Have you ever stopped to wonder just how much your mood is connected to the food you eat? Well we’re here to share how WIRL is boosting the world’s mood with food.
A growing body of scientific research and years of industry experience led co-founders Alicia Holmquest and Bree Pagonis to develop the mental wellbeing app, WIRL, which helps people change the way they eat and think about food to improve their mental health.
Dietitian turned co-founder of WIRL, Alicia Holmquest says they’re on a mission to boost the world’s mood with food because “a lot of people have a pretty poor relationship with food and their bodies thanks to the diet obsessed culture that we live in”. It was an issue they felt they had to address, with urgency!
“Through our own personal and professional journeys, we uncovered that people have a deeply emotional relationship with food, and would frequently say things to us as health professionals like; ‘I’m addicted to sugar’, ‘I can’t stop binging on chocolate after dinner’, ‘I hate myself after eating certain foods’ which unfortunately are all too common expressions and really devastating to hear”.
“We estimate that some folks spend up to 30% of their waking hours eating, planning, shopping, cooking, and worrying about food and it’s impacts on our bodies. This puts so much fire in our bellies to put a holt to this narrative”.
“Especially as we are witnessing at the very same time, a global movement pushing back against this patriarchal view of health and are really challenging the way the world views food and our bodies. We are sick and tired of the notion that we’re never doing enough, and we continue to punish our bodies at all costs to the detriment of our mental health.”
“So, we took those insights, and have now built the world’s first mental wellbeing app that’s fuelled by food and driven by the gut-brain axis. It focusses on both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of eating. It’s designed so that food is no longer a burden to our mental health but used as a vessel to improve our mental wellbeing”.
“We are building a new consumer category based off the rapidly growing scientific field of research of nutritional psychiatry which explores the impacts of nutrition interventions to one’s mental health”.
“Our approach to food has always jarred a little with our university training in some ways. We were privileged enough to grow up in environments where we were encouraged to listen to our bodies and what they needed around food. Food was so much more than nutrients in our households, we certainly celebrated all that food could offer us beyond nutrition. “
“So, after university we went away and did a whole lot of unlearning around nutrition, especially some things we were taught around dieting, weight loss and restrictive behaviours”
“We now know that dieting is a key indicator of poor mental health outcomes and only perpetuates the challenges that people face around food and our bodies”.
“We have since re-trained in an area called the The Non Diet Approach to nutrition which is the clinical application of the Health At Every Size (R) social justice framework. In a VERY simplistic explanation, this approach takes the focus off weight loss and calorie counting and encourages a much more intuitive style of eating.”
“This approach is scientifically shown to benefit both our physical and mental wellbeing.”
The WIRL app, focusses on both the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ eating. It helps people build customised menu plans and shopping lists using recipes based on the Mediterranean style of eating to support the overall nourishment of people’s gut microbiome. Where there is growing science linking this pattern of eating with nourishing the gut microbiome and improving feelings of happiness in some folks.
“What’s unique about our app is the long forgotten ‘how’ of eating. We teach our users how to eat through a series of mood (and other input) check-ins and curate their eating experience with fun, short, guided audio exercises to do while they eat. These can really help bring about presence and awareness to an eating experience in order for people to tune into their bodies and improve how they feel around food.”
“We sometimes like to think of it as mediation app but for when you’re eating. A curation of your eating environment which also brings culinary nutrition science to the everyday table.”
A few years ago, Alicia and Bree were initially running workshops in schools and corporate environments, sharing the relationship between food and mental health when they had to ask themselves whether we wanted to be a small business with small impact, or a genuine start-up with high-risk but high-growth potential to really tackle this problem?
“From our workshops, we also found that people wanted more support on how to embed our teachings in their day-to-day lives, so we rapidly morphed into the technology space to try and do just that.”
Going forward, Alicia Holmquest says “things must change. For far too long has the health and wellness industry put profits before people, dropping the ball on caring for our mental health. The time to act is right now. When 50% of young people ranking their mental health as our 1st or 2nd priority in life, there is a HUGE opportunity to shake things up and we are so proud to be leading the charge with WIRL”.
If you’re keen to join the WIRL-wind fun, you can download the WIRL app on the Apple App Store or for android users you can use the Web App.
Can’t wait for you to see how we’re boosting the world’s mood with food on the app soon!
Your WIRLy friends,
Alicia & Bree