced by cooking. As a kid, we didn’t have cable we just had the regular basic channels. On Saturday mornings, when all of my peers might have been watching Nickelodeon or Disney channel shows, I was watching PBS cooking shows. Shows that that starred chefs like Jacques Pepin, Martin Yan, Mary Ann Esposito, and others. People who were talking about food that knew nothing about. Food that seemed so fancy to me because all I knew about was Mexican food staples like beans and tortillas. Every week these show would cook with things like Cornish game hens, eggplant, ricotta – things that my family would never eat. Their knowledge and excitement about food and cooking drew me into these seemingly boring shows every week.
On his show Yan Can Cook, Martin Yan would frantically and excitedly chop vegetables with a huge cleaver. He had this energy that flowed through him that was contagious as he’d grab a new vegetable and then just start hacking at it. He was making noises I had never heard a chef make before and just having the time of his life. Jacques Pepin projected expertise and love of classic cooking techniques. He would take his time explaining every step of a dish in great detail. In one episode where he demonstrates how to make an omelet as he is whisked eggs while also talking about the pan, browning butter vs not browning butter, and what type of stove was best. The lady from a show called Ciao Italia, Mary Ann Esposito, was a cook, historian, and storyteller rolled into one. She’d make something and talk about where the food came from, how it was traditionally served, for what occasions, and why dishes are called what they are called. All of her food was served with a side of wine, history, and facts.
I grew up seeing all this on television and at the same time seeing parallels in my own kitchen at home. As I watched Mi Ama (my mom) cook every day I saw how she too brought energy, technique, and story to her cooking. She would hum to herself as she moved around the kitchen. Her hands would move gracefully as she’d cut onions, chiles, tomatoes, and other things. It looked like her fingers were doing a dance on the cutting board. She was particular about the equipment she needed and liked to use. She had certain techniques she’d do, many times in hiding so we wouldn’t see her cooking secrets. She also had stories and reasons for why a certain food was cooked on certain days or occasion. Stories about how her mother taught her to cook. Whatever she did to reinvent the leftovers from dinner the day before into something totally different and delicious was always classified information. We’d get nothing but a mischievous smile and an “I don’t know what you’re referring to” look from her whenever we’d ask or taste the food and wonder why it was so familiar.
As a kid, all of this culinary influence was swirling around me. I was not old enough to cook. My mom would constantly kick me out of the kitchen because I had long hair and she didn’t want it to get in the food. So I would sit on the outskirts of the kitchen and watch my mom move through the kitchen and make things just like on those chefs on the PBS cooking shows. I was like a sponge. I soaked up all the information, habits, styles, and energy that I observed from my mom and the chefs on my TV.
Once I got old enough and tall enough to see the stove I was off making my own meals. I would experiment and throw things in a pot and embody the mannerisms of my mother and the chefs I saw on TV. I was too young to have my own cleaver but I did what I could to recreate Martin Yan’s signature frantic chopping moves with a steak knife and a lot of gusto. I grew up and married a chef. He also has had so much influence in helping me refine the things I do in my kitchen. Things like knife cuts and when to use citrus, salt, herbs or spices. I, in turn, have taught him what is possible when you have limited ingredients, no plan, and a bit of imagination to create delicious meals out of seemingly nothing. Cooking was the thing that taught me how to be present and in the moment in a way that I had never experienced before. Cooking is my meditation. Cooking is how I practice following my instincts and taking action from a place of creativity.
All of this is what is coming up for me as I am on day 10 of the Whole30. This process has forced me to go into my kitchen way more often than I ever have in the last year. It has made me think of more than just food as I stand in my tiny kitchen trying to figure out my next meal. It has made me think deeply about my journeys through self-healing and towards self-love. I am feeling inspired and hopeful about this process because it has been about so much more than food for me. Yes, Whole 30 promotes a restrictive diet based on eliminating certain foods. But it is also about learning about the difference between needs and wants. It is about engaging with the idea that some things we love to mindlessly consume may potentially be causing us some unknown or unseen harm. It’s about learning how to let go of things to see what can emerge in their place.
Whole30 has shown me what is possible when I commit to thrive in spite of limits. I have seen how I can be creative in the midst of restrictions. It has given me the evidence that I can let go of things that I want or think I need. Because wanting and having these things in my life may be harmful. In the food place its cheese and pasta and bread but beyond the kitchen, the lesson can still apply. In life, it can be toxic relationships, challenging situations, guilt, shame, obligation, and grief. Things that my mind holds on to that have been harmful to me in my journey to heal and learn to love myself again. If I keep having them, feeling them, and eating them any way I will continue staying in the same hard, sad place.
There may be a moment in time when situations force us to get creative about what really matters. Moments that force us to deeply ponder what it is that we really, truly need. Situations that can force us to be creative to find new ways to meet our needs. Ways that better honor yourself, your life, and your health. If no weight loss comes to me while doing this restrictive 30-day experiment that is OK. This process has given me something more valuable. It has connected me to my kitchen in ways that I didn’t know I could be. It has made me understand what makes me the cook I am. It has reminded me of who inspires me in the kitchen, in life, and why. It has helped me learn to appreciate my creativity and resourcefulness. Most importantly, it has helped me translate and apply the lessons of this diet into my emotional healing and journey to more fully and deeply love myself.
So this week, I invite you all to get in your kitchens and cook. Make something delicious. Make a memory. Make a mess. See what wisdom it evokes for you, what it can teach you about your story, your family, or your life. Send me what you come up with. I would love to know.
Thanks for reading.