Our HQ Muses are people in the Holistic HQ community who are brave, creative, big-hearted and inspiring. They are ambassadors for what we strive to achieve – a thriving and joyful wellness community, supporting you on the path to good health, a sustainable lifestyle and spirited, happy wellbeing.
We are so excited to introduce you to Hannah Buttigieg, our guest Nutritionist who will be joining our team at next month’s HQ Getaway (18th – 20th August 2017) at Amarant Retreat in the beautiful Yarra Valley.
Hannah has always had an avid passion for health and fitness, so it became a natural career progression for her to establish a business based on whole foods and promoting healthy lifestyle choices. Drawing on her skills of years working in the field of addictions, Hannah understands how difficult it can be to change habits and therefore brings a wealth of knowledge to her work as a behaviour change nutritionist, exploring ways to change old habits and form new, healthier habits.
It is Hannah’s aim as the owner of Food Intelligence to educate people about the benefits of eating the right foods and demonstrate that food can not only give you the body you want but make you feel amazing.
You have a very unique approach to your work as a nutritionist, shaped by your long career in the field of addictions. How have your past experiences working as a drug and alcohol counsellor influenced your approach as a behaviour change nutritionist?
Working with people who experience alcohol and other drug (AOD) addictions, especially in the forensic sector, are hands down one of the most challenging client demographics there is. In our society, we are taught that a person is either well or unwell, an addict or recovered. However, through my work in this sector, I was on a continual learning curve that showed me that this is not the case at all, not even a little bit – addiction is incredibly complex and all shades of grey. It may have been out of self-preservation, or it may have been because I am ever the optimist and try to seek the best out of people, but I learned very early on in my career to celebrate the small wins.
What is important to me is most likely totally irrelevant to my client, because their circumstances and situation is totally different from mine. The most important thing I have taken from my work in AOD is to never be judgemental. Through this work, you are witness and privy to some very raw, often brutal and truly horrific things, and being able to detach yourself from the situation while still being empathetic is a skill that took me a very, very long time to master.
Based on these experiences, I’ve built Food Intelligence on the following foundations – genuinely celebrating the small wins, because these accrue to the overall big win, and approaching each client from a place of empathy and non-judgement – it’s never our job to judge.
What prompted you to start Food Intelligence as your own business? Was there an obvious gap for what you do that you could see in the market?
Food Intelligence came about when I was at a peak stress levels in a previous AOD job. I wasn’t looking after myself well, I was totally burnt out and not coping too well mentally. I enrolled in a Post Graduate Certificate in Human Nutrition as a way to learn to look after myself better. During my studies, friends and family kept saying to me that I should start my own business because my unique skill-set from AOD married together with my interest and studies in nutrition perfectly. From there, Food Intelligence came to life!
Well I should say, the idea of it anyway. I was still working full time in the AOD sector and knew nothing about business so it took about 18 months of research and development before I launched the business in March 2016. And yes, I did notice a gap in the market regarding what I do. I found there was a plethora of options for people who needed acute treatment for eating disorders, however for the general population there was very little out there. That’s where I step in as your one-stop shop for achieving your health and wellness goals.
You’ve travelled a lot, both locally and internationally! What have been your favourite places to visit, and what special food moments or rituals have stayed with you from your travels?
Travel is a part of me. I feel anxious and edgy if I don’t have at least several plane tickets booked, or know I can take off at the drop of a hat. Which is probably why doing the Monday to Friday 9-5 thing never worked well for me! In Australia, my favourite place that I’ve spent time (other than the Surf Coast) is the Kimberley in Western Australia.
I was fortunate enough to have worked in a rehabilitation clinic funded by an Aboriginal Corporation. During my time there I was taken to remote places that had pristine beaches, deserts and amazing oases without any people in sight, except maybe the traditional land owners.
Reflecting back on it, the food I ate during these trips was pretty incredible and totally illegal to eat if it wasn’t from an Indigenous person! We often feasted on sea turtle, dugong and stingray. On weekends I’d go mud crabbing and fishing with friends. It was like living in paradise and I very much miss that lifestyle.
With my travels overseas, I don’t think I could say one place has been my favourite. Every place I have been holds a special place in my heart and I’d love to go back to each one of them, except there are too many other places to explore!! My one food moment that stands out in my overseas adventures would be when I was 21 or 22 I was backpacking through Egypt. The girl I was travelling with and I were walking through a tiny town, I can’t even remember its name, when we were walking past a Mosque.
