Cooking is an important skill. A skill lots of people don’t really have anymore.
I’m not talking making Turducken or anything complicated like that. Just making food, any food, for yourself at home. It’s much more common to go out to eat or order something from Grubhub or Seamless.
It’s quite convenient to say the least.
When you don’t even have to enter in your credit card information to get a shitton of Indian food sent right to your door, there’s nothing to stop you other than your own brain.
Especially after a long day of work, the siren song of takeout is quite alluring. So what’s the draw back?
Mo' money (spent), mo' health problems.
Meals out tend to be on the unhealthy side, because restaurants only really care about how good it tastes
“The food was bland compared to the Indian place across the street, but that’s OK because that probably means it didn’t have as many calories. #gains”, said no Yelp review ever.
Beyond that, with meals out, you don’t really know what you’re eating.
You don’t know how much oil, lard, butter, cheese, sugar, salt, etc. they’ve put in the meal. You’re sort of leaving your health up to chance.
Even if you intentionally order something you think is healthier, you still aren’t completely in the driver’s seat.
That said, you should be commended for being mindful about your food choices here. Ordering better at restaurants is definitely an important skill for fat loss.
However, it still leaves an element of chance to your health and weight.
When you cook, you know exactly what you’re getting. You know you’re hard work will equal results. No Forrest Gump "box of chocolates" nonsense here.
You can make your food as healthy or as unhealthy as you like. No surprises.
The money saving power of cooking is more straightforward. Unless you have really expensive tastes, cooking at home will save you a lot of money because math. And because otherwise the restaurants wouldn’t make any money.
"Ok, I get it. But how do I start cooking? I’ve tried in the past and it never stuck."
First, you have to go into it with the right perspective.
Simply put, the goal is to make progress, in any way, shape, or form.
Just keep moving forward in some small way every day and really focus on what you’re doing well.
This leads to some counterintuitive things.
For example, cooking unhealthy meals at home might seem unworthy of praise. You might be inclined to downplay your victory because you know it's not healthy in the short term.
However, the fact you actually cooked at home, regardless of what you ate is a big step in the right direction. It’s all about progression, and progression happens section by section.
So some of the steps I’ll outline here might have you screaming, “What the hell are you thinking?! How can you recommend such a thing as a fat loss coach?!”, but I assure you it’s all part of the process, part of the master plan.
To build any skill, don't let perfect get in the way of better. Become completely accepting of imperfection in the name of progress and the long game.
Now, let’s finally get into how to start cooking for yourself even if you literally eat out for every meal of every day.
In the following section I’ll give you a system to help you find a logical progression to your end goal.
Some cooking is easier than others. It’s still cooking though i.e., it still counts.
The biggest barrier I’ve found to cooking is how complex or overwhelming a recipe is.
The idea is to figure out what level of cooking you aspire too, what cooking tier balances your health goals, tastes, and lifestyle preferences.
That's your end goal.
Then, figure out what tier you're in currently and work your way up the ladder.
In a video game, you start off with the easier levels. The better you get at the game, the harder levels you unlock.
It's the same concept with cooking.
- Tier 0: Takeout, or eating out at a restaurant. Not cooking
- Tier 1: Cup of noodles, toast, microwaveable dinner.
- Tier 2: Macaroni and cheese, sandwiches, oatmeal, panini, wrap, quesadilla.
- Tier 3: Premade sauce + meat, eggs.
- Tier 4: 3 ingredients recipes. rosemary chicken , Crockpot Jerk Chicken.
- Tier 5: Turkey Chili, Crockpot Ginger Chicken.
- Tier 100: You have your own TV show on Food network. You own a Michelen Star restaurant. Cooking is your life.
This ladder is an approximation -- it’s really more of a continuum from zero complexity, to Iron Chef.
There very well might be some types of cooking in between Tier 3 and 4. This isn’t an exact science. Just a model to help you conceptualize how to progress to the level of cooking skills you aspire to.
Remember, we’re not worried about what you’re cooking just yet from a health standpoint.
We’re not bothered about it lining up with your finance and health goals perfectly.
The goal for now is simply to build a cooking routine, to get to a place where cooking isn't an obstacle to fat loss.
Because it doesn’t matter how much you know about cooking if you never actually cook. Action comes first, then comes learning.
Getting really clear on your endgame, and what you need to do daily to get there
First, imagine you already cook as often, and as well, as you want to. You’re happy with what you cook and you have a solid cooking routine.
