Photo courtesy: Como Shambhala Estate at Begawan GiriAt the Como Shambhala Estate at Begawan Giri, the approach toward meals reflects the spa's overall holistic approach: Food should be valued for its ability to nourish the body. There's no set meal program, but every guest is invited to schedule a complimentary consultation with resident nutritionist Amyjo Johnson or Deepak Deginal, an Ayurvedic doctor. Some guests are simply looking to learn how to make better choices, others want to head right into a few days of raw food followed by a juice fast. Johnson reviews each of the menu items, making sure they're balanced and have enough "mass appeal" to satisfy clients from all different countries. "But I'm also a foodie, so I want them to have a great time at the table," she says. "Because sure, people can choke things down, but that's not what this is all about."
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Johnson and Executive Chef Chris Miller also teach joint cooking classes, where students can learn to combine flavors, practice techniques to reduce fat and calories, and gain a better understanding of basic nutrition. Eating the right things in proper portion sizes is easy when a pro like Johnson is watching everything that crosses your plate. But what about after your trip when you're dealing with PTSD (post-traumatic-spa disorder)? Here, the nutritionist shares her tips for tweaking your meal plans.
Remake Your Plate
"Eat plants. It sounds so simple, doesn't it?" says Johnson. Rather than serving a typical meat-steals-the-show dish, base your meals around what she calls "plant food" -- fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes, and whole grains. In fact, Johnson advises clients to limit their intake of fish, meat, and poultry to four ounces each day, which is well below the FDA guidelines (six to nine ounces). "Meat should be a lean cut and fit in the palm of your hand. You'll get enough protein from the rest of your diet."
Johnson suggests three servings of fruit daily, but cautions against swapping in a glass of store-bought juice. "Fruit itself contains lots of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, but bottled juices tend to lack fiber and have high concentrations of sugar, which puts a strain on the pancreas." She tells her juice-addicted clients to switch to freshly squeezed varieties, ideally all-vegetable juices or fruit-veggie hybrids, like the Estate's Joint Relief Juice.
Appearance and Aroma Count
Of course you want the meals you make at home to taste delicious. But Johnson also suggests thinking about the other senses, even if you're just serving a basic weeknight dinner. "When Chef Miller and I sit down to create the menus, we look at each dish and ask, 'What does it smell like? What does it look like? And of course, 'What does it taste like?' We're trying to engage as many of your senses as possible." For the home cook, that might mean using pretty china, adding sauce in an unusual pattern using a squeeze bottle (a common restaurant trick), or garnishing with fresh herbs.
Eat Through the Rainbow
When eating fruits and vegetables, try to incorporate as many colors as possible. "Nature's kind of smart like that. If you eat through the rainbow you get all the different nutrients you need," says Johnson. This might mean lycopene, found in "red fruits" like tomatoes, apples, and cherries; vitamin A, the booster associated with orange and yellow veggies such as carrots and yellow squash; folate (many green vegetables are rich in this heart-healthy B vitamin); and antioxidants called anthocyanins (found in blueberries, eggplant, and plums, among other "purple" produce).
"Raw usually means no animal products, which take more energy to digest and usually introduce more toxins into the liver. Also, I know you're not having any refined flour or sugar, or anything the body has to deal with to get to nutrients," Johnson says. "It's getting exactly what it needs right away." For most of us, eating a completely uncooked diet seems not only impractical but also unpalatable. But Johnson does ask her clients to eat just one raw meal each day: It's simplest to do this at breakfast -- try fresh fruit sprinkled with nuts.
Rather than just using salad dressing or sauce to enhance the taste of a dish, Johnson relies heavily on what she calls her top two "alternate flavor carriers," nuts and avocados. They're filling and also packed with vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Avocado wedges lend a creaminess to the spa's Grilled Marinated Tempeh Steak with Avocado, Radicchio, Orange Dressing, and Tahini, while pistachios add texture and richness to the Polenta Cake with Orange Blossom Yogurt, Berries, and Pistachios.
Whether you're heading off to a spa, hiring a nutritionist or personal trainer, or just trying to make a few changes on your own, Johnson warns against setting goals that don't mesh with how you actually live. "I'm really specific about making sure whatever plan I draw up with a client really works in their life," says Johnson. "Because I can tell them to eat certain things and do certain things, but if they can't stick to it we've just wasted each other's time." In keeping with her own mind-body approach, Johnson tries to figure out the ideal times for her guests not only to cook and exercise but to "actually calm down at the end of a day."
-- By Lexi Dwyer
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