Since I have been on my health kick recently, and so had a particular interest in food, Sally recommended to me a recipe book called The Happy Kitchen by Rachel Kelly (who is also the author of a lovely book called Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness). The Happy Kitchen is full of easy, highly thought-out recipes that use ingredients to keep you calm, boost your energy and help you sleep, and is fully equipped with guides to ‘Fab Mood Foods’ to have plenty of, and ‘Low Mood Foods’ to avoid.

As I read the introduction, not only was I struck by how Rachel has managed to create an amazingly healthy relationship with food (which, as I talked about last week, so many of us struggle with), but also how she has made cooking into a therapeutic activity in itself:

‘I realised a joyful kitchen could calm me as much as the food itself. Cooking reawakened my jaded senses, connecting me with nature in a similar way to gardening, something I have always found soothing. This hiss of pepper sizzling in a pan, the scent of ginger and garlic, the sight of rich reds and yellows: all this could, I realised, gladden my soul.’

This really resonates with me. Having moved back to my parents five months ago, I recently began to find that I never ever cooked because I didn’t necessarily need to. Then when I found I did, I would bung on some pasta, stick a can of tuna and some grated cheese on top, and that was my meal. However, this has all changed in the last few weeks and I have been cooking far more, really thinking about the ingredients I am using health-wise and enjoying the time I spend doing it.

Rachel talks beautifully and encouragingly about the ‘links between food and mood’ and how we can ‘harness the power of food to boost our mental health’. Talking to Sally, I know how she feels strongly that by changing her diet, her moods have altered substantially. She told me, that when she eats those pleasure foods, high in sugar, rich in refined grains or processed, there may be an initial buzz or ‘comfort’ but this doesn’t last. Whereas when she eats the healthier options, the effect may not be immediate (whose mouth waters at the thought of kale?!) but are substantial and long-term. In fact, a number of studies bear this out… that the relationship between food and mood is delayed and we should always look at the bigger picture.

So back to last Tuesday night; I was promised there would be leftover fishcakes waiting for me on my return from work. However, I got back only to find my dad had beaten me to them! Immediately, I wondered what on earth I could scrape together without desperately trying to defrost something from the freezer in the microwave. However, I found a healthy recipe I could make and as soon as I began methodically chopping vegetables and melting the coconut oil I felt happy. Not only this, but the finished result gave me a healthy dinner as well as leftovers for my lunch the following day.

Something else Rachel talks about, and something I really struggle with, is mindful eating. No doubt about it, I eat too fast. But Rachel says that mindful eating – eating more slowly and consciously – has helped her change the way she thinks about food, as well as helping her be more disciplined and focussed. Try her ‘Eating One Raisin’ exercise which includes holding, seeing, touching, smelling, placing, tasting, swallowing and following the raisin, thus creating a whole process despite eating only one small thing.

So, whatever your dietary habits, why not give ‘happy eating’ at try – and join Sally, Rachel and I in ‘cultivating a healthy gut to cheer you up!’ Have a yummy, scrummy week.

By Ilana Mann