Food for the Soul

Nutrition writer and wellness expert Leah Vanderveldt looks at the spiritual side of eating and wellness in her latest book, “Magical Self-Care for Everyday Life.”
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LeahVanderveldt phot Diane Zapata

As the author of several forward-thinking cookbooks, including 2019’s The CBD Kitchen, Leah Vanderveldt has long known that nourishment extends significantly beyond the physical to the mental, emotional, and even the enchantingly spiritual. Her latest book—Magical Self-Care for Everyday Life: Create Your Own Personal Wellness Rituals Using the Tarot, Space-Clearing, Breathwork, High-Vibe Recipes, and More—sprinkles conscious and soulful eating with a bewitching blend of earthy and otherworldly self-care ingredients.

“Magical self-care means connecting to your intuition to take care of yourself holistically,” she says. “It uses mystical and everyday tools and practices to get you in touch with your core self and inner wisdom. It’s about adding a little fun, mystery, and magic to your wellness routine.”

For Vanderveldt, who embraces alternative therapies ranging from reiki to herbalism to astrology, this expanded approach to wellness meaningfully augments her primary self-care habits of getting enough sleep, drinking a lot of water, and eating well. “I think intentional rituals can enhance and make us more mindful of the routine things we do to care for ourselves anyway,” she says. “For example, before sleep I like to wind down with an herbal infusion and some breathwork. I infuse my drinking water with crystals as a way to make hydrating more exciting. And when I prepare a meal for myself, I think of how I want to feel and channel that into my cooking. Adding these intentional elements makes these things feel special and brings me into the present moment.”

Everyone Wants to Know …

BN: What are some key ways to get practical with magic in the kitchen?

LV: First, ingredients. So many plants have magical properties. It’s worth doing a quick search on herbs and plants that you want to use in your cooking and just seeing if they have any lore behind them. Basil is a great herb for abundance, for example, and just knowing that as you’re cooking with it can be a little magical.

Second, set an intention for your meal. Beyond it being cooked well and tasting good, your intention could be, “I want to feel really supported and calm as a result of eating this dish.” As you prep and stir, think of your intention.

BN: Why is it helpful to embody the four seasons? How can we do that with food this fall?

LV: Nature is such a good mirror for us. It subtly prompts us to change our rhythms and get a balance of everything throughout the year. In the fall, we get foods that want to be roasted and turned into soups and stews—we’re being encouraged to warm ourselves from the inside out as the weather gets colder. As the harvest comes in and the leaves begin to fall, we’re asked to turn toward our homes and ourselves a little bit more and reflect on what we’d like to shed. The grounding, warming, sweet foods of fall help to steady and support us as we go through this transitional time of year.

BN: How can the tarot factor into daily self-care?

LV: I use it as a daily check-in. If something’s on my mind or I’m feeling a little off, I’ll ask the tarot about it or just come to my deck with an open mind and pull a card. I journal about whatever comes up. The tarot is an intuitive tool, but it also helps you get to know yourself better, which is key to finding self-care that really nourishes you. You can also ask the cards: What kind of self-care would best support me today? How would my mind feel cared for? My body? My heart?

BN: Which high-vibe recipes help ground your favorite magical rituals?

LV: I love a hearty stew or lentil dish after a breathwork practice. There’s a specific type of breathwork that involves deep, continuous breathing for 30 minutes at a time. The experience is challenging but transformational. I find that I need something really filling and comforting to eat afterward to ground down. Breath represents the air element, and lentils are from the earth, so they balance each other out nicely. It helps me come back to Earth and feels cozy.

BN: What goes into The Empress Breakfast?

LV: I love making toast that feels a little fancy. I found myself doing my daily tarot check-in over breakfast and I decided to make a meal as a tribute to one of my favorite cards—The Empress (a tarot card symbolizing abundance, receptivity, and self-worth). I use fresh ricotta, roasted squash, basil, olive oil, and pomegranate seeds—which is the Empress’s signature fruit.

BN: What role does breathwork play in our healing?

LV: It’s one of our most accessible wellness tools—it’s free, simple, and holistically cleansing. It can physically cleanse the body, but it helps emotionally and spiritually cleanse too. As the parent of a one-year-old, my days feel busy and a little all over the place. But I can always make time to breathe. I like to do a six-count inhale and six-count exhale four times in a row. In a minute I feel calmer and more connected to myself.

I do longer breathwork sessions (like I mentioned above) that help with emotional release. Breathwork is connected to the idea that unprocessed emotions are stored in the body, and when we engage the breath in a way that activates the whole body, we’re able to get into those stuck places and release them. When I find myself feeling really tense and overwhelmed, I know it’s time to do a long breathwork practice.

BN: How has embracing the feminine in you changed your life?

LV: I’m not burnt out all the time, I feel more creative, and it’s given me the strength to do what I really love and do it in a way that feels good. We’re so encouraged to be on, doing, and productive all the time, but that needs to be balanced by quiet, space, connection, and softness. It’s an ongoing process, but it’s helped me balance my nervous system and feel more grounded throughout my day.

BN: How can eating well help cultivate a kinder relationship with oneself?

LV: It’s about finding what feels good for you and your body. I think we get caught up in trying to eat a certain way or eat certain things because they’re “good” for us. But I think there’s an element of listening to what our bodies need and want that’s really important to our emotional and physical health. Balance is where the kindness lies—not being too rigid about your food while also giving yourself everything you need to thrive.

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