It’s January, and in America at least, that means New Year’s resolutions. Gyms are packed. Whole Foods is packed. Juice bars are packed. “Revolutionary” diet books and “foolproof” programs and “guaranteed” supplements and exorbitantly expensive electronic bikes are winging their way to doorsteps across the country even as we speak. And for what, dear friends? Although “get healthy” and “lose weight” are by far the most common resolutions, numerous studies have shown that over 80% of all resolutions are abandoned somewhere in February, if not sooner. The problem isn’t the resolution itself – it’s the way most of us go about it.
In this country, we are nothing if not dietary extremists. We go vegan or Paleo or gluten-free on impulse, or because we think everyone else is doing it. We blindly subscribe to the latest social media-fueled/celebrity-endorsed “health” trend. (Looking at you, celery juice.) We ignore moderation as a lifestyle entirely, and instead fixate on the newest, shiniest trick that promises to make us better, healthier and twenty pounds lighter. But why haven’t the fifty previous sparkly tricks worked? Because all of those glittering promises are built on quick fixes and short-term solutions, not on building a lifetime of habits. Let’s be honest – anyone can stick to pretty much anything for a week or two, maybe even a month or six weeks. Eat more salads? No problem. Cut back on alcohol? Easy. Go full-on keto? Tougher, but still manageable.
Here’s the trouble, though: you have to eat every single day for the rest of your life, most likely multiple times a day. If you jump on some trendy diet bandwagon and carefully measure every single morsel of food you consume, you will mostly likely lose weight – for at least a few weeks. But you will also take all of the joy of eating out of your life, and you will spend an inordinate amount of time calculating macros and other regimented nonsense and you will become someone who doesn’t get invited to a lot of get-togethers. And after a while you’ll fall off the wagon and hate yourself and just give up entirely, which defeats the whole purpose.
This is truly the only “diet book” you will ever need.
We’re here to argue that you don’t need powders, potions, supplements or “new diet hacks.” You don’t need the latest diet book or some random guy’s workout routine off Instagram. You don’t need an expensive gym membership where ridiculously fit and tan people stroll around taking mirror selfies. Sure, those things are great, but they don’t work for most people. What works is pretty simple, but because it’s not flashy and doesn’t make influencers a bunch of money, no one ever mentions it. All you have to do is: cook. And cook regularly.
That’s it. That’s my whole “get healthy” plan. (You’re welcome to send me $19.99 every month, but I won’t hold my breath.) Here’s the unvarnished truth, friends, from someone who spent way too many years in the food-service trenches: no matter what you cook from scratch at home, it’s healthier (and often tastier) than what you eat in restaurants, and far better than packaged, processed, boxed and wrapped foods. Don’t believe me? Look at some labels next time you’re in the grocery store, or even in your own pantry. Salad dressing, yogurt, soup, bread, granola bars and so many more examples – the vast majority of these have ingredients that you can’t pronounce, much less buy. Food processors use mysterious additives, flavorings and colors, and restaurants use substantially more fat, salt and sugar than you might at home, because these ingredients make food taste good and look good and because you can’t see what they’re adding and how much.
If you want to do one single thing to improve your health this year, resolve to cook more. Whether you don’t cook at all and want to learn a few simple techniques, like vegetable-packed soup or stir-fries, or whether you cook frequently but want to up your game with homemade bread or yogurt, or whether you’re starting to grow more of your own food but aren’t really sure what to do with all those vegetables, we see you. And we know you can do it. Like learning any other skill, cooking well takes time and it takes practice. As you practice, as you improve, as you learn to trust your own palate, preparing simple, nourishing, whole foods from scratch will become a task you enjoy rather than punishment. Learn to embrace cooking for yourself and for your household not as thankless drudgery, but as the highest form of self-care. Just cook, and cook often: it’s the very best thing you can do to get healthier.
“Here’s a toast to a bright 2020. We’re sure to face challenges and difficulties. I am feeling oddly hopeful about things in general, despite the news. I feel like our obligation is to provide normalcy and sustenance in a rapidly changing world. We home cooks are the glue.” -Steve Sando, Rancho Gordo