What does it mean to be healthy?
Healthy reaches across all aspects of our being – what we are thinking, eating and how we are moving. Addressing all of these and having them in balance creates a healthy being.
Do you follow any specific way of eating?
I eat seasonally, and I have a vegetable-based diet. I believe our bodies need different foods depending on the season – temperature and energetics of food are important and so often overlooked. I am always aware of what I am eating, and checking labels is a must – what has been added, where the items have come from, if it has been genetically modified, etc.
“Eating seasonally also cancels out all those air miles – you get to eat what’s been grown locally, at the right time, when it will do you the most good and when it is most nutritious.”
Eating seasonally also cancels out all those air miles – you get to eat what’s been grown locally, at the right time, when it will do you the most good and when it is most nutritious. We can’t expect to feel energetic and alert and on top of things if we are filling up with processed foods full of refined carbohydrates, sugar and additives. Eat rubbish, feel rubbish – it’s that simple.
What foods or groups of foods (if any) do you avoid?
I really try to remain balanced, simply asking myself what my body needs, and why. I will avoid anything that has been processed and I will generally limit wheat and dairy and sugar because of the inflammatory reaction your body has to these foods. If I am feeling sluggish, the connection will finally dawn on me. I look back at what I am eating and if I have slipped into a habit because I have been busy, the answer is always there!
“Eat rubbish, feel rubbish – it’s that simple.”
What do you think are the most nutritious foods?
For me, the most nutritious foods are always what we’ve grown ourselves – we can get them from soil to plate in seconds, and it doesn’t get better than that. We also know what’s used to grow them and can continue to eat seasonally when we grow our own. Constant items on the food list are broccoli, kale and avocados. Their incredible essential fatty acid content is so nourishing – supporting hair, nails, skin and every bodily process. I can never get enough – in my smoothies, on toast, salads!
“In Chinese medicine, green is the colour of energy for the liver. Green food smooths out our body’s flow of energy ensuring that we are able to cope with things and not get bogged down and stagnant.”
I also love anything that is green – in Chinese medicine, green is the colour of energy for the liver. Green food smooths out our body’s flow of energy ensuring that we are able to cope with things and not get bogged down and stagnant – so we are feeding our minds as well as our bodies.
How have your previous health issues influenced the way you eat and live?
Without a doubt, before I had been ill I thought I was a healthy eater and while I did have lots of veg, I ate a lot more red meat and not everything was organic. It made me look at the whole picture – what has been added and where the foods have come from. Have the crops been genetically modified? How does my body respond to this food, and what has caused that reaction?
I grew up in the middle of nowhere and we only had the most basic staples – meat and three veg was all I knew. What we think of now as “basics” were all a luxury during my childhood – we didn’t have a supermarket within 50km and running water was a precious commodity. It’s really shaped the way I see food – as something to be respected, cherished and eaten mindfully. Not grabbed for convenience’s sake and swallowed in seconds.
“If I am a bit peckish, I will snack on raw seasonal vegetables, either on their own or with hummus.”
What is your optimal breakfast?
Breakfast is such a ritual and my favourite meal of the day. I always begin with some warm lemon water, then homemade porridge with various grains – stewed fruit or nuts and seeds on top – and a pouring of my beauty oil full of amazing omega goodness. When we lived in New York, I fell in love with blueberry pancakes, so on a very special occasion I will do a gluten-free version – heaven!
Your favourite snacks?
Avocado on anything… I also carry nuts and seeds in all of my bags, and pick up vegetable juices and green smoothies if I’m on the go. If I am a bit peckish, I will snack on raw seasonal vegetables, either on their own or with hummus.
What is the hardest part of the day for you to avoid temptation? And what is your greatest temptation?
I get a craving for something salty at around 5pm, which in Chinese medicine is Kidney Qi time (this is when that organ is most active). The kidney’s flavour is salt, so when it is out of balance, this is what you would tend to crave most. I satisfy this urge with a handful of olives.
My greatest temptation is cake, so in our house, we have Cake Sunday! We make a ritual of afternoon tea and cake and it really is something to look forward to – a flourless sugar-free chocolate cake was this week’s lovely treat. It’s amazing how many wheat, gluten, and sugar alternatives are available to us now, and I love experimenting with different ingredients in a bid to bake something both delicious and healthy.
“In Chinese medicine, around 5pm is Kidney Qi time (this is when that organ is most active).”
Raw chocolate is also a great thing to reach for when you need a sweet hit and making my own raw truffles from good things such as cocoa and nut butter really hits the spot when you’re tempted by Cadburys!
Do you believe in diets or detox programmes?
Again, I really do believe in balance. What matters even more than what we don’t eat is the pace at which we eat and what we are doing while we eat; also, how it is cooked and the temperature of your food. Mindfulness is a big thing for me – if I sit down to a meal, I want to savour it and take my time, not scoff it in front of the TV or while on email. If we don’t register what we’re eating, we can’t register when we’re full.
Diets are quite often extreme and built on extreme principles that make no sense at all, and which can very often stress our bodies, slow our metabolisms and damage our mental wellbeing. I think it’s more important to have an awareness of how we are fuelling ourselves, how each bite makes us feel, and to simply avoid the foods which cause us to feel awful.
“Diets are quite often extreme and built on extreme principles that make no sense at all, and which can very often stress our bodies, slow our metabolisms and damage our mental wellbeing.”
Detoxing can, however, give our digestive systems a rest – so the body can send its energy off to do other things rather than work through the digestive process. This is a process that should be done in the spring or autumn – not in the winter when we need to be nourishing ourselves with warm foods and we naturally need more calories to stay healthy.
