A New Recipe for Healthy: The 10 Things Feeding Me Now

I’ve been writing in this space for 12 years now. The story is never the same even though the theme remains; here, I share the adventure of limit-pushing and risk-taking, with sport and food as vehicles for exploring the human experience. (And, of course, the recipes that I cook along the way.

Recently, the story has changed again I’m eager to share some different perspective on this experience. My plate is more full than ever, and I’m more excited than ever to gobble it all up. But I’m also feeding myself in ways different than I ever have. The important parts aren’t just the recipes I’m using to cook delicious, vibrant food.

I actually think its the way that I’m arriving at the recipes that’s most important these days.

I’ve had my foot on the gas these past months; winter was long and challenging in the most lovely way. As I’m peeking my head out and into spring, I’m seeing that the landscape looks different. I’ve been done some deep thinking about my definition of “healthy” the past few months. The universal definition we easily embrace as society isn’t universal truth. What’s “good and healthy” for me may not be good or healthy for someone else. And yet everyone has a recipe we should follow to be “healthy.”

There isn’t a recipe for being healthy.

But striving to live our best life is “healthful,” so that’s the meaning I’m embracing here.

I first noticed how carelessly we use the word “healthy” two years ago; my doctor found that I suffered from a significant B + D nutrient deficiency. The discovery stopped me dead in my tracks. I had been feeling a bit sluggish, so I had paid her a visit. With a blood panel, she was able to immediately explain that those missing nutrients were causing some big problems; my energy levels and mood were falling through the floor. And, prolonged deficiency was putting me at risk for heart disease and liver complications, as well as stunting my creativity, productivity and keeping me up at night.

For as long as I could remember I had been living the epitome of a “healthy” lifestyle; avoiding processed foods, cooking virtuous whole foods from scratch, all raised by farmers on farms I know personally. I was active, constantly moving, always challenging myself and I could run, ride and swim forever. How was did this happen to me?

The answer probably lies in my doing too much, resting too little. Being more moderate in my “moderation” than my body needed. I marginalized the stress a full schedule of moving and shaking put on my body. And not remembering how to truly listen to what my body was asking for, and practicing how to respond.

Fulfilling a universal definition of “health and fitness” actually wasn’t very healthy for me at all.

Here’s the thing: moving so fast you can’t slow down isn’t living optimally, no matter what you’re eating. I was moving so fast -being so “healthy” – my body didn’t have time to absorb all the beautiful foods I was pumping into my system. And I didn’t take the time to really listen to what it needed, or to its symptoms of distress.

So, I’ve started re-thinking how I feed myself; not just the macronutrients I put in, or the recipes I put out into the world. I’m also considering function of the flavors I choose. And I’m focusing on the subtle properties of the foods I cook, and the space I create to have time to completely assimilate the things I eat. It’s the difference between me being a “healthy eater,” and a “healthful person.”

I had forgotten what it felt like to be a balanced and super-powered person in the world.

Super-powered people don’t wake up in the middle of the night, anxious with their to-do lists. Not chronically underslept, overworked or struggling to play catch up. They don’t bonk on every ride, get injured or sick at every turn. They are great at telling themselves that because the train hasn’t come off the tracks yet, that it’s all “good! Busy!”

Slowly, I’m finding my way back to a place where I know my train won’t come off the tracks; I’m guiding it – mindfully – along the way. By charging more gracefully and less “hard,” I’m feeling more spacious, less “busy.”

With my whole self making whole food choices, my body has begun absorbing nutrients again.

My brain has cleared, and I’ve been able to catch up on rest. I’ve stopped having sleepless nights, my skin has cleared. I’m not hungry all the time and my endurance and strength returned. I have space again to feel what my body really REALLY needs. My eyes are glowing again, especially when I think of the insane plate-full of goodness that is my day-to-day.

The little practices I’ve listed below are just some of the delicious changes to the way I’m feeding myself; in the emotional, physical and nutritional senses. You’ll see that I’m picking different ways to structure meals; I’m embracing a wider variety of foods, adding more fat, carbohydrates and variety to really repair, recover and rebuild my body.

The new rituals are reshaping the way I live and cook, and the specific foods I’m preparing and eating. By slowing down and spending more time creating space, I’m not just hearing the story of how I’m “healthy;” I’m really feeling it from within. (And, it IS a difference.)

I couldn’t look up how to make these changes in a book; it’s been a big scary adventure just like all the other ones I’ve shared here. I’ve had to listen more than ever, to really take responsibility for my well-being in all its parts.

No one else can tell me how to make my body feel it’s best. No one else knows what my best feels like.

But by living my life in a way that allows me to hear what my body is asking for, the answer becomes clear very quickly. (Something that is practically impossible when I’m moving too fast or charging too hard, to listen.

