Cook­ing up a healthy ap­petite

Find­ing the right foods can make all the dif­fer­ence, writes Clodagh Finn

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Food -

IT IS only when you stop to think about it that you re­alise how food la­bels have be­come a con­stant, though un­wel­come, guest at the kitchen ta­ble. I don’t mean the ones that come off with the wrap­per, but the judge­men­tal lit­tle name tags that we mind­lessly at­tach to ev­ery­thing we eat – ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘guilty plea­sure’, ‘in­dul­gent’, ‘sin­ful’, ‘su­per­food’, and on it goes on the food-fad see­saw.

It’s not the ad­di­tives that are killing us, but the ad­jec­tives.

No won­der a week­end re­treat called ‘Love What You Eat’ caught my eye. Yes, it was wheat and gluten-free but the woman run­ning it, Joanne Faulkner, has no time for the afore­men­tioned la­bels.

“There are no good or bad foods,” she says, “sim­ply foods which do and don’t suit us at this time.” Mu­sic to my ears.

There is no one-size-fits-all ei­ther, she says be­cause eat­ing well is about con­nect­ing with the body, learn­ing to iden­tify what it needs and then pro­vid­ing it.

The week­end at the hid­den-away Bob­bio Re­treat Cen­tre in Wick­low is all about fo­cus­ing on nour­ish­ment, rather than the de­pri­va­tion that so of­ten fea­tures in di­ets of all kinds. “I mean,” says one of the 13 course par­tic­i­pants, “you wouldn’t dream of de­priv­ing a car of the petrol it needs, yet we think about do­ing that to our­selves all the time.” Here, here.

Sup­per is served at 6.30pm: huge steam­ing bowls of chunky, warm­ing len­til stew. It’s de­li­cious as is the gluten-free car­rot and cour­gette bread served with it and the ba­nana bread (also gluten-free) for af­ters.

Food, how­ever, is only part of the story, Joanne Faulkner ex­plains later. She is a qual­i­fied shi­atsu prac­ti­tioner and her knowl­edge of Ja­panese body­work and an­cient Chi­nese medicine in­forms her food choices.

She talks about the art of con­scious cook­ing and ex­plains that food can help to re­store and main­tain bal­ance in the body.

“My mis­sion is to help you un­der­stand the con­nec­tion be­tween phys­i­cal symp­toms, emo­tional changes and the food we eat. It’s about how to love your­self more with food.”

In Chi­nese medicine, what you eat and drink can heal and sup­port the body. (For in­stance, says Joanne, a tea­spoon of sesame seeds daily, sprin­kled on soups, stews or ce­real, can help to fight the signs of age­ing). Food is clas­si­fied into five dif­fer­ent flavours — sweet, bit­ter, sour, salty or pun­gent — and when the body craves any one of them, it is telling us some­thing about our emo­tional state and which or­gan in the body needs to be nour­ished.

The len­til soup we have just eaten, for in­stance, is clas­si­fied as pun­gent and that helps with grief or let­ting go and nour­ishes the lung and large in­tes­tine.

You don’t have to mas­ter what flavour cor­re­sponds to which or­gan and emo­tion — though many par­tic­i­pants on the course do. The cen­tral idea is to learn to lis­ten to your body so that you can iden­tify what kind of food it needs.

If you need help (hands up), Joanne Faulkner has de­vel­oped a free app (www.shi­atsu-con­scious­cook­ing.com/app) that asks you how you are feel­ing and what you are crav­ing and then guides you a recipe in her fas­ci­nat­ing book, Shi­atsu & The Art of Con­scious Cook­ing.

For the re­main­der of the week­end, we eat won­der­ful and deeply sat­is­fy­ing food (baked fen­nel, which is sur­pris­ingly but­tery and caramelised, baked por­ridge, a rev­e­la­tion, French onion and miso soup, choco­late, or­ange and date brown­ies, to name a few), learn move­ments and shi­atsu points to boost en­ergy, be­fore calm­ing ev­ery­thing down with short med­i­ta­tion ses­sions.

But this is not boot­camp. Cof­fee is not on the menu but I hear there is an emer­gency sup­ply. On Sun­day morn­ing, I ask to raid it. Re­mem­ber, there’s no such thing as bad food!

Over three days, Joanne Faulkner im­parts a huge amount of knowl­edge — prac­ti­cal tips that can be eas­ily in­cor­po­rated into a daily rou­tine. For more, she runs a se­ries of on­line cour­ses at www.shi­at­su­con­scious­cook­ing.com. Among them, 30 days to stop sweet crav­ings, 30 days to sail through menopause and 30 days to re­duce pain.

The next re­treat, Wise Women, runs in April and it will fo­cus on sex­ual health, cov­er­ing in­som­nia, dizzi­ness, pal­pi­ta­tions, loss of li­bido, painful heavy breasts and pe­ri­ods, weight gain around the mid­dle, hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings. See www.joan­nefaulkner.org

TUN­ING IN: Joanne Faulkner be­lieves eat­ing well is about con­nect­ing with the body and learn­ing to iden­tify what it needs.

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