President Bill Clinton… National Treasure

February 11, 2014

From little fat boy to the national poster boy for healthy plant-based eating, the former President has become…in my view, a national treasure…a shining example of what we can do to create health if we put our minds…and wills to it.

Granted, I am not the best judge here. A committed plant-centric eater for almost 30 years and a die-hard fan of President Clinton’s I put him in the category of national treasure long ago. I admired his politics, his incredible depth of knowledge and his ability to empathize with the nation. With his change to plant-based eating and advocacy for health, this rock that those of us committed to creating collective health push uphill each and every day seems just a little lighter.

As a cooking teacher, the thing I hear most often is how hard it is to make the change from the standard American diet to eating well, enjoying plant-based foods…and the health that comes with that. But when we look at President Clinton, famously known for stopping off at a McDonald’s after jogging, his 180o turnabout shows us something important…that anyone can do it.

Look, I know that he very likely had a cook who prepared everything. I am sure he did not schlep groceries home, unlike the average person who has to figure out how to shop, prep and get a healthy meal on the table with no help. I get it; I do. I do it every day of my life.

But where President Clinton inspires me is that when his life of junk food caught up with his heart…and after two procedures, he took matters into his own hands and changed his lifestyle. All the cooks and servants in the world can’t give you that commitment, that desire to change and embrace a new life.

Most of us who complain that eating well is too hard or too much work…and we just don’t have the time for it are really saying something else, aren’t they? They are saying that they would rather take medications, undergo procedures and risk ill health because they want what they want, regardless of the cost to their bodies.

But if you’re like most people I know, when you finished reading this you thought “now what?” Every time I read a book by experts like Michael Pollan or Marion Nestle, I am left with the same question.

Change begins with our choices; how we move through the world; the footprint we leave; the products we consume. But nothing, nothing will create as dramatic a change as what we choose to eat and drink.

And while I am not asking you to bake bread from scratch (lovely though it is . . .) or grow your own food (you should learn how, though; it could be necessary in the coming times . . .), I am asking you to cook. Simple, elegant, natural foods that will nourish the body, mind and spirit. Food that will become the catalyst for real change in your life.

See, I think we have lost our way when it comes to food. People are so confused. Each day we hear statistics that are scarier than anything that Stephen King could imagine. So now we’re not only confused, we’re scared witless! So we do nothing; change nothing, and robust health eludes us. I hear it all the time; people are literally paralyzed with fear and confusion, so they do nothing.

Well, what if I told you that it’s simple, delicious, and totally relaxing to eat foods that will nourish your body and soul, help you achieve your ideal weight; live peacefully and compassionately, and slip right past all the obstacles that keep you from making healthy choices? Yeah, right, you say?

It begins in the kitchen. You need to learn to cook. And while cooking classes are fun, entertaining and helpful and cookbooks are thrilling, fun, and gorgeous, you can cook without any of it. You just have to understand what you are doing. You have to discover the “how” in how to cook.

It all starts with your brain. Positive thinking can change everything for you, but it is not so easy to achieve and maintain. We live in a culture that sets us up for failure and cashes in on our insecurities. Every television ad we see is telling us that we are losers, but if we buy their pills, perfume, lotion, burger, drink, mouthwash, clothes, or car, we will be sane, sexy, smart, funny, healthy, fit, and thin. These messages reinforce the notion that we cannot be whole, complete humans without the stuff they are selling.

I’m suggesting we use that kind of thinking to gain confidence to dust off the pots and pans and get back to the kitchen, back to nourishing our bodies with food that serves the purpose of our lives.

But change is hard, especially when it comes to breaking a lifetime of bad habits.

Habits form in the brain (I told you . . .). When we do something repetitively, our brains and bodies go into auto-pilot, functioning without much thought. Mindless eating and unconscious living means we eat too much—and too much of all the wrong things, exercise too little, depend on pharmaceuticals to keep us up and keep us down. We get into a rut. Our life becomes routine, replete with habits that are not contributing to our health and wellness, so we have to give ourselves a good shaking up or we’ll continue in this downward spiral that is typical of our culture of indulgence and convenience that is eating us alive.

Letting old habits fade and new ones take their place starts with developing a positive vision of the outcome you want. If you think that you can’t do something, then you probably can’t do it.

I remember something very valuable that a swim coach said to me when we were training hard and doing fast- interval drills. He said, “Stop telling yourself that you can’t do this.”

To move forward, you must ask yourself what your life will be like as you change. How will your life be enhanced? Your mind is a powerful tool. Use it to your advantage.

New habits, healthy habits can be created by re-programming yourself and taking your brain off auto-pilot. The key to lasting weight loss and health is to simply reinforce a new practice. But here is the cool thing: Whatever actions you take—and repeat—will become automatic in a mere twenty-one days. Just as your present lifestyle may be killing you now, it can quickly be turned around to become your source of strength, health, and fitness.

If you have never cooked before, it can be a daunting idea. You are heading into unfamiliar territory, like a 99-pound weakling, walking through a sea of muscles and tattoos for his first gym workout…or a former President wanting to change so that he was likely to be here to enjoy his life…and grandchildren.

With understanding and some basic skills, developed in a few short sessions in the kitchen, you will be whipping up meals as though you have been cooking all your life.