Some pursue happiness, Phoebe Lapine pursues health — inner contentment is an added bonus. The American chef, who started a year-long Wellness Project on her blog Feed Me Phoebe, chats about healthy foods and habits in this month's Kitchen Farmacy.
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29 Oct 2015 - 4:51 PM  UPDATED 2 Nov 2015 - 11:48 AM

Ever feel like there’s so much information about healthy eating out there, even thinking about trying to sort through it all and make good decisions is exhausting? Or that there’s never enough time to cook a healthy meal, let along focus on everything else you want to do to feel healthier and happier? Phoebe Lapine gets it. And she’s devoted this year to finding out what works and how to slot it into her busy life. In the latest Kitchen Farmacy, we pay a visit to this New York blogger to see what she’s discovered so far in her year-long Wellness Project.

In January this year, suffering resolution angst, health issues and with “a general halo of guilt” over her health choices, blogger and chef Phoebe Lapine of Feed Me Phoebe made a big decision: to spend a year finding out what it really takes to be “well”.

In theory, it might seem she would already have all the tools she’d need: she grew up in a home that valued organic food; she quit her day job a while back to pursue a passion for food and started her Feed Me Phoebe blog in 2012 to help fellow home cooks embrace a balanced diet (what she describes as “healthy hedonism”); dealing with health issues ranging from Hashimotos, a thyroid issue, to food intolerances and acne, she read widely, saw specialists and changed her diet.

But things just weren’t right. So, inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s experiments in the pursuit of happiness, she decided to undertake The Wellness Project: a year-long attempt to discover more about the elements of a healthy life. “And not just to be healthy on paper, but to feel well — to do right by your body without giving up your life.” Each month, she’s tackling a different topic, from drinking more water to better posture, sleep and “how not to be such a stress case”. She’s doing the research and then finding out what works, and doesn’t, for her.

She’s still facing the same time challenges we all do: her blog, and the Wellness Project, fit around her work as a culinary instructor, both in people’s home and at several cooking schools; a book she’s writing about the project; recipe writing for magazines and websites; and developing a video course on healthy cooking.

Over at the blog, you’ll find the latest on her successes and failures with pursuit of a healthier life, providing plenty of leads and things to think about for anyone facing similar challenges. There’s also regular recipe sharing (by Phoebe and regular guest bloggers) and video chats with wellness experts.

We grabbed a bit of her spare time to discover her most unexpected discoveries and her top tip for making cooking healthy cooking a habit. Plus she’s shared four recipes with us: a peanutty breakfast chia pudding, salmon quinoa bowls, Portuguese kale soup and fish with Provencal tomatoes and olives.

 

So you committed to a whole year of exploring wellness topics and seeing yourself challenges on things like sleep and hydration and removing guilt from the eating equation. Ten months in, are you exhausted or exhilarated? Ha – I’m so glad you asked!! I’m definitely somewhere in between. I find the research side exhilarating, and the writing semi-exhausting. The nice thing is that I never intended for any of the experiments to be cumulative, so I’ve only had to focus on one challenge area at a time. But it gets exhausting when one of my current goals conflicts (time or money-wise) with some of the good habits I’ve been trying to build over the course of the year. I truly won’t have found that magic equation for the middle ground between health and hedonism until I’m finished.

 Forming better habits is not easy! When I started researching my project, I was so disheartened by how few experts acknowledge the things that get in the way.

You wrote “I couldn’t help thinking: as a spokesperson in the healthy living space, if I’m having this much trouble fitting healthier choices into my life, how overwhelmed must others be feeling who are just beginning to dip their toes into the world of wellness? I knew there had to be a way to be healthy and still indulge in my more hedonistic, boozy brunch loving behavior.” What sort of response have you had to the series so far? A lot of people seem to relate, especially to the frustration and guilt. It’s amazing that there are so outlets now talking about various wellness issues. But the best practices often conflict with each other, and since they’re mostly prescriptive, once you try and implement them on an individual level, you may encounter some roadblocks. Forming better habits is not easy! When I started researching my project, I was so disheartened by how few experts acknowledge the things that get in the way. The struggle is real! I hope that by putting my experience out there people will identify with the triumphs and pitfalls and be a little bit kinder to themselves as a result.

