#gamechangers // Emily Leeming, Foodcue
Today I'd like to introduce you to Emily - a registered dietitian, gut health enthusiast, and all-round awesome person who I had the pleasure of meeting in person a couple of months ago after following her on social media for a while. Funny story, we've ended up in the same office since the beginning of this year as Emily has recently started her PhD at the King's College Department of Twin Research (where my work is based), so see each other a lot more often than expected. I hope that you all enjoy reading a bit about her story including how she got to where she is today in her career, how her relationship with food and her body has changed over the years, and how she came across HAES and the non-diet approach. As with all of the awesome #gamechangers that I feature here, why not show her social media a bit of love and give her a follow - I've included all of the relevant links at the end of the post :)
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Why hello! I am a virtual dietitian, food writer, feminist, anxiety-sufferer, intuitive eating advocate, plant lover and doughnut aficionado. I’m at my happiest making badly shaped pots out of clay or painting, and at my worst in any situation that involves steep heights like bungee jumping - my worst nightmare. I’m from Scotland originally but I’ve spent the past seven years living abroad before moving back to the UK late last year (2018).
How have you got to where you are today in your studies/career?
I haven’t had the most typical career in that I worked as a chef for five years around the world between my nutrition undergraduate and my masters, and I’m now currently taking a PhD in gut health on the side of my virtual consultation practice Foodcue. The one true connecting thread for me has always been FOOD. I started working part-time in kitchens when I was 16, and it funded my living expenses through university. I always loved how food can bring others joy, and it feels right that I now focus on helping others reconnect with food and their bodies. I think heading back to university as a (slightly) more mature student for my Masters and PhD really helped to give me focus and drive that I possibly didn’t have as much when I did my undergraduate. There’s nothing like working full-time to give you a strong work ethic, and a realisation that nothing gets handed to you on a plate unfortunately.
I knew that I wanted to see clients one-on-one, but I never thought that my writing would also be a ’thing’. I started writing for my blog at the time, and then started getting paid by a few companies while I was doing my Masters. I only started taking it seriously and calling myself a ‘writer’ after realising that I’ve been doing it for two years now. Sometimes your passions creep up on you and take you by surprise. I’ve definitely always been a jack-of-all-trades so mixing research, consultations, writing and working with food start-ups is how I thrive. And I do really love what do. Holding all my sessions with clients online through video links really suits me well, it means I can be anywhere and more importantly it saves my clients so much time and effort - no more getting to a clinic or sitting in a waiting room.
How has your relationship with & approach to food and nutrition changed over the years?
Well, I’m sure I’m not the only one to say this - but there have been some changes! After my nutrition undergraduate, the mantra was ‘balance, everything in moderation’. Then through my five years as a chef I started to become more curious and in hindsight I slightly fell off the evidence-based path. Because of my nutrition background, I tended to be catering for clients who had dietary requirements or lifestyle choices so most of the additional chef training that I did revolved around boosting that skillset, I even went and did raw vegan training with some celeb chef in Los Angeles. I became very focused on clean-eating, and superfoods partly because that was what my clients wanted for themselves, that’s what I was making for them. I think I got sucked into the minutae of nutrition and lost my way a bit. It was all about supergreen smoothies in the morning, raw plant foods, and I went vegan for a while. At the time I was also happy to sit in a place of constant moderate hunger, which is why I think that the intuitive eating approach resonates with me so much now, life is so much richer when you are fully satisfied. My lowest point was probably when I read the China Study, which basically says that meat protein causes cancer (it doesn’t…) and I got almost vigilante about it. It was around that time that I was getting a bit bored of working as Chef, and really wanted to learn more about nutrition. So thankfully I saw the light and did my Masters, and jumped back into science. Really I think it’s because I love to learn, and there’s so much out there still to know. I’ve definitely become more focused on the pillars of health, and I now practice a very mind-body-soul approach using the HAES(r) and Intuitive Eating frameworks.
What are some of the most difficult things that you faced as a nutrition and dietetics student?
I always wanted to know more! I definitely was that student who would ask questions, and be curious. I’m sure I drove the rest of my class and my lecturers a bit nuts at time (sorry…). Each topic felt like just an introduction, and you soon realise that the more you know, the more you realise that there’s so much more to learn. I’m slightly envious of the self-assured one-day-course nutritionists who speak with such authority. Ignorance is bliss.
What are some of the things that you have enjoyed most about your studies and career in the field of nutrition thus far?
I never ever thought that I would say this, but my little community on instagram. It feels like a space where I can truly be myself, say what I think, be imperfect, raw, yet still supported by other wonderful nutritionists, dietitians, and therapists who I’ve met online. And I love interacting with people through my feed and stories - we’re all such complex and interesting humans. I’ve also really enjoyed entering the HAES(r) sphere. I can remember my first introduction to HAES towards the end of my Masters, we had a lecture series from Fiona Sutherland, the Mindful Dietitian. It totally blew my mind. I was completely rattled at first, but then it all started making sense. It’s a social justice movement essentially, and I love that. Learning more about intuitive eating has also been a big one especially when the alternative is parroting ‘portion sizes’ and ‘low-calorie alternatives’ which never really sat well with me.
What are three of your top tips for staying healthy physically, emotionally & mentally?
I know it’s a bit of a buzzword at the moment but self-care, self-care, self-care. I think our generation is heading for burnout, there’s so much pressure to be successful, married, beautiful, perfect. And it’s taking its toll. Saying no, having some time out, a bath, a walk in the park, seeing a therapist, caring for your body, there’s so much you can do regularly that you’ll reap so many rewards from in the long run. It’s really the path to a happier, healthier you.
What is your favourite go-to meal to make after a busy day?
Pasta will always be a winner. If I’m treating myself it’ll be Lloyd Grossman’s tomato and garlic sauce with tortellini. Ask any Chef and their go-to meal at home will be as close to a readymade meal, I’m tell you now. Otherwise I make a seitan, mixed veg and noodle stirfry with peanut butter, orange juice and soy - takes two minutes and tastes delicious.
What do you enjoy doing to relax?
I need to do things that stop my brain from constantly whirring, so usually that’s something creative, reading a book or a bath. I find making my own bread really satisfying too actually, there’s something about the soft pillowy squidgy-ness of the dough.
And finally, any last words of advice for girls (and guys) who want to live healthier, happier lives?
Listen to what your body is telling you. It’s possible to be healthy and fully satisfied by food.