We keep seeing article after article about how to avoid overeating during the holidays. How to fill your plate, what workout you should do the next morning, which sides are “better” than others, which dishes to avoid… you get the picture. This is outdated diet culture mentality, rooted in a calories-in versus calories-out model. This way of thinking isn’t just out of touch; it’s destructive.
Food isn’t our enemy. We need to eat to live. Beyond that, though, there’s the reality that cuisine is central to cultures around the world. Food has been integral to celebration for thousands of years and sensory pleasure is part of the human experience. Meals are a place where old relationships are strengthened and new connections are made. Fear around food, which can manifest as restriction, counting calories, feeling guilty for eating something “bad,” anxiety while filling your plate, or even saying no to functions because you’re scared of what might be on the menu, can rob us of tradition, moments, and memories.
Eating is not the problem. The lack of whole, real nutrient dense food is. The holidays should not be a time of remorse. They can be celebrated with food, nutrient dense delicious food.
That being said, eating is not the problem. The lack of whole, real nutrient dense food is. When November arrives and the temperature drops, it is in our nature to crave warm, comfort food. The holiday season is full of tradition and indulgence, connecting us to past experiences with family and friends. These times are linked with giving into cravings and temptations of the “wrong foods” leading to feelings of guilt and shame. The holidays should not be a time of remorse. They can be celebrated with food, nutrient dense delicious food. This holiday season, enhance your conventional holiday meal and nurture yourself through comforting functional foods. We have reached out to one of our favorite brands and specialists, Alle Weil, of Flora Ex Machina, and got her tips on how to stay committed to your health during the holidays.
Alle Weil is a certified holistic nutritionist, women’s health specialist, and creator of Flora Ex Machina. Flora Ex Machina began as a recipe blog with a friend as a creative outlet where nutrition, ancient wisdom, and culinary arts met. Today the blog offers recipes that nourish deeply without compromise to flavor, usually adhering to the classic, medicinal processes. The blog also houses her nutritional practice and e-shop where she sells her functional ghee and honey herbal spreads, Royal Ghee.
Vibrant Market founder, Lauren, and Flora Ex Machina Founder Alle Weil at Mercado Segrado.
Let's dive in.
Vibrant Market: How does your holistic approach to nutrition differ from the standard western model?
Alle Weil: Holistic nutrition encompasses so much more than what I think most people might initially think of as nutrition. I think the Western model is outdated. Calories in equals calories out is just false. Of course, science does need to be at the core, but the study of nutrition is still a very new sect of focus. We are always learning something new about the human body, how it works and what makes it run optimally. How many times has a new product come out claiming to be the silver bullet for insert ailment here, only to be pulled from the shelves years later with studies showing the opposite.
However, this is also why we need to look back to the ancient studies that mapped human response millennia ago. Just like when we remove a particular vitamin from a vegetable and expect it to nourish us the same way as the whole vegetable, we can’t simply focus on our food and expect it to transform our health. True health comes from so much more than our food. It’s our mood, lifestyle, environment, stressors, etc. looked at together, not in separate systems. I help people heal from chronic illnesses and uncover hidden causes of symptoms, but I also help to create lifestyles that work for the individual. No two people are alike, so their healthcare shouldn’t be either.
VM: What sparked your interest in holistic nutrition and Ayurveda?
AW: I was lucky to have grown up in a household that knew the importance of fresh organic food. We regularly shopped at natural health food and farmer’s markets and we ate home cooked meals. When we were sick our first stop was to our family TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) practitioner for acupuncture and other treatments. However, my true passion came from necessity. I remember being depressed at a very young age - and pretty much all the women in my family struggled with painful cycles and reproductive issues. As I grew up, started my cycle and then went away to college my symptoms grew more intense. I was misdiagnosed as being bipolar and put on many different mood-alterning, mind numbing drugs. My cycles grew more intense, and was put on birth control at the onset of my first couple cycles to regulate it. My digestion weakened and doctors never once asked me about my diet. Struggling to simply have a somewhat normal existence, I fought to ask the deeper questions that my doctors obviously weren’t. I had this deeper sense of knowing that my symptoms were not "just because", but were actually caused by something, or at least connected. At the time I was studying visual arts and had been to 5 different colleges, my symptoms sometimes making it hard for me to stay longer than a semester at a time. I made a huge shift and began to study holistic studies and nutrition, despite having enough credits to graduate with an art degree. After weaning myself off of my medications, birth control and changing my diet and dramatically improving my mood and health, it was when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and I moved home to help her recover from surgery and doctors couldn’t believe how fast she had recovered, that I decided to make a career out of this passion and help others heal naturally and holistically.
