In advocating for clean and healthy eating, The Wholesome Table founder uncovers the strong relationship between wellness and ultimately feeling good about oneself.
Throughout the years, the concept of beauty has transformed to be inclusive. When Bianca Elizalde was in the commercial modeling industry, she recalls there was a distinct standard for models. From having straight, immaculate black hair, fair skin, a 24-inch waistline, to an extremely thin physique, beautiful women had to fit within these ideals.
Fortunately, Elizalde says a lot has changed. “They’re embracing different body types,” she explains.
But beyond this acceptance, she perceives beauty from a self-care perspective. Wellness has become a manifestation of beauty—eating healthy translates to feeling good—something the former model and founder of The Wholesome Table strongly advocates.
Committed to wellness
Elizalde’s journey to healthy eating began upon reading a book on nutrition. “They never taught nutrition in class,” she says. “You learn about the different food groups, but you never really learn about what that does to you. They never teach you how food is your fuel, how it’s your medicine.”
“I started sort of connecting the dots between the food you eat and how you feel. Obviously, that dictates how well you’re going to be,” she continues.
It was the late 1970s and though she made the decision in her younger years to eat healthily, there weren’t many organic options in the market. It was only years later that more businesses started offering healthier alternatives for conventional food.
As she has a severe gluten intolerance, she finds substitutes on her “cheat days.” She allows herself to indulge in something sweet now and then like gluten-free desserts.
Elizalde says she never wants to go back to eating conventional. But, she is not strict that she checks the components of dishes when dining out and counts calories to the point of developing Orthorexia, an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating.
“I try to eat very healthy and try to eat organic or as much as I can. I try to stay away from processed food… I know what works for me, what doesn’t work for me, and how not to overindulge.”
“There are ways to eat healthier where it doesn’t have to be more expensive,” Elizalde says. A common perception in eating organic is it’s inaccessible to many given its high cost. However, she clarifies the price only increases with how it was grown. “If you’re spraying pesticides and fertilizer, you get a bigger yield. [That’s why] it’s a little harder to grow organic because you’re eliminating those inputs.”
In growing wheat, for instance, she explains that conventional farms would genetically modify them or spray glyphosates. This systemic herbicide kills weeds that compete with crops but these cause eye and skin irritation to humans. When swallowed, the allergic reactions worsen.
To counter this conventional process, the farmers would need to meticulously attend to each produce, yielding healthier crops. Naturally, the costs would add up. “It’s better for you, it’s healthier for the person eating it and it’s healthier for [the farmers] because they’re not exposed to all these chemicals,” Elizalde counters.
A similar situation applies to livestock. “If you’re eating better quality food, let’s say, conventional beef versus organic or grass-fed beef, there’s so much more you gain from [the former]… you’re not going to need to eat as much when you’re taking out all the processed foods in there.”
One way to reverse this is by advocating for regenerative agriculture, a system that rehabilitates and improves the ecosystem, ultimately helping fight the climate crisis.
“It is more expensive up front,” she agrees. “But you will also pay down the road with an unhealthy diet—with hospital bills and illnesses.” She can’t reiterate enough how health is an investment everyone should start treating as such.
Reinventing a healthy diet
While organically grown produce is healthy, some continue to carry the impression that these dishes are tasteless. But “you get your favorite dish and it can be made organic,” Elizalde insists.
As she describes, some dishes have additives, artificial coloring, and flavor enhancers. “The problem is that a lot of people are accustomed to that flavor,” she explains. “When all of a sudden, [the food] is stripped off of all of those additives—added flavorings and MSG [monosodium glutamate] especially, suddenly, food tastes bland.”
In The Wholesome Table, which she founded with her husband Juan in 2014, they choose natural ingredients and produce from organic sources. From meat of grass-fed cows, excluding artificial flavors and preservatives, to making sauces and condiments from scratch, the restaurant is returning to the basics of fresh and clean food.
Currently, they relaunched a breakfast menu. “We get a lot of regulars and it’s nice to give them something new. I want them to see that we’re still trying to produce things,” Elizalde says. They may struggle to navigate the impact of the pandemic, but they are striving to reinvent. “We don’t want to get stale… if I see something new, I want to put it on the menu.”
Beauty in health
Living in a pandemic highlighted the weight of keeping healthy. For Elizalde, she knows this is a crucial time when people should start changing lifestyles. “We’re closing down the world to save lives. But you’re not doing anything to really try and protect yourself.”
Certain comorbidities make one more susceptible, she says, mentioning diabetes, obesity, hypertension, and heart diseases as examples.
To lessen the possibility of contracting diseases, she strongly suggests eliminating unhealthy food. “If your body is inflamed, your immune system sort of struggles to keep it healthy. If you get hit with a virus, it becomes all the more difficult for your immune system to fight [it] if you are already inflamed—and certain foods cause that inflammation,” she explains.
Ultimately, taking care of one’s body makes a significant difference in how one looks and carries themselves. As Elizalde describes, what makes a person beautiful is their character, and this includes confidence.
While certain food can make one happy and impact their mood, what matters is keeping healthy. By working out, getting enough sunlight, eating well, she says, “wellness has definitely a lot to do with how you feel about yourself and how you project to other people. Your confidence, your mental health are also affected by the food you eat.”
A positive lifestyle change then directs one to feel better about themselves.
This story originally came out in the July 2021 issue of Lifestyle Asia.