Embarking on a new and exciting life journey, UAE-based life coach is Leila Al Meena is aligning her work experience with cooking. On a TV show called Ghathi Moodik (Feed Your Mood) airing during Ramadan on Fatafeat, Al Meena is creating bridges between food and well-being. Not an easy task to achieve, considering the fact that the media world is becoming so competitive. Yet, the uniqueness of the show lies in a philosophical approach to life as well as simplified dishes that you can enjoy with friends and family.
“Balance is so difficult sometimes, especially in today’s world. We as women have so much pressure on us. So, what I want to do is kind of say, ‘Wait a minute, guys, there are easier ways to tackle life’s pressures. Bring in as many healthy aspects as we can into our lives and that’s through food’,” she says.
Being half-Saudi and half-American, the certified professional life coach took an early interest in the cooking process and soon after realised it is something that not only makes people feel good, but also changes the way people see life. With about 15 years of exposure to the media world, the new presenter feels confident enough to give advice and guide her audience.
Al Meena recently revealed to tabloid! some of her most precious thoughts about food, culture, people and life.
Who comes up with the recipes for the show? Do you have someone who helps you with that?
All the recipes you see here, they are all recipes that I have come up with and some, of course, are inspired from recipes I’ve seen. But all the steps I’ve taken, they are all my steps. And the reason why I’ve structured it this way was because I wanted to show how simple it can be to cook happy meals on the go.
How do you take care of yourself, do you cook at home or do you have a personal chef?
Here is the thing: I’ve always been self-conscious to a certain degree. I don’t want to surpass a great dessert or a chocolate cake, or M & Ms at the movies. I’m not super strict. But I’ve always been self-conscious. I know I need nutrition. What I am is what I eat. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it is. I’m not a nutritionist but I am someone who is very much aware of food; what foods work for me and what kind of food will help me to stay focused, or energised or happy.
How do you motivate yourself to stay healthy? Is it something that you’ve learnt with time?
Very interesting. If I had to say it in one sentence I would say I simply don’t like the way I feel when I’m not healthy. I like to feel good. As you can see I’m a hyper person, I’m really energised, I really love life. I love everything about everything. I’m an explorer, and when I feel good, I feel happy.
How does your most important meal of the day, breakfast, looks like? What do you usually have?
My typical breakfast is yoghurt, muesli, blueberries, all of that topped up with honey. I love honey and it has to be organic. If people can, I advise them to look for only pure organic honey.
Did you ever take any cooking classes?
Yes, I have. I took cooking classes throughout my life, because I enjoy it and again because cooking classes are great for people. When you are learning new skills, you are engaging your mind and when you are engaging your mind you are living the moment, and when you are living the moment you are actually happy. Definitely, cooking classes are super fun.
Do you think it is mandatory for a woman to know how to cook?
The whole point that I am trying to make here is to enjoy the process. You don’t need to be a chef or somebody who knows how to cook to make the recipes we are showing on the show. You just need to kind of be a little bit focused and enjoy it. So what if it comes down a little more bitter or salty, or less sweet. It is OK. The whole point is that you tried it, you did it. Next time it will come out better.
How do you cope with your schedule during Ramadan?
The great thing about Ramadan is, because I grew up with fasting, it is embedded in our system. Once we get in the month of Ramadan, the first couple of days are a little bit harder to adjust, simply because of how the life is at the hour shift. I like to still maintain my schedule but at the same time I like to enjoy what Ramadan is about. I want to be able to go for iftar and suhoor late at night with people and socialise. I highly recommend expats to socialise this month, because locals are so happy to have you learn about their religion and culture. They get excited and they welcome it. Use this month to dig deeper. Understand the place you are living in and the people.
Do you exercise during Ramadan?
In fact, I make Ramadan my “exercise month”. In those other months I will get a little lazy. During Ramadan, I make it a point to exercise five times a week. The reason is because Ramadan is about discipline, is about really covering all aspects of self-awareness. Be conscious of yourself. Be conscious of others. Be happy and thankful for the blessings of your health. It is a great time to reboot, reconnect and reset.
What is your favourite dish for iftar?
I personally like to eat dishes that don’t look like what I’m used to. So I would probably go for something that looks not so familiar at first. But, I really like Ramadan soup. I just love it. It’s made of oats and chicken/ meat. The reason being because it’s nostalgic for me. For dessert, sambusa is my guilty pleasure (laughs).
Food is obviously so important for you. So, how do you choose a restaurant in Dubai?
Initially, it is the ambience. Then the cuisine, of course. It depends again on what I feel like on that day. I don’t necessarily go for the reviews, because I like to give each restaurant the benefit of doubt. Because so many times I read reviews which are horrible and then you find out that it might have a different theme than what you are used to. And most of all, the energy of the place: are the servers happy? Is the chef happy? Are the people enjoying themselves? That is really important for me. I’m very sensitive to that. And if I find that the people working there are not happy, I can’t enjoy my meal no matter how yummy it is.
What is your beauty secret?
Ok, a lot of people ask me this. I’m forty, going on forty-one and I’m so proud of it. It’s an achievement. My beauty secret number one is being happy. And trust me, I do not look like this when I’m not happy. (Giggling). I get dark lines under my eyes, I get a pimple. A big part of looking good is by being healthy physically, mentally and socially, with the food, the exercise and the people around me. I love to sit among nature, so whenever I have a stressful situation, or if I had a bad day, I’d go out in my garden and I’ll ground myself. Or, I’ll go to the beach, wade deep in the water and wash it all away. We all have our bad days. It is not realistic to be happy all the time. What I am saying is there are ways to limit the time that you are in the ‘dark or unhappy place’. And what I do with myself, which works, is I tell myself, ‘Leila, you have a bad day, go get yourself your favourite chocolate, watch you favourite reality show on TV, put your pyjamas on, put on a face mask and feel sorry for yourself for 24 hours.’ You have that, you get that and you deserve it. Once the 24 hours are over, that’s it, time to switch back on.
Don’t miss it
Ghathi Moodik (Feed Your Mood) airs on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout Ramadan on Fatafeat at 1.55pm, UAE.
— Corina Coda is an intern at Gulf News.