Last month I was interviewed by the Irish News about my health & got so many messages about my answers, so I thought I’d share the fuller version of the interview here...
1. Up and at it - what is your morning routine?
I wake at 7 and quickly check my email inbox from bed. Not much comes in very first thing as I don’t sleep (and often don’t stop working) until about 1am, but I check the day ahead, delete any spam and then check notifications from other apps for a max of 10 minutes before getting up and preparing Valentina’s lunchbox and breakfast, and making myself a smoothie. I don’t like to leave the house untidy so generally I will make beds and do the breakfast dishes before I leave for the school run and gym. I prep my clothes and bag for the day (I constantly feel like I cart my life around in the car) and I generally shower at the gym so keep ablutions to a minimum at home in the morning! I’m sure I look like a great unwashed mess at the school gate but I do improve as the morning progresses!
2. What might you eat in a typical working day for...
My breakfast depends on my hunger levels and how I am feeling when I wake up. Some days I eat very little in the morning - maybe a banana and some peanut or almond butter, some days an omelette with spinach, some days scrambled eggs and a slice of smoked salmon. Most days though, I try to make a smoothie from spinach or kale with avocado as the base and then I add kiwi, grapes or apples for some sweetness. I’ll usually throw in a spoon of raw apple cider vinegar, a spoon of manuka honey and a spoon of almond/cashew or peanut butter and some water. It’s an amazing way to start the day and I carry it into work and sip til lunchtime, but even then I’ll rinse out the nutribullet container with cold water and drink the green water too to get my H20 levels up from the get-go. Water is so important and I don’t always make my 2L every day, unless I think about it properly.
I usually eat a salad or a soup for lunch. My office is next door to The Yard in Holywood which does the freshest, tastiest soups and salads - and I am a big fan. Otherwise I love the M&S salad ranges and sometimes buy in bulk at the weekend to see me through the week. I spent a good part of the summer in London and I got really used to Pret-a-Manger salads and ITSU sashimi and salads. I would absolutely LOVE ITSU to come to Belfast. It’s not convenient for me but I do love the food in Raw Food Rebellion and Slim’s on the Lisburn Road as well as Goodness Rocks on the Saintfield Road. I wish we had even one of those three in Holywood!
I’m very regular with my choc-o-clock fix of a bar of chocolate pretty much every day at 3pm. It is incredible how much I rely on it/look forward to it. I eat Green & Black’s butterscotch or Lindt - and I kid myself that if it’s ‘good’ chocolate, it’s better for me. (Shame about the size of the bars I eat though!)
At home we usually eat a fresh seabass (pan fried in butter) with greens (butter steamed and usually laced with flaked almonds, pine nuts, chopped hazelnuts or something else nutty from the pan), although I’ve been known to skip the fish and just eat a wok full of kale or spinach with some roasted flaked almonds on top. My daughter loves fresh pasta with freshly made tomato sauce (she is at that lovely age where she is amazed that tomatoes make tomato sauce and likes to help make her own in the blender after we’ve softened them in the pan and added some mascarpone, mozzarella or parmesan). Just this summer we started introducing basil from the plant on the windowsill too. And if she is in an anti-vegetable mood, I slip some spinach, broccoli or carrots into the blender with the tomatoes to build up her vegetable intake.
3. Is nutrition important to you?
Yes it really is, although I am a gourmand as much as I am healthy, but it is nice to have the balance. So at home and in work I will eat healthily most of the week - my soups, salads and fish/veg combo with very few carbs if I can help it, but if I go out for dinner I will have a starter and the Chateaubriand and a pudding or a cheese board - or both! (I am a huge fan of a cheese board and a wee glass of port). Life is for living and enjoying and it would be such a shame to constantly deny yourself life’s pleasures! Mind you after about 3 years of removing most bread/pasta from my diet, I can honestly say I feel (and look) much better for it. That’s not to say I wont eat a baguette or pain au chocolat on a trip to France, or wolf down spaghetti alle vongole in Italy - but on the whole, I would say I am 80% carb free and 80% vegetarian which it works for me. I have also come to learn that hormones play a massive part in cravings and our emotional relationship with food, as well as how our bodies process what we intake. Through the amazing teachings of The Hormone Health Coach (Belfast based Maria Rafferty), I’m trying to harness basic things like my monthly cycle to get the best from my food and my body.
4. Best meal ever?
My partner Paul and I ate in Restaurant Alain Ducasse in Paris last year and it was pretty awesome, but I have had some really cracking meals in friends’ homes too. As long as the food is fresh and wholesome - and tasty - and the company, convivial and jovial, then I am happy. I am a massive advocate of dinner parties and sharing meals with friends because I think food made with passion and served with love among friends or family is the best kind of food.
5.Guilty pleasure (food-wise, that is)
Tayto cheese & onion crisps! They’re the business! And cheese boards. And that pesky bar of Green & Black’s organic butterscotch chocolate, which I eat pretty much every day at around 3pm.
6. Have you ever been on a diet? If so, how did it go?
Not really, but like I said I changed my diet and lifestyle overall about 4 years ago to cut out most white carbs and I rarely eat any processed food at home - although I learnt that a long time ago from my mother, who ate pretty much organically all her life. It has been great for my skin, hair and overall health, although I am not saying everyone should give up wheat, it just doesn’t process well with me.
