Harlem Word: Organic Soul Chef, Madea Allen-Gueye shares anti-stress strategies and diet know-how

Editor August 20th

Madea Allen is a personal chef and certified holistic health coach. She is also a Community Chef and Food Educator with Just Food. Madea became a health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition where she studied over 100 dietary theories, practical lifestyle management techniques, and cutting-edge coaching methods. Here she talks about her connection to Northern Manhattan and her decision to become a health coach. She brings attention to stress levels and talks about individuals and diets.

Q: Could you introduce yourself?

A: To those who enjoy my cuisine through cooking classes, catering and other food ventures, I am affectionately known as the “Organic Soul Chef”. I’m also a certified holistic health coach.  I enjoy shepherding my clients to a life of greater health, vitality and freedom!

Q: Why did you become a health coach?

A: It wasn’t just an “A-ha” moment one day. It was a progression over time towards wanting more satisfaction out of my every-day work. I was working here in New York City as a Service Coordinator. The job of a Service Coordinator is somewhat like social work, but I was not really having a direct impact on the people I was working with. So I chose to study holistic health coaching and nutrition at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition here in Manhattan while also working full-time. While studying health coaching, I realized it was exactly what I was searching for in order to have a direct effect on people’s health and well-being. Half-way through the health coaching course, I decided to quit my job and started coaching full-time, doing cooking classes and wellness workshops.

Q: Do you have a personal connection to Harlem or the Northern Manhattan area?

A: I do. I am from Washington, D.C. originally. When I first visited Harlem, it felt like D.C. to me with its large African American population, churches and mosques. Harlem is ethnically very similar to where I grew up in D.C., so it just felt like home. That’s my community, my people.
Q: Generally, what are some things that we can do to be healthier and to prevent conditions like obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), and diabetes?

A: The very first thing is awareness. Being aware is the first step to healing and living a healthier, more whole life. In New York City, everyone is always going full-speed ahead. It’s the “city that never sleeps.” We tend to forget to stop and just notice what’s going on with our body and our mind. Just stopping and being still is the first step. I think that mismanaged stress has an amazing ability to weaken your immune system. So if you have the proper tools to manage stress, you are ahead of the game in terms of being well.

As for specific diseases like hypertension–-yes, you want to watch your sodium, but we really need to address stress. You want to have the basic things covered: clean food, clean water, and clean air. It’s important when breathing to take full, deep breaths from your diaphragm, especially when you’re stressed. Go to your doctor regularly to be aware of what your levels are in terms of blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose. Attitude goes a long way as well. Studies show that being positive and having a good outlook on life can really boost your immunity and health. Happiness is under-rated! Those are the types of things that we can start looking at to be better health-wise.

Q: What is your opinion on diets or dieting?

A: I see diets as fascinating learning tools.  While studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I learned more than 100 different ways of thinking about diet. While that can be overwhelming for some people, I enjoyed it because we were taught that there is not a single diet that is right for everyone. It was great to find an institution that echoed an unpopular belief I held all my life.  You have to respect what is called your “bio-individuality.” Bio-individuality makes you exactly who you are. Ethnicity, blood type, prior health conditions, climate, age, schedule--many factors affect a person’s dietary needs. An Asian person’s diet will be a little different than an African person’s diet because ethnically they are different. One group may be allergic to dairy and another group may not be. In this day and age, everyone is coming together and mixing gene pools, so I share with my clients, “You have to find what best works for you. What works for you may not work for me.” That’s where the real work lies: Finding what works for you. “To thine own self be true.” That is the key to healing since “to know thyself is to heal thyself.” Can I eat a bowl of Cheerios and run a marathon? Or do I need some quinoa porridge to do the job. It’s not going to be the same for everybody.

Here’s a bit of advice that can benefit everyone:
Do your best to enjoy food that is sustainable both for your body and for the earth.  This is food that is local, fresh, free of hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified organisms as well as artificial: pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, additives, preservatives and colors.

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