Learn to Cook to Reclaim Your Health

Recently, at one of my national speaking events, I was approached during the Q&A session by a woman who started talking to me about food, a common occurrence at these types of gatherings. Not too long after the conversation started, she began to complain about how bad the food industry is in this country, and how hard it is to find healthy options in restaurants and stores. Then she asked me, "What do you see as the new trend in eating and food?"

My response was something that I tell all of my clients: the new trend is actually an old trend. Think back to the days when preparing our own meals was commonplace, back to when we knew exactly where our food came from (and exactly what it was for that matter), and back to when we allowed ourselves time to plan for and cook our meals, as well as to enjoy them.

Sadly, this answer didn't get the enthusiastic reaction I expected, and instead, this woman, who was clearly upset, started yelling at me about how she didn't have time for all of that and how it all just didn't make any sense to her.

What didn't make sense to me was her willingness to blame the food industry and restaurants for limiting her healthy food options, yet she was unwilling to take her health into her own hands. The fact is, our quick and easy, rapid-pace lifestyle has gotten us to where we are in the first place, and it is really going to take some effort on our parts to tip the scales in the other direction.

It makes me sad to hear that 68 percent of U.S. adults are classified as overweight or obese. On top of that, experts say that for the first time in history, this generation of children won't outlive their parents! (1) We are getting fatter despite the prevalence of healthy food options and nutrition education available to us. What's going on?

I often hear my clients complain that they need a fast solution. They say they need to eat on the go, that they don't have time to think about eating, and that they can't even begin to think about making healthy food choices, let alone learn how to cook! We have made eating a chore, kicked it to the lowest priority on the list, and even treat it as though it were a hassle. With so many fast and cheap alternatives, why bother putting much thought into meal planning?

It's so easy to blame the food industry for our current obesity epidemic, but in reality, we must all take responsibility for our own actions. We've forgotten that we are the ones who asked the industry for quicker and faster meals over the years. We sure did get what we wanted, but at what cost?

With over $150 billion being spent on healthcare costs due to lifestyle related disorders such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and obesity, how can we fix the problem? Should we leave it to the industry that enabled us in the first place? Or even the government? No! We are all part of the problem, so we all need to be part of the solution.

So where do we begin? Well, stop demanding quick, easy, and processed foods and start cooking wholesome meals made from real foods. This will increase the demand for nutritious foods, putting pressure on the manufacturers to increase supply and forcing them to boost their selection of real foods because now this is what their customers are asking for.

You don't have to be Julia Childs everyday! Just pack your lunch, bring food to work, snack sensibly, and stop depending on the food industry and restaurants to fuel your life. You don't have to cut eating out completely, and believe me, I really enjoy a great meal out on the town, but I see it as a special occasion, not an everyday event.

We can't depend on others to nourish us. Food made outside of home is outside of your control and outrageous portions come loaded with salt and fat. Manufacturers respond to customer demands, so send them the right message. The only solution is to start cooking and do it now!

Healthy eating takes effort, so commit to take charge of your diet. Cook larger meals when you are in the kitchen so that you have leftovers to eat for the days ahead. Start going to the farmer's markets in your area, shop locally and support agriculture in your area. Don't leave your health in someone else's hands by relying on pre-prepared foods as your main source of nutrition. When you do, you just don't know what you're getting!


1.Lee, J. International Journal of Obesity, April 12, 2010; vol 34.

Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian in private practice in San Francisco, California. He is a national media spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and the founder of Eating Free.