Weekend Reading
December 20, 2020

Weekend Reading | The Full Helping

I saw a quotation on Jamie Varon’s Instagram recently that stopped me in my tracks. Varon wrote,

It’s almost 2021. And you’re going to feel the pressure to evaluate 2020 by the way your body looks, the amount in your bank account, how much you got done or did not get done. And how about this idea? Don’t. Don’t evaluate it. Don’t look back and wish you’d done it differently.

What an idea.

I keep reading or hearing about the unexpected ways in which people thrived in 2020. A lot of folks, it seems, took up new hobbies, reorganized and deep cleaned their homes, got fit with at-home workouts, took up or improved at cooking, got more done with their time at home, savored family life in spite of the quarantine stressors.

Not me. I made and ate a lot of cake, gained a few pounds, practiced yoga more inconsistently than I ever have, didn’t meditate at all, slept poorly, allowed my apartment to become incredibly messy, fell behind on work, missed a few deadlines, forgot to respond to more emails than I probably even realize, had a giant case of writer’s block, and tested a lot of recipes that were, honestly, gross.

And you know what? None of it matters that much. Because I’m here. I survived 2020.

To be alive, to have survived a calendar year, wouldn’t be something to take for granted under any circumstances. But it’s something worth celebrating in particular this year. A year that taught me and a lot of other people just how precarious life really is.

It’s fine, I’m learning, to have periods of life that amount to treading water. It’s OK to not always be thriving.

There’s so much noise out there about personal growth, self-improvement, good habits, the optimization of this or that. And I’m as susceptible to it as anyone. But in my heart of hearts, I don’t think that life is supposed to look like linear growth all of the time. There are seasons of flourishing, and there are seasons of falling apart. We wouldn’t know what either looked like without a point of comparison.

There are also seasons of stasis. I got through 2020, but it took all of my energy to do that. I maintained my mental health, fed myself three times a day, and did as much work as I had to do—not more, not as much as I wanted, maybe not a lot.

And it’s OK. The amount of pressure we put on ourselves to maintain personal excellence in all parts of our life—health, relationships, work, fitness—is too much.

I’ve wasted so much of the last thirty years wanting to be different—in my mind, better—than I am. Specifically, I’ve spent the past decade wishing that I were somehow more normal, that my life more closely resembled that of my friends and peers, that I could achieve more success professionally and in relationships, that happiness came more easily to me, that I could accomplish more of what I set out to do.

I’m sure that some amount of self-evaluation is healthy. So far, though, all of the second guessing and browbeating hasn’t turned me into the much improved person that I hope to become.

So I’m taking Jamie Varon’s advice. I’m not going to look back on this year and notice only the ways in which I fell short. If I absolutely must make an assessment, I’ll just be glad that I made it here. With my sense of humor, and—amazingly—my sense of self-compassion intact.

I wish you the same kind of self-acknowledgment today. You’re here, you’re breathing, you’re carrying on. No matter what else you did or didn’t do this year, it’s enough.

Happy Sunday, friends. Here are some recipes and reads.


Jess’ vegan white chili looks so cozy and tasty.

A beautiful puff pastry mushroom and onion wreath.

A beautiful chickpea, kale and sweet potato salad.

…and the prettiest, most festive vegan scalloped potatoes.

Finally, I’m more obsessed than ever with gingerbread this year, and Gina’s gingerbread crème brûlée has me so intrigued!


1. How to keep your brain healthy at any age, according to neurologists.

2. A thorough explanation of some of the “long-hauler” Covid symptoms.

3. A harrowing, raw essay from a neurology resident on surviving the last year in hospitals.

4. Aging cake! (Come to think of it, I do prefer my cake on the second or third day after I’ve made it.)

5. And finally, if you’d like to hear about the silver linings that others were able to distill from the mess of 2020, the New York Times has a funny, touching roundup.

This week, a last minute holiday recipe. Or two 🙂



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  1. I needed to hear this. In many ways, 2020 has left me feeling more confused than ever about where I want life to go. This is a great reminder that sometimes just being, just existing is enough.

