Medical doctor, personal trainer, best-selling author – there’s not much Hazel Wallace can’t do when she puts her mind to it. Better known to her 214K Instagram followers as the Food Medic, Wallace’s passion for healthy living is infectious – and no more so than in her new book The Food Medic For Life: Easy recipes to help you live well every day (Yellow Kite, £20). Divided into two sections, Fuel Up offers inspiration for those days when you need quick, easy recipes – think portable brekkies, fork-free-lunches and batch-cook dinners. The second section, Power Down, is for lazy weekends when you have the time and space to really indulge your love of food. We caught up with the food doc to learn more about her wellness secrets and get a peek at some of her favourite healthy recipes.
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What made you decide to become a doctor? ‘I was always quite academic, but I thought I’d follow in my father’s footsteps and become an accountant. We sadly lost him to a stroke when I was 14, and that was really the flick of the switch that changed my career direction towards medicine. I became fascinated with the human body and the interaction between our lifestyles and our health. I felt that it was something I was meant to do with my life.’ What inspired your love of healthy eating? ‘As kids, we were involved in cooking from a young age – from picking apples from the orchard for apple pie to peeling the spuds for Sundays roast dinner. However, at university, I was surviving on fast food and ready meals. Food was my crutch when I was homesick or stressed with exams, but it was simultaneously my enemy. I decided to do a bit of research and started cooking from scratch, using as many wholefood ingredients as possible, with the basic skills I had picked up from my mother and grandmother. I was eating a balance of all nutrients (carbs, fats and protein) but choosing better-quality foods. It wasn’t just what I had eaten that had changed, but also how I ate and my approach to food. I reconnected with food and cooking and, despite my busy schedule, I didn’t falter because I’d finally learnt to respect my body enough to feed and nourish it with real, wholesome food.’
Have you always wanted to be a personal trainer? ‘It was my dream to become a PT, but I didn’t think it was realistic. But now I’m a fully qualified gym instructor and personal trainer. Previously I had no idea what the course entailed and the effort required to succeed. I now have a whole new level of respect for personal trainers!’ How does a typical day in your life look? ‘I wake up and meditate for 10 minutes, then grab a coffee and write my to-do list for the day. I like to work out first thing or I’m likely to push it to the end of my priorities! After that, I spend my day reading papers, writing content, developing recipes, answering emails and working on future projects. It’s been a very creative year (I’m a junior doctor but I’ve taken this year out to locum). I’ve dedicated my life to improving as many people’s health as possible and having a huge online presence helped me reach more people.’
You’re in great shape! Is that down to working out as well as diet? ‘I wasn’t always in “shape” and I kind of cringe at that term as I don’t like to focus on appearance as a measure of health, but I’m a much stronger person than I was when I was 20. I used to have no muscle mass, no curves, no strength. I built strength in the gym and I still work on it now, but I’ve also fuelled my workouts with good food. So it’s due to a bit of both I guess!’ How do you manage to fit in cooking with such a busy schedule? ‘I batch cook a couple of meals for the week, but I also love cooking in the evenings, even if I’m late home from work. I plan my meals as it helps me stick within a budget and ensures I always have food in the fridge. But sometimes I go off-piste! If one evening I fancy knocking up something a bit more special such as a garlic and prawn linguine and a glass of wine, then I 100 per cent will!’
What is the most common nutrition mistake people make today? ‘We’re lead to believe that one diet suits everyone, but that’s simply not true. We need to move away from this reductionist approach. Each of us is unique and we handle the same foods very differently, depending on multiple factors, such as our genetics or even our gut bugs. The best diet is one that’s sustainable, balanced, inclusive and varied. Let’s focus on what we can include (lots of fibre; lots of colour; healthy fats; good, protein-rich sources).’ What can we do today to improve our nutritional health tomorrow? ‘First, integrate one self-care practice a day – for example, try downloading the Calm or Headspace app and meditate for five to 10 minutes daily. It might feel a bit weird to start with, but it has really helped me manage my stress. ‘Second, increase the amount of variety in your diet – try at least one new fruit, veg, legume or wholegrain each week. Each plant offers us a different profile of nutrients, so it’s important to try new foods! ‘Third, SLOW down. Next time you sit down to eat, put your phone away, switch off the TV and enjoy your food for at least 20 minutes. You’ll absorb more nutrients this way – and probably enjoy it more!’
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