Health & Fitness

Inside Out Part 2: Healthy eating

Natures Garden April-010-6332

Confession time.

About 4 years ago I banted. Banting was really having it’s moment and we were on the bantwagon. 

While I do not believe that it’s a sustainable diet, I did actually learn two really important things from it:

  1. That fat is good, and our bodies need it and love it.
  2. That sugar really is the enemy, and the sooner we break our addiction to it the better.

There were many moments of change that brought me to where I am right now. How I feel, how I think and how I behave around food and exercise, and i’m going to try to tell you everything i’ve learnt in the most concise way possible. I hope it helps you, and perhaps sparks something!

We get A LOT of bad education about food and dieting thrown at us from all directions. It’s not just the media and magazines with fresh new articles on the latest way to drop 5kg, we also get “good advice” from friends and family members telling us what to eat, and what not to eat based on the latest You magazine article, or the latest trend diet.

With all this conflicting information, we end up feeling so confused that we either don’t do anything, or we try everything for a day or so frustated when it doesn’t work and return promptly to our bad habits.

We’re stressed so we eat, we’re happy so eat, we try our best to eat “well” and “healthily” but in the end we’re so overwhelmed with information, life and stress that we actually don’t end up doing anything of value or become too tired or lazy to care.

We’re not MINDFUL about what we eat, which means we’re MINDLESS (let that sink in for a second, and think about your eating habits).

This was definitely true for me.

We just put things in our mouths without really thinking of the effect it’s going to have on our bodies, how that is going to dictate our day and how we’re going to feel and what we’re going to be able to accomplish.

I came to a point last year where I made a decision to stop being mindless about my body, what I eat, and how I move.

Dylan and I joined a new gym in winter (more on that later) with the hopes of setting aside our quiet winter months for restoring our bodies and getting healthy and fit, and we chatted a lot about what diet we would follow because as you may or may not know exercise is all well and good but what you put into your body is way more important if you actually want to see and feel changes.

I really didn’t want to follow another fad!

We agreed that all dieticians and doctors agreed that sugar was bad, so that was definitely a no.

What else?

I started giving this a lot of thought, and then something clicked – it’s simple. Our bodies are designed like an incredible machine. If we give it what it needs (the right fuel) it will thrive! If we put poison in it, it still somehow plods along but it doesn’t work as well as it should, and we feel awful and wonder what’s wrong with us.

So I went on a bit of a research mission. A mission to educate myself on this complex body and what it needs to work like it was designed to.

I wasn’t a science nerd at school, but I loved biology!

There was a lot of random research I did from books to podcasts but two books that really enlightened me were:

  • The Body Book by Cameron Diaz – Yep she wrote a book and it’s awesome!
  • and The Healthy Life by Jessica Sepel

I discovered so much truth and insight from these women. Insight about our basic biology, digestion and gut health (which is the most important thing to know about it and nobody seems to talk about), and how every action (whether it’s how we move or what we are putting into our mouths) has a reaction.

We can either get a series of great reactions and feel great, or we can mindlessly do what we’ve always done and suffer in frustration (whether it’s with extra weight, headaches, tummy issues, *insert your body malady here* etc).

I learnt that everything is connected, and being aware of these reactions and connections is SO important and will help you make better decisions about everything (food, exercise, sleep, lifestyle).

This awareness about what was going on on the INSIDE was SO key for me! I finally felt awake and in control of my body through the knowledge I had gained, and that made me feel pretty powerful to make changes.

So Step One: Educate yourself on your own body (find out how it works, how it reacts to certain foods, what it needs, why it needs that and what foods have “that” in them, pick apart symptoms you may have and how what you are eating may be affecting that ‘symptom’ – this could be anything from being over weight, feeling bloated, skin breakouts, brain fog, depression etc).

So many people I know are struggling through ‘their thing’ (we ALL have our things and our own problems), and they can’t see that what they’re putting into their bodies is harming them, when they could be using food to heal.

As a side bar, i’d love to share a quick story about my sister. She was diagnosed with MS a few years ago, and just through changing her diet she is living completely symptom free.

You can read her full story here, but basically she cut out the foods that ‘fed’ her illness, and now only eats whole foods which help her body heal and thrive on a daily basis. She not only feels amazing but looks amazing too!

