Meet Abbey Sharp, a 26-year-old media personality, registered dietitian, recipe developer, blogger and home cook. The founder of AbbeysKitchen.com shares with us her thoughts on dieting, eating for pleasure and her three of her favourite recipes with PSYB.
It doesn’t matter if you’re eating a kale salad or a poutine: sit yourself down and invest in that meal. Savour every texture, aroma and flavour you find in that experience. Appreciate the company you share it with. Eat what you truly love and never sacrifice.
What do you hope to achieve through your work on your brand Abbey’s Kitchen? My mission is to empower people to embrace the pleasure of eating, share and celebrate good food, and foster healthy relationships with their bodies and minds. I hope I demonstrate this in my balanced approach to my blog. I post about crazy food events where I eat burgers on cronut buns, and I post healthy recipes for the crockpot. I want people to fall back in love with food and that experience of eating.
How do you come up with recipes? When I create recipes, I am catering to a healthy individual (that is, not someone with a specific disease) that wants to continue to feel good. I write recipes that I myself would want to eat. Most of them are healthy for every day enjoyment and some of them are indulgences. In either case, I don’t post nutritional information—I want good food to stand for itself. Food is never just about fuel. It’s symbolic of love, tradition, identity, culture and family. For example, if you tell an Italian patient they can no longer have tomato sauce because it’s contraindicated to their kidney disease, you’re almost telling them they can no longer be who they are. I want people to learn to simply listen to their bodies, trust their bodies to tell them what they need, and enjoy the pleasure of eating—whether it’s a salad or a luscious chocolate mousse.
Dietitians are often scrutinized for their weight and personal eating habits. How do you deal with that kind of judgment? Absolutely. We are either deemed too skinny or too fat to be competent enough to practice. For most of my life, I was a lanky, super-skinny girl. People would judge my ability to be a good dietitian, assuming I didn’t eat. In reality, I was often eating most of the day. After I turned 25, my metabolism naturally slowed down and I also went from working clinically to working in food media, which means I eat out at gluttonous food events most days of the week. So I gained about 20 lbs in a year and a half, and now I’m at a “socially acceptable” size. I don’t feel any more competent now that I am a little more rounded, but I feel like others see me that way. Of course, now I walk the fine line on the other side: If I gain another 20 or even just 10 lbs, will I be once again assumed unfit to work in this field? If it happens again, I’ll work it. My approach to practicing dietetics is one we call Health at Every Size—I focus on health, not the number on the scale. No matter how much I weigh, I will continue to eat mindfully, with purpose and pleasure, and direct my attention to how I feel.
You said in an interview with She Does the City, “Nigella [Lawson] sneaks down to the kitchen late at night but she doesn’t care because it’s a pleasure for her and that’s really my message as well.” Why do you think it’s important for eating to be a pleasurable experience? When we eat just because the clock tells us to, or we eat something we don’t particularly like just because it’s on our “diet plan,” we lose connection with our bodies’ needs and we eat mindlessly. Mindless eating is the main cause of overeating, whether it’s something seemingly healthy, like a box of whole-grain crackers, or something “forbidden” you binge on because you’ve restricted yourself of it.
It doesn’t matter if you’re eating a kale salad or a poutine: sit yourself down and invest in that meal. Savour every texture, aroma and flavour you find in that experience. Appreciate the company you share it with. Eat what you truly love and never sacrifice. When you eat with pleasure, you feel satisfied on just enough, and you don’t feel the need to binge on everything you see. This is the road to a healthy and happy relationship with food.
I noticed that you’ve posted on Facebook about the fact that dieting doesn’t work. What are your thoughts on that? Dieting absolutely doesn’t work. First of all, I don’t think weight loss should ever be the end goal; health should be the goal. Weight loss, if it happens, should just be a side effect. Second, when someone comes to me with a new diet, I usually ask “can you do this for the rest of your life?” If the answer is no, I suggest you don’t start. What good is having health benefits (or weight loss) for a week, and then having it all go back to the way it was? The reason dieting doesn’t work is that you are physically and psychologically restricting yourself, and we don’t like to be restricted. You feed your body fewer calories and nutrients than it needs, and you deny yourself the feel-good experience of eating. So naturally, your body and mind react together by forcing you to “cheat” with a forbidden food, which leads to all or nothing thinking like “I blew my diet, I might as well eat everything in the house now.” You would be much better off just being more mindful of your eating: finding pleasure in each bite, and naturally needing less food to feel satisfied. Being mindful really does let you have your cake and eat it too.
Check out Abbey’s inaugural Youtube webisode and get to know her a bit better below:
Your signature cooking style in one word: Colourful.
Favourite snack: It’s such a dietitian thing to say… But I’m all about Greek yogurt with some sliced banana (my favourite fruit) and some crunchy cereal like Kashi Go Lean Crunch. I may go make that for myself now…
Favourite go-to dinner: Something Mexican. Mexican cuisine lends itself nicely to all of my favourite vegetables. I often make Dress-it-Yourself tacos: I cook chicken breasts in the crockpot with chili powder and some kind of tomato or tomatillo salsa. Then shred it up well, make a salsa with pineapple and corn, do a quick-pickle shallot, whip up guacamole, and shred some cheese and lettuce. Serve with corn tortillas. No one complains on taco night!
Favourite bar: Cold Tea is pretty cool. It’s hidden in a weird mall in Kensington Market in Toronto. The drinks are really inexpensive and the bartenders are amazing. There’s no menu, so I just usually tell the bartender the flavours I like and he whips me up something fabulous. Sometimes I just tell them a theme like Valentines Day and let them go to town. Cold Tea always nails it.
Favourite brunch spot: I’m not really a bruncher because I find it screws up my eating for the rest of the day (I like to eat small meals rather than a blow out binge of a brunch at 11 AM). Having said that, I have had awesome brunch at the Saint Tavern, and the Beast Restaurant [both in Toronto].
Favourite cookbook: Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I met them last year at the Chatelaine Kitchen, and I adore their healthy middle eastern fare. I think good food should speak for itself, and this is definitely good food.
Biggest piece of advice when it comes to women and eating well: Learn to love and trust your body, listen for those subtle hunger and satiety cues and find pleasure in the eating experience.
Check out three of Abbey’s favourite homemade recipes that she chose to share with us: Boston Lettuce & Microgreen Salad with Grapefruit, Avocado and Quinoa Praline, Seared Hoisin Halibut with Umami Soba Noodle Soup, and Dairy- & Gluten-Free Lime Curd, Coconut Cream and Meringue-Duo Parfait. All three dishes are super-tasty and are sure to impress your pals this summer.
Catch Abbey at a charity event with My Food My Way on June 23rd in Toronto, at a food truck event for Canada Day at Ajax Downs and at Toronto’s Festival of Beer, the CNE, the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo, and the Food Network Delicious Food Show with an Abbey’s Kitchen Stadium event and pavilion, and on the Marilyn Denis Show. And be sure to connect with Abbey on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube, Google + and LinkedIn