That said, learning to listen to our bodies (not just the stories we tell ourselves about them) is something we all could be better at. I hope that sharing my shifts here inspires you to consider what “clean, healthy eating” and “self-care” really truly mean to you and why.

1. Taking the slow lane.

I don’t really know how to say “I can’t,” and I hope I never learn. I hope I’m always lucky enough to fill every minute of my life with things that thrill me. But, I’m not thrilled when the calm parts of my being go unsated because I say “yes” too much and get overwhelmed.

By clearing my schedule (and my expectations,) I’m feeding my creative, calm, collected self.

One day a week, I spin ideas, piddle, play, organize – whatever my heart desires. I’m not checking email, or Instagram, I’m not calling friends back. I’m just doing whatever I feel I need and want to do – and nothing on my “to do list.”

I really have to focus on not feeling like I’ll end up behind by taking the day as “active rest.” But more often than not, I’m able to put my foot on the gas even harder because spending this “slow day,” keeps me calm, grounded and focused to feel other areas of my life out. And there are bits and pieces of sorta-stillness that I practice all week long too – I’ve started a bullet journal, am embracing yin yoga (not JUST power yoga,) and setting reminders on my phone at night to carve out time for reading, writing and reflecting.

2. Sprouting practices.

As I slowed down, I got to consider the foods I was cooking and how my body felt eating them. Beans, grains, and nuts were something my doctor recommended to me to increase my nutrient intake, but…no one likes a farty girl, ya know. So, I started doing some research and that research has led to literally – my sprouting practices.

It turns out that by trying to shortcut the soaking step when cooking grains and beans, and by buying commercial nut butter I was taking the long-route to a balanced diet and healthy digestion.

Beans, grains, legumes and nuts that AREN’T soaked or sprouted remain coated in a natural toxin called phytic acid .

Designed to deter predators from consuming them before they have time to create new plants, this natural toxin prevents us from blocking the nutrients of many foods we eat and makes foods difficult to digest. Soaking these ingredients overnight before cooking and consuming, creates an environment where they’re encouraged to begin their sprouting process, making their nutrients bioavailable. This process allows us to assimilate their nutrients, and digest them more easily.

So, on Saturday night, I soak a jar of beans, grains and nuts either in the refrigerator or on the countertop. The next morning (sometimes on that day when I’m sitting still-ish,) I’ll cook the grains, throw the beans in the InstantPot and Then, on Sunday I cook off the beans in the InstantPot, cook the grains, and dry the nuts them on the lowest temperature in my oven. I keep the grains and beans on hand all week to throw into…anything. And then I blend the nuts into nut butter.

The ritual costs me a few extra minutes, but it’s a small investment paid to my future self. And, it creates a nice little kitchen ritual that allows me to check in on other things I like to have for the week – maybe making a batch of stock, baking a cake, that sort of thing. The sign that the sprouting practice was paying off? Even with beans on heavy rotation in our house, no one is farting up a storm.

3. Cooking up a (new) salad storm.

As I made space to consider how my body felt on different foods, I began noticing that salads didn’t always serve me…and I was eating a lot of them. Raw vegetables are incredibly nutritious, but they also can be difficult for us to digest. And, some of them (like kale, chicories, spinach,) can be extra difficult to digest when they aren’t cooked.

Eating these ingredients over and over, challenging my body to digest them constantly, I was challenging my system more than I realized.

Especially when my body was running at full tilt to keep up with all the other things I was asking of it, digesting two big kale salads each day was just more than it could, er, stomach!

So, swapped out some of those big beautiful raw salads for cooked vegetable salads instead; sauteéing, roasting or grilling kale with eggs or meats, enjoying big bowls of spaghetti squash and sauteed spinach, or even steamed broccoli or cauliflower with yummy dressings, crunchy bits, and maybe an egg on top are new favorite go-to’s. So long as it’s a big bowl of vegetables, it’s a salad in my book.

4. Building a new plate

Before the diagnosis, I was building plates at mealtime that consisted of mostly vegetables, some proteins and some carbohydrates. These days, I’m making a point of building plates that aren’t just vegetable heavy. Sometimes, they’re grain focused (like grain bowls, big slabs of toast or sweet potatoes stuffed with the goods.) Other times, protein is the main event (cottage cheese with some cucumber and homemade dukkah is a recent favorite.)

Especially if I have a particularly stressful day or a challenging hike, ski or ride on the schedule, these are days when eating lots of salad drops to the bottom of my priority list. I still try to get in some greens and veggies here and there, and certainly as part of a meal during that day , but I find that my digestion is much more consistent and happier without the overload of vegetables. I’m more satisfied with my meals, more grounded in my energy levels and happier with a different proportion that suits my day on the plate.

5. Going with the grain.

I was diagnosed with a b-vitamin deficiency, so I immediately sought to eat more of them.