What we put into our bodies either has the power to heal or harm, which is a brilliant ‘mantra’ to tell yourself when you’re deciding what to eat or drink on a daily basis.

So the next step for me was finding the good education on food.

In Cameron Diaz’s ‘Body Book’, she has a whole chapter on “loving your hunger”, and I loved it, because i’d never heard it quite like that before.

When we ‘diet’ or starve ourselves to lose weight, and hunger is our worst enemy. We hate it and we try to ignore it and suppress it (sound familiar?), but changing our attitude toward it can change your relationship with food for life.

When you get hungry your body has worked hard, and is telling you that you need fuel. This is when you want to give it something wholesome, delicious and satisfying that it can use for the next few hours. If you’re hungry just an hour later it means you didn’t eat a wholesome meal, and it sucks because you probably have a while to wait until your next snack or meal, and you’re going to be feeling pretty hangry and brain-foggy until then.

I’ve learnt now exactly what keeps me full for breakfast (usually eggs!), that I need a 10:30am snack, a filling lunch and a 3:30pm protein rich snack. I’ve learnt what fuel my body loves and keeps me going and what meals just don’t satisfy me and leave me feeling shaky and hungrier than ever.

You learn through trial and error what works for you.

These are things I’ve learnt and know for sure:

Sugar really is the enemy. The sooner you can cut it the better! Just watch ‘That Sugar Film’ to see the effects it has on your body and brain. It’s scary!

Also it literally is in most things. Read any label of food you might have in your cupboard of fridge. Look at the back of ‘healthy’ foods you’re buying at Woolies or Pick n Pay (especially the savoury things).

I used to be pretty addicted to sugar. I remember taking two sugars in my tea, and not being able to go a day without something sweet, but over time I made small changes and eventually quit it altogether!

It’s not easy but it’s the ultimate game changer when it comes to your health and wellness!

Start small and a build new habits. Eg. Taking half the amount of sugar you currently take in your tea/coffee. Buying sparkling water instead of fizzy drinks/juices (Woolworths flavoured water is amazing, and it’s sugar free!), and replacing your chocolate addiction with a darker chocolate with less sugar in it. Or go cold turkey for a month if that works for you!

It may not be fun in the beginning, but the results you’ll hopefully feel (more energy, skin clearing, brain fog lifting, less cravings) will be worth it!

I do indulge in something delicious every now and then (girls gotta live!), but I can honestly say I don’t have those awful cravings anymore.

Fat is so good.

The good fats of course.

My favourite fats to add to a meal: avocados, nuts, chia, coconut oil, olive oil, linseed and a bit of animal fat (fish, chicken with skin, a bit of bacon every now and then).

Did you know some nutrients can only get to the cells that need them by eating fat?

Did you know that fat satisfies cravings and appetite leaving you feeling fuller and happier for longer?

Did you know fat is brain food? Yes please!

What about cheese?

I have become very wary of dairy (milk, cheese etc). I still love me some brie and a flat white occasionally but generally I feel a lot better off it.

Do your research, see how I feel on and off it, and if you can rather cut it out. Your body works a lot better without it.


Good mood food or bad mood food.

After years of mindless eating, I finally feel woke to the types of food that make me feel good, and the ones that make me feel awful, and finally, severely cutting them out for the better good (Kill bill sword swipe).

For eg.

Delicious bread, pizza and pasta you are so tasty while i’m eating you but the reality is you make my stomach sore and bloated, you make me feel sleepy and my brain foggy. You also don’t fill me or satisfy me so I end up eating way more than I need to. So sorry, it’s not you, it’s me.

Sexy piece of toast at a breakfast out, I have to continually find the strength to reject you because you’re always so tempting and crunchy, but you make my sugar levels freak out, you make me sleepy, shaky and also never quite fill me despite your look of heartiness.

Breaking up with some foods that you love is hard, but time heals and it does get easier to resist the temptation if you remind yourself of the reaction and consequences.

Not all ‘carbs’ are created equal though. There is a difference between whole grains (foods in their natural, whole state), and the ones that have been so processed and stripped of goodness. eg. The white bread, white pasta, white rice (it’s so white because it’s bleached and stripped of anything natural).

