Wellness Consultant Alex Elle on Doom-Scrolling and Cheeseburgers as Self-Care
Name: Alex Elle
Location: Germantown, MD
Number of people that eat together in your home: 5: Alex; her husband, Ryan; and their three daughters, Charleigh, Ila, and Maximus
Avoidances: Charleigh avoids most nuts.
Practically every night this week (and the week before that, and the week before that, and the week before that … ) I woke up around 2:37 a.m. and pawed for my phone on the nightstand. Then, I began to “doom-scroll.” It’s a mid-sleep ritual that has become customary for me, and many others, as of late.
After sufficiently freaking myself out via Twitter, I switched over to Instagram, where I swiped through story after story explaining the mind-numbing state of the world, conveniently packaged in aesthetically pleasing colors and fonts. It wasn’t until my thumb stopped on a hand-written mantra by self-care expert Alex Elle that I could finally put my phone down, think some peaceful thoughts, and go back to sleep. “Dear self, you are braver than you think.”
For as long as I’ve followed Alex (back when she was featured in Kitchn’s Feel Good Five column), the wellness consultant, podcast host, and author has created a corner of the internet that feels like a haven. When I caught up with her recently to talk about all things quarantine cooking and her new book, After the Rain: Gentle Reminders for Healing and Self Love, I had to bring up my new nightly habit.
Your internet presence alone feels like light in the darkness. Have you noticed a huge swell of people following you the past few months?
Thank you for saying that. I want people to feel like they can take a breather when they come to my page. If they’re gonna doom-scroll, they can doom-scroll affirmations! [Laughs.] It’s interesting. I started teaching virtual journaling courses in January, before the pandemic hit, and now I’m stepping into my fourth one, about Reclaiming Resilience. It’s really amazing to see how, during this period of collective grief, we’re exploring what collective healing can look like. I’ve been the busiest I’ve ever been since this pandemic started.
I can only imagine! What have the past few months looked like for your family?
My husband and I are both working from home, which is a privilege, but it’s hard to keep the kids busy. It’s pretty wild to be a family of five at home all day long, but we’re doing the best we can. Charleigh is in 7th grade, so she’s doing Zoom school right now. She misses the social aspect so much. Since she’s going to be 13 next month, she doesn’t need as much intense help as some parents I know who have to help their kids sit in front of a screen all day. With the babies it’s a different story. Ila is 2.5 so she has a lot of energy. And we have the baby, Maximus, too. They’re on a walk with Ryan right now. Peppa Pig is on all day. Sometimes we have to pull Ila away, like “OK it’s time, you’re talking in a British accent now!”
What about your day to day?
Oh my gosh, it ebbs and flows every day. My new book came out a week ago and I was on 100 for the two weeks leading up to that — phone calls, Zoom meetings. I thought I wouldn’t be as tired because there’s no book tour, but I was tired as hell. Back-to-back calls are different, they’re no joke. It’s required a lot of teamwork. My husband is a screenwriter and is also working on a children’s book, so there’s a lot of tag team and penciling each other in. We’re trying to figure out how to make the most of our time.
I get up early at 5:30 a.m. just so I can have my own time. I was starting to feel really depressed and outside of myself — all work and motherhood and that was it. There was no time for Alex or my self-care practice. So waking up early has been such a Godsend. I wake up, get on my Peloton, paint, meditate, and make coffee. It starts my day off. If I don’t do that, I am a hot mess. What really gets me up and out of bed is knowing it will be quiet. I love quiet. As a writer, I get my best work done when it’s silent. And I love seeing the sun come up with my coffee. Coffee, sunrise, and silence.
OK that’s a mantra I need to start my days with! How are you distinguishing the days from each other? Do you have any other mantras that are getting you through this time?
I just try to remind myself not to get too caught up in the monotony and give myself some grace. This is unprecedented, what we’re going through. I need to take it easy instead of having and holding it together. A mantra I’ve had in the pandemic is that I’m allowed to be a mess and not have to figure out what’s next. Go with the flow and be present now, because now is all we have at the end of the day. It’s less about counting the days until this is over and more about being present now.
Obviously we’re all eating at home now more than ever. What does that look like in your house?
It looks like a lot of leftovers. We’ve also been Uber Eats-ing it a lot more than usual when I don’t feel like cooking. I like to support the small local businesses around here. Tipping the drivers and the restaurants has been meaningful. When I do cook, though, I like to make stuff that can last a long time, like hearty stews. A lot of side salads, curry, this African spinach stew that I love. I can’t have a four-course meal at home. If it takes too long I can’t do it. It’s gotta be accessible.
What else are you making on repeat?
Let’s see, lots of fresh fruit, strawberries, blackberries … Ila decided she doesn’t like blueberries anymore, so not those. Apples and peanut butter. Things we can reach for that don’t feel like a hassle. The babies and Charleigh love rice so we have a lot of rice bowls. Sometimes with furikake seasoning from Trader Joe’s and a fried egg. We also keep chicken in the fridge that’s precooked, so we’ll put that in a pan with some sesame oil and some salt. It’s quick and easy. My kids also love this recipe for mochi pancakes. It makes this airy, fluffy, creamy pancake that’s so yummy. We make them in batches and freeze and reheat them. Charleigh also loves the Fluffy and Light Eggos. I keep those stocked.
How are you shopping these days?
Instacart. I miss Trader Joe’s so much but I’m afraid to go in. It’s sad. I also order from Whole Foods online, but it gets really expensive. I’m just not comfortable going into stores right now.
Do you have a favorite quarantine food memory so far?
My husband loves this guy on YouTube who taught him how to make griddled burgers with shaved onions and cheddar on top. On a Martin’s potato roll. Smoked sea salt, ground pepper, chopped ginger and garlic. Our house was a smoky mess. But we opened the doors and the stove vent and it was so good. We sat at our island and ate it. If it’s easy, it brings us joy.
Have you needed to add any self-care rituals on top of the ones you already had?
Calling my friends. A lot of FaceTime. And safe time with family. My grandmother got tested, was negative, and came over to be with the babies. They love her. She lives by herself and is in her 70s and that’s the highlight of her week. Last Sunday she came over with bags of dress-up clothes and costume jewelry. Ila and Max were eating it up. I also love to plan for visits. It’s bizarre to say that we have to plan so far out for a friend to come over, but that’s reality. My friend has been self-isolating so she can see us on Saturday. It’s shown me how important community is. I’m a big proponent of self-care as community care, but this is a whole different ballgame. We can’t be spur-of-the-moment anymore; everything has to be really intentional.
What would you tell someone who is just starting their self-care journey?
Don’t wait. So many people have died — I’m not going to get into it— but they are not here to live anymore. We need to celebrate ourselves, our time on this earth, and also be intentional about how we are living them. So many lives were cut short because of this pandemic and other reasons I won’t name. Don’t wait to take care of yourself, tell someone you love them, have hard conversations, or mend a bridge that may be broken.
It’s pretty perfect timing to launch a book called After the Rain isn’t it?
It’s funny — I wrote it two years ago and that has been the name from the jump. Speaking to the crazy, intense, emotional year we’ve had so far, we couldn’t have timed it any differently. I want people to remember that even after the rain, the sun comes out. I want it to be a companion and remind people of joy and resilience. We can walk through struggle, face it head on, and come out on the other side.
The Way We Eat is a series of profiles and conversations with people like you, about how they feed themselves and their families.We’re actively looking for people to feature in this series. You don’t have to be famous or even a good cook! We’re interested in people of all backgrounds and eating habits. If you’d like to share your own story with us, or if you know of someone you think would be great for this series, start here with this form.