7. Do you take health supplements?
Yes, I take a few every day. Digestive enzymes for my gut, Milk Thistle for my liver, and Chromium for blood sugar levels (it really helps curb the 3pm chocolate craving when I take it). I know I should also be taking Magnesium and Zinc at my age, but I just haven’t got around to it!
8. How do you relax?
There’s nothing nicer than lying in the shade on a warm, sunny day reading a book and losing yourself in your own imagination and someone else’s words. In the absence of that, I like to travel and visit new places, experience new cultures and see nature first hand.
9. Teetotal or tipple?
Looking back, I drank a lot in my twenties and thirties, as did most of my generation, but have pared back over the last six-seven years and I went pretty much teetotal for a few of those. I actually enjoyed being teetotal, but now I drink the odd glass of really good wine with dinner if we’re eating out and maybe a nice Shortcross and Fever Tree tonic or two on a night out. I do love a nice Port with my cheeseboards too; in fact when great wines are paired course by course with food, it is a wonderful combination, you cannot fail to appreciate the quality in some products.
10. Stairs or lift?
Stairs, unless I have Valentina or heavy bags with me. And if I’m in heels, I’ll always take the easy option.
11. Do you have a daily exercise regime?
I do Body Pump 3-4 times per week at my gym, Virgin Active in Holywood. It’s a licensed one hour class to music in which you lift weights (something I had never in my life done before this year) and in doing so, you work every single part of your body. I feel very ‘pumped’ after each class and on the whole I feel a lot stronger. My body shape has changed too (hello waistline and toned arms!) To balance this out I also do yoga when I can and do Kim Constable’s monthly yoga detox classes - highly recommended!
12. Best tip for everyday fitness?
Move! They say sitting is the new smoking - and I am guilty of sitting a lot, I’m at my computer about 10 hours a day at least.
13. On a scale of one to 10, how fit do you think you are and how fit would you like to be?
I think I’m about a 7 and I would love to be at 9 - able to run marathons again or do city-to-city cycle challenges. I previously ran both the Rio and New York marathons, among other challenges.
14. Have you tried, or would you try, alternative therapy?
I love alternative and complementary therapy. I remember having a mosaic verruca for 2 years and no amount of burning off at the doctor’s would work and then I visited a homeopath who gave me a course of Thuja which cleared it up in 2 weeks. Another time I went to see Maria Rafferty about eczema who used acupuncture on me and it worked a treat. I do yoga with Kim Constable and have had Reiki, hypnotherapy, reflexology, aromatherapy and many other therapies. I think we all need to be open to ancient and alternative or complementary medicines as well as our mostly science-based Western medicine.
15. Were school sports happy times or do you have a memory you would rather forget?
Happy times, I don’t remember getting any first places, but I did love the whole atmosphere of sports day and being outdoors. I think I may have had my first kiss on the grassy banks of the Mary Peter’s track while watching school sports day!
16. Did you ever have a health epiphany which made you change your lifestyle?
I had a stillbirth in 2011 and the infection which led to my baby dying had entered my bloodstream and was potentially fatal to me, I was told at the time. I had no idea and just felt a bit fluish. Bodies are amazing things, but I have both consciously and sub-consciously taken much better care of mine and appreciated it a whole lot more since then.
17. Best health/lifestyle advice you were ever given and would pass on to others?
Drinking plenty of water is the best advice I would pass on. I write a beauty column and blog and so many women ask me how best to moisturise their skin and I always reply by first asking how much water they drink in a day - it really is the best moisturiser ever, as well as being a lubricant for our digestive systems and pretty much everything else inside. The other advice I like is the old one ‘abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym’ - and it’s so true that what we put into our mouths is more important than how often we work out, although working out is amazing and I would advocate doing that every day too. But you can’t work out and then eat unhealthily and expect results. Lastly, for mental health, I believe it’s really important to ‘feel the feelings’ and work through issues - personal ones and those with others.
18. Who inspires you or who would you try to emulate in terms of fitness / attitude to life?
I love Kim Constable and Tiffany Brien, both local girls who are about being strong, real and healthy at the same time. And I hope this doesn’t sound arrogant, but I am quite content in my own skin too and I think I have just about got the balance right where I want it to be in terms of fitness, health, positivity and living a full, happy life.
19. What time do you normally get to bed and do you get enough sleep?
I’m not a massive sleeper, five or six hours is about all I ever get, and I know that is not enough. I am wondering how (or if) it will eventually catch up with me, as I am sure the sleep deficit will manifest itself elsewhere in my health at some point. I use Glenn Harrold’s ‘Deep Sleep’ which is on his App on my iPhone and it really does give me a fantastic quality sleep even if I only have 5 hours.
20. Would you say you have a healthy attitude towards your own mortality?
I have so much faith in human beings (sometimes I trust too much!) and it’s harsh, but I no longer give time to negative or toxic people and people who are full of drama because, while I can, I want my life experience to be wholesome and as positive as can be.
I have lost both parents - my dad 16 years ago and my mother just last year - as well as a child (through stillbirth 6 years ago), so death and the physical pain of grief is always a bit raw if the right triggers are pushed. It can be so debilitating, but I chose to harness the grief and live my life to the full while I am lucky enough to enjoy the gift of being alive on this wonderful planet.