How to rē•spin Your Self-Care Routine with Chef Carla Contreras
Practice self-care through cooking.
Self-care often evokes moments of pampering and treats, whether via a skincare routine, or an evening alone devoted to relaxation. How you choose to nourish your bodies from the inside out is often left out of the conversation, even though it plays a foundational role in your daily health routines with the potential to elevate your self-care practices enormously. Chef Carla Contreras teaches that cooking is one of the highest forms of self-care and has based her career around this belief, shining a light on the myriad of facets of life that are touched on by food.
Spanning over two decades working professionally in the food industry as a chef and culinary producer (you might even have seen her on “Chopped!”), the pull toward wellness and personal growth was ever-present. This calling led her to become a certified health coach and life coach, finding her perfect balance that melded her two passions into one life mission: spreading the magic of cooking as self-care.
The Intersection of Culinary and Holistic Coaching
It all started with a farmer’s market. As a child, she visited farmer’s markets twice a week with her parents, understanding from a young age that food possessed an indescribable power to connect people and create memories. Coincidentally, connection is another one of Chef Contreras’ self-proclaimed superpowers which she incorporates into all facets of her life and coaching sessions.
“I believe food is our foundation. It’s what makes up our bodies. It becomes our blood, bones, organs, skin, hair, and nails,” she tells rē•spin. “How you choose to nourish yourself and rest matters and it affects every single aspect of your life including your work in the world. Furthermore, nourishment and rest can come in all forms: physical, mental, emotional, or energetic.”
Over twenty years ago, her budding career as a chef corresponded with her decision to begin practicing meditation as a way to ground herself in her spiritual practice. Since then, she’s sought to integrate meditation into all of her life’s pursuits — including her time in the kitchen. After becoming a certified health coach in 2010, Chef Contreras has founded her own methodologies for maximizing time for both wellness and self-care practices via their intersection.
She is passionate about helping you re-frame cooking as a form of self-care, rather than an elusive chore. She knows that cooking, too many, is a feat comparable to climbing Everest. “We most likely have food in our fridges, pantries, and freezers. We just aren’t cooking it,” she said. “It’s time to look at our kitchen and create space in our lives to cook, like the time we set aside for anything else.” But she wants you to know putting the time into planning and creating the food that will nourish you is worth it.
Cooking as Self-care
Self-care is the practice of taking actions that preserve and cultivate health and wellness of mind, body, and spirit. Importantly, acts of self-care need not be the same between individuals; they are subjective. For some, this might be a day of pampering at the spa… but Chef Contreras is adamant that a day in the kitchen can be just as therapeutic. To her, it is one of the highest forms of self-care.
“Sometimes things that we call ‘self-care’ don’t work for everyone, like bubble baths or lighting candles,” Chef Contreras says. “We are individuals and need to define [for ourselves] how we want to feel and what self-care means to us.” Just last year, Chef Contreras found herself in a wellness rut, a place where her meditation practice, her morning pages, and mindful movement practices weren’t giving her the same grounding feelings they did in the past. She had to dig deeper, healing past trauma and patterns to find that same space of clarity.
This led her to the spiritual nourishment to be found in cooking that goes beyond the physical. “Cooking is like any other practice — just like meditation [or] moving your body,” she explains. “The easiest way to get started is to pull out your physical or digital calendar and schedule time to cook nourishing meals for yourself now.”
Chef Contreras’ Tips for Achieving “Actual Wellness”
After years and years of trying fad diets and workouts, what stuck with her in the pursuit of self-care has simply been to do the things that fuel her own definition of wellness. “The wellness industry has a certain look and feel, [but] I don’t fit that mold, and people love that about me,” Chef Contreras says. “Wellness, to me, is [simply] trusting my intuition and doing the things that make me feel good.”
This led her to develop her 5/5 Method in an effort to restore actual wellness in her life. It stemmed from a tough time in her personal life spent working without respite — back in 2018, she didn’t take a single day off for six months straight. But the hustle caught up with her, and by January 2019, she knew she had to make a change. She began by focusing on two seemingly simple concepts of ‘Rest’ and ‘Deep Nourishment.‘ Over the course of a year, she added additional words to the list, including ‘Movement,‘ ‘Mindfulness,’ and ‘Water.‘
When it came to implementing them with her audience, she started small to make it manageable. She asked her community on social media to focus on one of the five terms for at least five days. “When most people see the 5/5, they think they have to do ‘all the things,’ [and feel] that they are failing before they even start,” she explains. “[But] 5/5 is all about the quick win. Take a deep breath — you’re winning. Fill up your water bottle — you’re winning.”
There is an important lesson to be learned in Chef Contreras’ achievable notion of wellness. By celebrating the small wins, every step of the way, you can build up a sense of mastery that makes it a sustainable, long-term part of your life. When it comes to making cooking a part of your self-care practice, you can also start small. Even if you cook just one meal this week instead of ordering take-out, well, you’re already winning.