Whole, heirloom grains are one of the most excellent sources of B-vitamins we have.

I’ve always known how crucial carbohydrates are for our performance as athletes, our vitality as heavy-hitters, and our general well-being as humans; whole grains provide bodies with vitamins we need to do basic, vital functions. I had previously been conscious to get a carbohydrate source (whole grain crackers, bread, whole grains like rice, quinoa, farro) at each meal, but I wasn’t often making the CENTER of the meal. And for me, this just wasn’t enough.

As an athlete who is hyper-active on my feet, bouncing through stressful situations, pushing my creativity and my equilibrium constantly, I need many more of these vitamins and minerals from carbohydrates than I realized. By enjoying big whole-grain bowls or toast for breakfast, adding crackers extra whole grains at lunch and soothing soups with rice and greens at dinner, I saw an immediate improvement in my digestion, my skin, and my energy levels.

6. Milking it.

I once thought that the digestive distress and the unexplained skin breakouts I was experiencing were caused by dairy. I tried limiting my cheese and yogurt intake, and making frequent substitutes where it fit. But it turns out that these specific foods contained many vitamins and nutrients my body was lacking. So, as my body has started absorbing nutrients again (and let’s be honest, once I started spending many days in a beautiful cheese shop,) I’ve been weaving dairy in more and more; a couple of dollops of the highest quality goat’s milk yogurt for breakfast, a scoop of cottage cheese at lunch, a showering of parmesan for dinner. I haven’t had a bit of digestive distress, and my skin is glowing.

Packed with calcium, amino acids, protein and vitamin A, the cheese was only a difficult product for my body when other things were causing it distress.

But my body in balance LOVES cheese.

But not any cheese; really well-sourced cheese produced mindfully and cared for – not sliced into orange chunks and individually wrapped. (Want more examples – read here about the healing powers of parmesan!)

7. Going full-fat

I don’t know how or where our societal fear of fat began, but I’m really striving to do away with it in my own house and adding more fats into my diet is one of the most conscious choices I’ve been striving to make. I had used olive oil generously before, but now I’m generously adding ghee, slathering butter and eating avocados like it’s my job. As I type this, I’m layering avocado, flax oil, and egg onto a thick slice of toast I spread with olive oil. This morning I sauteéd fruit in a bit of brown butter for breakfast, annd drizzled full-fat greek yogurt with ghee. The difference in these additionnal fats is apparent in my digestion, mental clarity and skin.

8. Taking tea.

It’s a small thing, but every night I make a cup of tea and spike it with CBD honey. I’m not certain if its the benefit of the CBD, or the calming effect of the tea but I’m sleeping better than ever. Most importantly, the ritual lets my body and brain know it’s time to unwind, to tune out and settle into rest. No matter how muuch I think I want to burn the midnnight oil of enthusiasm, I don’t. I want to be a collected, graceful and poised person in the world, and that person drinks tea.

9. Letting my cravings drive.

This is the most important shift I’ve made, and also the hardest to master; I’m embracing the fact that it could take a lifetime to really learn how to best learn my cravings.

You’ll never hear me say I “caved” to a craving – I truly believe that the things we crave are reasonable messages from our bodies, articulating our needs.

But, instead of just taking those cravings at face value – as relating to food – I’m reading a bit deeper. A craving for something sweet isn’t just a craving for sugar – often times it’s a craving to the ground and to enjoy a meal or an activity that make me feel at home. A craving for a night out might mean I’m looking for an exciting new routine, and so I ought to order something I haven’t tried before from the menu at my favorite restaurant. When I’m craving a nap, I’m thinking about what practices may have stacked up so I need extra rest.

The cravings for steak or a salad are still pretty clear, but sometimes they mean something deeper too; that I’ve been pushing too hard, or wanting to feel fresh. It’s not just my cravings doing the choosing, it’s the emotions and intuition behind them too. So far, they’ve been doing a great job.

10. Moving mindfully

I’ve been an athlete for as long as I can remember, and I truly feel that moving my body is my meditation…most of the time.

But when things get really hectic, and my brain gets a bit frazzled, heading out to play or move in my typically over-achieving kind of way actually doesn’t suit me at all.

It only puts me in a hole where I’ve again neglected other projects that are important to me, or puts my body in a nutritional deficit because I worked too hard.

So, when things get crazy sometimes I move in a different way that is more mindful of all the things I have spinning — not just my workout calendar. Yin yoga, morning stretching routines, long early easy hikes around my neighborhood are all examples of ways I’m keeping moving, while recognizing that I don’t (and really, can’t) crush everyday as an athlete if I want to crush in life at large. By taking a day to move more mindfully, I typically buy myself a whole lot more time later to do a massive ride in the mountains, spend the whole weekend skiing or playing. And the best part? My balanced self will be the one enjoying it all when I do.