Helpings: Food and Digestive Lifestyle with Stephanie Seege
Stephanie talks about Helpings; a food and digestive lifestyle brand, and her tips for micro-steps to eating a more balanced diet. She also explains why her annual escape to a tiny island is essential to her work and wellbeing.
Today’s guest is Stephanie Seege who is a serial entrepreneur and a health and food specialist. She started her first business, Onni Design, in 2005 in Finland, making unique jewellery. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts Management from Novia University of Applied Sciences and a Master’s Degree in Marketing from Hanken School of Economics. Stephanie founded Helpings.
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Today’s guest is Stephanie Seege who is a serial entrepreneur and a health and food specialist. She started her first business, Onni Design, in 2005 in Finland, making unique jewellery. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Arts Management from Novia University of Applied Sciences and a Master’s Degree in Marketing from Hanken School of Economics. Stephanie founded Helpings. Stephanie, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much. It’s nice to be here with you.
Thank you. I’d love to know a little bit about what Helpings is and where you’re based, and how you got to be doing the work that you do.
Helpings is the result of me battling a number of illnesses basically since I was born. It basically started with me being very sick as a child from the age of two months, and my mother taking me to every single doctor and not really finding anything that could help my severe eczema and all kinds of allergies and asthma. Fast forward, I had lots of issues, I had lots of confidence issues, didn’t find anything that helped. I had a lot of steroids and antihistamines, and everything just made my health and my mind worse, until I started studying and got a scholarship to live in New York for half a year. I couldn’t work or study while I was there, so I did lots of yoga and meditation and self-development courses. I happened to meet an Indian doctor who told me that all of the illnesses that I had been battling were not chronic and that they were all curable. He helped me to change my diet and my lifestyle as a result.
From there, I realised that it did help, even if it took a bit more time than I would have anticipated in the beginning. I realised that there must be so many other people out there who have similar problems. I started writing a cookbook. That then took me further and taught me a lot about alternative cooking and leaving out the staples that we are so used to and things that are a must in the kitchen. From there, I developed that into Helpings, a food and digestive lifestyle brand. I don’t if people are that interested in digestion yet, but it all centred around what we eat, how we eat, when we eat, and then what our body does with it. I’ve come to realise that it all starts from digestion. If you have poor digestion, you’re going to have a lot of other health issues. That’s Helpings.
I’ve lived in London now for five years, and until then I was born and bred in Finland. I lived abroad for quite a few years. I was in Germany for a year. I was in Spain for a year. I always felt like even though Finland is one of the most extraordinary countries in the world, it was way too small for me. Now I’m here in London and I’m very happy living here.
What do you love about London?
It’s just great for business owners because there are so many events and it’s so easy to meet people. You will find your tribe regardless of what you do. There will be one other strange person who is into the exact same strange thing that you like. That’s one thing. The other one is food and the people. I went to a school where there was one black kid and the rest of us were white who were similar looking. I just really like the fact that you find people from all corners of the world here. It’s really refreshing to me.
What kinds of things do you like to do to relax and stay healthy and well in this city?
Cooking, for me, is a big part of it. I just moved into a new flat. The previous one I was in, there was a kitchen, but I wasn’t very comfortable with the people I was living with so I never used it. It depresses me immensely when I don’t cook and when I don’t make my own granola or make roux vegetables for dinner, the simple things, quick things. That’s one thing.
Another thing would definitely be either to go outside to work out in the park or to just lie down on the lawn when things get too stressful or just too heavy to bear. In the last couple of months, I’ve gone through a tough phase with one of my businesses. I used to go out into a park that I lived next to every day and just lie down on the lawn for five to ten minutes. That had the most incredible soothing effect on me.
Aside from that beautiful practice of lying down on the grass, what other things have you returned to, to help you keep your head calm and your body well?
I actually luckily did a ten-day meditation retreat last December in Malaysia. It’s called Vipassana, and it’s one of most well-known meditation practices in the world. I meditated for ten days, ten hours per day. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. That was great because at the end of the meditation retreat, you don’t have to make a commitment to continue meditating, but you want to because you will leave the place feeling incredible gratitude and just peace. At least for me, that was something that I wanted to hold on to. I continued to meditate. It’s been much tougher during the last couple of months than it was after the retreat. I start every morning by meditating, whether it’s for five minutes or an hour, depending on the day and my mood. It’s just extremely frustrating and extremely difficult. Then there are times when it’s the most blissful thing you could possibly imagine and where everything goes quiet. Those are the moments that are really worth sitting for.
Is walking an important thing for you to do? Is there time for you to carve that out in your day? Or is walking something that you do just because you’re transiting around the city in the day-to-day?
I walk a lot. I live very centrally in London and I drive a scooter. If I have to go somewhere, I drive my scooter. That’s very meditative as well because I can’t do anything else but drive on it. That’s good. I can’t listen to music or do anything else. Apart from that, I tend to walk everywhere or go for walks. I probably walk 45 minutes a day, at least, whether it’s going somewhere or just going out for a walk at the end of the day. It’s really just the best thing ever. My mentor always tells me to just go outside and go figure it out when I am stuck. It really is so true. When you just walk around, it might not come to you immediately, but you usually have at least come home feeling a sense of peace or calm. I think that’s a good thing.