The simple carbs (the processed ones, but also the ones found in fruit) are so simple that your body breaks them down too quickly (into sugars), and your sugar levels spike, leaving you feeling horrible (just like my examples above).

You want to be choosing complex carbs (whole grains) because they are high in fibre (keeping you full and your digestive system working well) as well as giving your body vitamins and minerals it needs daily like Vitamin B, magnesium and iron etc.

Carbohydrates are in everything, but these are some that make me particularly happy:

– All vegetables (in every colour you think of). Think big, green salads, broccoli, cauliflower, aubergine and sweet potato (made in a delicious way!).

  • Grains like quinoa and brown rice
  • Fruit like berries, and apples as a snack
  • Legumes like chickpeas (especially in hummus form).

I found this list of good and bad carbs if you’re needing a guide. I found it quite helpful.

Then there’s the gluten debate, which i’m not going to get into, but I do know A LOT of people have reactions to it whether it’s big or small so it’s something you might want to be aware of, and might want to try cut it out and see if you feel better off it.


My favourite good mood food, and something that actually keeps me full, full of energy and feeling balanced.

My favourite breakfast is 2 boiled eggs (possibly with some avo).

They’re super easy to make, keep me full and happy the longest out of any breakie and are pretty delicious when pimped up a bit.

I always make sure I have protein at every meal, because it really is something that keeps me going, moving and feeling good.

When i’ve eaten ‘badly’ (this is too much sugar, alcohol, too much mindless eating) I immediately turn to protein, a bit of good fat and the greenest thing I can get my hands on (huge salad or veggies made in a scrumptious way). It resets me and heals me, and I wonder why I ever stopped eating this way because it makes me function so well!

I loved reading about the science of protein in Cameron Diaz’s book.

She says:

“‘The word protein means ‘of prime importance’.

Proteins are made up of amino acids and these are so vital to our health that they’re often referred to as ‘the building blocks of life’.

When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into it’s smallest components – amino acids – these are molecules that are used to build and repair ALL of the cells in your body including your DNA.

Eating enough protein also helps to build and maintain our muscles, our bones, as well as the antibodies that keep us healthy, the hormones that affect our mood and the enzymes that make digestions possible.”

Wow! No wonder I feel so good every time I get my fix!

My favourite ways to get protein in: Eggs, clean whey protein powder in a smoothie, adding 100 – 150 grams of chicken, fish, steak to a meal, quinoa and hummus.

Now let’s talk about greener things…

Fruits & Veggies


This is what i’ve concluded about fruit:

Do proceed with caution, but don’t cut it out entirely or be afraid of it.

This may sound so silly but I really used to have a small fear of bananas because literally everyone around me would tell me how they make you fat, or that they’re worse than drinking beer!

I avoided them for years (!) but i’m finally calling BS on this one.

I eat a banana or half a banana most days, yes it’s sweet but it’s also wholesome and filling, and adds a lot of heartiness to my smoothie. I mostly like eating them frozen in a smoothie or sometimes on some sweet potato toast with some nut butter, they also make a great on the go snack.

Eat in moderation. Two servings of fruit a day is perfect! Just check in to see how that particular fruit makes you feel.

Does it keep you full or does it make you hungrier?

I love apples as a snack. They’re sweet and delicious, and are packed with fibre and complex carbs. An apple fills me and satisfies me in between meals and keeps my sugar levels and hormones happy. I sometimes add in some sugar free peanut butter if i’m really hungry in between meals!

Other great good mood fruits: berries of all kinds, citrus fruits and of course bananas.

Having only a fruit salad for breakfast spikes my blood sugar like crazy and doesn’t fill me at all, even though it looks healthy and is the ‘health breakfast’ option at most cafes.

Confusing right? This breakfast is the picture of ‘health’, but when you really break it down it doesn’t give your body the right fuel and nourishment it needs, especially at the start of your day!

Fruit as a meal isn’t satisfying (maybe as an addition or a snack in between), but it doesn’t have enough to keep us going for very long.

I love a fruity smoothie breakfast, but I will add in some supplements to make it a meal (eg. Whey protein, Green Vibrance, Chia, flaxseeds etc). That way it’ll keep me going for a while!

Vegetables & the greenest of greens

I really have learnt to love salads and vegetables, and how to make them delicious (so many herbs and spices and ways to cook them!).