VM: Are there any foods you steer clear of and why/what is your nutrition model that you use with clients?
AW: Personally, I cannot tolerate gluten, sugar, or alcohol well. I have learned just how sensitive I am over the years and how easily it is for me to come off balance. I also tend to avoid nightshades most of the time, which dramatically affect my mood, digestion and inflammatory response. I am mostly plant-based, but incorporate some animal products therapeutically and trust my cravings for them. Years of digestive damage means that my absorption is weak and I need to pay attention to how I get certain nutrients.
That’s not to say I don’t indulge, but as someone who has struggled with such severe mood swings and chronic symptoms most of my life, it’s just not worth it to me - I value the life I have built too much to allow a cookie to disrupt my health. Plus, in today’s wellness world, it is just too easy to make alternatives that taste just as good.
Otherwise, it really varies from person to person. Of course there are particular core principles that I believe everyone should be incorporating like consuming organic, unprocessed ingredients, lightening your toxic load, and sourcing quality water.
We are what we eat, drink, breath, rub on our skin and clean our houses with. Perhaps it doesn’t affect us immediately or even in a week, month or year, but over time, our food and lifestyle habits ultimately lead to the chronic illnesses we fear.
VM: Are there any illnesses you often see that are caused by food? Tell us about that.
AW: I don’t think most people realize how connected our food and our health is. We are what we eat, drink, breath, rub on our skin and clean our houses with. Perhaps it doesn’t affect us immediately or even in a week, month or year, but over time, our food and lifestyle habits ultimately lead to the chronic illnesses we fear. Of course there are all the foods that most of us already know not to eat regularly like, rancid oils, fried foods, processed, chemical-laden ingredients and sugars, but even regular and “healthy” foods can be damaging if a person is sensitive to them. A child with colic as a baby may have dairy allergies that go undetected. The colic is treated but dairy is never removed. The colic goes away, but new symptoms of asthma arise. Again the child is treated for the asthma but dairy is still never removed. Now digestive symptoms also appear. They have leaky bowels, and their immune system is regularly challenged. They struggle with depression and are put on anti-depressants. Years later they are diagnosed with cancer. This may be an extreme case but it is not uncommon. The point is one seemingly innocent food can cause such inflammation, weakening of the immune system and absorption issues to the point that the whole body is compromised in late life. We need to trust our instincts and gauge our reactions to foods. There is not one food that is universally healthy.
VM: What is your vision behind the two royal ghee formulations?
AW: A few years ago as I really began to lean into my wellness choices, meant leaving behind many of the “healthy” store-bought indulgences and making my own. I have a sweet tooth, but so many of the healthy sweet treats are heavily processed and mostly marketing - and ultimately don’t really do anything for our health. I wanted to create a decadent and absolutely delicious multi-functional food that satisfied my cravings without sacrificing my health. Inspired by the Ayurvedic nutritional spread, chyawanprash, I wanted to create a similar ghee-based spread with herbs that Westerners already knew about and incorporated into their wellness routines along with ingredients that are also lacking and necessary for balanced nutrition.
All the ingredients [in Royal Ghee] by themselves are so nutritious and powerful. Ghee and honey are so medicinal, but all together they really sing and really create a balanced profile encompassing all of the 5 elements and flavors. In addition to the many benefits and properties of ghee, which can also be found on my site, ghee allows the other ingredients submerged into it to become more bioavailable to the body - similarly to how nutraceuticals are using liposomal methods to make supplements more potent as well.
The original Royal Ghee was born and incorporates young grasses, algae, seaweeds, roots, berries and mushrooms while still tasting like an earthy brownie batter. The vision is that users could upgrade all the foods they already loved with potent ingredients while still tasting delicious. I’ve had people come up to me or post pictures telling me they have boosted everything from popcorn, ice cream, meats, eggs, tonics, smoothies, used it as icing - it’s really versatile and lends well to both sweet and savory foods.
