When Lois Leonhardi was in her mid-30s, she met a yoga teacher who challenged his students to give up all drugs for two weeks. But he wasn’t referring to needles or pills – he meant sugar, alcohol, and animal protein. This seemingly small experiment was the catalyst for what would become one of Lois’ key philosophies: food is medicine, and what you put in your body dictates how you feel. And this constantly evolves. Lois is not a classically trained chef, and she has no formal restaurant experience…unless you count some youthful stints in catering and at Dairy Queen in high school. Regardless of her nontraditional culinary path, food became the obvious thread that tied together her experiences, reflections, and career. She is now an author, yoga scholar, ayurvedic coach, and private chef.
Lois’ beginnings make up a familiar story. Her passion for food was originally fueled by her grandmother, and she earned the reputation within her family as the one who perpetuated the recipes. She went to college and got a business degree because she “didn’t know what else to get.” Cooking was a passion project, but not a career, so she pursued finance and eventually started her own investment company. When the company saw enough success to allow Lois to work part time, she began to explore her other passions: yoga, meditation, and ayurveda. And she was still cooking out of pure enjoyment, sometimes for three hours a day.
Here’s where the story takes an unfamiliar turn.
With a commitment to learning more about Eastern practices, Lois embarked on a multi-year educational sabbatical. She says her “travel plans were motivated by food recommendations and avoiding the rainy seasons.” Lois spent time at a Belgian Krisha temple, a homestay in Kutch (India), and a retreat center in Vipassana. She enrolled in ayurvedic training and longed to cooked her own food. Eating solely vegetarian was making her anemic and underweight, plus traditional Indian cuisine was proving too spicy because “even babies eat chiles in India!” So she purchased a rice cooker, immersion blender, knife, and electric tea kettle to make dishes like cardamom rice and pumpkin soup for herself and her classmates.
After receiving her ayurveda certificate, Lois continued her global exploration. She recuperated from harsh Indian life in Thailand, danced salsa in New Zealand, and spent three months at an Australian monastery on the recommendation of a “Dalai Lama groupie” she had met in Dharamshala, India. After an 18-month adventure, she returned to the US and wrote The Essential Ayurvedic Cookbook, which was published in 2015.
So why ayurveda? According to the teachings of this Indian holistic practice, humans each have a unique constitution comprised of energies called doshas. By understanding which energies dominate your constitution, you can adapt your diet and lifestyle to achieve balance, since foods also contain energetic qualities. For example, fiery individuals should eat foods that are more cooling. Coupled with yoga to enhance the physical body, ayurveda is said to be a proverbial fountain of youth.
Lois’ specific practice encompasses holistic wellness. Personalized eating, yoga, and meditation plans help mitigate the effects of illness, insomnia, stress, or digestive problems. She also serves as a private chef for those who want help cooking their meals. With her new pop-up dinners, she’s able to disseminate her extensive ayurvedic knowledge to the general public. She plans to host seasonally, highlighting organic produce and other ingredients from California’s abundant natural pantry.
Can’t make the event? Try out some of Lois’ food combination tips to strengthen your digestion:
- Eat fresh fruits by themselves. When combined with other foods, they often get stuck with other elements, slowly fermenting and causing gas.
- Since cheese is cold and heavy, it’s best eaten with spicy or warm foods, like cayenne and honey. Or, put it on a salad!
Check out more of Lois’ dietary tips here.