Self-care has become a very important topic of conversation. Our lives are hectic and busy, people are stressed out and burning out, and mental health issues are on the rise in the form of anxiety and depression. A quick Google online and you will find endless lists with tips, ideas, and suggestions about how to manage stress and practice self-care; everything from taking a spa day, to getting outside, to meditation and journaling. Although I think these can are all great ideas, I also think a very important case needs to be made about why cooking is self-care.
I think we can all agree that self-care is important. Taking the time to care for one’s self is not only important, it’s crucial. Practising self-care is about making yourself a priority so that you can better serve yourself and the ones around you. When you are stressed out from work or have a busy schedule, it’s so important to take time for yourself and do things that make you feel good, and put yourself first. These days it’s so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, so we put ourselves on the back burner. Your calendar eventually gets so jammed packed you start missing the gym, eating out more, and then eventually you just can’t take it anymore and indulge in some form of treat, be it those new shoes, a bottle of wine, or a day at the spa.
Self-Care is Not a Luxury
Everyone has a different approach to their own self-care. For some, it’s spending time reading or journaling, while for others it can be spending time with friends and leaving more time for hobbies. However, I find more and more often self-care is presented as taking time for a special treat; go for a massage, get a pedicure or buy yourself something fancy and new. In 2018, self-care is often presented as this #treatyoself culture where we justify indulgence as a form of self-care; buying that thing, eating that thing, or going to that place. Don’t get me wrong, all of these things are lovely and I do think they can be forms of self-care, but I don’t think self-care needs to be a luxury. On the contrary, I think it is way more simple than that.
To me, self-care is about showing up for yourself even when the going gets tough. Self-care is about prioritizing your needs over your wants so that you can care for yourself on all levels; physically, mentally and emotionally. The dictionary definition of self-care is “the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health”, which is exactly why I believe cooking is self-care.
Why Cooking is Self-Care
Let’s be honest, cooking has got a bit of a bad rap. It’s often positioned as a chore and therefore people tend to think of it as hard, stressful and time-consuming. Watch any cooking infomercial on TV and you will see a woman in a kitchen wiping the sweat off her brow, chopping that appears to take all day long, or an appliance breaking as you prepare dinner. It is presented to us like it is a laborious task that we should avoid and dread, but the truth of the matter is that cooking for yourself is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your health.
I didn’t always love cooking. Like many people, I used to think of it as a chore, I’d try to take as many shortcuts as I possibly could to get around it. Cutting vegetables? Are you crazy, that will take me hours. Cooking from scratch? Only if it involves a box of pasta and sauce. Meal prepping? You’ve lost your darn mind. I truly thought of cooking as an annoying task and an added stress to my already busy day. I mean, why on earth do I want to cook for myself when my schedule is already so busy? I would much prefer to forgo taking the time to cook a proper meal and maximize my time laying on the couch eating a treat – that was my form of self-care, and it too often other people’s form of self-care too. But the truth of the matter is that watching TV or going for a pedicure are often bandaid solutions to self-care.
The actual goal of self-care is to maximize your own health and do it in a way that helps make things seem easier or less stressful. That can include anything from movement to good sleep, but to me, cooking is one of the most neglected. I am not suggesting that cooking is the only form of self-care nor the most important, but I certainly do think that it is up there. Do I think there are benefits to a massage as a form of self-care? Absolutely. Do I think adding more to your already busy schedule and pushing cooking down your priority list is good self-care practice? No. When you are stressed and busy, adding things like a massage, a weekend away, or a pedicure are incredible – they are relaxing and they bring joy, but they become less of a form of self-care in they impede on some of the basic forms of self-care. Although these things might feel incredible in the moment, you can risk the chance of making your stress level (and therefore need for self-care) worse than it already is.
Cooking Cares for you on all Levels
People often ask me if food affects our energy levels, and I truly have trouble answering this question because it seems to obvious. The answer is yes. If the food you eat literally creates the cells in your body and serves as your only source of fuel, why on earth would it not affect your energy? So if you are busy, stressed out and tired, why would you not prioritize the simplest tool you have in your toolkit?
In my opinion, cooking is the single most fundamental way that you can impact your physical being, it nourishes you on all levels. By no means am I suggesting that you need to be an expert cook in order to practice self-care, on quite the contrary, I think even the most basic cooking tools are forms of self-care. For me, cooking has become my simplest and most basic form of self-care. It is the way that I show my body I care. It is the way I give my body the energy to do the tasks I ask of it. It is one of the moments in my day when I am doing something for me. It is the way that I take control of my health. Cooking is not my “hobby” it is a fundamental self-care need.
Self-Care is a Daily Task
Self-care is not something that you do once in a while because you are overly stressed or burned out, true self-care are things that you do all of the time. It is those moments in your day, every day, when you do something for you; it is that quiet moment in a warm shower, it is that depth breath you take before you walk into your big meeting, it is eating your lunch with people instead of at your desk, it is cooking a nourishing meal after a long day, and getting a restful night’s sleep. In order to make cooking part of your daily self-care routine, you need to make it enjoyable. You need to cook the things you like to eat, not what you think you should eat. It is listening to music while you prepare lunches for the week. It is taking a minute to plan your meals so it doesn’t feel disorganized. It planning for your future self so you can take that extra serving of soup out of the freezer on the nights you just want to relax.
At first, it might still feel like a chore, at least I know it was for me. But over time I truly started to enjoy it and look forward to it. Chopping those vegetables I once hated became meditative, and that hour of meal prep on the weekend became a mindful experience that reminded me to put myself first and set myself up for success. The more I focused on making cooking a self-care priority, the more I saw it’s benefits and the more I enjoyed it. I no longer had that afternoon crash, I was no longer spending all my hard-earned money on eating out, and I learned a new skill I felt proud of. Did I hit it out of the ballpark on my first try? No. But the reality is that you only learn by doing. The same way you aren’t going to win the Tour de France the first time you ride a bike, you probably aren’t going to with Masterchef the first time you learn to cook. It might take time, but that’s why it’s called a practice, and every time to you practice cooking you are practising one of the most fundamental forms of self-care.