Our Royal Ghee Gold is much more restrained in ingredients and really focused on herbs that support immunity and have been shown to reduce inflammation, like turmeric. I think most of us know and already understand the flavor of golden milk and I wanted to take this flavor and idea to the next level by additionally incorporating ashwagandha, camu camu, propolis, and pepper. The result is that golden milk flavor in a spoonful that can be used the same way as our original flavor or simply added to a cup of warm milk of choice for that upgraded golden milk tonic.
Ghee allows the other ingredients submerged into it to become more bioavailable to the body - similarly to how nutraceuticals are using liposomal methods to make supplements more potent as well.
VM: How can someone incorporate functional foods into their diet to support their immunity and adrenals during the holiday season?
AW: While this seems like the perfect plug for my products, Royal Ghee (which are full of amazing nutrition, herbs and flavorful as well - and you should check them out!), honestly, it doesn’t have to be complicated or over thought. In fact most of what one can do doesn’t involve food at all. The more you can unwind and stay grounded during the holiday season the better. Staying hydrated, resting well, and consuming balanced meals without overeating can do wonders for immunity and adrenals. There are plenty of supplements and herbs to help with adrenals but nothing that can undo what a week of binging and family drama. Make sure you carve out the space to give your body the break and real recovery time you need.
VM: What are your recommendations on staying committed to your health during a time of tradition and indulgence associated with the holidays without coming from a place of lack? It’s hard when it is coming from a place of “I can’t have”.
AW: As I touched on a bit before, I have really changed my view on this idea of lack, or can’t have so and so. When you struggle enough with a chronic illness and then have that journey and learn how to nourish and heal your body, I think you are less willing to compromise that feeling of health and balance. But my methodology is that food is medicine, and the more we can shift our mindset that what most of the country is eating as not real food, and learn to cook with foods that heal our bodies and are as equally delicious the easier it is to rewire this train of thinking for ourselves and those that surround us.
Sure the holidays are notoriously complicated, emotionally and culinarily. My family too, has traditions and recipes passed down, and most recipes are easily adaptable to be allergy-friendly so I always feel like I am sated, happy and indulgent. Surround yourself with people who love and support you and are happy to make those changes to see you healthier and happier.
VM: We love to give our community resources. Who/what are your favorite teachers, documentaries, or book recommendations that have made an impact on you?
AW: Hmm, at the moment I’ve been reading up on Dr. Chris Shade and Dr. Ben Lynch, Dirty Genes. I love Dr. Elon Haas - Healing With The Seasons, anything by Michael Pollan - especially The Botany of Desire (probably my favorite book of all time), and Marion Nestle, Renegade Beauty by Nadine Artimis, and Five Spirits by Lorie Dechar. I wrote an article a couple years ago with a roundup of some of my other favorites -https://thechalkboardmag.com/holistic-nutrition-wellness-book-roundup
I’ve been listening to Guru Singh’s Podcast on every walk and nothing shifts my mood and energy quite like his insights.
Upgrade your holiday menu with these delicious functional recipes featuring Alle’s Royal Ghee formulations!
For a twist on a classic holiday staple, sure to please the whole table, this kabocha squash custard tart is versatile enough to satisfy most dietary restrictions without sacrificing our desire for something decadent and utterly satisfying. This recipe is gluten free, paleo friendly, refined sugar free, with the option to make entirely vegan.
What a flavorful surprize to find how perfectly paired Royal Ghee gold and my beloved Japanese sweet potato are. Tangy spice with a hint of sweetness, Royal Ghee gold is perfect even in savory dishes.
I get excited by the chances to remake and upgrade these confections we have come to accept as conventional. Truly, there is no need to give into the red food-dye, the refined sugar and the white floured sweets out there. The holidays should be a celebration of all the things we do and believe in, in every way possible. These super gingerbread cookies are no exception. While maintaining the classic flavor, smell, and texture of the classic, I’ve enhanced these cookies, and in the process made them:
Refined sugar free
Chemical and dye-free
And superfood full!
They are the perfect balance of sweet and spicy, fragrant, and festive. Redefine your expectations – often the result is even better than planned, and happily accepted, if not cherished.
This is the perfect, cozy, holiday tonic to be enjoyed by the whole family. An immune booster, dessert, or with breakfast. My intention was always to create delicious food that was also functional and multi-purpose, but I never expected it to transport the senses to this place. When combined in a warming tonic, I am instantly comforted and nourished. It reminds me to check out and check in. Balance yin with yang, decadent with purpose. Promote health, not diminish it.
You can find all key ingredients for this tonic below: