Finding the right foods can make all the difference, writes Clodagh Finn
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.” Hear, hear.
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.