This yoga teacher and former finance specialist is an ardent cook whose journey into whole-foods eating started with making baby food. We got into her head to ask about her 'food rules' for her family, and why she loves plant foods.
In a previous life, Cora Lee worked in an investment bank. Specifically, she was "a number-crunching equity sales specialist", she tells us. Her fast-paced life then was made up of 7am days and 3am late nights. Her diet then: Take-outs, drinks, bar food and when travelling, airplane meals and hotel breakfast buffets.
"I certainly was not taking care of myself," says Cora.
Her life changed in 2011, after the birth of her first child. She began practicing yoga, and fell deeply in love with the practice. In 2015, she completed a teacher training course and has taught for Pure Yoga in Hong Kong and Singapore since. She also quit her job in finance in 2009 after having her second child. Then, she wanted to devote more time and energy to her growing family.
"Because I was primarily a full-time mom, I also started cooking," she reveals. "I guess my cooking journey started with... making baby food!"
She is now an ardent cook and an advocate of 'inclusive eating'. We dove into what her diet looks like today, and how she cooks and eats with her family.
What was your diet like in your former life as a finance specialist?
Diet? There was no diet! I ate lunches at my desk while working, and had "liquid" (yes, alcoholic) dinners or rich, heavy feasts with clients. There was no balance. In my 20s, it was alright but it was not sustainable for the long term.
I did try various diets for 'health'. I remember days of salads with no dressing. The cabbage diet, supplement shakes, protein bars - this was 'health food', especially since I wasn’t cooking back then.
How does yoga impact how you eat?
You start to eat more consciously. When I first began practicing, I also started noticing that my body reacts well to a plant-rich diet. I was developing a dairy sensitivity - along with a sensitivity towards gluten. A plant-based diet made my digestion better. There was less inflammation in my body. My skin became clearer. Overall, I felt 'cleaner' and more energized.
As a yoga teacher and practitioner, I find I am actually more flexible when I am on a plant-based diet. I also have a tendency to 'overwork' my body at times and I do find that a plant-rich diet helps me to recover faster. I am less achy, and there are fewer joint and muscle aches. =)
What's on your plate today?
Today, I am 90% plant-based. I have been vegetarian and vegan in the past, but have re-introduced some meat and fish into my diet, and eat those once or twice a week. While I could happily be 100% plant-based if I was on my own, my family is not plant-based and I enjoy having family meals where everyone can eat everything on the table.
I believe we are natural omnivores so I think it's fine to eat meat. But I care about the quality of the meat we eat and how animals are treated and raised. I also think we should not be overly reliant on meat as fruit, vegetables and grains are very nutrient-rich and wholesome.
Pictured: Frittata with Salsa
Do you cook the meat dishes for your family?
Both my husband and I enjoy cooking. We do family-style meals and have a lot of fun. Last night, we had 'sushi night'. We grilled some salmon, and had a big plate of vegetables - lettuce, cucumbers, avocado - on the table, along with rice, seaweed and eggs. We and the kids all made our own sushi rolls. We also do a taco night where everyone gets to 'make their own'.
And while I am mostly vegetarian, I do not wish to impose restrictions on my children. They are 12 and 9 years old, and I want them have an inclusive attitude when it comes to their food choices. They can make their own choices when it comes to diet when they are older.
My rules are simple: Just eat real food. Stop when you're full.
My husband and son asks me questions about nutrition and I am happy to answer and help them along. My son recently tried going plant-based for three days and then gave up. Ha!
Pictured: Pan-fried tofu salad with Kick-Ass Carrot Kimchi Hummus
Do you still eat junk food?
If you have cravings for 'bad' foods (as I do!), do not feel bad. Remind yourself that food is more than just nutrition. Indulge a little (sensibly)! I use my kids as a benchmark sometimes. I want them to remember me as a 'fun mom' who occasionally has a piece of cake with them. That's better than being remembered as 'the no-fun mom with the six-pack'.
I like to make “healthy” junk food. Burgers, air-fried fish and chips. When my family has home-made beef burgers, I have a Loaded Gun Kitchen Midnight Gospel patty. Everyone is happy.
Pictured: Midnight Gospel burger
How would you encourage others to eat well?
Well, first I'd say that food is a beautiful thing. It is about connection with others. It is also about cooking - the best way to incorporate eating for health. I am having so much fun with my air fryer - my kids love air-fried potato chips, and I recently made pumpkin chips.
I would encourage others to eat slowly, without distractions. Often, we can just shovel our food down without thought, or eat while watching TV or browsing on the phone. There is no joy in that. There is no way of knowing how the food tastes, or how it makes you feel.
Set time aside for meals. Sit down at a table. Eat slowly, savour every bite, and observe how you feel, as well as how what you're eating tastes.
If you could sum up how you eat and your current diet, what would it be?
Michael Pollan’s line: “Eat real food. Mostly plants. Not too much”.
Follow Cora on Instagram here.