How it all started…
For the past few months I’ve been feeling really, really burned out. Burned out in the kind of way that yoga or a massage doesn’t even help (eek). It’s that feeling of being so tired in your mind and in your bones that there is no real cure… Well, except to rest.
I always find it fascinating how overworked people are in our culture. Working over 40 hours is typically the norm and is often expected in many work environments. Used vacation time is dwindling and many of us are feeling the effects of this on our health, our moods, and our relationships.
Speaking for myself, I know I often take on too much in my life. I work a full-time+ job, have a part-time gig working with cooking classes here in Seattle, and I run my business/blog on the side. I love, love, love my life, but I’m really busy and I rarely have time to do anything outside of the items listed above. I’ve sat down and had a heart-to-heart with myself many times debating about how to give something up or cut back because “something’s gotta give.”
Each time I have this heart-to-heart with myself I’ll come up with different answers: cut back on assisting cooking classes, delay creating a new health coaching program, reduce hours working on the next cookbook, etc.
A few weeks ago I had this same heart-to-heart with myself and I paused to ask myself the question: “What do you NEED right now and what do you need to do in order to CREATE it?”
The Experiment Begins…
To my surprise, I had a very different answer than I’d ever had before: I need rest. I want to read more. I want to spend more time outside of my kitchen. I’m tired of cooking right now, and I’m willing to find healthy ways to eat without having to prepare each and every meal from scratch.
Whoa! I’ve never said this to myself before! Usually I find the kitchen to be energizing, inspiring, and the source of my creativity… what would happen if I cut back? I decided to listen to myself and trust my inner wisdom, and so I embarked on my “Cut Back on Cooking” experiment.
My first step was to figure out exactly what kitchen activities are causing me to feel burned out.
1. Breakfasts: Good to go!
Do I mind cooking breakfasts in the morning?
Nope! I realized breakfasts actually feel pretty easy, especially since I have the same veggie and egg scramble every single morning.
2. Dinners: Needed some re-working…
Do I mind preparing dinner in the evening?
I discovered my answer to this one was “it depends.” I definitely was tired of meals that required more than 30 minutes total prep and cooking time so I decided the key was to simplify, simplify, simplify.
First, I tried crockpot meals (this Indian Curry Chicken and this Root Veggie Pot Roast are my faves). However, it was hard to get everything together before work – especially on days with 6:30 am meetings. Also, since I’m gone for 10+ hours most days, the food would often sit too long in the slow cooker so I realized this wasn’t a permanent solution to my problem.
The solution I came to was that dinners would include a rotation of meat and fish, with the protein seasoned and prepared in a skillet or the oven with a side of vegetables either steamed or roasted on the side. (Examples: spicy jalapeño sesame salmon with the marination time reduced and prepared in a skillet or this easy broiled curry salmon)
This meant that when I came home around 6 pm after my workout, I could start the protein and veggies, hop in the shower, and then by the time I came back to the kitchen, the meal just required a quick flip of the protein and was ready a few minutes later.
In order to make this system work, I had to make sure I had all of the necessary components on Sundays and would freeze the protein if I was going to be eating it a few days out. I realized that going to the grocery store 2 – 3 times a week was clearly part of the problem so combining all shopping into one trip for the week was also a big part of reclaiming my time. (Note: this is also why I’ve been such a big fan of meal delivery services like Sun Basket or Butcher Box, which delivers meat from local farmers straight to your door.)
3. Lunches: The source of my frustration
How do I feel about preparing lunches for the week? Uggggaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.
It didn’t take me long to realize that THIS was truly the source of my burnout. At first glance, this seemed really strange to me given that I was very efficient when preparing lunches and it usually only required a few hours of prep time and even as low as 60 minutes when I prepared salads for the week.
Upon further examination, I realized the source of my frustration: Over the past few months, as my significant other started going back to school, I’d been preparing breakfasts and lunches for the both of us ahead of time. This seemed simple enough except that most days someone (ahem, ahem) forgot their lunch, forgot to eat their lunch, or only ate half of it. Since I had everything preportioned for the week and prepared ahead of time, there was a lot of food waste happening and – bingo – it was ticking me off, making me feel unappreciated and undervalued, and most of all, sucking my energy.
I’m not here to bash anyone and very long story short, I realized that the only thing I can control is myself and my reactions to situations (not other people) so I decided to do something I considered very radical: stop preparing lunches altogether.
I was really resistant to this idea at first (especially thinking of the increased cost), but then I decided to embrace it. I figured out a few easy and healthy lunch options I could pick up near my workplace and I went for it.
And you know what happened?
- Instead of spending hours prepping meals on Sunday nights, I actually had “free time” on weekends. And since part of this experiment was all about preserving my time, instead of wasting this precious free time on my computer, I’ve started going for evening walks and making jewelry again.
- Instead of opening the fridge throughout the week to find half-eaten or half-spoiled containers of food, cleaning them out, nagging or stressing about not nagging, and feeling completely PO’d, I’ll end my evening by reading in bed. READING! What a luxury!!!
- Instead of going grocery shopping several times a week and grumbling to myself about how nice it’d be if someone worried about preparing MY lunches for the week, I’ve started going to sleep earlier during the week. (And I got to practice the power of reframing situations and positive thinking! 😉 )
As you can probably tell from my blog, I’m someone who has ALWAYS brought their own lunch to work so it felt really strange the first few days when I went to go grab lunch. However, as I neared the end of the second week, I felt COMPLETELY LIBERATED. I was reading for twenty minutes each night, going to bed earlier, and felt much happier and energized overall – all over this one seemingly simple change!
One day when I came back from grabbing lunch I even had a co-worker ask me “where did you go?” (because it was such a strange occurrence for me to leave the office at lunch time) and I couldn’t have been more excited to respond “I went to grab lunch! I quit cooking! And I now have more time to read in the evenings!”
I realize that this post title may be slightly misleading as I haven’t completely stopped cooking. And since I still need to eat, love running a food blog, and do truly enjoy cooking, I will always be cooking in some capacity. (So don’t worry – I’m not quitting on you here!)
What I learned and why I wanted to share this with you…
When something’s not working in our lives, we feel it. Maybe we notice physical symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and sugar cravings or maybe we notice more emotional symptoms like moodiness. Unfortunately many of us have gotten really good at ignoring these signals in our lives and tuning out our bodies, which is exactly why I felt it was important to share this with you today.
Since I often blog about self-care, I wanted to be completely transparent about some of the ways I’m learning to practice it, the shifts I’m having to make in my life as a result, and to show you that none of us have this all figured out perfectly!
I also want to shout from the rooftops about the difference it makes when you give yourself permission to stop doing things that suck your energy! 😀 (Click to tweet it!)
Through this experiment I’ve learned that in order to live a happy, authentic life we have to trust our gut – and sometimes, that means making uncomfortable changes. When I first examined this situation this seemed like a relationship issue, but the truth is that it was a self-care issue. I’m sure I’ll go back to preparing my lunches at some point when it feels right, but until then, I’m getting more energy and benefits from activities outside my kitchen. And it all started by stopping to pause and check in with myself.
So, dear reader, I’ll leave you with the question: What do you NEED right now and what do you need to do in order to CREATE it?