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Food & nutrition: Zoe Palmer-Wright’s beautiful balance

Diets don’t work, says Bali-based nutritionist Zoe Palmer-Wright, whose new book, A Beautiful Balance: A Wellness Guide to Healthy Eating and Feeling Great, is a valuable new resource aiming to give readers the tools to help them live a healthier lifestyle, get control of sugar cravings and feel their best. Full of nourishing recipes, including twists on traditional Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, and the adoptable nutritional guidelines that are part of Zoe’s framework for health, it encourages sustainable, satisfying choices to keep us energised. We had a quick chat to find out more about her food philosophy…

TBM: Tell us a little about your background and your nutrition journey

Zoe: After I graduated as a naturopath and clinical nutritionist, I was mentored by a doctor at what is now The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Health. I then set up my own clinic in London, helping people with chronic health issues. I was one of the principal lecturers at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London for five years and ran health retreats around Europe; international public speaking engagements followed.

I’m now Bali-based and coach my international clients online (I specialise in women’s health issues). I’m a speaker and author and am also launching a healthy meal delivery company in Bali soon – Superfood Meal Plans.

What’s your food philosophy?

Make the base/foundation of your diet fresh wholefoods; seasonal and organic where possible. Focus on food quality. Eat healthy fats. Eat your greens but indulge in less healthy foods from time to time if the foundation of your diet is good – food should not come with guilt!

We are all different in terms of which diet suits us best (and this may also change over the course of our lifetime). Listen to your body – pay attention to how you feel after eating certain things – it helps you keep track of which foods make you feel good and which don’t (e.g. do you always feel tired or bloated or have abdominal discomfort after eating a particular food?) I love the Michael Pollan quote: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”.

What motivated you to write the new book and how/why is it different from other diet books?

Seeing how many people are obsessed with their weight and dieting, and at the same time, that the number of people who are obese and/or have type two diabetes (and other chronic illnesses) continues to surge… There is clearly something very wrong with our food supply and our lifestyles.

The diet industry is geared mainly towards helping people lose weight, not gain health, and this is problematic. Most dieters fail to keep the weight off anyway, and yo-yo dieting actually often leads to greater weight gain over the long run. Plus we have this surge of ultra-processed foods, which offer very little in terms of nutrition, are often high-calorie and are terrible for our appetites and for fat gain – and pretty awful for the planet too!

I wanted to write a book that would help empower people to take control of their health and that would help prevent obesity, type two diabetes and other common diet and lifestyle-related chronic diseases. I wanted to teach people more about how food is medicine and that they can transform their energy levels, productivity and even mental wellbeing through making shifts in their diet and lifestyle. A Beautiful Balance: A Wellness Guide to Healthy Eating and Feeling Great is not a diet book. It’s a way of eating, for life. It’s sustainable because it nourishes your body, tastes really good and satisfies your appetite. It helps reduce sugar cravings and makes you feel good. It’s also about eating in a way that’s more sustainable for our planet, and each recipe also tells you about the key nutrients in the dish and how they support your health.

What are you eating/making a lot of right now?

Bircher muesli, egg and quinoa salad brekkie bowls, fresh salads with greens and fermented foods, wholesome spicy curries, poke poke, Japanese food. And I am drinking a lot of Jamu (a traditional Indonesian turmeric drink).

What lessons have you taken from the Balinese diet?

Eat less – portion and servings sizes are generally much smaller here than in the UK. The Balinese eat until they are no longer hungry but not to the point of being overly full or stuffed – and this habit has the power to boost energy levels and extend your lifespan.

I’ve also taken a lot from their attitude and mindset – the Balinese are ALWAYS smiling and they practice gratitude every single day. This beautiful habit means they are always focusing on what they have, rather than what they don’t have, and I think this has a lot to do with why they are so happy all the time!

What’s a typical day for you?

Food-wise I don’t have a typical day – for me, variety is the spice of life. I like to mix things up – and it’s way healthier for our digestive systems to have variety of different foods (food sensitivities can develop when we consume the same foods over and over again). I also practice intermittent fasting – it’s natural for me as I either train (HIIT) or do yoga early each AM so I eat breakfast afterwards. But I don’t do this every single day.

Top tip for a healthy 2020?

That really depends on the individual and what health issues they have. The new habit that will most benefit you is going to be different to the one that will most benefit your mate, mum or neighbour… And it might not be food related; it could be more to do with getting more and better quality sleep, practicing daily meditation or deep breathing or changing your attitude/mindset for example.

Any advice for controlling sugar cravings?

Balance your meals better – consider your macronutrients and make sure you have quality protein, vegetables and healthy fats at every meal. Limit your intake of refined sugar, refined/white flour carbs, caffeine and alcohol. In some cases I also recommend supplements to help with this too.

How does detoxing work?

Detoxing is a continual process in the human body – if we weren’t able to rid our bodies of harmful toxins and metabolic by products, we would soon die. However, saying that, my clinical experience and research has led me to believe that we can enhance the body’s natural detoxification processes by supporting/encouraging the channels of elimination such as the liver (your main detox organ), lungs, digestive system, kidneys, skin etc.

Various practices and natural substances can be utilised to support the function of the organs that are involved in detoxification. For example, by encouraging you to sweat more, breathe more deeply, urinate more, stimulate your blood circulation and lymphatic system, thereby enhancing the elimination of toxins.

These type of techniques have been practiced by many cultures around the world for thousands of years – we see this in ancient traditions from fasting to enemas to sweat lodges to dry skin brushing to ice baths to shamanic cleanses using plant medicines and many, many more.

How do you develop your recipes?

I get a lot of my inspiration from my frequent travels – recently I’ve travelled a lot in Asia and the Middle East. I am a passionate foodie and love trying new things wherever I go. I think of the dishes I’ve had and loved, and how I can put a healthier twist on them – without losing any of the flavour – then it’s a process of playing, and trial and error, in the kitchen.

Which ingredients/produce will we always find in your kitchen?

Chilli peppers, papaya/pineapple, eggs, rocket, lemons.