What’s been the most unexpected discovery overall? The mind is a fickle beast! Seriously, stress is at the root of so many of our body’s ailments. And it’s a really tricky, nebulous thing to tackle. I’ve uncovered a mental side to almost every wellness challenge area, but inner peace is a lot harder to come by than a few handfuls of kale with your dinner. I’m still working on this piece of the puzzle every day.

And about food specifically? There’s kind of an on-going face-off between the grain-free Paleo folks who crush beef jerky at snack time, and the more crunchy plant-based pioneers. Throughout this process, I’ve come down a lot more firmly in the latter category than I ever thought I would. Being conscious of my daily meat intake is something I’ve really tried to carry forward. And while I always buy organic, I’ve tried to eat a lot less factory-farmed animal products when out at restaurants.

More feel-good food: you’ll find recipes for tropical trail mix with ginger and coconut, and vegetarian split pea soup with kale, carrots and curry over at Phoebe’s blog.

Can you believe there’s only two months left – relaxation and spirituality.  How are you feeling about tackling those topics? Ugh – I can’t! I’ve been really excited about digestion [the October theme]. The microbiome is such a hot research area right now and I’m becoming increasingly convinced that all our problems begin in the gut — it even has an impact on how we manage stress! Understanding the role of good bacteria is so important. And it’s not just affected by what we eat, but how we interact with the outside world.

Relaxation and spirituality are going to be a little bit harder to tackle considering they are coinciding with my manuscript deadline. But I’ve already adopted a meditation habit. So I’m hoping that will be a springboard for some of the smaller stuff during both months.

In writing about your food challenge month, one of the things you talked about was how to nurture home cooking as a habit. There’s no secret shortcut, and everyone is different, but if you were suggesting one thing people could do as a starting point, what would it be?

Set aside an afternoon to cook healthy meals for the week ahead. This type of “batch cooking” is the most sustainable for people with limited time and budgets. Even though I cook for a living, I’m still squarely in that camp. And when I don’t get in my weekend cooking session, that’s when I’ll often end up resorting to takeout as a result of sheer exhaustion.

Is getting in the kitchen a bit like exercise – it gets easier and becomes more enjoyable the more you do it? So baby steps, baby steps? Absolutely! I always say that cooking is a habit forming activity just like going to the gym. You have to commit to it at the beginning to make it stick. But the more comfortable you get, the more it turns from a chore into a joy. There’s a meditative aspect of exercise that I definitely experience in the kitchen. It’s about reframing your mindset and using your cooking time to unwind, enjoy the company of your partner or friends, and have a little fun!

Competitive French fry eater, eh? Oh yeah. I’ll never stop. Never.

What blogs and podcasts do you enjoy? I recently got hooked on Jessica Murnane’s One Part Podcast.  She always has the most interesting guests in the food space and I love her casual, confessional interview style.

Magic Lessons, Elizabeth Gilbert’s new podcast around her latest book, is a must-listen for anyone wanting to unlock their creativity and/or overcome obstacles. The episode with Brene Brown is one of the most brilliant conversations I’ve had the pleasure of eaves dropping on. Pure gold.

In terms of blogs, I love The Yellow Table for easy entertaining, Domesticate-Me for hedonism and hilarious writing, and The Healthy Apple for health advice. I also get very inspired by the creative whole foods recipes on What’s Cooking Good Lookin’ and With Food and Love

 

 

Cook the blog


1. Salmon, kale and quinoa bowls with tahini sauce

 

2 Fish with provencal tomatoes and olives

 

3 Portuguese kale soup

 

4 Thai peanut chia pudding

Kitchen Farmacy Editor: Kylie Walker

Kitchen farmacy is our food lover's blog where good health and great taste come together. Each month, we'll feature a health and wellbeing foodie blog, with recipes to nourish the soul and body. Here's to eating well (and satisfying all kinds of cravings). View previous Kitchen Farmacy blog entries.