I’ve learnt about all the good things each fresh ingredient does for my body and I really get a kick out of giving my body all that goodness and feeling (and seeing) the result of it!

It’s SO important to learn these things for yourself so you don’t just mindlessly buy a butternut and feta salad or some naartjies because you think it will make you healthier, or eat a fruit salad for a meal because you think it will make you thinner.

I will mindfully choose that Kale, Avo, Almond, Fennel and Chicken salad with a delicious homemade dressing because I know that the greens will heal me and give me all the vitamins and nutrients I need. The avocado, almonds and olive oil packs in the fat, the fennel aids in good digestion and the chicken is going to help me feeling happy and satisfied for hours.

Do some research! Knowledge really is power, and will help you take responsibility for your choices.

Jessica Sepel and Cameron Diaz both have a great way of breaking down the benefits of all different food and why our bodies need them which I found really helpful!

Veggies I love: Most of them! Eat the rainbow and figure out how to make them tasty with herbs and spices, grilling and roasting. There are so many delicious and healthy recipes out there now, look on Pinterest, look up some great healthy food blogs, buy some healthy recipe books. The options are endless once you start looking!

I especially love green vegetables as they’re packed with the most goodness and healing properties of all. So many nutrients, vitamins and minerals, and most importantly energy!

I love how Cameron explains it in her book. She talks about how plants are energy, because they grow by getting energy from the biggest, fiery ball of energy – the sun! There are some complex processes that happen in those leaves, and if we eat them we’re absorbing all of that goodness and energy too.

Having something green every day is so important to me because I know it’s going to keep me healthy and heal my body (slowing down ageing, keeping my body, mind, and hormones well, keeping my skin glowing and my hair shining – the benefits are endless!)

Vitamins and minerals

Food, instead of pills!

I’ve never really believed in taking multi-vitamins. If we eat what we need to we can get all the good things straight from our food and the source is so much fresher!

The health of our bones, muscles, vision, brain function, immune system – all of these are dependent on the micronutrients, vitamins and minerals we consume with each meal.

I came to realise that what I put on my plate had a direct effect on all of the above, more than I ever thought.

Do you get sick a lot? What body maladies are you suffering through?

Look at your diet, before you make an appointment with the doctor. All the answers will be right there.

Want to feel happy, have glowing skin, strong nails, a clear mind? Feel strong, energetic, light and balanced?

All of these good things come back to what you put on your plate and in your mouth, and once you feel and see the effects you won’t want to go back to eating toasted cheese sandwiches no matter how good they taste.

Do your research. Educate yourself!

Side note: There obviously are some great ‘supplements’ out there that help you (eg. some people need extra calcium and magnesium, omega oils etc) but my rule is to always try get them through my food first.

Water! Glorious water! (and other drinks)

I drink a lot of water, and when I forget to drink for some reason I feel the effects instantly. I feel foggy, irritable, I feel tired and low, my mouth feels dry and I can feel cravings coming on, even though my tummy might be full.

I also feel older, my skin is dull and fine lines start showing in forehead – that’s when I know I need to drink water fast! (Yikes!)

This is why I make sure I carry around a bottle of water with me all day, and keep sipping!

As soon as I get out of bed in the morning I drink a full bottle of room temperature water (cold is little harder to throw back).

After this I feel instantly brighter, better and more awake to start the day (It also gets your tummy moving!).

I have my breakfast, my coffee, and I refill that bottle and keep it by my side to sip. If I haven’t drunken it all by mid morning I chug it down.

While i’m preparing my lunch I drink a full bottle, and I refill to drink throughout the afternoon. While I prepare dinner I drink a full bottle (A great tip I learnt from my sister!)

I try not to drink with a meal as i’ve learnt this dilutes your digestive juices! (and I find it actually makes my stomach sore).

If i’m exercising I drink an hour before I train, and then sip throughout the session, and make sure I chug some more after.

I try not to drink too late at night as I hate waking up to pee!

You need to be drinking 2 – 3 litres a day (and tea and coffee don’t count!).

I don’t drink fruit juice or fizzy drinks anymore as they’re packed with sugar, and make my sugar levels go whack.

I have an occasional G&T or glass of wine but i’ve tried to limit these to one a week, as alcohol is sugar (yip, look it up!) and so toxic to your body.

