Illustration by Hawnuh Lee.
Note: This interview is pre-Covid, but we thought just as relevant!
If navigating anxiety holistically had a spokesperson, it would be Liz Moody. The cookbook author, writer, podcaster, and former food editor at mindbodygreen speaks openly about her mental health journey, and how it’s ultimately guided her career. She’s always candid with her community, whether discussing body image, relationships, or getting messy in the kitchen.
Liz and I chatted pre-COVID-19, but her words on anxiety management, working from home, and even what to do with leftover canned goods feel more applicable than ever right now. I hope you take what you need from this conversation, and perhaps pick up a tip or two on how we can be Healthier Together, even when we’re physically apart.
Have you always been interested in food?
My parents are ‘eat to live’ people, so I didn’t grow up caring about food. I basically ate boiled hot dogs and no vegetables until I met my husband in my early twenties. He’d grown up in Berkeley going to farmer’s markets — he even had an Edible Schoolyard at his elementary school. He would cook things like kale for me and I realized it was actually really delicious, I was just so unfamiliar with that whole world. So that began my healthy eating journey.
I was writing a newspaper column at the time, and I began channeling it toward the exploration of food because it piqued my interest so much. I wanted to know how food differed across cultures, and I was lucky enough to get to travel around the world for the column. I did a sommelier course in Paris, took cooking classes in Tuscany, and travelled with a Berber medicine man in Morocco.
My motto in life is never be the one to say no to yourself.
It wasn’t until I was faced with my own mental health struggles later in life that I dove deep into the therapeutic value of food. My husband and I were living in London when my anxiety got really out of control. At one point I was completely agoraphobic — I couldn’t leave the house without having panic attacks. So in that time when I was essentially in bed with just my computer and books, I started researching different ways people had used food to heal anxiety. And because I’d been a journalist for so long I just started reaching out to experts, using the information to decipher how diet could help heal my anxiety.
I always tell people that if they have questions they should reach out and ask. My motto in life is never be the one to say no to yourself. You’d be surprised by how many replies you’ll get, especially in academia where people are getting less requests than you might think.
What were some of the things you learned during that time that you found most helpful?
The thing that I find most interesting about eating for anxiety is the idea that if you feel the physical symptoms of anxiety in your body it can actually make you anxious. If your blood sugar drops precipitously or if you feel nauseated or shaky, all of those things mimic how anxiety feels in your body. When your body feels that mimicry it will be like, ‘I must be anxious,’ and it will give your brain a reason to be anxious. It’s a self perpetuating cycle. So one of the best ways to minimize anxiety with food is to prevent the physical symptoms. That involves things like limiting caffeine, preventing big spikes and falls of your blood sugar, and taking care of your gut health.
How have you seen people’s attitudes towards sustainability change since you first started writing about food?
I think that the changing political climate has sparked a lot of peoples’ interest in the environment. From an editorial side, it often used to feel like we were begging people to read about sustainability. But now people are really interested in small actionable ways that they can make a difference. I think many people at this point would like to make a difference, they just aren’t quite sure how to do so on an personal level.
How do you approach that uncertainty when you are writing about sustainability?
I interviewed Lauren Singer, the founder of Package Free Shop, for an episode of my podcast, and we talked about how it’s easy to feel like you are not very powerful on an individual level, and that changes we can make amount to nothing in the face of the government. And she said a few things that resonated with me. One was that we underestimate how much power we have and the places we can exercise that power. Things like looking around your work place and suggesting changes—a number of people who listened to that episode literally did that and wrote back to tell me their work place stopped using plastic cutlery. That’s where we can make change happen—seeing what you can do in your day-to-day life rather than being discouraged by all of the things you can’t do, and trying to be as creative as possible within the realm of where you’re already spending your time. Another thing she said was that a lot of the biggest incidences of environmental destruction have been caused by just a few people, so imagine how just a few people could also make a huge positive impact. That was really empowering for me to hear.
Have you made any changes in your own habits since having that conversation with Lauren?
My biggest struggle is food waste because I do so much recipe testing. I was cognizant of it before, but I am trying to be even more so now. I recently wound up with all these half-full cans of pumpkin puree, so I tried to think of all the different ways I could use them. I came up with seven different ideas that I go to now for whenever I have that little bit left.
One of the best ways to minimize anxiety with food is to prevent the physical symptoms.
I also got a Stojo, which is a collapsable reusable silicone cup, and it has fully changed my life. I often used to pick up tea in those paper cups, which are of course lined with plastic, and now I never do that. I feel like I save four or five cups a week. The Stojos come in bright, fun colors so people sometimes see me using it on the street and ask me about it, and then I get to tell them about reducing waste and it that helps spread the message even more.
I think it comes down to that awareness and empowerment—the idea that every time I bring my cup or tote bag it does make a difference. It’s not a futile effort. I’ve been approaching the small tweaks I make with an attitude of ‘this matters’.
What has it been like making the shift from working for mindbodygreen to working for yourself as a freelancer?
My cookbook was published in spring of 2019 and I went on book tour that summer, so my life shifted directly from working as an editor to travelling around the country, and then it shifted again once the tour was over.
Honestly, I’m not great at working for myself, but I‘ve found that having some sense of structure helps me. I try to work out first thing in the morning before I look at my phone. That’s been a good rule to get me to exercise and avoid going on social media right when I wake up. Then I shower, meditate, and make a smoothie. I kind of need that much structure. One thing that makes being a freelancer so hard is that you lose out on the consistency of an office place, and people like me with anxiety particularly tend to benefit from having more regularity in their lives.
I did a great interview for my podcast with McKel Kooienga, who is the woman behind Nutrition Stripped, and she offered some great advice about structuring your days productively. McKel blocks all of her time based on what type of work she’s doing. So for example, she’ll do all of her recipe testing on one day of the week, and only answers emails three or four days a week. I’m working on that, but I’m not great at it yet.
I love that you approach every aspect of your day from this place of researching the best method — optimizing your life based on the experience you’ve had professionally.
Yeah, I’m definitely one of those people who will research obsessively so I know I’m making the best choice. Like when I decided to start working out (which happened very late in my life) I wanted to try to do it in the best, most efficient way possible. Same with if I wanted to go to a dentist or buy a purse. I think that’s why I became an editor, actually. Most editors are the type of people who will research to find the best of anything that they spend their time or money on.
What’s one sustainability win you’ve had recently?
I have been meaning to do this forever and I’ve finally started doing it — keeping my vegetable scraps in a big stasher bag in my freezer so I can make stock with it. It’s so satisfying! Something people don’t realize about sustainability is how smug you get to feel, you get to be like ‘look at me saving the world’ haha.
I’ve been approaching the small tweaks I make with an attitude of ‘this matters’.
I have a teeny tiny fridge because I live in a New York City apartment, so I’ve been trying to utilize my freezer more in general. I make ice cubes of all these different leftover ingredients — like if I only use part of a can of coconut milk — so I have small amounts on hand when I need them and they don’t go bad. I freeze finished stock in ice cube trays too. I use the big silicone trays so the cubes easy to pop out.
Do you have an idea of what you want your career to look like in the future now that you’ve spent some time working for yourself?
I would like to keep writing books of all sorts. I think I’m going to be creating content for the entirety of my career. I don’t know where that content is going to live or what exactly it’s going to be—maybe more cookbooks, television shows, podcasts, novels, a memoir… I love telling stories in all ways, shapes, and forms and I’ll do it however I can.