It's #gamechangers time on Taste & See yay! This month I'm featuring the lovely Monica of Balance by Monica, who has the most wonderful approach to food, nutrition, and health. Blogger, recipe developer, teacher, and nutritionist - this lady does it all! She has been kind enough to share her story with us and the recipe for a delicious Chocolate Olive Oil Cake, so make sure to read the post right to the end to get your hands on that.
So, can you tell us a bit about who you are?
My name is Monica and I am a primary school teacher turned nutritionist, group fitness instructor, blogger, author, recipe developer and just all round busy human being! But I don’t like being defined just by what I do, because I am so much more than my work, so I would like to add that I am also a daughter, sister, girlfriend, aunty, friend, F45 lover, Netflix watcher, home owner, book worm, food inhaler and wine drinker.
What was the catalyst for your personal journey with food, health, and nutrition?
Growing up I was always a very happy, healthy and active individual. After leaving high school and starting university, I went through that typical teenage phase of going out, hitting the town with my girlfriends and enjoying a vodka raspberry or twelve a few nights a week (#unilife). Surprise, surprise: I put on weight! Unfortunately for me (and I’m sure for many others), this led me to start dieting in an attempt to lose weight. I tried every diet you could possibly imagine, and I lost heaps of weight, but once I started eating ‘normally’ again, I put all of that weight back on. Last year I finally realised that diets do not work, so I gave up on them. I gave up on food rules. I gave up on under-eating. I gave up on depriving myself of the foods that I love. I gave up on stressing about what I was eating. I gave up believing that my worth was based on how much I weigh. I gave up on constantly feeling sad and decided that I would rather be a little bit 'bigger' and happy than 'skinny' and miserable.
How have you got to where you are today in your career?
I have been through quite the journey to get to where I am now, but I am so glad that I did, because all of the things that I have learnt throughout my life have helped to shape both my business and philosophy on food. Upon leaving high school, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. There was a lot of pressure from teachers to go straight to University, as taking a gap year was seen as being for people who couldn’t get into University, so I decided to complete an Undergraduate Degree in Psychology. I knew that no matter what I ended up doing, I would be working with people, so I figured that this course would be the perfect back bone for whatever I eventually decided to do.
After I finished, I turned to another interest of mine - teaching. I used to coach junior basketball teams, I instruct group fitness classes at the gym and I have always had an interest in helping and motivating others, so I figured that it was the perfect job for me. In my third year of teaching, I completed a Diploma of Nutrition while still working full time. It was one of the most difficult years of my life, but also the most enlightening. It was in this year that my high school self jumped for joy as I finally worked out what I wanted to do with my life. So fast forward to now, I have incorporated all of this knowledge to establish my own business in nutrition, with a focus on educating kids on the importance of good health, parents on how to pack well balanced lunch boxes, teenagers on self love and body image, and adults on how much diets suck. And I am loving every minute of it!
Has your journey to where you are today inspired you to do anything you never thought you’d be brave enough to do?
It’s so funny that you ask that because I was actually just telling one of my friends the other day that when I was younger, I was scared of public speaking. Like, petrified! I’m talking so scared that I would make my mum order my food at restaurants, I would lose sleep the night before an oral presentation at school, and I refused to go for house captain in high school even though I wanted it and knew I was capable of doing an amazing job. Looking back at this, it is hard to believe that I now instruct group fitness classes, teach students, and run nutrition workshops and seminars in front of hundreds of people for a living.
How do you approach to nutrition and wellness, And how has that approach changed over time?
My approach to nutrition and wellness is something that has changed drastically over time. In a nutshell, I started off in primary school as a stereotypical little Italian girl, living off pizza and pasta and not thinking twice about what I was eating. I then moved on to my teenage years where I was living a no carb/fat/sugar/alcohol sad, sad dieting life.
I am so excited that I have finally found that middle ground…that place where I do take care of my health, but I am also totally okay with eating a pizza and drinking a wine on occasion. My approach to nutrition and wellness is very no nonsense, real and easy. I don’t advocate diets. I don’t advocate calorie counting. I don’t advocate cheat meals. I don’t advocate cutting our entire foods or food groups. I don’t advocate low carb/fat/sugar meals. I believe in eating food you enjoy with the people you love.
