This week we bring you our interview with the lovely wellbeing expert Emma Bardwell from Eighty Percent Clean. Emma gives us the lowdown on what first sparked her interest in wellness and why she is so inspired by people who change their health issues around. Read on to find out more about her health journey and how she tries to achieve balance in her everyday life…
Hi Emma! Tell us a bit about your childhood and background and how you feel that has influenced you today?
After finishing university I moved to Japan to teach English. It was the mid-90s and life over there was good. Too good! I spent four pretty wild years living in Osaka which was phenomenal but ended up having quite a negative impact on my health. By the end of my time there I had chronic IBS, skin issues and would wake up feeling strung out, wrung out and low. When I left in 1999 I wasn’t in great shape. I spent the best part of the next year travelling around Australia trying to piece my mind and body back together. Along the way, I discovered yoga, hung out on the beach and started taking an interest in good food. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t party; I most definitely did, but I came to the realisation that you have to make up the deficit after a big night, by nourishing yourself, otherwise your body simply can’t cope.
What made you take up such an interest in wellness and wellbeing?
In the middle of my Japan stint and in dire need of some time out I ended up at a retreat in Thailand. This was no Chiva-Som. There were no A-listers or spa treatments. It was basic – just a few huts on the beach and a week of fasting. I’m not an advocate of long-term fasting per se but I was desperate to start feeling better and a few people in Japan had been to the same retreat and had come back raving about it. The retreat itself was pretty unique for the time. As well as fasting for a week, we administered our own colonics twice a day using coffee infused water, dabbled in iridology, practised yoga and attended nutrition workshops. My body went into reboot mode; I think I spent 80 percent of the time asleep, and when I wasn’t sleeping I was raking through the contents of my colonic (we were encouraged to analyse shape, colour and look out for any worms!). Anyway, the long and short of it was that I left feeling completely revitalised (if not a little hungry). My eyes had changed colour – they went from muddy to light green – I had stacks of energy, my skin had brightened and I’d gained some rudimentary knowledge about probiotics, gut health and the raw food movement. This was way back in 1998. My Thailand experience had quite an effect on me and sparked an ongoing interest in health and wellbeing. I didn’t have an overnight epiphany by any stretch but it piqued an interest which has been evolving ever since.
Why do you focus so much on vegan recipes?
I have never really liked eating meat and enjoy handling it raw even less, so I’ve naturally erred towards vegetarian cooking. Vegetables are so diverse and I really enjoy eating seasonally. I’m not vegan but I’m a massive fan of plant based recipes and ensure that they make up the majority of what my family and I eat. Vegan cooking can be remarkably colourful and inventive and, despite what many meat eaters think, it’s filling and satisfying too.
What do your friends and family think about your health and wellness focus?
I try not to bang on about it too much, to be honest. If people are interested in wellness and read my articles I’m delighted, but I’m not on an all-out crusade. I think it’s a place people have to get to under their own volition. And rightly so, each to their own after all. Having said that, while I might try not to ram healthy eating down anyone’s throat, I have bought a fair few loved ones Nutribullets as presents. I think smoothies are a brilliant and easy first step into plant-based eating that even the most sceptical can embrace! I’m yet to convince my dad mind you, but I live in hope…
What Is your one health tip?
Don’t force yourself into eating things you don’t like just because you think you should. If kale isn’t your thing, move on and find something that is. Eating well is to be enjoyed, not endured. There are a wealth of delicious ingredients out there and they don’t have to be expensive or labelled a ‘superfood’ to be good for you. All fresh, whole foods have nutritional value, you just need to find out what works for you.
What is it like being vegan in the city you live in?
London has woken up to the wellbeing revolution that is already well established in places like the U.S and Australia. There’s a rise in vegetarian restaurants here now but I think there’s still quite a way to go when it comes to wholly vegan offerings. Having said that, places like Wild Food Cafe in Covent Garden, Nama in Notting Hill and Ethos near Oxford Street all cater well for non-meat and dairy eaters. There’s definitely room for more though, especially when it comes to food on the go.
Why do you think there has been such a rise in veganism over the last few years?
Veganism is shedding its hippie health nut moniker. I think social media has had a big influence, it has allowed the vegan message to spread a lot quicker than it would have done in previous times. Platforms like Instagram showcase how easy and delicious vegan food can be. Recipe sharing has never been easier and allows people to take what works for them and adapt it to their own lifestyle.