That sounds really familiar. It’s certainly the case for me. I walk when I’m stuck just shifts things and gives me a different perspective and better insights, as well as making me feel physically calmer and re-energised. As you know, I’m a big fan of walking.
It really is a good way to relax. A lot of times, especially since I work from home and I sit here with my computer all the day, I can get very focused on one little thing that is on my mind. The second you step out of your house and just walk, the energy shifts, and you have something else to look at and you get distracted by other things. Just that can be very helpful at times as well.
What time of day do you most enjoy and why?
Mornings, by far. I just feel like the world stops in the early hours of the morning. There’s this little window of peace and somehow neutral grounds where things haven’t yet started and where everything is still possible. I’m definitely a morning person. Although I have to say, since I moved into my new place, I’ve had just a feeling of not wanting to go to bed because I’ve been really happy in the last couple of days. I find myself staying up really late still writing things and sorting out my flat, and then waking up way too late to enjoy those lovely hours of the morning.
The neighbourhood that you’re in, is it a new neighbourhood to you or is it one that you’re very familiar with?
I’m familiar with it. I used to live very close by. I’m in the very best part of it right now. I used to come here to go to cafes and go to a park nearby just because I liked it. Now I live right in the middle of it, so I’m quite familiar. I keep finding all these great little cafes and hidden gems everywhere. Last Sunday, I went out for coffee with a friend and bumped into a celebrity, a movie star. That was very exciting.
Are you getting to know local business owners in the area?
Yeah. I have a few friends who I tend to meet up with. Last week, I worked with my friend from The Tate. They have this member’s area up on the roof, which is amazing. I do that, but I think that’s something that is yet for me to explore. There are a couple of co-working spaces just around the corner. I don’t know if that’s right for me right now because I’ve just moved into a place where I have an amazing kitchen and a very good place to work from. I don’t know if I can justify paying £400 a month for a table that is two meters away from my house.
In the day-to-day, have you got any routines or tactics that you could share around how they can take micro-steps to eating healthier and more balanced diet?
I make sure that I have a lot of stuff ready to go because I don’t have much patience. It may seem like it if you look at my recipes and the cookbook that I’ve written, but I usually have enough patience for about ten, fifteen minutes in the kitchen. I tend to have granola ready-made, I slice pieces of bananas and freeze them so that I can then just chuck them into the blender and make a smoothie in two minutes. I tend to make a big batch of roasted vegetables once a week. I usually have quinoa or rice already boiled in the fridge so that I can make a cold salad. My very favourite sauce is a mix of fresh lemon juice, tahini, and soy sauce. You’d make that literally in a minute. You can pretty much throw anything in that and it tastes amazing. I think I’m very good at making sure that I have something at hand quickly. I also have about 35 jars of all nuts and seeds and dried things that you can think of, so that I can throw them on most of the things I eat and make them be a little more interesting, which is for me, a great thing. I drink almond milk and oat milk. If you mix a little bit of cinnamon and cardamom in that, it makes the loveliest evening drink to have which calms you down just before bed. Those are all the things that I do to make it easier.
One of the things I’m really interested in about your story is that you live in London, which is a huge, busy city with many, many other people also living here, that each summer, you escape to somewhere that’s really quite different.
I’m really lucky that way. Finland has a massive archipelago just around the coast. It’s the same thing as Sweden. You don’t really see the difference when going from one country to another over the ocean. It has thousands of tiny islands and big islands. Some of them make you think that you’re still on the main land and some are really, really small. My family has one. It’s not like Richard Branson’s Necker Island where everything is super luxurious and you live in a dream. You do live in a dream, or we are, but it’s much more basic than that.
Throughout my childhood, we didn’t have any running water. We had electricity but we had a well that we had to pump the water from and there’s no shower. You go into the sauna every night and you jump into the sea to cool yourself. It’s very basic. Most of the day is used to just wash yourself, feed yourself, make sure that there is clean water, and taking care of nature. It’s a small island and there are these small cottages, very, very basic again. Things take up a lot more time. You have to go into the tiny town about twenty minutes away to get groceries. You go to the tomato farmer to get tomatoes. You drive to the place where you can get raspberries. This all happens through a tiny little boat. If the waters are rough then you have a problem. It’s really idyllic. Unfortunately, we have deer on the island. It’s said that deer can’t swim, but apparently they can because they come often. This year, my mother has just rented summer sheep. She has four sheep that are walking around on the island and they keep the deer away, which is great.
It’s a dream in many ways. It’s just the one place in the world that makes me relax unlike anything else. There is internet and there is phone and all of that on the island and around, but there’s something about the environment and the ocean and nature. You go berry-picking and you go mushroom-picking, or you can sit in the sun and read a book whole day and nobody’s going to bother you. It’s just really, really nice.
I love that idea that the location requires you to slow down. Just even sourcing your ingredients is an event in itself and can take an amount of time that we wouldn’t tolerate here in London. We would need to grab these ingredients in the supermarket quickly or at the food market quickly. Does your cooking change substantially when you’re on the island compared to your London life?
