When I was first diagnosed with Celiac disease, my aunt bought me a really fantastic book called “Gluten-Free Girl”, written by Shauna James Ahern back in 2007, the year I was diagnosed. I am incredibly grateful that this was the first book about celiac disease that I read, because it cast this huge diagnosis in a tremendously positive light for me. In spite of all the difficulties I was facing at that time and in the time since, and despite the worsening health struggles I suffered for several years, I have been generally quite optimistic about living a good life with celiac disease. Much of that I owe to Shauna because of this beautiful book that she crafted.
I remember the excitement of trying some of those exciting new recipes interspersed throughout the lovingly told stories in her book, but most of all I remember the word that she highlighted throughout the book: “yes”.
I remember the feeling that the word “yes” stirred in me as I was reading her story of healing: I remember letting her words fuel me on when I was discouraged about failed recipes; I remember letting that feeling of “yes” drive me to experiment with new foods and new methods of preparation. Her vivid descriptions of beautiful dishes, the warmth in her stories of shared meals – all of it was inspiration for this new gluten-free life I was creating for myself.
I really mean it when I say that I took that feeling and ran with it. I poured over cookbooks – first as many gluten-free ones as possible, then it was any cookbook that inspired me. I loved big, elaborate, beautiful meals with laundry lists of ingredients. I would plan to start cooking around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, in spite of having a young toddler, and it would take me hours to prepare dinner every night. Part of why it took me so long was simply a lack of skills – chopping a mountain of vegetables takes forever when you have no real knife skills! Part of it was just that the recipes I was choosing were complex, full of oft-times unfamiliar (to me) ingredients, that required a lot of time and care to make.
I truly believe that this has been a very important part of my journey. This part of my life was when I really committed to food – loving it, learning about it, exploring it and embracing it. (It was also the time of big healing for me, so it was a paradoxically a time when I often hated, avoided and cried over food. Remember – this period of my life that I’m talking about spanned several years. I will discuss the challenges of that period in another post another day though…) Before this time in my life, I wasn’t particularly adventurous with my food, and eating was more something to get out of the way (or to be skipped entirely when it wasn’t convenient) and not so much about nourishing my body or my senses. Focusing a huge amount of energy and time on food since my diagnosis has allowed me to really learn what it is I like and love in food, what fuels my body best, what makes me feel good, what doesn’t make me feel good, and what excites and inspires me to get into the kitchen and create.
The downside of all of this has been that food and it’s preparation has consumed large portions of my days and an overwhelming amount of my energy. I’ve paid lip-service to simplifying the way that I do food, and in many ways I’ve started down that road, but I’ve really resisted making any major, systematic, lasting change in this area. I’ve resisted placing any kind of limitations on what I cook, ingredients, grocery budget, time spent in the kitchen – all in the name of trying to keep that inspired and excited feeling that I first discovered years ago reading Shauna’s wonderful book.
As I’ve expanded minimalism to embrace each part of my life, I’ve become more and more aware that this area of my life – my relationship to food and it’s preparation – needs to be included in the journey. Just writing my last blog post where I talked briefly about setting the intention to simplify my meals this year has set off a cascade of anxiety for me as I’ve considered the many ways to approach this change. I’ve felt that familiar feeling of paralysis that is so easy to feel when you’re faced with figuring out how to simplify something that has become so complex that it feels as though it has taken on a life of its own!
I’ve also come face to face with the fears that have thwarted my progress in this area: the worry that if I simplify too much I will lose my passion and excitement for food, I worry that I will become bored with cooking and eating; I worry that I will lose weight if I focus less on food (maintaining a healthy weight has been a huge struggle in the past); I worry that I will slip into unhealthy eating habits.
I’ve finally come to the realization that, in much the same way that every other shift towards simplicity has occurred a little bit at a time, that I need to make this shift in the same way. This will not be an overnight change – it’s always an on-going process. It’s good for me to remind myself, too, that in embracing simplicity in other areas of my life, I haven’t lost the inspired, positive feelings in my life. In fact, the simpler areas of my life are filled with joy, contentment and a greater sense of connection and mindfulness. Choosing to simplify my food also doesn’t mean that I will bring less intention to the process; in other areas of my life, simplifying has always invited greater intention.
I’ve finally now reached the point where I’m looking forward to taking the big inspiration that was sparked years ago and channelling it into a smaller-scale operation that is more in sync with my own life, needs, and journey – remembering that huge enthusiasm and inspiration can just as easily fuel a simple and lovingly prepared meal as it can an elaborate feast.
If you would like to join me on the road to simplifying your meals and menus, please subscribe by email or follow me on facebook or twitter; I will be sharing my process as I go along this year and would love to hear about the changes you are making, as well as what works and doesn’t work for you. I really believe that sharing our stories helps to connect and keep the inspiration flowing. My posts in this series will all have “Simple Food” in the title so that you will be able to easily find them.