I’ve often felt that it’s a pity that food is essential to maintain life. If you’ve once been addicted to something, or at least had serious struggles with it like, say, drugs or alcohol or gambling or even smoking, you can decide to give it up…
Many people do this very successfully and celebrate the number of hours, days or years since they finally ‘got clean.’ But what if your obsessive behaviour involved food? If you want to stay alive then not eating isn’t an option, so somehow you have to find a way to eat ‘sensibly’ but which doesn’t trigger the descent into madness from which you have hopefully recovered.
And I am starting to realise that since my ‘recovery’ from the seesaw of binge/starve dieting about 30 years ago, I have developed a very weird relationship to food.
Believe it or not, the realisation that this is how I approach food is very recent. I’ve long believed that my body doesn’t tolerate certain foods because I have suffered from severe and crippling migraines since puberty. The classic culprits for triggering a migraine attack are known to include caffeine, chocolate, citrus fruits and cow’s cheese. I am also extremely sensitive to alcohol which makes me feel very unwell very quickly, so I never drink it in any form. Then, more recently, I started to experience problems with acne rosacea and discovered through trial and error that bread, chocolate and sugar-laden foods tended to cause severe breakouts of painful lumpy spots on my face. As a result I suppose you could have called me a ‘fussy eater’ although that’s not particularly how I saw myself.
Then, back in May, I had Covid for the first time and with it I lost all appetite. I didn’t lose my sense of smell and taste as many did, I just started to see most food as deeply unappetising. It seemed to exacerbate something I have struggled with for many years; to find food that tempts me to eat it. In fact I think this decoupling of food from pleasure has been going on for years but I have only just noticed because it’s suddenly become much worse. This is not one for doctors because I eat entirely pragmatically, by which I mean that I know which foods constitute the best choices for optimal health and ensure that I include them in my weekly diet. I am also maintaining my weight because I know how much I need to eat in order to do so. So, I thought I’d turn to all of you for some practical solutions, and also for some reassurance that I’m not the only person who struggles with this.
Firstly I am wondering if this is more to do with my age than with Covid. Or it might even be something to do with the long, hot summer we have just had, so I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on any of these potential causes. Did any of you experience appetite problems with Covid and, if so, have they persisted? Are any of you aware of being able to eat less as you get older? Perhaps your taste buds are less sensitive than they once were? Or do you, like me, experience discomfort and sleep disturbance if you eat particular foods in the evening or if you eat later than usual? And throughout the summer have you been either eating less than usual, or mostly eating cold foods because you can’t face cooking in a hot kitchen warmed further with an oven?
Since May I have stuck almost exclusively to a diet of salad stuff, usually combined with some form of oily fish or shellfish as my evening meal. Breakfast is a cereal that I make myself every couple of weeks from jumbo porridge oats and chopped, mixed nuts, baked in the oven, and then stored to be eaten every morning with milk and a banana. Lunch is invariably two Ryvita often with a boiled egg or some goat’s cheese and tomato. I supplement that with extra fruit, and 3-4 large Medjool dates. For liquids I only drink water and 2 cups of tea a day, and at 4pm when I have my second cup of tea, I eat 4 Nairn gluten free and low sugar chocolate chip biscuits to keep me going until suppertime.
As you can see from that massive food rut into which I have climbed, I need some serious inspiration! However, before you offer me your suggested recipes you will need to understand what I am, and am not prepared to do in order to feed myself:
1. Please remember that I am always cooking for one and that I don’t want massive quantities of food. So, small but delicious would be great.
2. I absolutely loathe all food preparation, so would tolerate 10-15 minutes at most for getting some dish ready to cook.
3. I tend to look askance at anything that has more than around five ingredients.
4. I have a very sensitive fire alarm so cooking which creates smoke (like frying salmon in a pan) tends to be a nightmare. I also find it hard to grill anything in my oven.
5. I am more than happy to eat the same thing for two nights in a row, or for 3-4 days at lunchtime if you can suggest things that will keep in the fridge and can be reheated.
6. I tend to avoid red meat but am neither pescatarian, vegetarian or vegan.
Let me give you a quick idea of a couple of favourite recipes, one for salmon and one for chicken, each of which I probably cooked at least once a week throughout last winter:
Place a salmon fillet into a dish with some finely diced red onion and cherry tomatoes (as much as you like). Drizzle a little olive oil over the tomatoes and onion. Place in a moderate oven. After 5 minutes, steam some broccoli or asparagus spears for 4 minutes. When broccoli is nearly cooked, take salmon from the oven, coat it with sesame seeds and add a tablespoon of soy sauce. Put the broccoli or asparagus around the salmon and return to the oven for another 5 minutes.
I like this because preparation is minimal, it only takes a total of 15 minutes to cook and it’s ready to serve. I suppose you could also cook some potatoes but I never do.
Creamy Chicken and Mushroom
Chop some mushrooms and ‘roast’ them in a hot non-stick frying pan without any oil until they soften. Add some olive oil, and half a chopped onion to the hot pan and one diced chicken breast. Cook until the chicken has browned and onions are softened. Meanwhile in a jug mix some single cream with a biggish spoonful of whole grain mustard and seasoning then pour over the chicken and mushroom mixture. Turn down the heat and simmer whilst you steam some veg. Again I like the speed and simplicity of this with minimal prep and not much mess to clear up after cooking.
