Sometime during all this cooking*, I had a revelation: Food is not magic.
Yes, food can sometimes feel like magic. In most cities, at any given moment you are less than fifteen minutes away from an instant burger, fries, sandwich, or pizza. The only effort you have to put in is forking over your debit card.
But effort was put into that food, even if you didn't see it. Someone prepared it for you. Someone delivered the ingredients, someone put them together and made them presentable for your consumption. In the case of fast food, there are food developers, food tasters, and food scientists involved. Food scientists.
Before I went to Costa Rica, I was in Houston for a physical. It turns out that my cholesterol is high. Like really high. Not high enough to cause my doctor concern, but high enough that she suggested I work on lowering it. Then I went in for an eye check up and while my doctor was looking into my eyes through the phoropter, she asked, "So do you like eating sugars or starch?" Turns out she could determine my diet excesses by looking at my eyes.
In combination, those appointments made me realize that cooking at home is an important goal for me. My cholesterol tends to be on the high end of normal, and the amount of stress in my life recently hasn't helped. Throw drive-thru meals on top of that, and it becomes a problem. Even eating too many sweets has an effect on my body.
But here's the good news: If you eat out of your own kitchen, you kind of can't help but be healthier. Baking cookies and brownies is an involved process that takes far more time and energy than grabbing a box of them from the store, so there are likely to be fewer temptations sitting around. Fruit, meanwhile, is naturally sweet and requires no more preparation than a quick rinse under the tap. Chicken and beef often take more time and effort to cook than fish and vegetables, so you're more likely to throw some tilapia in the oven and make a salad for yourself while it bakes.
That said, I wouldn't recommend such a major shift in eating habits to anyone. I had to work the Saturday before I left for Costa Rica and it resulted in me cheating. I was on my feet for eight hours, which I expected, but then my relief called in sick and I was asked to stay for four more. After running around like crazy getting eleven brides started with their registries, I almost had to crawl out of the car and onto our couch. My husband was already there, at the end of his own long day. He offered to order a pizza for us, which filled me with a rush of relief. Once I was finished eating, however, I had another rush—one of guilt. "I really could have made that pizza," I found myself thinking. As Molly has pointed out in her "Cheeseburgers and the importance of indulgence" post before:
"The other thing that's important is not feeling bad about allowing yourself to eat that cheeseburger or brownie sundae. Because the worse you feel about it, the more you're going to want to do it again and again."
So true! Once I got back from Costa Rica, the pendulum swung back in the opposite direction. I went on a pizza, Panera, Taco Bell, McDonald's binge. I didn't go to the grocery store for a week. Without realizing it, I'd put myself on a kind of diet. I dedicated myself to an unreasonable goal. I'm back on track now, with the realization that sometimes it's okay to eat out, whether it's ordering a pizza after a long day or going to a nice dinner with a friend to catch up.
Restaurants aren't the enemy, as long as the kitchen is your close friend.
*In case you don't remember, I committed to cooking all of my meals at home for the entire month of February.
EMILY THRELKELD is a newlywed living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She's also a writer and a photographer who supports herself being a bridal consultant at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.