Wagamama and Mind introduce mindful eating to Winchester

Wagamama Winchester was the venue for a joint venture between the asian food chain and mental health charity Mind to promote healthy living through food and mindfulness. Winchester Bloggers was lucky enough to receive the invite. James West reports.

 Wagamama Winchester

Wagamama Winchester

Mindfulness, healthy eating and raising the profile of mental health issues. Three important topical issues which are often talked about and referenced by the Winchester Bloggers family. We were therefore delighted when Mia from Wagamama emailed us about this joint venture with Mind, asking us to invite local bloggers and businesses to learn more. The problem wasn’t finding appropriate people. The problem was narrowing down a very long list!

Invites duly dished out, we assembled on the 30th January not sure what to expect. We were warmly welcomed by Carla, the general manager of Wagamama Winchester. It’s a beautiful building, well laid out and with a unique style. For those of you who haven’t visited or believe that ‘chain’ restaurants deliver a tediously homogenous restaurant experience, I urge you to give the Wagamama Winchester a try.

 Wagamama's delicious 'Positive' juice. 25p from every sale goes to the MIND charity.

Wagamama's delicious 'Positive' juice. 25p from every sale goes to the MIND charity.

As we began talking, we were offered the new Wagamama juice to try. Called Positive, this appealingly vivid green blend of pineapple, lime, spinach, apple, and cucumber is a show stopper.  It’s fresh, zingy and packed with goodness and immediately became our preferred drink for the evening. And if you needed an incentive to try Positive, Wagamama is donating 25p to Mind for every glass sold.

We were introduced to Victoria from Solent Mind, who explained the size and scale of the Mind organisation and the localised work carried out by her and her team. While there’s still some way to go, attitudes to mental health issues have improved immeasurably in recent years. Taboos are being shattered and real progress is being made to change attitudes towards depression and anxiety and how these afflictions are treated, and it’s thanks to organisations like Mind that this dramatic shift is taking place.

 Wagamama Winchester manager Carla giving out some delicious dessert samples.

Wagamama Winchester manager Carla giving out some delicious dessert samples.

Enforcing some of these messages was Sue from Mind, who explained to the group her challenges with depression and the importance of mindfulness, exercise and healthy living in her recovery.  She introduced mindfulness, stating that while not a panacea for all mental health ills, is certainly one of the most effective routes to recovery.  

For the uninitiated, mindfulness is best described as being in the moment. It is often confused with meditation, which is simply a technique to train the mind the be in the moment.  Sue described it neatly: "(It’s) paying attention in an intentional way".  She says that bringing in the present is important because it counters the problem of feeling like you’re juggling so many things, "that you’re not doing any one thing correctly".

“It’s about being kind to ourselves. For me, mindfulness has helped me realise that although I acknowledge the inner ‘voice’ that sometimes urges me to be negative, I don’t have to buy into it. There are many activities that can be approached in a mindful way; walking, running and eating can all be mindful activities. Real physical changes happen in the body when we’re mindful and these have be scientifically recorded. Mindfulness reduces blood pressure and makes us calmer, more hopeful and feel less stressed.”

 Great to have a tour of how the Wagamama kitchen works.

Great to have a tour of how the Wagamama kitchen works.

Mindfulness is becoming so popular, driven by organisations such as Headspace because it addresses a major problem in society. The pressure of modern living, and the myriad distractions in our lives, are alienating us from the reality of what’s happening moment-to-moment. Technology, particular smartphones, and social media, are especially problematic and this is why we should all be mindful of being, well…mindful.

Following Sue, we heard from Karl Thompson, Wagamama’s development chef. Karl is understandably passionate about food, but he is equally enthused about the need to change our attitudes to eating. He says that the modern obsession with speed means that our food experience suffers. Rather than enjoying our food, noticing what’s on the plate, and the tastes and textures, we’re rushing through to the end.

 Delicious Wagamama Raisukaree Curry

Delicious Wagamama Raisukaree Curry

“This is why we work hard to make the food look so appealing because we want you to pay attention.  It’s feeding your eyes before you even taste it.  When developing our dishes, we also think about involving the diners in the experience. That’s why many of our dishes allow customers to add their own sauces and garnishes - it’s important to involve the customer so they can tailor the food to their liking.”

The logic of mindful eating is clear. If we take the time to enjoy our food, participate in the moment, and enjoy the elements which make up a healthy dish, we start to change our approach to food. And by making this small change when eating, we also hopefully begin to change out outlook in other areas of life. The message from Sue and Karl was clear - practice mindfulness in a variety of situations and you’ll start to build positive habits.

 Mia and Karl from Wagamama, plus Sue from Mind, did a great job explaining the connection between mindful eating and a healthy mind

Mia and Karl from Wagamama, plus Sue from Mind, did a great job explaining the connection between mindful eating and a healthy mind

Time to eat
Have had our knowledge of mindfulness fed, it was time to eat! Karl and his team began by allowing us to sample a range of the beautiful starters on offer, including the stunning calamari, edamame beans, lollipop prawn kushiyaki, gyoza (dumplings) and duck wraps. All delicious, fresh dishes that fire up conversations with guests as effectively as they fire the appetite.

We were then invited by Karl to try anything on the menu but advised to try something we hadn’t had before as you pay more attention when eating something you hadn’t eaten before.  We were even offered headphones to wear while eating our main course so we could listen to a dialogue about the way to approach mindful eating. It may seem obvious to think about food as you eat it, but it’s harder than you think, making the audio a good teaching tool. 

Suffice to say, a great time was had by all. The food is prepared fresh with skill and care, and every mouthful delicious. We spoke about the food (my short rib ramen is particularly recommended).  We spoke about mindfulness and how much we enjoyed thinking about food and the dining experience in a very different way.  

I can only speak for myself, but I certainly left the evening determined to spend more time in the moment, whether I’m eating or engaged in any activity.  With the increased pace of life and the prolificacy of technology showing no signs of abating, I think that a mindful outlook and healthy approach to life and food are the best defence we have - to protect not only our mental wellbeing but to also help the people around us.

Thank you to Mia, Karl, Carla and the whole Wagamama Winchester team, as well as Sue and Victoria from Mind, for hosting such a memorable evening and looking after us.

 The Winchester Bloggers who attended the Wagamama and MIND event.

The Winchester Bloggers who attended the Wagamama and MIND event.

Photographs by Kierney Photography.