  2. Gena, like the other readers who have commented already, this post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for writing about this year from your perspective — not from the perspective of how you wish it could have been, or how you planned it to be, but from the perspective of how it really was. I don’t know if this is a common tendency in people who have recovered from anorexia, but I know that I, too, have spent my years post-recovery trying to make myself ‘different’ or ‘better’ or ‘normal’. But I came far later in life than you to the realisation that I’ll never, in fact, be ‘different’ or ‘better’ or ‘normal’, and that the best way for me to live a good life is to live the life I already have — with love and compassion, for myself as much as for others. This, in essence, is what your blog is about, I think. Thank you for staying here in the blogosphere, for showing up every week, and — most of all — for being you xo

  3. Gena, this post is so lovely! It nearly made me cry. When I read things like the quote you shared, I can agree with them intellectually, but it’s so easy to kind of brush it aside – like maybe it goes for other people but not really truly for me. But your honest words helped me to confront the idea a little more directly. Thank you 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this quote. As someone who is prone to second-guessing, overthinking and self-flagellation, I had to sit back in my chair and take a few deep breaths when I read it. I’ve struggled with anorexia since I was 14 (now 33) and this season of life, this year has been hard. Career-wise I’ve been lost for a few years, I have a 17-month-old and we are trying for our second. I did not flourish this year. Postpartum was hard, I coped with eating disorder behaviors (hello, exercise), now that I’ve weaned I can see how hard the nursing hormones were on my mood, I was not a supportive partner. It was so hard seeing other people with babies as young as mine start businesses, easily conceive a second child, exercise without a care in the world, thrive. But I made it. It may not have been pretty, but here I am. I’m starting to feel a bit like my old self, laughter is more readily accessed; I put on weight I had lost and have stopped exercising in order to regain my health, and it is working. I can feel love again when I look at my husband. If that’s not something to celebrate, I don’t know what it. Thank you so much for your words every week. You are doing life beautifully because how can you not? Beauty doesn’t have to be unmarked, flawless, profound in unmatched splendor. Thank you for sharing the roughness, the scars, the faults, the beauty that create a life well-lived.

  5. Oh my goodness, this made me tear up. You’re so right; I think this year has actually taught me self-compassion more than anything else. My fellow type-A friend and I just keep telling each other “you’re doing great; this is 2020 and we are all just doing the best we can”. So then I’m scrolling through the rest of your post and my 9-year-old, who wants to eat only pizza and bananas, walks in and says “that salad looks so good, we should try it”! It’s a 2020 miracle! Thanks for starting my Monday this way–my heart is full!

  6. Hi Gena! I have been planning on writing to you for a while now, but I have always been hesitant because I didn’t think I could come up with the right words. I finally decided this morning that the right words were any words at all.

    First of all, I want to say that I appreciate YOUR words. A few years ago, I signed up for a lot of food blogs. I ended up unsubscribing from all of them except yours. I would like to say the reason was because yours was the best. But actually it was because yours was the easiest to read–since I received it as a plain email without a bunch of advertisements popping up everywhere, LOL!

    BUT, as I continued to read your blogs, I soon learned that your words were about much more than just food.

    I started receiving your blog when you were still working on your degree. It took me a while to figure out what all the acronyms were about when you referred to your education. I finally got the gist of what you were doing, LOL! And I was thrilled by your progress.

    What I appreciate most about what you are writing, though, is your honesty. It takes a lot of guts to expose some very personal thoughts and feelings to the world. Kudos to you for doing that!

    What I am fumbling around and trying to say, is that you are wonderful and special just the way you are. I am glad that you have taken Jamie Varon’s words to heart. Each of us is living the best life we possibly can for this moment in time.

    I feel I have not found all the “right” words to express what is in my heart, but please know that you are special. And I am not the only one who appreciates you for who you are!

  7. Gosh thank you for this text, thank you for everything you share, thank you for being you !

  8. Dear Gena, this is perhaps one of my favorite posts of yours ever, and I’ve been reading you blog for a long time. I love the sense of humor and pluck in your assessment of what your year was like. I honestly worry about these people who are always setting goals, finding the right coach to help them I don’t know what. It exhausts me and doesn’t seem very kind or allow time to just “be” where inspiration can come in. And I’m with you–yes, we survived! And now as winter descends,let us tell those honest stories. And keep loving one another. (I also loved the NYT round up of the silver linings people experienced this year. Now off to read about “old cake.”) xoxo

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