I have been playing around with a new hobby recently: cooking. Surprise!
I never saw myself learning to cook or even enjoying it before. I used to think it was a waste of time when I could be reading a book or doing some writing instead. Why spend all that time preparing a meal that you’re just going to eat in a few minutes and forget about anyway? 🤔
However, after Covid and having learned how the food and drug industries work, I decided to take responsibility for my health back into my own hands. I also realized that I wanted to become more self-resilient in a time of increasing uncertainty in the world, and learning to cook for myself was one of the simplest and most obvious ways I could do that. After experimenting for a few months, I’ve become hooked on the freedom of being able to make anything I feel like eating.
Hacking Healthy Diet like an ISTP
As an ISTP, nothing brings me more joy than getting my hands dirty learning new things and solving problems. However, this time, I’m now literally getting my hands dirty in the kitchen:p
First things first: you do not need any fancy tools to start cooking. When I got started, I made the mistake of wasting my time and money buying fancy copper cookware because it looked so nice. It turns out I didn’t really need that. I could have used any old cookware I already had.
Keep it simple, stupid. Make use of what you have.
Step One: Identify the Problem
The most important step is knowing what problem you want to solve by learning how to cook. I already knew what I wanted to achieve: Eating more healthily to gain weight and energy.
A healthy diet should be universal, too. You should be able to eat well anywhere in the world. However, a few countries, such as Mediterranean ones like Greece or Turkey, have some advantages. They are closer to good soil with a natural growing climate for healthy foods. Thus, One nomad base picking tip: live in places close to the soil for easier access to real food.
Step Two: Gather the Right Information
There are many ways to get information nowadays: books, videos, podcasts, etc. But lots of the information out there about any given subject is junk. Remember that you are what you read just as much as what you eat.
The trick to getting good information is good filters. It requires time and taste, which can be developed through experience. I have trained myself well to filter noise and BS now. Try finding lowkey, honest people who are passionate about what they are doing. It works ALL THE TIME to get the best information with the least filler. There is a Chinese saying for this: 物以类聚 人以群分. It’s the same in English: “Birds of a feather flock together.”
I even hired a Polish nutritionist to guide me (who acted as my first filter). We did a blood test. Then we discussed my diet, family history, personal preferences, etc. We nailed down what my body lacked and what could be improved about my eating habits. I learned a lot about what food to eat more and avoid. The funny thing was that even though I have been eating food all my life, it felt like learning a totally new subject. I now think everyone should take some time to learn what their body needs instead of eating blindly.
I also read several old books about health and cooking from different cultures. Here are the universal things I have learned from them:
- A plant-based diet is the best foundation.
- Eat less meat (generally no more than twice weekly) and more seafood.
- Eat nuts and seeds daily.
- Avoid sugar.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Avoid processed meat.
- Avoid pasteurized milk ( or use milk for cooking)
- Stay away from supermarkets and packaged food.
Knowing what you need and what to avoid is already ahead of the game. However, diet is only part of the game of staying healthy.
Step Three: The FUN Part - Trial and Error
After getting the on-paper knowledge, you get the real knowledge by experimenting.
You do not learn to cook by reading about it. Most people confuse theoretical knowledge and experiential knowledge. For example, do you trust these people for reliable advice about your health?
The right way is not to trust anyone blindly but to VERIFY what they say. Trial and error Is the only way to do that.
The way I verify cooking advice is by buying a tiny amount of each ingredient and trying out all of them. I use different ways of cooking to see what works best. I want to know how much I like a certain food and how my body feels about it.
After you know what foods you like, you want to source the best quality to cook with. I did this by testing different ingredients from different local farms to find the ones I liked best. The next best way to get ingredients besides directly from a farm is from a local market. Now I invest about an hour weekly buying fresh food. I even got to know some of the farmers I buy from. A few started recognizing me and saving the freshest vegetables for me! This is one of the perks of living in a foreign land: you stand out. Why not maximize your scarcity? 🤓️
Designing My System
Here is the magical part: turning the REAL knowledge into an even better system that works for you. It’s the same as running a business.
I have designed an efficient way to get the weekly ingredients by ordering certain things directly from farmers over the weekends. I also go to the local bazaar in person on Tuesdays, then wash and cut the produce on the same day.
My workflow is buying - washing - cutting - employing different methods of preparing - feedback; For example, if I do not feel well after eating a certain food, I will look up the reason causing that; And decide shall I avoid eating that or avoid cooking something in certain ways.
Some Practical Dish Planning
Let's be real. We’ve all got 24 hours in a day, and so many things need to be done in that time. Therefore, a healthy diet should be as effortless and sustainable as possible.
My top five essentials ingredients:
- Olives oil
- Salt and black pepper
They can easily level up any dishes you make!
The first meal of the day, taking less time, the better. As I do not want to eat the same thing every day, I recreated some breakfasts I like from different countries.
Here are some formulas I am using. They may be helpful for you too.
Turkish: Different Jams (without sugar) + Bread + Cay (black tea)
Malaysian: Half-boiled eggs + Bread + Milk tea
Scrambled eggs / Omelet + Bread + Coffee
Salad / Yogurt / Oats + Fruit + Nuts + Smoothies
All these examples take less than 10 minutes to prepare! All you need to prepare in advance is weekly fresh bread and eggs. And if you wake up feeling creative, mix them and have fun! The only rule is there are no rules.
Bread selection: rye or sourdough
Eggs: ideally from local farmers
My current lunch model is a Buddha bowl, which involves mixing different veggies with quinoa, chickpeas, or purple sweet potato with nuts and seeds.
My current formula: seasonal fruits + nuts/seeds
Sharing some of my favorite ones:
- Almond butter with banana
- Avocado with honey/yogurt
- Chia pudding with almond milk
And again, I just mix whatever I feel like eating.
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
I haven’t yet found a formula I like for dinner yet, but I’m working on it. Stay tuned.
Leveling Up: Diet as a Tool
Many people take for granted how amazing our self-maintaining bodies are. By designing our diets better, we can cure the root causes of different bodily issues and even prevent future problems.
So far, my eyelashes and eyebrows have grown longer with the right diet and some essential oils. I don't even bother using mascara or eyebrow products now. I was also trying to solve a frequent acne problem. I tried different masks, face washes, and herbs, but they did not work for me. After some reading, I decided to stop using the face wash. And guess what? My acne went away after just one week!
Knowledge is power. I believe with the right information, we can live healthy lives without any help from man-made chemical products. If you think about it, many recent human inventions are just quick fixes for different problems:
- If you are sick, you get told to take some pills, but you don't know what causes you to be sick.
- If you have eyesight problems, you are told to get eyeglasses, but you don't know why you lost your perfect eyesight.
- If you have skin problems, you are told to buy some skincare products, but you don't know what's causing the problem.
But everything starts from within, and diet is a huge part of it.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert on cooking or health, and I am not planning to be one. I am not a doctor, and this is not intended to be medical advice. I am just someone curious to learn and experiment with different things and have fun sharing.
( I might keep updating my experiments here. Let me know what you think. 🎨 )