Amelia Freer is a leading nutritional therapist, author of three best selling books about healthy eating and has just launched a new series of courses with Create Academy. Here she talks about her favourite online food shops, top tips for how to avoid that 4pm blood sugar slump and her favourite indulgence.
What led you to become a nutritional therapist?
While I was living and working in London in my twenties, I developed a whole host of different symptoms, including IBS, acne, recurrent infections and bloating. After seeing a number of different practitioners without much success, my flat-mate suggested that I might want to look at my diet – which was predominantly made up of croissants, baguettes and ready meals at the time (I thought this was the height of sophistication having come from remote countryside). So I booked an appointment with a nutritional therapist, and gradually worked to overhaul my diet and lifestyle. I was greatly inspired by how effective the changes were, and crucially, how different I felt. This ignited a fire in me, and I eventually went on to train as a nutritional therapist myself. That was over 15 years ago now, and I haven’t looked back since.
Why do you think there has been such a big focus in recent years on food, nutrition and dieting? Do you think there have been any shifts in public perceptions and eating habits?
I think the shift came about, indirectly, from a great explosion in scientific research examining the role of nutrition in health and disease. We started to understand a lot more about how important food is to our wellbeing and this gradually filtered through into more general knowledge and awareness. However, I also feel like a fair few messages got a little ‘lost-in-translation’, and a heavy dose of marketing was laid on top too. There is now also a great deal of interest in the effects that our eating habits have on the environment, which adds an extra layer.
This has ultimately resulted, I think, in a bit of a state of confusion and conflicting advice around food. My aim now is to try to cut through this noise and make healthy simple, fad-free and based firmly in common sense. Yet always allowing room for joyful eating and the pleasure of a good meal. This cannot be overlooked in our quest for the healthiest diet!
How do you start and end your day?
I have recently been waking earlier than usual and have been relishing that time in the morning before the rest of the house wakes up. I make myself a big cup of tea and usually climb back into bed to start the day slowly. It’s pretty much the only time I have to myself, so I really appreciate that moment to just ‘be’ before the busyness begins.
As I wake early, I also go to bed early. Once I’ve settled my 3-year old down for the night (sometimes easier said than done!), I’ll generally have a bit of a tidy up and then jump in the bath. Then it’s into bed by 10pm most evenings. I’m getting better at leaving my phone out of the bedroom. It definitely helps me sleep better if I’ve had a bit of screen-free time first.
Now that autumn has well and truly arrived, how do you boost your immune system during this season? Any supplements that you recommend?
I struggle with the phrase immune ‘boosting’. Immune function is a hugely complex system that can’t really be ‘boosted’, and indeed, we perhaps wouldn’t want to do that anyway, as it is just as important to be able to switch off our immune response once the threat of infection has passed as it is to switch it on effectively at the first sign of infection. I therefore prefer to use the phrase immune ‘balance’.
Fundamentally, the things that support immune balance are the things that also support our wider health in general; restorative sleep, active stress management, regular movement, a nourishing and varied diet, and of course, appropriate hand hygiene and other public health measures. There aren’t really any shortcuts to these fundamentals of wellbeing, and taking a supplement cannot absolve us of the need to take care of ourselves more generally. Sorry!
Having said that, it is worth taking a look at the NHS guidelines on vitamin D, which now recommend that all adults consider taking a supplement of 10 micrograms (400IU) daily over the autumn and winter months. It is difficult to get this much from food sources alone.
You live between Wiltshire and London. Which area do you live in London and which are your favourite restaurants and shops?
In London, we live in Battersea. I have to say, however, that I have not been to many restaurants, cafes or shops for a long while (even pre-COVID). I am much more of a home cook and online shopper these days. However, for special occasions, I adore the River Café and Petersham Nurseries in Richmond and I love to browse around antique shops on Lillie Road if ever I have an afternoon to spare.
Which are your top 3 accounts to follow on Instagram?
At the moment, I crave pure escapism and joy from Instagram. So it’s
@milan-greenfuture for divine gardens and gorgeous sunrises (below)
@accidentallywesanderson for fantastical photos and
@houseandgardenuk for interiors inspo.
Where do you shop for your food? Any veggie boxes and healthy prepared food that you like?
Since lockdown, my shopping habits have changed a bit. In winter, I get a weekly Riverford fruit and vegetable delivery – I’ve been a customer of theirs for years and love them. We will supplement this with produce from our own garden (below) during the growing season.
Then I use Good Club for health food products and specialist items (like certain teas I enjoy, gluten-free flour, legume pasta etc.), Bower Collective for refillable home and personal care products, and my local butcher and fishmonger for occasional, high-welfare meat and fish. I do still use Ocado or other supermarkets, but I’ve found this new way of shopping just as simple, but is often more cost-effective and has better options for reducing plastic packaging. I wrote about this in more detail in this article.
If somebody wanted to make just one change to their diet, what would you recommend?
To learn a few fundamental principles of nutrition. There is so much conflicting information and confusion around what makes up a healthy diet nowadays, it’s immensely empowering to have a basis of understanding from which you can make your own informed decisions, rather than being led by the next ‘big thing’. It allows us to step off the treadmill of following trends and instead to work out what actually suits us as individuals. There is no one-size-fits-all diet, so we need to put in a little work to find out what actually works for us.
We are often victims to the 4pm blood sugar slump – how can we avoid this?
My number one tip for this is to look at what you ate for breakfast. Did it include some sort of protein (such as natural yoghurt, nuts, seeds, nut butters, eggs, hummus etc.)? Or was it mostly refined carbohydrates?
Having a balanced breakfast that includes protein, fibre, ideally some fresh fruit or vegetables and a source of healthy fats sets us up well for the day and can really help to minimise that mid-afternoon slump many of us experience. Experiment with it yourself and see which breakfast works best for you. Take a look at this article for lots and lots of breakfast idea inspiration.
You have a busy, successful business, a family and two homes. How do you relax?!
I honestly am not very good at it! I struggle to find that elusive work-life balance, and don’t often prioritise my own self-care as much as perhaps I should. But I genuinely do enjoy cooking, and being in the kitchen with some good music playing, creating a comforting meal for my family definitely helps me to unwind. That, and hot, deliciously-scented, indulgently long baths. I do love a bath in the evening.
ALB attended one of your courses at Lime Wood before which we loved. Your new courses with Create Academy will now make your advice available for a much wider audience. What can our readers expect from the courses? How do they differ from your books for example? Do they include recipes and specific nutritional advice?
My new online course leads you through the fundamentals of nutrition and practical healthy eating that I think are so important, but presents them in a simple way that (hopefully!) feels really achievable. I know how busy and overwhelmed many of us are feeling at the moment, and I don’t want cooking or eating well to add to that. Food is such an important source of pleasure, comfort and joy in our lives – now perhaps more than ever. It’s just about finding a state of balance that works well.
I therefore designed the course to help you to find that balance for yourself. It contains 30 bite-size videos and lots of handouts with further recommended resources if you’d like to learn more as you go along. It’s a bit of a step-up from my books, especially if (like me) you’re a visual learner. It also feels a lot more personal. You come right into my own kitchen, see what I stock in my cupboards, potter around my garden and even come shopping with me. I share many of the insights and tricks I’ve learned over the years working with clients, and there are 5 exclusive new cook-along recipes, too. I also cover topics like how to ensure a balanced plant-based diet, and discuss the potential role of supplements, so it’s quite comprehensive. But you don’t have to do it all at once. The course is yours to keep for life so you can simply dip in and out of it whenever you have a moment or fancy a little ‘me time.’
Click here to sign up for Amelia Freer’s Online Courses at Create Academy and get 10% off.