- What does it look like?
- What kind of things to you cook?
- How often do you cook?
- Which tier are you cooking in most of the time?
Envision what this looks like. Write it down.
Now you have a concrete goal. Next, commit to a weekly cooking mini goal. Start small and build your routine one brick at a time.
Where to start?
The goal needs to be realistic.
Your mini goal should be something you’re 100% confident you could still achieve on the shittiest week of your life.
There’s no point setting an overly ambitious goal that only leads to feeling discouraged when you inevitably don’t meet your unrealistic expectations.
Stifle your ambition.
You wouldn't throw 300 lbs on the bar on your first day of lifting weights. You'd start with a weight that seemed doable. Then you'd add weight in small jumps every week or so.
This is a MUCH faster way to lift that 300 lbs than trying to lift it on day 1.
In fact, this is the FASTEST way. It might seem different than what you're used to. That's exactly the point -- it is different!
The fastest way to achieve anything is to stay focused/patient and "add a little weight" each week until you reach your goal, adjusting when needed.
Your mini goal ought to fit in the following template:
I am 90-100% sure I will (habit) when I (reminder to practice habit) everyday for the next 7 days.
Having a reminder, or a trigger, to work on the mini goal is necessary so don’t skip this step.
The trigger should be something that's 100% reliable no matter what, because your mini goal depends on the trigger.
This could be a preexisting habit like brushing your teeth, or something that inevitably happens like getting home from work. The more specific and reliable the better.
Here's one example of how you could do this:
- Wk 1: I am 90-100% sure I will cook 1 tier 1 meal a day (habit) when I get home from work (reminder) everyday for the next 7 days.
- Wk 2: I will cook once a day at dinner everyday when I get home from work for the next 7 days, one of those meals will be tier 2.
- Wk 3: I will cook once a day at dinner everyday when I get home from work for the next 7 days. 2 of those meals will be tier 2.
And so on and so forth.
The trick is to keep moving. Keep working on the habit no matter what, even if that means dialing down the difficulty of your habit during a busy period at work, family emergency, or breakup.
This works so well because it's specific to you. It gives you the freedom to adapt to the craziness of life on a daily basis.
How to autoregulate
The tier system can help you scale the difficulty of your weekly mini goals.
For example, your base end goal is just to cook everyday regardless of which tier it’s in. You may, at the outset, want to cook something from around tier 3 (Plan A), but maybe on a given day you’re really not feeling it so you cook a tier 1 meal (Plan C).
Many people would downplay this success, maybe even beat themselves up about it. However, this is still a win, because you're still doing something towards the goal.
You’re still cooking. And you’ve exercised resourcefulness, adaptability, and self awareness, all crucial skills for progress.
My most successful online clients are the ones who master backup plans. Because it means they take the most consistent action.
They don't quit when things get hard, or "start on Monday". They just slow down a little bit and keep on driving until they're ready to speed up again.
You’re still doing something as opposed to nothing. And that's all that matters. It’s this consistent action, in whatever capacity you can, that leads to success in any pursuit.
- Meet yourself where you’re at. Commit to a realistic cooking goal for the week.
- After a week or two, advance the goal in some way. Each week's mini goal always needs to feel realistic, no matter what level or tier you’re on.
- Don’t let perfect be the enemy of better. Adjust when you need to, because life happens. Consistency is all that matters (have I said that yet?). Even if Plans A-M fall through, executing Plan N is a huge success.
- Each week reflect on your progress and ask yourself what you did well and what you can do to improve next week.
Get your head in the right place. Building a cooking habit is a progression.
It’s a skill, just like playing an instrument, or learning a language. Don’t expect to be good at it right away.
First, just focus on building a habit of cooking ANYTHING at all. Then, after that, you’ll be in a place to worry about the quality of your cooking.
One more thing:
Cooking doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
There are other things that need to happen for the end goal of cooking to happen.
Namely, you need to have ingredients (that haven’t gone bad), and you need to have time to cook.
So make sure to take the time, energy, and logistics of grocery shopping into account when you’re coming up with your game plan.
These aspects are usually where the kinks happen. You’re all ready to tackle a new recipe, then you realize you don’t have a key ingredient.
These sorts of slip-ups are all part of the process.
Just be aware of it and don’t let it discourage you. They’re an inevitable part of figuring out how cooking fits into your life.
Just keep working at it and you’ll get into a groove where forgetting ingredients or letting them go bad in the fridge doesn’t happen so often.