Like a lot of women, I was not in love with every aspect of planning my wedding. Through it all, I discovered that the things I liked best were opportunities to connect with family and friends that I rarely saw or didn't know well. That, more than color schemes, dress shopping, and flower arrangements, was what I was really excited about.
So when I came up with the idea of asking people to share a recipe with me on the back of their RSVP cards—whether they were coming to the wedding or not—I thought it was a simple, one-off win-win. If anyone sent me a recipe, I would have a good story to discuss over Thanksgiving dinner (especially if I ended up seated next to a great-aunt-in-law). I didn't expect many responses, given people's busy lives, but I was excited to add at least one or two recipes to my meager cooking repertoire.
As the RSVP cards rolled in, I realized that people loved this idea, to the point that they wrote out (by hand!) beautiful recipes from their family archives for me.
In total, I got more than 40 recipes. I now had a lovely pile of cherished memories, and the day of the wedding was even more special when I got to say "Oh, I cannot wait to try your chicken pot pie recipe!" in addition to all my tired-but-happy-bride jabbering. After the wedding, I took another look at the recipes—chicken pot pie, lasagna, cookies, cakes — and began to notice a trend.
For the most part, the recipes that people gave me were not intended to be healthy food choices. Many of my family members and friends are from the Southern US, and we often associate our best family memories with moments of decadent comfort food: flaky crusts and creamy sauces and cheese on top.
This was a little worrisome to me. I occasionally wish that I worked out more, ate less junk food, and was a bit more fit. Generally though, I try to fill my time with as many awesome and interesting things as I can rather than focusing in on healthy habits. My eating habits before the wedding were based on a busy lifestyle that wasn't mindful at all. I waited until I was quite hungry and ate a quick meal of whatever appealed to me at the time, which was pretty much never healthy food. I kept active, but overall, had a standing weight that was higher than my ideal and could definitely have benefited from more energy.
Pair my past habits with newlywed life (which famously makes people put on weight), and throw in 40 recipes for comfort food that I want to try so I can express my gratitude to my new friends and family. Doesn't sound like I would be in the best shape of my adult life, does it?
I decided to space the recipes out but still hold myself accountable by starting a blog this past January; like many before me, I thought taking pictures and writing about my experiences would help me enjoy the experience and think about what I was eating more than before. After a few non-starter titles, I started Recipe in a Bottle. The idea was to basically write a letter about the person or people who gave me the recipe, and then about the silly experiences I had trying to make the dish itself. I invariably forgot an ingredient or tried to substitute something, and the results were pretty much never boring. My main audience was the very friends and family members I was writing about.
Writing the blog got me reading other food blogs and reading about food in general, and I noticed that despite making a bacon-filled quiche or a pound cake every few days, I was also getting more intentional with all my meals. After reading about benefits of local food and the nutritional value of greens, I was sitting down to a serving of lasagna alongside a salad, or doubling the veggies in the pot pie and liking it anyway.
There was another factorI found interesting. I knew my new husband was thin as a rail, but only when I really got to know his daily habits after the wedding did I realize that he actually lived the lifestyle that so many people espouse: lots of veggies, small portions, fruit as a snack (really?!), and frequent trips to the gym or the woods for a hike or bike ride.
Despite having many roommates over the years, I think that marriage introduced me to a different kind of reflective noticing of someone else's habits. I chose my past roommates for whatever reason, usually friendship and occasionally convenience, but I chose my husband because I admire his outlook on life. Here was a person who, every day, reflected his own healthy habits, not with intensity or rigidity, but with actual excitement. The boy can still tear into a burger or sop up some spaghetti sauce with a thick hunk of garlic bread, but he stops eating when he's not hungry; he eats salads because they taste good. It's probably not a revelation for anyone else, but every day I saw the contrast between my attitude of shovel-it-in-and-go and his savoring of flavors and spices. This exuberance led me to slow down a little as well; his excitement for exercising also motivated me to find activities I enjoy. His attitudes toward health were infectious without him ever saying anything about my habits.
It's been six months of blogging now, and I'm nearing the end of my pile of family-and-friends recipes, but I have a new, growing pile of recipes given to me by other bloggers. Some of them are healthy food, and some of them are comfort food, but I've realized that paying more attention to food helps me maintain my health better.
It's not some flashy get-skinny-quick scheme: I've lost something maybe three pounds a month since January, and I still get winded after three flights of stairs (luckily, "best shape in my adult life" is not a very high bar for me). Still, I'm pretty happy with the progress. For me, it was all about actually devoting time to the food I was going to eat, and about understanding the life of someone who seemed really happy with his healthy choices.