Why do you feel as strongly about what you put on your skin as about what you put in your mouth?
It really matters. Our skin is the largest organ of our body and it absorbs a significant amount of what we put on it, so we need to exercise caution. After I became ill, I completely reconfigured my routine, and now I really consider all that is in the product and therefore what goes on my skin. We also need to stop chasing the miracle claims of so many chemical-laden cosmetics. It scares me – we’re using things that are being deeply absorbed into the skin (and beyond) but no one is testing their cumulative toxic effect on our bodies.
“Our skin is the largest organ of our body and it absorbs a significant amount of what we put on it, so we need to exercise caution.”
Through your journey of building de Mamiel, what have you learned about the health risks of conventional makeup and skincare?
Our bodies never cease to amaze me and I feel incredibly lucky; building de Mamiel has not only taken me back to my anatomy and physiology and science training, but also allowed me to explore less conventional ways of doing things. With a background in both Eastern and Western science, I’ve been able to choose my own path and have known from the beginning what I would never include, and that I would also fight for every ingredient to be traceable, very high-grade, as organic as it can be, fair-trade and effective.
It’s been painstaking, expensive and incredibly time-consuming, but there are no fillers in my line, it’s all there for a reason, and I know that is what has made it so popular. You only need to use it once and you already feel the difference. That’s extremely satisfying.
“I would fight for every ingredient to be traceable, very high-grade, as organic as it can be, fair-trade and effective.”
What do you think the biggest misconception about natural skincare is?
There are quite a few – but misconceptions that really bug me are built around over-simplification. One always assumes that organic is better than non-organic, but if you dig deeper with a lot of brands you’ll find that the above is not always the case – for example, is organic lavender grown in a place where there could be smog and pollution in the air better than non-organic lavender grown at high altitude in the French Alps where the air is far more pure? It’s a complex thing.
People also believe natural isn’t as effective as its “scientist-made” counterpart. This was perhaps the case once, but with new extraction methods for the actives in plants, we are seeing real results and improved efficacy in so many natural products.
“One always assumes that organic is better than non-organic, but if you dig deeper with a lot of brands you’ll find that the above is not always the case.”
I guess defining the word natural is always a problem, too. Where do you draw the line? If it comes from a plant but is extracted in a laboratory, is it still natural? And we must not always assume that natural is gentle. One can have a reaction to a natural product as easily as a synthetic one. In fact, essential oils can cause some of the most common allergic reactions, which is why, when working with them, you really need to know what you’re doing, not just mix them up and hope for the best!
Do you believe in “food for our skin”?
Food for our skin comes as much from the inside as the outside. In Chinese medicine, our face is a roadmap of energy showing many meridians from our body. Our skin is the body’s largest organ and we forget that it has many layers. It is no coincidence that when we are feeling awful, the first place we see it is in our face.
“Food for our skin comes as much from the inside as the outside.”
If there is real repairing and fighting of bugs to be done, the body will recruit any available nutrients and energy away from the non-vital organs to those most in need, so they usually leave the skin first and return to the skin last. For this reason, what we put on our skin needs to feed it and allow it to breathe and repair itself on a regular basis. This is the beauty of an oil at nighttime, as it gives the skin the balance and nutrients it needs, and enables it to heal itself without creating a barrier.
How do you believe your oils work on many different levels?
The oils work on us emotionally, physically and chemically. They are a complex blend of many carrier oils and essential oils. The carrier oils help to protect and nourish the outer layers of the skin, while the essential-oil molecules are absorbed into the body to work from the inside. The oils are blended to give the skin what it needs to repair from the stressors of our environment at different times of the year.
So, they are heavier in the winter and lighter in the summer but no less nutrient rich. They work on a physical level to improve the quality and texture of the skin, to plump and hydrate it, help erase fine lines and balance the oiliness. The chemical and emotional component of the oils comes from essential oils, which are inhaled to bring about balance from within.
“The ritual in which the oils are applied is just as important as the ingredients in the bottle, where the ingredients were sourced and the blessing they received.”
The ritual in which the oils are applied is just as important as the ingredients in the bottle, where the ingredients were sourced and the blessing they received. It all contributes to their potency, vitality and efficacy. And then there are also the mood-balancing flower essences we use too… it’s a beautiful, intricate balance, but it really does work.
Is exercise an important part of your life?
Exercise is vital – it keeps me sane. I try and do something every day even if it’s only 10 minutes after meditation. I tend to walk everywhere as much as I can if I have a light day, but I also do yoga, Pilates and I visit the gym. I have never been fabulous at classes where there are a lot of people or high co-ordination levels required. I have a yoga mat and a DVD – so there are no excuses.
“If you are travelling, put a DVD in your suitcase or you can always find space on the floor of your hotel room and use a towel as a mat.”
Any tips you have for fitting exercise into a busy schedule?
Pack your bag or lay your clothes out the night before. If you are travelling, put a DVD in your suitcase or you can always find space on the floor of your hotel room and use a towel as a mat. Schedule it! Put it in your diary as an appointment and make a promise to keep it with yourself.
Keep yourself motivated by doing a burst of something, especially your cardio – swap sitting on a bike for HIIT. Take it outside – there are loads of apps now that give you no excuse for not knowing what to do!
Is there anyone you look up to as a healthy role model – someone who does it right in your opinion?
I admire Livia Firth because she’s real, earthy, intelligent and switched on. Beautiful, too, of course, but in a very womanly way, and I like how her approach to beauty, health and lifestyle is balanced. I also admire the way she’s made eco look so elegant.