When we started on a journey of changing from a processed/junk-eating lifestyle, we started out merely by replacing bought soda with bought juice. Then we went to baking a cake now and then from scratch (not a “healthy” recipe with rapadura or coconut flour or honey or raw cacao or cashew butter – just a recipe from scratch with flour and eggs and butter!), and cooking more dinners from basic ingredients, eg fresh milk, pasta, flour, fresh veg, fresh meats. We would never have lasted long on a health kick alone; what a bore! It had to grow out of a newfound interest in ingredients.
For many years as a teenager I had eaten countless baked beans from cans, two minute noodles, instant potato, packet sauces and pasta dishes, and rice. When I moved out of home I had never even touched raw meat with my bare hands before. There were many vegetables I had never even held in my hands before, let alone prepare, cook or eat. It was fascinating and enjoyable in a primal sense to handle and get to know the raw ingredients of the meals we were learning how to cook.
We switched to whole milk as we both had previously only had skim milk – and when we found out how it’s processed we wanted the real thing – which thankfully we can buy here non-homogenised. We had to get used to what at first seemed like a “fatty” feeling in the mouth after drinking whole milk rather than skim. But soon enough we came to love the taste and feel of creamy milk. We didn’t have much money so we bought cheap meats and I learned how to make stews and casseroles.
I tried making bread (I started by making a sweet Boston bun with sugar and currants in it and a sugary lemon topping – not exactly “healthy” by the latest rapadura/coconut flour/God knows what next standards!!) but it was delicious because it was better than anything you can buy in a shop, and also, I fell in love with the feel of dough and the smell of a loaf crusting in the oven. Which led, many years later, to the motivation to try other breads, and later again, to making sourdough – which I make now from time to time – when I want to and get the time and motivation.
So I have since learned how to make sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and baked goods made from all manner of clever and interesting ingredients, as well as dishes using all sorts of lesser-known parts of animals and unusual vegetables or fruits. But I didn’t start out like that, and I don’t think that doing all of those things is vital to health.
I’m a believer that health comes partially from the sheer enjoyment of food and from touching, seeing, smelling, tasting the intrinsic beauty of ingredients themselves, and I think that by forcing yourself through willpower onto a new way of eating which you only think cerebrally to be good for you, regardless of your body’s cravings or what your heart is telling you, it is actually likely to do more harm than good.
When you have to force yourself to eat “healthily”, it will not last and at very least you will end up “cheating” now and then and feeling associated guilt – and your enjoyment of food will decrease, not increase, as you can start to associate food with the stressful experience of not enjoying preparing and eating it. Stress is bad for your body as well as your mind. Some people will tell you how wheat is bad for your gut. Well, whether that is true or not, please also remember, stress itself is bad for your gut.
I would recommend that anyone beginning on a journey of becoming more healthy, starts simply with the substitution of real foods for previously-eaten processed foods. Learn how to make a real cheeseburger with good-quality bread, real mince meat and spices, real lettuce and real cheese. Learn how to make a soup from chicken stock and fresh vegetables. Learn how to make a cake from eggs and flour and butter. Drink whole milk. Enjoy lots of real butter on your bread. Make a simple roast and make a gravy from the drippings rather than from a packet.
Enjoy the cooking and enjoy the food. Don’t try anything too unusual or complicated yet if you don’t feel like it. Don’t deliberately make yourself miserable in the name of health. The nourishment of food is not only for your body, it is also for your soul.