Dr. Theresa Nicassio‘s cookbook YUM Plant-Based Recipes has passed across our radar many times in the past couple of months, and it was not until this week, that an announcement YUM had won a major award, that BLUSHVancouver knew it was time to feature this incredible chef as our Zest woman of the week.
Her cookbook won 2nd place in the world in Best Diet Book Category by the Gourmand Cookbook Awards, out of 10,000 entries from 209 countries. Unbelievable deliciousness!
In her own words, Theresa lives as a philosophically-oriented psychologist, who is now also a chef, nutrition educator, and a person who lives with food restrictions due to celiac disease, allergies and other food sensitivities. She carries a unique view of the human experience and through all of the despair and loneliness (and the associated nasty habits that are developed in our efforts to cope with life’s challenges), she see’s the beauty and hope that lies beneath and beyond those dark and distracting aspects of human behaviour and chooses to find solutions to her problems and share them with the world.
BLUSHVancouver had the privilege of speaking with this busy mother and businesswoman to find out more about what drove her to reach this point in her life.
What ignited the spark in you to live a life with zest?
Gosh, as far back as I can remember, living passionately and joyfully has felt like a part of my DNA. That said, the stakes skyrocketed when I found myself fighting for my life after the birth of my daughter 19 years ago. More than anything else, I wanted to stay alive to be available for this little being who I so dearly loved to be able to teach her all that I could and show her the incredible joy that life has to offer. Ironically, my love for her (and then later also my younger daughter) ignited and transformed me in ways I never would have imagined. Largely because of them, I became courageous and freer than I’ve ever been in my life, replacing fear and uncertainty with an open heart and willingness to live and leap out of my comfort zone.
The second big spark that gave my zest a power-boost has been the overwhelming response from around the world to my book YUM. Discovering that a quirky middle-aged mum who still dresses like it’s the 1960’s (the “psychologist’s dress code” as my daughter describes it) and lives covered in cat and dog hair, has been able to inspire so many women and mums’ lives has been like rocket-fuel for my zest! I mean, seriously, never in a million years would I have imagined becoming an award-winning author, sought after as an inspirational speaker and presenter on celebrity cooking stages, let alone finding myself on internationally-syndicated radio shows or on TV, all because of my story and my desire to help others. I just happen to be a mum who discovered that gluten and a few other food culprits were virtually killing me and I don’t want others to have experience the same hell I went through. I also have a fire in my belly to do everything I can to help young people avoid such a future and to be a part of helping reverse the obesity and diabetes trends that we are seeing in the young and old alike.
I’m sure everyone is giving each other high-fives right about now, and getting a few chuckles that I’ve done all of this, even though I never really liked to cook. As a girl growing up in an Italian home, you can bet that I learned how to be a great cook and how to garden. But later, as a proud feminist (and also a bit of a rebel) who saw how cooking was deemed “women’s work,” I didn’t want to be found anywhere near the kitchen! Another funny fact is that the biggest reason I decided to write a plant-based cookbook (and not just gluten-, sugar-, dairy- and potato-free) was because of my desire to support my daughter and her passion who had become vegan when she was 12. What surprises many people is the fact that though I predominantly follow a plant-based diet and have written a vegan cookbook, I’m not vegan myself!
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
I think that the idea of “failure” is an illusion that is the natural outcome of unmet hopes and/or expectations—which are simply reflections of our “ego,” not our Truth. Because of this, I would have to describe my “failures” as those times when I have found myself unable to live fully in the present moment and accept life as it actually was.
When I became very ill after the birth of my first child, sometimes my sadness about the loss of the able-bodied person I remembered myself once to be, would make it difficult for me to accept myself and circumstances as they were. I would look in the mirror and wonder who in the world was looking back at me. It was horrible not even recognizing myself, seeing instead just an overweight, infectious being with no vitality, who I was afraid might never be “me” again. Sometimes all I could do was cry.
But then, I would remember something that kept me going-the fact that every 7 years we don’t have most of the cells in our body that we had before. I would also remind myself that even “slow progress” is still progress. That gave me something to vision about and hold in my intention. However, I still was very much not well and didn’t want to feel like a victim in the interim, even if I was able to make positive changes. As I knew full well, shifting my mindset was critical.
So, in the midst of the very challenging times, I worked hard to keep my head up and focus on the privilege of the gift of life itself, because it enabled me the joy of connection with those I most dearly loved. That gratitude mindset was a lifesaver and helped me heal my soul.
I discovered that when in gratitude, it is impossible to be a victim.
How has being driven affected your family life?
Wow…in so many ways, both positive and not-so-positive ways! My book YUM that started as simply a resource to help my family and friends turned into a global project that required huge financial and time investments to manifest – all of which have had a profound impact on my family. My availability for family time became minimal and my wonderful partner virtually became a single parent (I’m sure he’d have more than a few things to say in response to this question!). While it’s great to be able to be a role model for our children about working hard and following one’s heart, the loss of the precious shared time was an indisputable cost. Since my family is so important to me, I am happy to finally be out of the thick of the tsunami and once again be more available for them.
What motivates you?
Love…love of people, love of nature, love of animals, love of children, love of health, love of life, and especially love of my family. I feel an inexplicable spiritual calling to do what I can to be of service to others and the planet. For some reason, I’ve been given an inextinguishable lens of optimism and possibility thinking, in times that most can only see despair. As I mentioned earlier, I think that gratitude also motivates me. My ability to see the possibilities for one day creating lemonade from lemons (or maybe even just the lemon seeds!) is a gift I believe I was given to share with others as a holistic psychologist, author and speaker. The fact that I’ve regained so much of my vitality, I feel more motivated than ever to offer what I can, while I can, with full abandon.
How do you generate new ideas?
I can’t take credit for generating new ideas; instead, ideas seem to flow to and through me. Sometimes I feel like a “Muse” comes knocking at my door. It’s always on her terms though, I must say, since when I am all groggy around 3 am (one of her favourite visiting hours) is not necessarily when I would choose her to swing by. However, it is always a treat to invite her in, and I never know what special surprises she has in store for me in her goodie bag.
My greatest challenge is harnessing the fluid inspiration that my Muse brings and transforming it into understandable and usable form. I believe that the river of ideas offered by our Muses is perpetually flowing at an energetic level for all of us to access when we are ready and able to cope with the reality and implications of the potential changes the new ideas might manifest. My job is to allow myself to be a sieve, trusting in the wisdom of the distillation process that results through my particular embodiment and perspective.
We are so happy to share Theresa’s inspiring interview with our readers and if you know a woman who has ZEST and should be showcased in BLUSHVancouver, let us know!
Follow and support Dr. Theresa Nicassio and the YUM revolution by following her on Facebook!