When it comes to wellness, we all know a balanced approach is best, and no one more so than clinical nutritionist and author Jessica Sepel, who advocates listening to your body and developing a healthy relationship with food. Ahead of the launch of her second book, Living The Healthy Life, we sat down with the health guru to talk all things wellness...
Tell us more about your approach to food…
Most importantly, I believe in listening to your body. Learn to recognise how you respond to certain foods and whether or not they make you feel good. Be wary of the one-size-fits-all mentality and remember that having a healthy relationship with food is far more important than making healthy food choices. Personally, I try to cut out gluten and refined sugars, buy organic and eat seasonally wherever possible.
Have you always followed this philosophy?
I grew up in a really healthy environment but that changed when I became a teenager. I was a chronic fad dieter and had a tormented relationship with food – this manifested in deprivation, restriction and living off artificial, diet foods. After studying health and nutrition at university I decided to overhaul my diet and lifestyle and slowly transitioned from a fad dieter to a mindful, wholefood eater, which I’m now helping others do through clinical work and JS Health online programmes.
Are women under pressure to eat a certain way?
Absolutely. Whether it’s our Instagram feed, our friends or unqualified nutritionists, we‘re inundated with information from all angles. The diet culture has generated an element of fear around food, so some of us feel guilty when we eat something that isn’t ‘clean’. If you’re sitting down to every meal feeling anxious, stressed, fearful or guilty about what you’re about to eat, you might have an unhealthy emotional relationship with food.
So what are your thoughts on social media?
It’s an important tool for my job, but I make a conscious effort to set boundaries and switch my phone off by 7pm every night. Between the hours of 7pm-7am, your body is craving to restore itself – recognise this and embrace it by winding down.
And calorie counting?
Calorie counting creates disordered eating – when you’re constantly obsessing over numbers and macros, you develop an emotionally toxic relationship with your body. Becoming obsessed with calories is not how we’re meant to deal with food. Eating intuitively and according to our body’s needs is enough.
What does a typical day of food look like for you?
Breakfast is a protein smoothie, it’s nutritionally balanced and keeps me full until lunchtime. Lunch is usually a dark, leafy green salad with some protein, a low-GI, gluten-free carb (quinoa, brown rice or sweet potato) and some healthy fats like avocado or hummus. For an afternoon snack I’ll either grab carrots and hummus, a boiled egg or some Greek yoghurt with cinnamon (this is crucial to keep blood sugar even and stop me over-eating at night). My favourite dinner is my Japanese salmon recipe – it’s easy and really good for you.
And what are the ingredients you couldn’t be without?
Broccoli, garlic, organic eggs, avocado and cauliflower. I also use a lot of olive oil; be wary of the coconut oil fad – there’ not much scientific evidence it’s any better for you and if you have naturally high cholesterol, avoid it. Just because something is trendy doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
Any tips on cooking healthily for family and friends?
Create healthy versions of the traditionally hearty dishes your friends and family love – serve slow cooked meats with plenty of vegetable sides, such as cauliflower rice instead of potatoes. Also, make healthy swaps: instead of pasta, try courgetti, brown rice, mung bean or edamame pasta.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to exercise?
Don’t over-exercise, as this can actually have adverse effects. Some of my clients think they need to go spinning at 8pm after a 12-hour day when their body is screaming at them to just rest. To exercise an already exhausted body can wreak havoc with your cortisol levels, triggering weight gain (especially around the tummy), anxiety, salt and sugar cravings and leaving you feeling tired but wired. Sound familiar? Try restorative exercise instead, such as yoga, Pilates, brisk walking and meditation.
How do you stay on track when you travel?
When you’re on the plane, don’t drink alcohol or caffeine and carry healthy snacks with you so you’re not caught out. Do some research on your destination and find out if there are any local gyms or yoga studios and book in for a session. Try to walk as much as you can, too – this is a lovely way to discover a new area.
Do you take any supplements?
Yes: magnesium every night before bed, iodine for thyroid health, a probiotic and a multi-mineral.
Any final advice for someone trying to get into a healthier mindset?
Prioritise your stress levels – when you look after your cortisol, everything falls into place. Your digestion, metabolism and sugar cravings will improve, your brain fog will clear and you’ll be able to make healthier choices. And when it comes to your diet, be kind to yourself – don’t try and do everything at once. The body responds to even the smallest of changes – cut back on just one coffee per day, swap white carbs for wholegrain varieties or cook a meal from scratch. Don’t strive for perfection, strive for balance.