The Well Woman, also known as Tonya, also known as my dear friend, is a holistic nutritionist, chef, writer, photographer, creator, and all round talented person based in Toronto.

From teaching ho’oponopono meditation classes, to creating works of art in the form of raw vegan cheese platters, to sharing her poetic words of wisdom about all things life on her instagram feed, this woman never ceases to stop inspiring me.

Here she shares about finding herself through food, some of the staples in her diet, and a few holistic nutritionista tips. (One exciting hint: a little extra salt can be a good thing.)

Name: Tonya Papanikolov

Location: Toronto

What do you do:

My work is my passion which I feel lucky to say. I work in culinary arts and holistic health. I do a lot of different things in this realm but more generally I guess you could say that I’m a plant-based chef and wellness consultant.

Today I ate…

Kitchari for breakfast, which is a famous Indian one-pot stew. It’s very nourishing and easy to digest. In the Ayurvedic tradition it is known as a complete protein meal. It combines mung beans or lentils with vegetables, brown rice and spices and is balancing for the three doshas.

I feel the healthiest when…

I’m eating nourishing foods and meditating daily. These two are my cornerstones. Aside from that I need a good dose of laughter, nature, sunshine and the people I love.

Dietary requirements:

Plant-based and whole foods. I advocate for a type of eating where we are in touch and respectful of our bodies needs and where we are not bogged down with food labels. Different stages of life and different health states require our flexibility and openness to a new way of eating. A diet that consists of plants and whole-foods should be the focal point.

What food do you always keep in the house:

Kale, carrots, lemons, apples, berries (in summer), chia seeds, hemp seeds, coconut oil, olive oil, lentils, mung beans, spirulina or E3Live, superfoods/herbs, nuts and seeds, oats… I could go on and on. And all organic and/or wild-crafted.

Go-to meal:

I’ve currently been making a lot of kitchari. It is cleansing, super easy to make and perfect for any meal. Aside from that I make smoothies daily that are packed with nutrients, plant energy and superfoods — they keep me going for hours. And then a few times a week I like to make more elaborate meals too.

Favorite snack:

I’m currently taking a break from nuts to make sure that I’m rotating properly; I was showing some signs of allergy. Right now I’m having different seeds as snacks: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, watermelon seeds, chia, hemp – I make a seed granola and a homemade hemp mylk and that’s always a delicious afternoon snack.

I’d like to do an eating tour of… Mexico, Argentina, Japan

Fruit or veggies? Veggies

Unique or funny food combos you like to eat:

Roasted butternut squash with pumpkin seed butter and Himalayan sea salt

What was your relationship with food like when you were younger?

I had a lot of disordered eating habits when I was a teenager. Body image issues and a fixation on limiting calories. My relationship with food has had ups and downs and I wasn’t always healthy or taking care of myself in a sustainable way. Some of those bad habits followed me into my 20s. Around 22 I discovered yoga and also had a health complication that woke me up. It was clear to me that I would heal through food and changing my lifestyle to be more supportive to the growth I intuitively felt coming.

How has it changed now?

It feels like eons ago. It feels like a different person entirely, I guess it kind of was. It has changed in every way possible. I restructured my life and career path because of how profound it was. I healed my health issues through food, movement and lifestyle. I have studied and read countless books and now understand and respect my body first and foremost. I learned to love myself and develop the ability to listen.

Cooking or takeout: COOKING (duh!!!)

What do you eat to treat yourself? A warm cacao elixir is the key to my heart.

What do you cook for friends:

Lots of different things, plant-based cheeses (though they’re raw), galettes, pizzas, salads, baked goods. So many different things and it also depends on the season

Favourite places to eat:

When I was in LA it was Moon Juice, Gjusta and Cafe Gratitude. In Toronto I love nutbar, my friend owns it. I also recently had an incredible dining experience at Actinolite. I did Justin’s chef menu tasting, they made it plant-based for me. It truly blew me away. I’m also looking forward to going to Awai soon.

Salty or sweet?

Salty. Because I’m consuming whole, plant based foods (low in sodium) I’m not shy when it comes to salting my food. The salt we should be avoiding is from processed and packaged foods. Also, my adrenals need the Himalayan sea salt! Our adrenals are constantly stressed out: morning traffic, deadlines, arguments, paying bills, eating processed foods, anxiety, stress at work… any and all of these things place stress on the adrenal glands. Adrenal demand is highest right when you wake up. If you get dizzy in the morning when going from laying to standing you might want to try adding a pinch of salt to a glass of water and placing it next to your bed before sleeping. Drink that water right when you wake up. The salt will help your adrenals in regulating your blood pressure. This means they will have less work to do, saving their output for the rest of the day.

Moderation with eating. Do you practice it?

Sure. Though it’s not really conscious anymore. I’ve never been an over-eater or a binge eater so it’s not hard for me to limit portion sizes or know how much I need to feel satiated. I never hesitate to snack. I listen to my body to tell me when it’s hungry or what it’s craving. I feel the best when I eat to about 80% full, this is what is recommended in traditional healing practices as well. So I suppose that I do practice moderation in my own way, just through listening to my body and forming a deeper understanding of what makes me feel strong.

How does food make you feel happy?

Through it’s ability to inspire me creatively, connect me to nature and to the farmers growing my food. With our current industry and the focus on low-quality, fast food and mass production, I find solace in the ability to use my dollar to vote. We underestimate this power. Food makes me feel happy because it brings me closer to people, allows me to share knowledge and indulge my senses: visual, taste, smell, sound, touch – I love each element.

Best food advice:

Eat mostly plants. Incorporate raw foods. Buy organic where possible, support your local growers and shop at farmer’s markets.

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