Following on from our first inspiring talk about Food Energetics and what that means to your body and the planet, Nena Foster its back to explain more.
Nena Foster is a freelance nutritional chef and mum of 2 and in typical freelance fashion, she had many projects on the go, the newest of which is setting up an online fermentation school and community. Find her at www.nenafosterfood.com , @nena.foster.food on Instagram or on Facebook @NenaFoster.Food or @thehappygutgang.
Like many women, approaching middle age, for me, there’s a sense of acceptance of my body, but also a growing sense of urgency to be grateful for and make the most of my health and my body’s ability. As I get older, I feel that giving myself permission and space to make me the best version of me, not some imagined version that I chased throughout my 20s and 30s is the most appropriate focus. And I am starting to realise that making the best version of me means more than looking a certain way but building a better connection with my body and mind and seeking how best to understand and work with the body that I’ve been given.
As I stare 40 straight in the face, I’ve set out to figure out what being MY best and healthiest version of ME looks like.
I became intrigued by the concept of food energetics as starting point for examining my individual health and trying to interject more balance and calm into my everyday life. After interviewing Food Energetics practitioner, and acupuncturist Lori Hillman, I attended her two-day workshop, Human & Planetary Ecology: Through the 5 Elements Perspective, a workshop that set out to combine the principles of food energetics, which is based on the 5 elements found in Traditional Chinese Medicine (wood, fire, earth, metal and water), reflection on our individual health, understanding the symbiotic and supportive relationship between us and the natural environment, as well as offering space for mindfully putting into practice what we learned. I came to the workshop wanting to learn more about the types of foods that could best supported my individual health, but I came away from the weekend having learned much more.
Listening to Lori describe the characteristics, attributes, symptoms of the five elements, in her incredibly knowledgeable way, I could see parts of me in many of them. Although, the more I learned about the Wood element the more I saw of myself. After diagnosing my ‘guardian’ or dominant element I had confirmation. I am Wood; assertive, but occasionally uncharacteristically timid, with an acute almost obsession with fairness and justice, very goal oriented and not to mention what feels like a full-on personality transplant come winter when I feel withdrawn and spark-less. And looking at the list of food and flavours associated with wood (also associated with the Spring) things like aubergine, onion, leeks and beetroot are among my absolute favourites. As well as my love for sour flavours helps to explain my intense love for all things fermented. Even the not so pretty side struck a chord, including my propensity towards anger which often results in angry tirades (usually direct at my husband) and an irrational ability to hold a grudge, as well as, the bloating and stiffness I feel when everything feels a hectic mess —good and bad, this was me.
But there is also another side of me, and one that the wood element didn’t quite explain—a side that often surprises even me. The mellow, ‘go with the flow’ me with the ability to intently listen to and hear others and the fact that I am a connecter—of people and ideas. And though what I lack in vibrancy and spark in the winter, I make up for in reflection, often emerging come spring with a flurry of ideas and plans. As well, this even baffles me, but I have a keen survival instinct, despite never having been a scout or trained in the SAS, I often feel that if I were in a harrowing situation, I’d know just what to do. These traits are associated with the Water element, which came in as a close second to my dominant element. In terms of foods, my strong connection with Water sheds light on my intense love of salty flavours, black beans, fennel and seaweed and even my love of the colour black. Even as I write this, I am struck by the parallels between these traits and food likes that are associated with these elements and me. And the more I reflect, I am able to piece together episodes or incidents where imbalances in these elements have had a negative impact on my health; from the tiredness, bloating and stiffness to the acid reflux, feeling cold, achy joints and past troubles with UTIs.
What I learned this weekend is only a starting point for gaining a deeper understanding of me and my health, but also where I am, at present in my life and how this will change as I get older.
But finally, I feel like I have a better idea of how to be me. I can get angry, but I can be creative and focused, I get the winter blues, but come spring I am in my element, literally. It’s about balance. I also came away from the weekend with some techniques to help me stop and take notice, connect with my body and surroundings—something that was sorely needed and missing from my everyday life. And being surrounded by the beauty of nature at the amazingly serene OmVed Gardens in Highgate, proved to be the ideal place for such a workshop. The learning space, the food and gardens made it feel like we were away on a retreat. When it was all over no one wanted to leave. Another highlight was putting into practice some of what we learned about the connection between us and our health and the health of the planet. We had the opportunity to build a permaculture keyhole bed, a high yield, organic growing technique that minimises disruption to the soil and the life in it.
After just a weekend, I can’t pretend that I know everything about food energetics or planetary ecology, there is a vast amount to know and we just scratched the surface. But what I have learned has given me new insight into me and how to look after my health, a deeper, more connected feeling to the world around me, as well as a strong desire to learn more about all of it.
Lori will be running a full Human and Planetary Ecology course over 5 weekends from April to September, with each weekend dedicated to exploring one of the elements in greater depth. As well, the sessions will explore how to develop an in-depth eating plan for healing each element and how to make a simple diagnosis using the elements as a framework. There will also be more time spent in the garden as the keyhole bed will be planted and attendees will have the chance to observe and enjoy watching the garden grow and change with the changing seasons. For more information and to book onto the course visit Lori’s website: https://lorihillman.com/events/ or OmVed site https://www.omvedgardens.com/events/. The first weekend session is on April 6th & 7th.