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Meet Meredith Whitely – a Meditation Extraordinaire Using Cacao to Slow Down One Blissful Bite at a Time
Food At Heart is a business that combines meditation, mindfulness and chocolate. Did someone just say ‘chocolate’ and ‘meditation’ together? It’s about ‘small, delicious actions you can incorporate into a busy life’.
We were lucky enough to sit down with the brains behind the business, Meredith Whitely, who trained as a meditation teacher with the British School of Meditation, and now uses chocolate to ‘find pleasure in the slow and simple.’
After dealing with digestive issues, Meredith realized that eating joyfully was made more difficult when feeling stressed or overwhelmed, as this exacerbated her problems. Food At Heart therefore promotes mindful slow eating, reduced stress and more calm. Meredith was kind enough to tell us a lot more about the power of cacao, what her business offers, and how meditation and chocolate could be a winning combination for you and your individual needs.
1. What was the inspiration for starting Food At Heart?
I wanted to give people a different and tasty way of engaging with health and wellbeing – and good chocolate. I’ve also had a lot of issues with my digestion and stress is a big trigger for me, so I wanted to help people in a similar position. Food At Heart really came as a result of my own journey to looking at how I could better manage my stress through meditation, mindful eating and the joy of being in the kitchen.
It took me a little bit of trial and error to work out exactly what I wanted to offer in my business, but at the core of it is a deep love of food and how this can connect us with ourselves, other people and the planet. I’d also experienced so many benefits from my own daily meditation practice that I trained as a teacher with the British School of Meditation so that I could layer this into what I was doing.
2. What is the most important thing you have learnt from starting a business?
Cultivating patience has been a really important learning for me.
Building a business, especially when you’re doing something that’s a bit different, takes time. It’s natural to want to have all the good stuff happen straight away, but it takes time to grow relationships, understand how you want to work and what fires you up. Gradually allowing my business path to unfold over time has meant I’ve been able to create a business that is much more aligned with how I genuinely want to spend my time and the people I want to support.
3. What has been the highlights of Food At Heart to date?
It was really exciting to have my Hot Chocolate Meditation sessions featured in Time Out, but actually a big highlight for me tends to be the smaller moments of seeing people really enjoy my meditation sessions or tasting my chocolate at festivals or markets.
I was very honored to be asked to write chapters for two Department Stores for the Mind books published over the last couple of years. The other big highlight was the launch of my “Slow Chocolate” range in 2018, as it means I can spread some of what I’m doing to people who won’t necessarily be able to get to my events – plus I find spending time working with chocolate is very therapeutic.
4. If you were to describe your job in 3 words what would they be?
Creative, challenging (normally in a good way!) and delicious
5. What do you love most about your job?
I really, really love tasting good chocolate and seeing other people enjoy tasting chocolate too. It’s such a beautiful ingredient to work with and I really enjoy being able to share it with others. I’m often asked if I ever get sick of chocolate and the simple answer is: no!
6. Why did you decide to combine chocolate, meditation and mindfulness?
It’s a really happy coincidence that tasting chocolate properly is pretty much the same as a mindful eating meditation (with a slightly different intention) so it seemed like a natural partnership. They are also a combination of things that make me feel good!
Sometimes people can be put off trying meditation, so I like using chocolate as a tool to bring meditation to life in a different way. Chocolate (and dark chocolate in particular) is one of the most complex foods when it comes to flavour, so tasting it slowly in a meditation really brings this out.
7. We always think of meditation as a mean to heal the mind; how do you think it can heal the body?
Our mind and body are intimately connected, so absolutely meditation helps with both. There’s a lot of research on how powerful something like mindfulness meditation can be for managing physical symptoms of conditions such as IBS and fibromyalgia. Sometimes this can even just be about coming to terms with and having a great level of acceptance with how your body is feeling, which in itself can be very helpful if you’re suffering from a long-term health condition.
Meditation is also a really important tool to help build a greater sense of body awareness and connection, through meditations like, for example, a body scan. You can quite unintentionally carry a lot of tension in your body if you don’t take the time to check in with yourself and meditation helps with the realisation of this.
