Sheri Mehryar came up with the concept for The Bowl One after a lifetime of struggling to find the right balance between restriction and freedom when it comes to food.
The 24-year-old Iranian grew up in Dubai, leaving for five years to study in London and Milan, where she did a second master’s degree in Food Design and Innovation.
“Growing up in this day and age, as a girl, we are bombarded with society’s pre-defined standards,” she says. “There’s nothing wrong with standards, except that everyone has a different standard from a cultural, physical, emotional and physiological perspective.”
And when it comes to how society can view health, “too much health” can actually become dangerously unhealthy.
“This is the single most powerful motivation behind my mission,” she says. “Being a perfectionist, getting abs, was an easy job. Question is: how? And at what cost?”
The Bowl One was fueled by frustration with diet culture and the desire to break the rules that pressurize everyone from pre-teen girls to 40-year-olds, all punishing themselves with diet and exercise. It was also fueled by the polarity in ways of eating we see these days: the strict vegans, paleo, keto and so on.
Instead Mehryar offers food made from scratch alongside options to indulge, because defining what healthy truly means is an individual decision.
“That is something that can only be defined by YOU and you only,” says Mehryar. “So you customize your sugar-free sundae with salted caramel. I won’t judge, I’m just here to make it happen.”
The Bowl One serves a mix of salads, sandwiches and smoothie bowls, with protein soft-serve as a base. There is a range of nut butters, made in house, and home-made seed crackers. Other signatures include smoothie bowls, vegan truffle parmesan fries with kale Caesar salad and macadamia shakshuka, as well as kale chips, granola bites and black bean brownies.
Do you think the whole ‘wellness’ movement has gone too far?
It’s certainly been overplayed, to the extent that ‘being fit’ risks becoming unhealthier in another way, which is completely counterproductive. I think there is so much misinformation on the internet, it’s no wonder that a 14-year-old looking at Instagram models thinks she has to eat lettuce and deadlift weights. I think there is a thin line that can be easily crossed when you become obsessed with what you think health means.
Can you talk a little bit about your personal experience in this area?
I’ve struggled with eating disorders ever since I moved to Dubai. I didn’t understand it at the time, but as a 15-year-old girl, I thought eating a piece of lettuce to lose weight for my school prom was no big deal. Over the years, this has faded and then shown itself in different forms: overexercising, obsession with ingredients, calorie-counting and body dysmorphia. I don’t think trying to be healthy is dangerous. I just hope other people don’t fall into a vicious cycle like I did. You don’t need to fight your body, you can work together as one.
What’s the key to trying to change?
I’ve studied nutrition outside of my university degree just to understand why our bodies act in a certain way. During my research I concluded there were two underlying reasons why healthy habits are not as easy to sustain.
The key element here is the removal of continual decision making, which helps maintain our efforts in the long term. One of the reasons some find meal plans helpful is because it removes the constant need and pressure to make decisions.
What these programs lack however is leniency, which is the second contributing factor to sustainable eating habits. Satisfaction from eating is another natural part of life. How about embracing it for a change?
We can only stand a certain amount of chewing on dry chicken breasts that taste like cardboard before running for the ice-cream tub.
What does balance mean to you?
Balance is dynamic. When you think about balance in a good week, it could look like taking two yoga classes to clear out your stress, whereas it might be two ice cream treats in a row after your salad.
I operate on logic. I get why we all want a formula. But we must accept that our mind, our body and energy doesn’t exist on that spectrum. There are so many elements involved in a single process that determine our state of ‘wellness’ in a single moment in time, that counting on our daily calorie accuracy to make us healthy is just silly. That’s why when someone walks in and asks how many calories are in our sugar-free protein soft serve ice cream, I say “Just eat it, man, you’re here for ice-cream aren’t you?” Balance depends on the person, their situation, their mood, their lifestyle, their hormones, their blood work, their history, and so on and on.
Balance is listening to your body, and mind, with the intention of being healthy in the long-run. Kale is great yes, but body positivity is greater.
What are other ‘healthy” restaurants missing?
There’s a difference between going with the trend and understanding where the trend is coming from.
Are you putting quinoa in all your salads to make superfood salad and then putting 50g of oil in the dressing? What’s the point of your healthy wrap, if it’s made with preservatives? Do your customers realize that using date syrup has the same effect and calorie content as normal sugar? What I hope for is that restaurants try to optimize health, rather than appear healthy. If a customer is trusting the image you’re portraying, it’s unethical not to go all the way and deliver it honestly.
The Bowl One is located in Dubai’s Index Tower Mall. They also offer subscription and food delivery programs.
Ann Marie McQueen
Ann Marie McQueen is the founding editor-in-chief of Livehealthy and host of The Livehealthy Podcast. She is a veteran Canadian digital journalist who has worked in North America and the Middle East. Her past roles include features editor for The National, trends writer and columnist for the Canadian newspaper chain Sun Media, and correspondent for CBC Radio.