I love Woolies flavoured sparkling water (no sugar at all), and I also love The Duchess which is an alcohol and sugar free G&T.

Basically just think about what you’re putting into your body before you chug it back!

Sugar and alcohol are toxic. They’re packaged beautifully, and marketing has done really well into making us feel and believe that Coke, Gin and Wine are all good for us and will make us feel good, but they’re really aren’t doing our bodies any favours.

I do believe we can handle it in small amounts, but if we’re drinking everyday and more than 1 – 2 units we’re creating a toxic environment for our bodies, where illnesses can breed and hormones go a little wild.

So much can be packed into one glass of liquid that can have so many negative effects.

For me I have to be extremely careful of caffeine and alcohol as it has a serious effect on my hormones, my sleep and my mood (but more on this in another post).

Don’t medicate, hydrate!

I know so many people who suffer from headaches and don’t know why, and when I ask about their water consumption they go really quiet and reach for a myprodol.

Water is a natural remedy for so many problems!

Headaches, brain fog, constipation, fatigue, skin problems. It promotes weight loss, flushes out toxins, boosts your immune system (keeping you healthy!) and just generally keeps you feeling bright and happy.

…and who doesn’t want to feel bright, young, happy and full of energy every day? We could do so much more without feeling bogged down by all these ‘things’ we suffer with.

If any of these points resonate with you, I hope it inspires you to change something!


This ‘healthy eating’ journey has been a lot about relearning the basics, and unlearning the bad education. Educating yourself, reading a lot and testing the theory on your body.

It’s a journey, and it definitely takes time. It takes time to eliminate sugar from your diet and feel free from those cravings. To heal your body and to learn what foods are making you feel awful, and how to replace them with something good.

To slowly say no to bad choices and habits, and quickly say yes to good ones. To realise the cause and effect, and to study it like your life depends on it (because hey! It does!)

Slowly and surely you will find balance. I really did!

My balance definitely gets thrown off at times, when things get out of routine or when I get busy, but I now know exactly how to ‘reset’ myself when things do go off course.

I also really believe in the 80 / 20 rule! Where you’re eating well and mindfully 80% of the time, but there is a small allowance for a meal out or an indulgence over the weekend without beating yourself up about it.

Eating this way (and being in a good routine with exercise and enough sleep) has resolved my food issues for life and helps me maintain my weight and feel good.

The result of living this kind of healthy life will definitely be fat-loss (i’m not calling it weight-loss) over time, but I have found that this can be a trickier goal to navigate.

You can eat avocado and quinoa until the cows come home but if you’re overeating you might not get the results you really want.

I feel like there are a lot of people that can relate to this, where you ARE eating healthily but you just aren’t slimming down the way you’d like to.

In the next post, I want to talk about losing fat because I do feel like it’s a different goal and different way of eating, but I felt like it was important to write this post first as this way of eating and living is the ultimate goal, but there are some helpful tips to shredding the fat effectively in a healthy way.

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  • Reply
    Pippy G
    April 19, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    Amazing and inspirational – well done! Xx

    • Reply
      April 20, 2017 at 9:14 am

      Thank you Pippa!

  • Reply
    Desray Harbour
    April 20, 2017 at 11:42 am

    Well written Emma.

  • Reply
    April 20, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    Great post! A friend gifted my Jessica’s first book, and it’s been a go-to guide for meal inspiration (and mindfulness about meals!).

  • Reply
    April 20, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    Brilliant post Ems!

  • Reply
    Keri Bainborough
    April 21, 2017 at 4:42 am

    Awesome post Em! If you loved the sugar film, check out “What The Health” and “Eating You Alive” – they have blown my mind recently!

  • Reply
    Kim Venter
    April 22, 2017 at 6:52 am

    Changing the world Ems! This is truly inspirational!

  • Reply
    April 24, 2017 at 10:34 am

    Thank you so much for sharing, it really is about being mindful.
    I can’t wait to your next post.

  • Reply
    Sam Fox
    May 3, 2017 at 11:14 am

    You go Em!
    Such a great post 🙂 really inspiring!

  • Reply
    November 8, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    Wow….Really inspiring!
    Going to buy those books most definitely!

    Thank you!

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