Jessica Sepel's tips on how to make healthy food choices, and occasionally indulge, prove useful.
Jessica Sepel's tips on how to make healthy food choices, and occasionally indulge, prove useful. Sean Prior

Delve into your food psyche

BEFORE reading Jessica Sepel's latest book, the only types of steaks I knew about were the red meat variety. I also thought food came in two forms - good stuff you should eat and bad stuff that rots your teeth and makes you overweight.

I started reading her Living the Healthy Life with a personal challenge to give the methods a red hot go. I would cook the recipes, actively follow her advice and vowed to keep an open mind through the whole process.

My three-week, dare I say, transformation, has not resulted in drastic before and after pictures of me in my bikini, but I do feel it has made a difference.

Thinking food

The thing about Jessica's (pictured) book is it's not just a cookbook. As someone who would describe themselves as "sort of healthy", front covers with brightly coloured vegetables or green smoothies were not something I would normally pick up.

I guess I was naive in thinking I knew it all. However, The South African-born nutritionist dives deep into her own troubles with food. Much of her writing examines how negative thoughts about yourself, and towards food, can impact your health.

One of her tips was to talk to yourself as you would a three-year-old: "would you tell the little you that you are fat, stupid or ugly? No way. Be kind," she wrote.

This one bucked me straight off my healthy high horse. While my BMI says I am normal, I often talk to myself using words like fatso, big fatty and chunker, or chunks for short.


Jessica Sepel.
Jessica Sepel. Contributed

That's right, I even gave my personal insults nicknames. I find it somewhat surprising that it wasn't until reading this very point in the book that I contemplated how odd it was that I speak to myself so cruelly.

I wondered if everyone was like this. She also examined the see-saw of feelings one gets from eating unhealthy foods then feeling a wash of guilt. Her book goes deep into why we may have these thoughts and illustrates ways we can rewire our brain so we naturally opt for a balanced diet, one that does have guilt-free treats.

Eating challenge

The first day of my challenge started with me quickly taking a photo of a recipe on my phone then rushing off to work. By 6pm that night I was standing in the grocery store, in my usual shopping mood of hungry and tired, wondering what harissa paste was and where it was in the supermarket.

I was not off to a good start. The recipe I planned to cook was harissa chicken with cauliflower steaks. I felt a little embarrassed that my food knowledge (mostly learnt from MasterChef) didn't stretch far enough to know what this key ingredient was, so I ended up leaving the shop without it.

I would substitute it. Jessica is all about finding what works for you so I am sure she would understand. When I was back in my own kitchen, and with the cookbook in front of me, I can honestly say it was the first time in a long time I actually looked forward to cooking. There was a novelty in making something that sounded as trendy as "cauliflower steaks". Basically the cauliflower is cut into thick sections, quickly seared in a pan with oil and fennel seeds then cooked in the oven for about 10-15 minutes.


Living the Healthy Life, by Jessica Sepel.
Living the Healthy Life, by Jessica Sepel. Contributed

Delicious and very cool. I found most of the recipes like this one, pretty easy to make but with an end result that was very much Instagram worthy.

Following on from examining negative thoughts about food, readers are also encouraged to focus on feelings of gratitude. Before tucking in, I took a few deep breaths, focused on how lucky I was to have a hot meal in front of me and ate in slow bites.

This actually does work. Everything tastes a whole heap better. I now use this as a super power, as it even makes my boyfriend's overly spicy stirfrys come up a treat.

Moving forward

Overall, reading the Living the Healthy Life was an eye opener. Lots of what Jessica wrote clicked with me.

I feel I am one of the people who falls into the trap of becoming overly obsessed with food when I try to diet or lose weight. Counting calories makes me feel disheartened.

I seem to take it personally that my favourite snacks, muesli bars and peanut butter, go into the calorie high pile. It is like they become a hidden enemy that is plotting against me the whole time.

Obviously these are not healthy thoughts and I have some work to do in this department. There is a little bit of work to get on board with Jessica's methods, but with baby steps I think this steak-loving girl can become chic enough to also serve up the cauliflower variety.

Living the Healthy Life, by Jessica Sepel, published by Pan Macmillan, RRP $39.99, is available now.

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