The Joy of Cooking with Color

As a cardiovascular nurse in a hospital, I see day in and day out what a devastating impact the Standard American Diet (SAD) has on people’s lives. Along with the SAD comes a dramatically increased risk of standard American chronic diseases and disease risk factors (ex: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, chronic kidney disease, and some cancers). Years ago, I was on the same path as many of my patients.

 In my early adult years, I knew very little about cooking. Like many people in the United States, most of the food I ate was the highly processed type, requiring little or no prep-work or planning. My grocery cart was typically full of pre-packaged frozen dinners; boxed dinners requiring the addition of milk, butter, cheese, and/or meat; processed cheese; snack foods; dry cereals; and artificial sodas. It was full of food products that required no cooking, could be thrown in the microwave, or be heated on the stovetop quickly. Of course, I was no stranger to unhealthy restaurant foods or to swinging by the fast-food drive-through either. I had been following a classic Standard American Diet (SAD).

As you can imagine, I gained a significant amount of weight in my younger adult years. I felt sluggish, anxious, and looked and felt generally unhealthy. I knew I needed to do something. I always dreamt of having a healthier and slimmer body. I thought I needed to “diet”. Calories in, calories out, right? I repeatedly followed various temporary roller-coaster diet fads, but none of them were realistic or sustainable.

When I think back to my food choices in those days, I recall opening brightly colored packages to reveal blandly colored ‘food’ formulations in shades of tan, white, brown, and orange along with the occasional artificially colorful sweet treat, drink, or snack food. I didn’t yet really understand what a difference fruits, vegetables, and other whole plant foods could make in my life. I didn’t yet really understand how filling and fabulous these foods could be. Besides, I had no idea how to prepare “all of that stuff” (real food). At the time, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to learn how.

I eventually reached a point where I flipped a light switch in my mind. I had become morbidly obese. I knew I needed to get out of this downward health spiral once and for all. I decided to leave my comfort zone of relying on pre-packaged food products. I began devoting time to my health and finally learned how to prepare real food. To do this, I began following more healthful simple recipes & reached out to friends and family for support when I had questions. After a short time, I found that with just a little planning, cooking was much easier and more enjoyable than I had ever imagined. Also, as I began to add more whole plant foods and subtract the processed junk, I noticed my energy level was on the upswing. This was inspiring. My weight and health began to head in the right direction overall, too.

One day, while cooking some lovely vegetables in a pan, I noticed how beautiful all the colors were as I was stirring. I realized that my favorite foods to cook were real, colorful plant foods. As I stared into that beautiful pan, I also made the connection that the extra time I was committing to learning how to cook these foods had paid me back ten-fold in extra energy and vibrancy. I finally made the connection between all these colorful & nutritious plant foods and the new energy I had found. Though this was only the beginning, I realized my life had taken a new direction. I was creating a more healthful life I could be proud of. I had found true joy in cooking with color.

Looking back to those days of ultra-processed packaged food products and poor health, I’m so very thankful I decided to learn how to cook healthful foods, and to continue to learn more. Each time I slice or dice these fabulously healthful foods on my cutting board or stare into a beautiful pan or bowl of colorful plant foods, I remember how far I’ve come. I remember the joy and vibrant life I’ve created through cooking with color.

I now relish this quote and refer to it often when I need a little push in the right direction: “Life will change when you’re more committed to your dreams than you are to your comfort zone.”

Are you ready to get out of your comfort zone and reach toward your dreams? What are you ready to commit to? What’s your next step?

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