The term “self-care” gets bandied around a lot, especially at this hectic time of year when we all feel like we’re running on empty.
But what does self-care actually look like? For chef Gemma Ogston, author of The Self-Care Cookbook, the answer is simple: self-care starts with food. In fact, the whole premise of her book is that eating well is the ultimate act of self-care.
“Often when we are feeling low eating well doesn’t seem like priority, but this just makes us feel worse,” says Ogston. “Without energy and essential vitamins and minerals we will start to feel tired, anxious and restless.”
It’s something most of us probably already know. But, the difficulty with eating for self-care is that the times we need wholesome food the most, tend to be the times we can’t face cooking it.
“All my recipes should be simple and easy to follow,” Ogston assures me. On top of this, she has made it her mission to make cooking her recipes a further act of self-care, noting that, although cooking dinner can be rushed and stressful, it can also be a great exercise in mindfulness.
“Try to approach cooking as a creative endeavour rather than something that simply has to get done,” she says. “By adopting a positive mindset, cooking can be something that you find real pleasure in.”
To put eating for self-care to the test I decided to try out some of Ogston’s recipes for myself. With work, volunteering and two kids suffering from end-of-term-itis, I’ve been feeling tired, stressed and grumpy. Can a bit of self-care cooking turn things around?
I start with “Eat The Rainbow” salad. Ogston says it will give me a “real boost of energy” and make me “feel full of life”. After trudging ’round the supermarket with my grumpy kids I can definitely do with an energy boost, so I start chopping sweet potatoes and broccoli with optimism, despite the background chorus of festive sibling bickering.
I try to be mindful. Ogston suggests considering each of my senses as I cook: “What do veggies feel like as you chop them? listen to the sound of the frying onions. How does it smell when you throw all those lovely spices into the pan?” she writes.
I discover it’s hard to practise mindful cooking when your children are beating each other with soccer boots. Still, the salad is delicious. As I eat, I try to focus on the different tastes and textures in my mouth and block out the sound of my ungrateful children who are vocal in letting me know, as pretty as the salad is, they’re not eating anything that contains both kale and spinach.
Next I try the roasted cauliflower and lentil bowl. To give self-care eating a better chance I prepare and eat it while my kids are at school. With the house to myself I actually enjoy cooking the dish, and it’s definitely an improvement on my usual cheese and pickle sandwich. As the afternoon goes on I realise I do have a little more energy than usual – a tall order in December.
On day three, a hectic schedule and heavy workload mean I’m tired and irritable. I know I should be reaching for Ogston’s book and making myself a superfood smoothie or a hemp and chia seed energy ball but I just can’t face the thought of food prep, so opt for a cup of tea and a biscuit instead.
I confess my self-care failure to Ogston. “Having a biscuit and cup of tea can be very comforting,” she says. “I’m a massive believer in balance. Choose good things to put into your body that taste amazing 90 per cent of the time but, sure, have a chocolate pud and ice cream when you fancy.”
Ogston is a mum of two and small business owner so she totally gets that sometimes cooking a nutritious dinner is just too much effort. With this in mind she has included a “what to eat when you can’t face cooking” section in her book.
“Self-care doesn’t have to be a three-course meal,” she says. “But just a dish that gives you some love and makes you feel nurtured inside and out, when you need it most.”
Cat is a freelance writer for Domain