What are your top tips for staying healthy (physically, emotionally, and mentally)?
I personally believe that being healthy is so much more than how much you weigh, how many vegetables you eat and how often you exercise. It is a combination of physical, social and emotional wellbeing. Keeping this in mind, my top tips for staying healthy would be:
- Aim for the 80/20 approach to eating: eat nutritious foods 80% of the time and enjoy anything else your heart desires the other 20% of the time. Life is too short to be a #cleaneater. Adding on to this, don’t be too hard on yourself. Some days it will be more 60/40, whereas other days it might be more 90/10. In the end, it’ll all balance itself out.
- Move your body in ways that you enjoy: if the physical activity that you’re doing is boring and something you see as a chore, you will always find an excuse not to do it. If it is something that you are looking forward to, you are more likely to feel motivated and stick to it for a longer period of time. So don’t get caught up in believing that the best exercise is running because it burns the most calories. The best exercise is the one you enjoy doing.
- Do a friend cleanse: every now and then it is important to get rid of people (both online and in real life) that you consider to be bad for you in any way, shape or form. This includes ‘friends’ who constantly flaunt their perfect life and make you feel bad about yours, ‘friends’ who make no effort to talk to you or organise to catch up, ‘friends’ who’s humour involves trying to make others laugh by constantly putting you down, and ‘friends’ who speak badly about you behind your back. I don’t know about you, but I am far too happy and too busy to set aside time for these types of ‘friends’. Life is way too short, so be picky about the people you choose to spend your time with.
- Do at least one thing every day that you enjoy: taking care of yourself and indulging in the things that you enjoy can help to reduce stress and boost happiness. Whether it be eating an ice-cream at night, getting your nails done or having your lunch outside instead of at your desk, make sure you do that every single day. Self-care is not selfish.
What is your favourite go-to meal after a busy day?
To be perfectly honest with you, I am a lazy cook. People think that because I have a cook book and am a recipe developer, that I am constantly dishing up fancy three course meals. Don’t get me wrong, I love cooking, but there are some days where I just cannot be bothered getting fancy equipment out, going to the shops to buy a heap of ingredients and dealing with the clean up that comes afterwards. So most of my meals are simple ones, but one of my favourites would definitely have to be my lamb, pumpkin and haloumi salad. Just 30 minutes of prep time and dinner is served!
What is your favourite thing to do to wind down and relax?
Definitely putting my pjs on, making myself a cup of tea and plonking myself on the couch with my puppy to watch some trashy TV (Married at first sight is my go to at the moment! I’m sure all Aussies get me when I say that it is so bad that it’s good!)
What can we expect to see from Balance by Monica in future?
This year is going to be a big one for Balance by Monica because it is the first year I have decided to go full time with it! Along with plenty more recipes and blog posts regularly popping up on my website, you can also expect to see a few Melbourne (and hopefully a couple of interstate) events and one huge project that I am just beginning to work on with a few other awesome balanced people. I can’t say too much just yet, but what I can reveal is that it is going to be delicious!
Chocolate Olive Oil Cake with Pistachio Praline
- 3 cups hazelnut meal
- ½ cup cocoa powder
- 1/3 cup caster sugar
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- ½ cup milk
- Pre-heat oven to 160°C. Grease a 20cm round cake tin and line base and sides with baking paper. Set aside.
- Combine hazelnut meal, cocoa powder, caster sugar and baking powder into a large bowl. Combine eggs, olive oil and milk into a small bowl and whisk well. Add the olive oil mixture to the dry ingredients and stir well to combine. Pour mixture into prepared cake tin and smooth the surface.
- Bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Leave to cool for 20 minutes before removing from tin and transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, to prepare the pistachio praline, line a small baking tray with baking paper and spread pistachios evenly over the tray. Combine sugar and water into a small saucepan and place on high heat. Once the mixture comes to the boil, reduce to a summer for 5-10 minutes or until golden. Pour the toffee evenly over the pistachios and set aside to cool. Roughly chop praline.
- Once cake is cool, dust with icing sugar. To serve, place a slice of cake onto a small plate with a dollop of cream and a sprinkle of pistachio praline