I think people are also far more aware of the world around them and take an interest in the farming industry and animal welfare. No matter where you stand on eating meat, documentaries like Cowspiracy and Earthlings make for hard viewing. We have a lot more information to hand now and this is shaping how we live our lives, not just with food but across the spectrum.
What inspires you?
I waste far too much time on Instagram; some of the #foodporn pics on there are off the scale but, while they’re nice to look at, your average person (me) doesn’t have the time or will to replicate them. Likewise, I’m no chef. I like to pare recipes back so they’re simple, seasonal and ideally only require a handful of ingredients. Despite saying all this, I’ve been known to spend a good half an hour tinkering with layers in a parfait to make it look pretty, only to tip it out into a bowl after photographing it and eating it with a spoon. If I’ve got the time I find it quite soothing but it is rather pointless and it drives my kids nuts.
In real life I’m inspired by anyone who has experienced poor health and managed to turned their life around. I’m particularly fascinated by the ways in which complementary therapies such as herbalism and acupuncture can work alongside orthodox medicine.
What’s your average day like?
I’m not much of a morning person so I put off getting up for as long as possible. When I am out of bed it is a manic scramble to get the kids to school on time. I usually knock back a green smoothie and once the school run is done I will either go for a quick run or if I’ve got a deadline, sit at my desk and get on with some writing. I intersperse my day with food breaks. Breakfast is usually overnight oats or chia pudding with berries eaten around 10.30am and then I’ll have a late lunch at 2.30pm. I snack on homemade energy bombs and juices. Unless I’m at college I collect the kids from school at 3.30 and we’ll hang out/do homework/go and visit friends. Depending on how productive I’ve been during the day I’ll either carry on working in the evening after dinner or, ideally, have a long soak in the bath with some epsom salts and essential oils. I’m trying REALLY hard not to resort to wine to relax on weekdays with varying degrees of success. I’m a terrible sleeper so to help I have a wind-down routine that involves lighting candles, dimming the lights, turning off electronics and reading. If all goes well I’ll be asleep by 11 pm shrouded in a mist of lavender oil.
Weekends are a different beast altogether. I love trying out new restaurants, catching up with my girlfriends, lifting my alcohol ban and going to bed late. Balance is my middle name – I write under the name eighty percent clean. Sometimes the scales tip in the wrong direction but I try not to beat myself up about it. I see every new day as an opportunity to start afresh.
Do you think you have a work/life balance?
Ah, the all-important quest for work/life balance! I don’t know many people who can honestly say they’ve nailed this one but it’s important to keep trying, right? Personally, I need to work on making my time more productive. If I spent my ‘office hours’ systematically ticking off my to-do list rather than playing around on social media or tidying sock drawers (the downside of working from home), I wouldn’t spend so many evenings catching up on work and would be enjoying my free time instead. It’s definitely something I need to work on.
What’s the best part of your job?
Although it’s not officially my job yet, I find studying nutrition fascinating and, while it blows my mind at times, (particularly as I’ve only ever studied Arts until now), I love the science behind it. The first year of my course was dedicated entirely to biomedicine; I’m really enjoying learning how the various systems within the body all integrate and work alongside each other.
In terms of my writing, getting feedback from people who have read my articles and found them useful or informative gives me a buzz. I also love the research aspect of writing a feature; I can lose hours immersing myself in a subject. I wrote a piece recently on pelvic floor rehabilitation which affects 1 in 3 women at some point in their lives. It’s an important topic but one that’s not discussed nearly enough. A few people have approached me to say that it inspired them to address their own situation. Helping to raise awareness and breaking down the taboo is incredibly satisfying.
What words do you live by?
When it comes to your health, you get out what you put in.
What’s next for you?
My focus over the next two years is to finish my Nutrition course (I’m studying a three-year diploma at The Centre for Naturopathic Medicine in London) and to develop my website further. I’m always on the look out for ideas for articles and features and regularly contribute to a number of online health and fitness magazines such as Sheer Luxe and Hip and Healthy. I’m really keen to get a regular health and wellness column but ultimately my dream is to start up my own magazine.
Check out Emma’s health and wellness articles, everything from how we should stop carb shaming to ways of making your skin glow – at www.emmabardwell.com
Follow her on her social channels:
Facebook: Eighty Percent Clean
All images via Emma Bardwell.