Cooking: The Gestalt

Last time I blogged on healthy cooking, I mentioned running your numbers – but not overdoing it. Check a few things like Sodium or calories or Iron or whatever you need, but don’t get insane about it. You had to track the right numbers relevant to your goals – Active Numbers that led to your Goal Numbers (like lower weight).

But number-tracking is really only part of good healthy cooking, and for some people it’s barely an issue. For instance I lost weight and of the weight I lost, over a third of it was from changing what I ate, no measuring calories (just sodium, fat, and protein to stay healthy). What helped me the most was The Gestalt.

I get the idea of hHe Gestalt from one of my doctors, as it’s a great SF-sounding term, but basically what’s really important to a healthy diet is making sure that all the things you eat come together to be good for you. You can count calories and miss other nutrients. You can watch fat and get too much calories. You can get any amount of numbers right and still eat processed crap. Numbers are not the substitute for a good system of eating and can even get in the way, they are just ways to measure and assist the movement toward success.

What counts is making sure that you eat food that is just plain good for you period. It’s how your diet comes together to be good for you and not kill you.

Now this often leads to various fad diets or assumptions about certain ethnic cuisines tat are usually wrong about the ethnicity, era, cuisine, or in a few cases basic biology. Fads aren’t really very helpful when it comes to science and health (in fact, a few of them end up reverting back to overdoing numbers).

Instead look into finding out what works to make food healthy. What foods are good or bad, what kind of diets (in the sense of what you eat, not weight loss plans) seem best. Look beyond fads and do some science and put together some basic principles that will come together to make a good diet.

When I decided to eat healthier, here was my “Gestalt” based on finding out What Seemed Good For me:

  • Mostly vegetarian. Less hormones, more options, less fat, and some decent history of it being good for you. Also it took care of many other concerns.
  • A lot less processed food – as I heard it put in “Cooking For Geeks” your best bet is to not eat anything that couldn’t have existed in 1900 (which is a shockingly large amount of things you can eat).
  • Self-made. Cooking yourself gives you control of things, cuts the processed food, and keeps you from foods meant to be addictive.
  • Diversity. I tried not to be dependent on any one food, though I did have some things I got regularly (broccoli and spinach are two go-to vegetables for me).
  • Multi-cuisine and some historical research. I actually read up on different cuisines, recipes, and history to see what foods worked, what was popular.
  • * measured a few numbers to get less sodium and fat and more protein.

So that was my “Gestalt” for cooking and improving my health. And it worked spectacularly without me having to count a calorie.

I added to it over time, mostly rules/ideas/systems to help me make it even better. I got a “system” for a diet taht worked for me.

Now my above rules may help you make your own Gestalt, and you can (and should) research your own. Find out about healthy food and eating, about good cuisines and surprisingly bad (or good) foods. Work out your system and evolve it – though if you’re not really knowledgeable, you’ll want to check with an expert.

You’ll be surprised what you can do for your health when you get beyond the numbers – and then the numbers have their proper place in helping you navigate.

– Steven Savage

Steven Savage is a Geek 2.0 writer, speaker, blogger, and job coach.  He blogs on careers at, nerd and geek culture at, and does a site of creative tools at He can be reached at