Founder of The Plant Academy, Lauren Lovatt is a plant-based chef who has been on a personal journey with her diet and her wellbeing. Here, she tells us about the power of food for mental health.April 27, 2022 4:54 pm May 18, 2020 8:54 am
Name: Lauren Lovatt
Based in: London, United Kingdom
Occupation: Plant-based chef and founder of Plant Academy
“I’ve always loved food. Growing up, I was so lucky to be encouraged to create in the kitchen. The act of making food has always made me happy. It was my way to connect with people, share delicious experiences and please myself.”
“It was only when life turned a corner that this passion turned into obsession, which was definitely not good for me or those around me.
Until this time, I hadn’t really known about mental health issues. Then, at uni my boyfriend was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and I learned the hard way how crippling this illness can be.
After a difficult time trying to support him, searching for answers, managing crazy moods and desperately trying to understand confusing traits of the mind we discovered there was nowhere to turn or any information to be found; the amazing campaigns out there now just weren’t as visible at that time and others suffering didn’t yet have a voice.
After a long trail of events, he took his life. This was devastating for everyone around and for me. My life turned upside down. A year of sleepless nights, painful grief and flashbacks followed and I started to get very sick. As a distraction from the pain, I became obsessed with food. All-consumed by a concoction of eating disorders and depression, I isolated myself from the world and turned the one thing I had always loved into something very dangerous.”
Rebuilding positive relationships
“For some years, the illness was my way of coping. When bad became worse I had to seek help. Through counselling, alternative therapies and good support something clicked that made me want to get better. This had to come from within and what came was my need to rebuild positive relationships – not only with food, but with wellness and more specifically wellness for the mind.
I wanted to learn how to live in a way that would enable me to manage moods; find stability and passion through nurturing my mental health. To do this I unlocked a new toolbox of ingredients, plants and superfoods that sparked a new passion far from any old issues I had.
Long story short – I battled my way through uni and finally finished my degree specialising in wellness design and lifestyle trends. Then, as quickly as you can say “kale”, I retrained as a raw chef! I set out on a new path, finding a way to connect everyone with the links between plant-based food, lifestyle and mental health.”
Plant-based cooking was life changing.
When I was ill, I had huge issues around food; so many barriers and so much uncertainty. At this time, I was cooking a lot but never for myself. I was on death’s door and really had written off the future for myself.
One day, with great support around me, I realised I just couldn’t do it anymore. I remember being out for my grandma’s birthday and the restrictions I was putting up were unbearable. Something just clicked. Things had to change and it was time to rediscover food.
This is when plants came into their own. I re-learnt how to nourish myself in a new way and I saw the real power of plants. I took baby steps to reintroduce all foods I had cut out, but at this point I was eating mostly plant-based. It was gentle on my system and opened my eyes to a new way of eating and, therefore, cooking.
Following my passion
This led onto a real exploration of how to get involved in the food industry. I started up a wellness consulting business. I connected with people who were doing inspiring things. This led me to work with Rob Rees MBE, start my first job out of uni as the ‘wellbeing pixie’ (official title) at a place called The Matara Centre, and eventually work with Asparagasm. They were the first vegan pop-up in London, looking to open premises in the Cotswolds. At this moment, I had about six jobs. I was exploring what I could do.
Having experienced first hand the crippling effects of mental illness I knew I wanted to share what I had learned and do something I could see had meaning. These opportunities carved out a new life for me. I had some great mentors at this time. The seed was planted for a concept where I could bring dreams to life through food.
Asparagasm was really the start of everything. As it was a small restaurant in the Cotswolds, I was lucky to be involved with every element of setting it up. I was able to shape the brand into something that was inspiring for others. At this point, it was clear my passion is not simply making food but creating a lifestyle and sharing the idea that anything is possible when you set your mind to it.
Food for mental health
It’s obvious to say “we are what we eat”. But, there is research out there now on the power of food to feed our minds.
The brain uses a quarter of our total energy. Just like eating for fitness, our brain needs the right stuff. But, this isn’t just about whole ingredients. It is about developing an attitude to food, the joy you feel when you are in the kitchen; the way that you can turn off when cooking and focus on something else.
On many levels, food nourishes us not only with pure nutrition but the act of cooking, coming together around a table and doing something deeply incredible for yourself.
Feed your Mind Candy
In 2018, I launched Feed your Mind Candy. I organise Mind Food workshops, supper clubs and collaborative events that share what a mind-focused food lifestyle could look like.
It is all about inspiring better mental health through food. It’s not just about the ingredients, but also experiences around food. It’s an ongoing project. There’s lots on the way so expect to have a tangible experience soon!
From London to Bali
Over the years I continued to learn. I ended up in LA training at Matthew Kenney Culinary. This had been a huge dream of mine. It was my first solo trip to do something with purpose. It opened my eyes to a new world of opportunity.
First, I thought I was going for a month. I ended up embarking on another two months of training, one in LA and one in Barcelona. The company then invited me to set up their culinary school in the city and teach students from across the globe plant-based food.
After teaching in Barcelona, I was looking for a break. We had closed Asparagasm. I decided to travel to Bali to detox. There, I met the founder of Alchemy Academy. Everything on that trip pointed me in the same direction. Within months, we collaborated and designed a level two plant-based course for Alchemy. So, now I teach there twice a year.
Learning the art of raw food with Deborah Durrant
Raw food for me offered a new perspective and Debs was a part of that. She had set up a raw food studio and I started to train with her leaning so much about how elevated raw food could be. Especially in terms of desserts, these dishes lived up to any dessert I’ve ever loved.
'I unlocked a new toolbox of ingredients, plants and superfoods that sparked a new passion far from any old issues I had.'