It really does because, first of all, we mostly use a barbecue because it’s just our family thing. My dad used to barbecue throughout the winter when there was a meter of snow. He’d stand by his barbecue and do it every day. That’s our ethos on the island as well. Also, because we source a lot of the ingredients that we use, and we go berry picking and mushroom picking, if you do that, for example, in the fall, it will take you half a day to go out into the woods. Then it will take you another half a day to clean them and to prepare them, and maybe to freeze them. Like you say, it’s not like here. You go to Tesco and you buy something, and you chuck it in the pan and it’s done. Here, it’s mushroom day and that’s all you could do that day. My mom loves weeds, so she’s all into finding the weeds that are most nutritious and that you can put into salads. I don’t necessarily always agree with the taste or with the tang. You should eat it.
How does it feel when you return to London after an extended time on the island? How do you prepare yourself for re-entry from this very idyllic, peaceful, slow pace of living back to one where it’s quite different?
My idea when I moved here was that I would spend one month every summer in Finland. I can also work from there, so it doesn’t really matter, so I do that. I go there and I really recharge my batteries. There, it’s very easy to not be on your phone because I just leave it in the kitchen. People don’t get a hold of me even if they wanted to. I know that I get these weeks there and it is heaven, but then the itch comes after the third week when I’m super relaxed. I’ve done the whole mushroom-berry thing, I’ve patted the sheep or tried to pat them, running after them. I’ve slept like a baby. I’ve been in the sauna, and then suddenly, I do feel like working again. It always happens. I’m more energised and I’m more inspired than I was when I came there. Also, my brain works in a way, which I think is common for most people that you switch off for a couple of weeks, and then it starts going crazy. You get lots of good ideas and things fall into place, and you just feel like getting on with things. I think that’s a good thing.
My goal is always to get incredibly bored at the island, because that’s usually the start of something. I really try to detox from all the digital stuff and just spend the day scraping off the colour of some stool or something, which will make me be in another environment mentally and physically. Once I’ve done that long enough, I will have the urge of working and meeting people again, and being structured and having goals. It’s a nice balance that way.
You mentioned social media there. You have a really funny, witty, thoughtful Instagram feed that I really enjoy looking at each day. What’s your relationship with social media from a personal point of view, and also perhaps in contrast with your business approach?
I really like social media. I like to write and I like to read what good writers write. I do read a lot of blogs and I follow quite a lot of people online. I think it’s fun. My issue has been that I haven’t really known what I wanted to do with Helpings for a long time since it all started from something that was so personal and fragile. For the first couple of years when I started my business, I was really sick still. Even if I had a vision of where I wanted to get and what I wanted to do for people and help people, I wasn’t really a good testament of that yet. It took me quite a while to get where I am today, about five years.
Now, when I can honestly say that what I do works, I think I’m ready to show more of myself online as well. I’ve hidden behind Helpings for a very long time and have talked more from a brand point of view, rather than from my own point of view. I think that’s wrong, at least in my own opinion, because I like it when real people talk about their real opinions and feelings. I think that’s the kind of transition that I’m going to make in the next couple of months, where it’s more me than just Helpings saying stuff.
I look forward to seeing how things unfold. One of the questions I ask every guest is what are you curious about right now?
Letting go has been the biggest challenge for me during the last couple of months, to surrender to the fact that you can’t do or say anything to change things. Sometimes, you just have to trust the fact that things will work out. We all know that they always do. When you’re in a tough situation and things aren’t going the way you want them to, it’s easy or at least I go into fix mode immediately. Especially if you’re a driven person who likes to have structure in their life, and when suddenly things fall apart badly, you just have to be with it for a while.
When things fell apart in my life, first of all, I didn’t do anything because I was too paralyzed. I couldn’t get out of bed for the first couple of weeks. I cried and I felt extremely disempowered in every single way. That was just a matter of getting through the day. Once I had gotten past that first hurdle, I just realised that I had to be for a while. I just had to wait it out. That’s when I started reading books about dealing with tough things. I’m reading Pema Chödrön’s book, When Things Fall Apart right now. It’s a great book.
I’m reading Pema Chödrön’s book, When Things Fall Apart right now. It’s a great book. Also, just learning to trust the universe and realise that sometimes shit happens and big shit happens. When it does, you just have to let it happen. I know from experience and from the last couple of years that every time that something really, really tough happens, that’s when I grow the most, or when the biggest positive changes happen in my life, that lead me one step closer to where I really want to be. The same goes for this time. Now, I’ve come out on the other side and my life looks significantly different than what it did three months ago. It is a good thing. I think it will probably be a lifelong lesson to trust in that and to be more comfortable in those situations where you don’t really want things to be the way they are.
Thank you, Stephanie. Where can people find out more about you and your work?
They can go to the website, ThisIsHelpings.com. The same goes for all other social media platforms: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. The other channels are slightly dormant right now because I am working on the strategy to change the tone of voice and the angle of how I talk. They’ll get revitalised in the next couple of months.
I can’t wait to see how it all pans out. Thanks so much for being a guest on the Urban Curiosity podcast today, Stephanie.
Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it.