Build Your Wellness Tool Kit with Chef Sky Hanka '15

For Chef Sky Hanka '15, wellness informs everything she does. She wears many hats in her life — nutrition chef at Trifecta, the largest organic meal prep company in the US; functional medicine-certified health coach providing support for people who want to incorporate more wellness into their lives; integrative chef and herbalist. She also makes it her priority to explore the great outdoors as much as possible; as she explains it, “Spending as much time as I can out in nature helps me stay grounded and happy.”

Work-life balance is crucial for her — and she recently sat down with fellow alum Marquis Cooper '14 to discuss the ways we can all tap in to some primal (and simple!) ways to improve our own wellness routines and live a more well-balanced life.

Chef Sky Hanka '15 cooking at an outdoor market event.1. Define Wellness for Yourself

Marquis Cooper: How do you define wellness for yourself and how should people go about defining those types of terms for themselves?

Sky Hanka: A big word that I love is balance, because for me all about balance — and it’s also about understanding myself, too, as well really learning to trust myself in the process.

So, healthcare in the past described wellness as the absence of disease. And that was really more in the physical sense, like if you are walking around and doing your day job and you’re living your day to day, then you’re probably well.

“Prioritize self-care for you and figure out what that looks like.”

But when you dig deeper, wellness is, in my opinion, this multi-dimensional continuum. And that’s kind of a big way to say that balance and wellness is about your personal journey and how you’re experiencing it.

And all that good stuff and like wellness includes different dimensions: There’s mind, body and spirit. There’s occupational wellness, nutritional wellness, emotional wellness.

Wellness really helps us understand that everything we do is connected and how we feel is connected to our mental, our physical [selves] and our environment. I think wellness is about you cultivating your version of balance and optimal living for whatever lifestyle you want to live.

2. Set Your Personal Goals

Cooper: If you were to teach a beginner like myself to start their personal nutrition or wellness journey, what are the first steps?

Hanka: If you’re starting off as a beginner, think about where you want to see yourself in maybe a year. Really think about what you want to feel like. What are your goals? Are you needing more energy? Are you looking to control your blood sugar? Are you just looking to like increase the amount of fruits and veggies? Once you start to get more microscopic and set those goals, that’s where resources like you mentioned [become helpful]. There are a ton of mindful eating books out there … Susan Albers has a great book called “How to Eat More Mindfully.” It will actually take you through different steps, and it helps you rethink it in a different way and get more into your body and into the experience of just like being in this present moment.

3. Cultivate Self-Care Rituals

Cooper: I live vicariously through you because it always seems like you’re out on a hike or a walk. Sticking with the physical theme, how has [the pandemic] been in terms of maintaining your own mental well-being?

Hanka: When we talk about wellness, we have to understand that everything we do is connected — every choice we make — will affect our health and wellness. When I think of wellness, I think a lot about self-care and how I’m cultivating more self-care rituals in my life that promote my wellness.

Eating a nutritious meal that’s full of lots of fresh vegetables and from the farmer’s market is a form of self-care and wellness. Going hiking is a form of self-care and wellness for me because spending time in nature just makes me happy — it makes me feel more grounded. So again, [we’re] talking about those multi-dimensional layers of wellness.

Circling back to when you were asking, “How do you start this journey?” Self-awareness actually is one of the better places to start, because if you’re not you know self-aware then how can you really correct these habits that you don’t want? Or how can you how can you understand what foods work for your body?

“We’re talking about multi-dimensional layers of wellness.”

Hiking in Tahoe National Forest with Ladybird.Because that’s also another big thing that you know I love in my coaching practices: Yes, I’m the expert, but at the same time, you know your body the best. I can sit here and tell you what vitamins and minerals are in certain foods and but at the end of the day, figuring out what feels good for you and having that self-awareness is going to help you build those rituals and help you create that version of wellness that like rings true to you and no one else.

4. Recalibrate Your Nutritional Wellness

Cooper: Talk to us from your perspective: How do you get a healthy relationship with food?

Hanka: Drop the concept of dieting and really focus on … looking at how food impacts every avenue of your life. In the past, we’ve talked about food just being fuel and that’s a really big concept but food is also information.

So in thinking about how to build your own nutritional wellness for yourself, you should really think about what does wellness look like to you? It’s not an all or nothing mindset — no one food is going to make or break your diet. … Getting into a mindset of “How do I feel?” and bringing in more mindful and intuitive eating are two things that I really love talking about in my coaching practice.

5. Build Your Own Wellness Tool Kit

Cooper: What are some pieces of advice that you can give to [our new grads and current students] as a way to kind of get off on the right track as they start you know the next phase of their life?

Hanka: Prioritize self-care for you and figure out what that looks like.

If it’s taking time for yourself, like putting on face masks, getting your hair done or going outside — really find those little nuggets and have, like, three versions of self-care that you can keep in your tool kit. I call it a little wellness tool kit that you can go to when you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out. Especially being a new graduate you know emerging into the world of different jobs and professions and … it’s probably going to be stressful. You might be working a lot of hours, so prioritize taking care of yourself.

[Same for] the nutrition aspect. Make sure that you’re sitting down and just having a game plan each week: Where am I getting my meals from this week? Do I need to go to the grocery store? In the culinary world we call it mise en place.

Make your mental mise en place for your meal prep, your mental needs and different self-care things so you know just prepare yourself. Because it’s a journey and you’re going to have your ups and downs. But the more self-awareness you can cultivate the more kind of those little self-care things you can put in your tool kits, the better off you’ll be to [kind of] ride the waves.

Watch the Video: Physical & Nutritional Wellness with Sky Hanka '15

The above conversation has been edited and condensed. Watch the complete video with Marquis Cooper and Sky Hanka below:

Follow Chef Hanka on Instagram for more creative cooking ideas, functional wellness advice, and ways to get back to nature.

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