Sofi Yotova: a Bulgarian food blogger (check out her blog Foodie Boulevard), Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution ambassador and a healthy bonvivan, is our latest inspiration for the ‘Learn It From The Best’ series.
Sofi is not the first Bulgarian that we are interviewing, but she is the first one whose interview we are publishing in both Bulgarian (click here to read) and English. The reason for this is simple: Sofi’s personal story, her battle with an eating disorder called emotional eating and her mission as a food blogger, are so powerful and inspiring that we wanted them to reach as many people as possible.
In this interview we talk about the magic of cooking; Sofi’s power and ability to overcome her fears and inner problems and to turn food into her friend; the healthy way of eating and living; and all those things that make Sofi so irresistibly charming and inspiring!
2HB: What does food mean to you?
S: Food for me is so much more than just something that I consume. Food is art: my way to express my inspiration, emotions and my love for the person for whom I cook. When I am cooking I don’t only cook, I create, I re-create my soul into a physical form with which I am aiming to reach as many people as possible.
I never cook just because I have to. I cook only when I feel good. When I am troubled or I find myself into a stressful period of my life, I feel like I lose my inspiration and creativity.
In my blog I have over 400 recipes that I have created. I find no fun or joy in cooking when following a certain recipe. I believe that the process of creating the food is an adventure, which I embrace without any fear and I combine all kinds of products, elements and ingredients. What’s curious is that I have no sense of smell whatsoever, which is certainly not typical for a cook. This specificity of mine makes me brave and allows me to combine untraditional and very diverse components. I’d like to think of myself as an explorer. Each dish is a piece of white canvas for me. The recipe is just the initial inspiration with which we have to play in order to turn the dish into our very own creation. Be brave, make experiments with your taste and give the dish your personal touch.
2HB: When and how did your interest towards the magic of cooking occur?
S: Although in my family I have inspiring examples of amazing cooks: my grandmothers, my parents, I found myself interested in cooking I little bit later in my life. I was 23 when I started living by myself and I had my own kitchen. When I came to Sofia I didn’t have any friends or a stable social network. My kitchen turned into my safe place. I started playing and making experiments with food, combining different products and ingredients. And as my journalistic and photographic background blend into a wonderful symbiosis, I started to take pictures and write down all of my recipes. This is how the idea for my blog was born.
2HB: Why healthy?
S: In the beginning I wasn’t cooking healthy dishes. In fact I made my first steps in the art of culinary with desserts: very decadent, with lots of sugar and chocolate. At that time I was still fighting an eating disorder called emotional eating and food wasn’t my friend at all. My relationship with food has always been very complicated and painful, and has defined my whole life. At some point I realised that no matter how much I enjoyed cooking, the fact that I wasn’t indulging in a healthy, non-guilty way into the prepared food was devaluating the whole experience. That’s why I decided to close the circle and start cooking dishes that I could enjoy without any guilt.
If I have to be honest cooking came to my life in a very tough moment: my grandmother died unexpectedly. This pushed me once again into the deepest and darkest stages of the emotional eating. In attempt to deal with the pain and all the emotions I started overeating. This is when I realised that I needed a project to which to dedicate all of my emotions, energy and creativity. So I created Foodie Boulevard. It became my art therapy, my shelter, the cause which purified me. Paradoxically, I chose food in order to deal with my issues with food.
2HB: It feels like people can’t really make the distinction between a healthy and a fitness way of eating. Why do you think this confusion exists?
S: Since I started eating and cooking healthy I also started reading a lot. What I realised was that the existing information is so contradictory and so thorough that when one doesn’t have enough knowledge to build the right context could very easily get confused.
The boundary between the two is very thin, especially for people who have or have ever had unhealthy relations with food. It is quite simple to cross the line between building healthy, long-lasting habits and going into unsound extremes. Each and every extreme makes us lose control. The fitness way of eating is yet another extreme: a tough, fixed regime-diet which makes you feel limited and puts you into a cage in which you are allowed to consume a certain amount of things. The moment you stop following this diet you lose all control. And this is when the problems begin.
The difference between a healthy and a fitness way of eating, as well as all the other extremes when it comes to eating, is the ability to indulge into something ‘naughty’ without a sense on guilt, knowing that your next meal will be balanced and healthy; realising that there is no need to punish yourself just because you’ve indulged. The freedom to enjoy food and to be able to choose from a bigger variety; the freedom to be able to live without a mobile application which counts your calories and to be able not to think about each and every piece of food you put into your mouth. Well, this is what I call a healthy way of eating and this is where the beauty of eating lays.
2HB: As a person who has gone through an eating disorder, when do you think that the moments comes when people realise that they have gone into an extreme and have crossed the line between healthy and unhealthy? When did this moment come for you and when did you realise that you needed help?
S: My problem is very specific, different from the common anorexia and bulimia. My issues where very extreme and polar. There where times when I used to think that my problem was just a specific feature of my character and that I was just being greedy. I wasn’t realising that my behaviour was a painful symptom of much deeper internal problems.
For a very long time I was ‘successfully’ hiding the problem from everybody: parents, friends, relatives. The truth is that one of the biggest mistakes that we could make is not to share and to be ashamed of what we are going through. In this way the problem only becomes more complicated and we tend to go into even bigger extremes. At that time I used to think that I didn’t really have a problem; that I was just going through a tough teenage stage. I wasn’t able to eat with other people and I was always eating alone at home where I was able to stay in control of the process.
The moment when I actually realised that I had a problem was when I vocalised it. The first person in whom I confined was my boyfriend, the person next to me. The fact that in our relationship we share the highest level of trust helped me open myself completely By vocalising my unhealthy behaviour I realised that it was a tendency which always occurred in a certain type of moments. My eating disorder was my reaction to the stress and the problems in my life.
2HB: What or who helped you heal yourself?
S: My boyfriend. He knows me better than I know myself as he is an objective observer. I am a very expressive and emotional person and very often I am not able to rationally judge a behaviour or situation. The fact that he was there for me and he listened, and that he was able to sense when I was fragile and likely to go back to my unhealthy behaviours, helped me deal with the problem. Without judging me or trying to control me he helped me realise that I needed help.
2HB: What in your way of thinking had to change in order to be able for you to heal?
S: The most important think was to realise that eating is not a sin and the fact that I was allowing myself to enjoy food without punishing myself was not something bad. When being on a diet, and I have tried many drastic diets in my life, I was telling to myself: ‘How little a ate! I feel great! ’.
Later I realised that the moment I was cheating on my diet the sense of guilt and the level of self-punishment were so enormous that I was feeling incapable of moving forward in life. Eating for me used to be like a pendulum: going from one extreme to the other. The principle that I can eat and feel great about doing it was what helped me realise that food was in fact a friend, not an enemy.
2HB: What advice would you give to all the people who have decided to initiate a healthy way of eating and living? What are the mistakes they have to be careful not to make?
S: The main mistake is the feeling that you follow a diet, a regime. A diet limits the imagination and is a temporary thing. By forcing yourself to eat certain type of things just to reach your ideal weight is one of the biggest mistakes that you could make. The balanced, healthy way of living is what gives you freedom and lasts.
My advice would be: build a healthy relationship with food, let it be on your side and see it as a way of getting to know your own self a little bit better.
For the Bulgarian version of this interview click here.
Welcome to ‘Learn It From The Best: True Inspirational Health Stories’: our new series where we will be interviewing inspirational health and wellness coaches and motivators from all around the world and will be sharing with you their secrets, health tips and personal stories. For more health, wellness and yoga inspiration download 2 Health App now!