I hope that gives you some idea of the kind of culinary effort I am prepared to make! I’d absolutely love some of your quick, easy, tasty, favourite lightish go-to supper recipes so that I can extend my repertoire which is currently extremely limited. I’d also love some soup recipes for my lunctimes as I am getting very tired of boiled eggs! Again, anything that takes fairly minimal effort to prepare and make. I have a stick blender and would happily eat a great soup every day for several days if it can be kept in the fridge and then heated up. Please leave your thoughts about food and appetite and any recipes below this in the comment section (or on Super Troopers) as I can then copy the ones that appeal into a document which will hopefully keep me happily and tastily well fed as the nights begin to draw in.
A huge thankyou in anticipation! It would be so brilliant to hear your thoughts about food and appetite in order to understand if this might be a more widespread problem than I think it is. When I was in Tuscany on my painting holiday every meal cooked by the Italian chef at lunch and dinner was greeted with ecstasy by the rest of the group, whilst I would often feel challenged by the prospect of eating so much food. I’m hoping that your suggestions for some simple tasty soups and suppers will spark some enthusiasm for food once more.
Surely eating should be more of a pleasure, less of a colossal chore?
Look Fabulous Forever do not own all of the images used in this blog. Please note that all images and copyrights belong to their original owners. No copyright infringement intended.
I’ve improved my relationship with food over COVID, believe it or not, partly because I moved perforce from daily impulse food shopping to planned weekly deliveries, also because planning, cooking and eating my evening meal one became a big event in my day. Now I find that as I’m going out more and spending less time at home, I don’t want to spend less time cooking and eating. I’m pretty much a one pot cook and I like prep to be simple, the cooking to take no more than 30 minutes, and to be eating before the hour is up. Clearing up should be quick and easy. Coincidentally this week I listened to Clare Barrett's FT Money Clinic podcast on cooking hacks (recommended) and as a result I’m going to try batch cooking, using the Batch Lady's recipes and meal plans. She’s cooking for a family of 4, I’ll be adapting it for one person, and I’ll see how it goes. https://www.ft.com/content/c31ecbf4-6ee3-4668-b424-87c016ebc566 https://thebatchlady.com/
Hi Tricia, Yes, I have had covid three times and about 3/4 months ago after the last bout, I lost my appetite. Like you I had no desire for food. My smell sense has become heightened and put me off eating even more. I struggled to prepare meals and often didn’t eat. Due to a previous medical condition I have gluten free food. I returned from living in France 3 years ago, my husband having developed dementia. He is now in a care home. I live with a grown up daughter who has a personality disorder so life is hard in many ways, but I try to keep up appearances, having been a child of sixties London, and I love your products. However Tricia, the good news is, is that my interest in eating is beginning to return! Hope yours will reawaken too. It has been a lonely journey and I worried that a previous illness had returned. Reading your experience helped me and I hope that, in turn, I may be able to reassure you. Roz.
Jamie Oliver did a series on Channel 4 making dishes with only 5 ingredients and short prep and cooking time. Perhaps you might find some inspiration by going online. https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/category/books/5-ingredients-quick-easy-food-recipes/ I hope this helps.
Thank you for your piece on appetite. I think that you, indeed all of us who are getting older (are old), seem to have this problem and that it is compounded of lots of things that have built up over the years. Variety helps appetite I find and I do try to attempt new recipes every so often – even if I don't stick with all the results, enough make their way through to general usage – and the habits of a lifetime are difficult to shift. Mediterranean and Eastern food is increasingly appetising to me as it relies heavily on olive oil, lemon and herbs and spices, all appetite stimulants. Nowadays there are so many nifty short cuts available in the shops and so many really good high-quality ready-cooked items. I understand that you live in the Wimbledon area and would highly recommend the various food markets that operate nearby as there are many that sell ready-food of excellent quality. Indulge yourself occasionally, invest in a soup-maker (I use a pressure cooker), and a stick blender and other gadgets, some of which you will take to, some not (and those can go to charity shops or eBay). Above all don't despair. I would add, that while I am reasonably ok with the cooking side of life I find that at my age procrastination is my besetting sin and I am, of course, utterly unable to sort myself out and finish anything, despite being surrounded by lists and full of good intentions.
Hi Tricia, Excellent Blog. I too recommend Rukmini Iyer’s “Quick” Roasting tin Recipe Book (30 one dish dinners) - this one is by far the best in the series. Also see The Gut Makeover Recipe Book by Jeanette Hyde is very interesting and the recipes are both quick and delicious. e.g. salmon fillet smeared with dijon mustard, scattered with flaked almonds, salt, pepper and a drizzle olive oil and baked for 20 mins in oven. I see many readers have recommend soup makers (but a pan and stick blender work for me!). My favourite soup is Six Legume - six different vegetables in any combination (i.e.using roughly equal quantity of each veg - e.g. for one = one small carrot, celery, onion, leek, potato and a few peas plus stock). I also buy a bag of new potatoes and boil them all, eat a few hot and keep the rest in the fridge to serve either cold or sliced and fried in a little olive oil or even use sliced in a dish covered with a cheese sauce and baked in the oven. Another quick tip is to take 4 or 5 dumpy Kilner jars and add about 1 tbls of dressing to the jar and top up with your favourite salads - firmer items first, like celery, beetroot etc as they will be in the dressing, then grated carrot and finishing with cucumber and lettuce on top. When sealed they will keep well for 5 days in the fridge (if you have room!) - to serve, tip onto a plate with a little ham or cheese or a hard boiled egg (I hard boil 3 or 4 eggs and keep in fridge until needed).
May I suggest you purchase a basic air fryer if you don’t already own one. It’s like a small oven and removes the over heating in the kitchen especially when cooking for one.