There was a group of women, all dressed in burkas, sitting down on the grass in the shade having a picnic. My eyes met with theirs and I smiled. They called us over and invited us to join their picnic. We could not speak a word of each other’s language, but we managed to ‘talk’ non stop throughout lunch. We feasted on tabbouleh, pita bread, hummus and falafels.
When I think of food and what it means to me this story is exactly that. Food is what brings people together, it breaks down barriers, it gives us common ground, it allows for mutual respect and a snap shot, however small, into other incredibly beautiful cultures.
You grew up on the Surf Coast and Geelong. What does the area represent to you, and how has the coastal life influenced you as a person?
Its home! Its where I come to rest, to be with family, to be with friends who have known me for most of my life. Its where I recharge my batteries after travels. Its where I flop on my mum’s couch when I’m sick. It’s a little piece of paradise that makes up my entire world. Without daily walks on the beach, surfing and diving at every opportunity, road trips down the coast in search of waves or crayfish, I really have no idea who I’d be!
I guess it has also been a big influence on me being an environmentally conscious person, seeing the damage done to our oceans horrifies me and the fact that I can’t stand pollution makes me live my life in a certain way. For example, I make sure I’m energy conscious at home, I take my own bags to the supermarket, I try not to buy packaged food to minimise my waste, because I see the direct result of those choices every time I am in or near the ocean.
Who are your biggest influences when it comes to cooking in the kitchen? What are your favourite go-to recipes?
One of my biggest influences is Teresa Cutter, The Healthy Chef, to me she was well ahead of the whole health food movement and seeing her career grow has been hugely inspiring. I also love how she has stayed up to date with new nutrition research and includes that in her work. I have one of her cookbooks from over 10 years ago and all recipes call on artificial sweetner which makes me chuckle as these days she’s evolved to only use wholefoods. I just find it so inspiring watching someone grow like that as a person, a chef and an influencer.
How has your approach towards self-care changed over the years? What are your favourite rituals for self-care now?
It has changed dramatically that’s for sure. In my late teens and early 20’s, self care consisted of partying hard two or three nights a week, working out as much as possible and calorie counting. I was a bit of a wild-child back in my heyday, but these days nothing pleases me more than a night in with a cup of tea and either a good book or a Netflix binge. I also prioritise sleep, if I don’t get enough I am not a nice person to be around, I’m grumpy and overeat which then makes me even more grumpy! Daily movement is also mandatory for my self care, whether it’s yoga, pilates or walking, I make sure I move daily.
What does your ideal day look like?
My ideal day is having a little sleep in and then heading to my favourite hot yoga studio for a 9:30am class, followed by brunch with the girls. Then depending on the mood of the ocean, I’d go for a dive, surf or fish. The best way to finish up the day would be with friends having a big cook-up for dinner. Even thinking about it makes me smile.
As our guest nutritionist, what are you most looking forward to on your first HQ Getaway this August?
I’m so pumped for this retreat! From experience the main thing I’m looking forward to is getting to know the guests. The women who attend these types of retreats I find so inspiring. I think it takes so much courage to say to the world, “I’m dedicating a weekend to myself, and I’m going to disconnect from the world, and reconnect with myself”.
The exchange of energy and wisdom is something I am also really looking forward to as well. Exploring the Yarra Valley will be fun. It’s not somewhere I’ve spent a lot of time and I mean, how could it not be an incredible weekend when the backdrop is so gorgeous…?!
You are currently creating a really exciting addition to the Food Intelligence portfolio – a blog featuring all of your favourite nutrition and lifestyle tips. What kind of things can people expect, and (equally important!) – when will this be launched, and how can people sign up?
This is equally exciting as it is terrifying! It’s something I’ve been working on for a few years now and have never been brave enough to put it out there. I’m also in the process of launching a monthly Food Intelligence newsletter which will have recipes, blogs and other goodies.
At the moment I’m having some website work done so it’s best just to email me at email@example.com and I’ll sign you up to the newsletter where you can easily access the blog. Once my website is all sorted there will be a sign-up page.
What advice would you give your younger self in pursuing your dreams?
Don’t be so hard on yourself and take more breaks! I’m my own worst critic, which has certainly helped me at times to push myself, but has also seriously stressed me out unnecessarily at others. I’m also known to work to the point of burnout and only then will I take a break. This is something I’m working on and is most definitely still a work in progress!