Nutritionist, author and NH’s newest columnist, Amelia Freer tells us why healthy eating needn’t be so complicated
While living and working in London in my 20s, I developed a whole host of health concerns that probably sound familiar – IBS, acne, bloating and recurrent infections. After seeing what felt like every practitioner under the sun, my flatmate mentioned that I might want to look at my diet – which was predominantly made up of croissants, baguettes and ready meals at the time (I thought this was the height of sophistication having come to London from the remote countryside). So I booked an appointment with a nutritional therapist and gradually overhauled my diet and lifestyle. I was hugely inspired by how effective the changes were and crucially, how different I felt. A fire was ignited in me and I eventually trained as a nutritional therapist myself. That was almost 15 years ago and I’ve never looked back.
In 2017 I became a mother. I love cooking – the kitchen is very much my ‘happy place’, but the realities of caring for a baby, while running a business and doing everything else that life requires, meant that I simply didn’t have the time (or energy) to cook as much as I did before. However, I still knew how important it was to eat well. So, I worked on creating a handful of meals and recipes that tasted good, were incredibly simple and easy and crucially, properly nourished my family too. I basically wanted it all. My new book, Simply Good For You, really grew from there – as I felt like I probably wasn’t alone – I’ve spent the past couple of years writing and cooking the 100 or so recipes you’ll find in the book. They really are the meals we eat day-in, day-out (my proof copy of the book is already splattered in food and looking rather shabby as I use it so much!).
I think healthy eating has become spectacularly overcomplicated, which inevitably leads to anxiety and confusion. But really, the fundamental principles of eating well are pretty simple. And so I often find myself coming back to the brilliant summary by American author Michael Pollan: ‘Eat (real) food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’ I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The advice I give to clients is entirely dependent on their unique circumstances. Sometimes, however, the first suggestion I make is not necessarily advice about nutrition. I think we can get a bit caught up in the details of exactly what and how much to eat, but lose sight of the bigger picture. You can’t make up for chronic sleep deprivation with a green smoothie, or undo years of smoking and drinking to excess with some turmeric! I am being flippant, but it’s very much a part of my role to ‘zoom out’ and see where, really, the pertinent lifestyle issues lie. But it’s rare a client couldn’t do with adding a few extra green vegetables into their diet and I do find myself suggesting that people have some protein at breakfast again and again! But, there is no ‘one size fits all’.
While there is some research linking specific ingredients or nutrients to mood states, I’m not sure we’re at a place to say ‘eating x will definitely make you feel better’. It’s not that simple. But there is more to eating well than just nourishing ourselves (which of course, is still important – essential nutrients are also essential for our brains). The mindset of self-care and gentle creativity required to bring a meal to the table can be a very therapeutic process, while sharing a meal with loved ones (for me at least) is a powerful antidote to low mood. There is something about eating together, and the relaxed conversation that flows over food, that in itself, can be wonderfully cathartic.
I think it would be hard for my daughter not to get involved in the kitchen given how central food and cooking is to our lives. The joyful thing is that she is just about old enough now to start helping and is very much enjoying getting messy and involved.
I want to make it a trend for people to be more mindful and compassionate around food. I am so saddened by how divisive and judgemental the food discussion has become recently – at least on some platforms. People have widely varied nutritional needs, tastes, cultural and familial preferences and resources. What’s good for one person might not be good for another, and that’s OK. But we don’t need to shame each other for having those differences. Nor do we need to feel guilty for being different. Kindness is an underrated part of good nutrition – to ourselves, to the planet and to others
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