8. How often and how do you meditate?
I normally meditate every morning - though if I do miss the odd morning from time to time, I don’t beat myself up! I meditate for 10 to 30 minutes depending on what I need, and sometimes I meditate before bed to help with sleep. I also have mini-meditations that I dip into throughout the day, like slow counted breathing or a calming phrase I repeat to help me when I’m feeling stressed.
9. Self-care & self-compassion are really hot topics at the moment; what would be your top tips to practice being kind and compassionate with ourselves?
A lot of self-compassion is down to the way we talk to ourselves and so a starting point is really to become more aware of the little internal voice and what it’s saying. Quite often the way we speak to ourselves is pretty awful and if we spoke like that to other people, we’d probably lose a few friends. Building your awareness of self-talk and starting to reframe some of the language is really important, and practising something like a regular Loving Kindness meditation can help with this.
When it comes to self-care it’s also really important to consider where you get your energy from and what helps you recharge. Sometimes the best things to do are the simplest. For me, it can be having a coffee with supportive and positive friends, trying some new chocolate, or when I’m feeling overwhelmed or in physical pain, having a warm bath with beautiful bath salts or uplifting oils. Oh – and to prioritise sleep!
10. How can chocolate help with digestive issues?
I don’t specifically eat chocolate because of its digestive qualities, but good quality chocolate is a fermented food and contains polyphenols which does have gut health benefits (the first stage of making chocolate after the cacao pods are picked and de-seeded is to the ferment the beans). However, you really need to be looking for higher cocoa, ideally dark chocolate to get the most benefits. Of course, it’s always important to listen to your body as some people find chocolate is challenging on their digestion.
Actually, one of the important things to consider when you have digestive issues is how fast you eat. Eating more slowly is much kinder on your digestion and tasting chocolate properly (i.e. slowly) can be a great introduction to the benefits, both taste and digestive, of this.
11. What is your favourite chocolate?
Well it’s the chocolate I use for my own chocolate range, which is Pump Street Chocolate. They do an amazing Sourdough & Sea Salt bar which is my desert island chocolate!
12. Where do you source chocolate?
The chocolate I use in my Slow Chocolate products are from an amazing bean-to-bar chocolate maker, Pump Street Chocolate, who are based in Suffolk. They work directly with a selection of cacao plantations to sustainably source the beans for their single origin chocolate. They also make sure farmers they work with are paid fairly, which is important, as cacao is a very commoditized market which means in some developing countries cacao farmers are paid very little. Very importantly, their chocolate is still consistently some of the most delicious chocolate that I taste.
13. Can you tell us more about your Slow Chocolate range?
My Slow Chocolate range is based around using chocolate mouthfuls to slow down and take a breath in our busy lives. I create a range of bars, bites and hot chocolate which come with mini self-guided meditations. The hot chocolate is the mix that I use in my Mindful Hot Chocolate Meditations. I like to mix up flavours and textures to really give your mouth something to explore and experience when you taste more slowly and mindfully.
14. What is next for Food at Heart?
I have some new meditation workshops planned in the first half of 2019, including a longer programme to help people explore the senses and meditation in a bit more depth than my one-off sessions. I’ve also been doing lots of workshops taking chocolate meditation into businesses and corporate environments and am planning to expand that further this year.
At a personal level, I’m going to explore the area of mindful self-compassion in much more depth through the programme developed by Kristin Neff and will ultimately add this into what I’m offering within Food At Heart.
I’m also expanding my Slow Chocolate range with some new limited-edition subscription boxes, including one which is just hot chocolate. Oh, and generally just hanging out in my kitchen and playing with chocolate of course!
15. Finally, what is your favourite Fushi product?
It’s hard to choose as there are so many fantastic products, but it would have to be the product that I first came across when I discovered Fushi which is the Rosehip Seed Oil. The smell makes me feel very happy!
Facebook: Food at Heart / @foodatheart