It is perhaps the most emotional and intense long-term relationship we’ve known. The one we have with our bodies. And food. From the feast and famine of our 20s, all those crazy drinking and diets (note to self: cottage cheese and broccoli quiche are NOT diet food), to now; where we make strange ‘oof’ noises on bending over and nothing ever feels quite right. We have achey niggles and bits that jiggle, not to mention sinister glitches and unexpected twitches. Not to mention the tiredness we can never sleep off.
So what do we do? Pop a few pills, neck some more caffeine, sugar-up and crack on. But there just might be another way. They are called nutritionists. They’re armed to the sparkling white teeth with knowledge about how tweaking this and adding that to your diet can turn your life around. Zap your acne, ease your PMT, sort your gut, end the migraine hell, solve the tiredness. And more.
It’s another of those tricky areas, nutrition, as anyone can do a quickie course and call themselves a nutritionist. So check they’re registered with the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) or the Association for Nutritionists. Ours are all skilled listeners who want to hear how your life works and help it to work better. They won’t take your cash, tell you to cut out everything you’ve ever eaten, before sending you packing. They’ve all studied long and hard, so are proper scientists who understand how your body works and the science behind food. Check out their websites, read their books, give them a call and feel better.
1. THE WEIGHT WITCH: ELIZABETH MONTGOMERY (LONDON)
Teenage Elizabeth was in trouble. She had serious health issues, ate too much junk, and was looking at a life on medication. In desperation she saw a Chinese medicine doctor who said, ‘If you don’t change, you’ll die in your 20s.’ (Not one to mince his words). She went on a macrobiotic diet, lost weight, the acne cleared, thyroid pinged back to normal and depression lifted. “I was this ugly duck and I moved into this beautiful swan phase,” she says. She started studying nutrition and knew she’d found her calling. Then 21 years ago she moved from the US to here (‘sleepy, sleepy England’ is where it was food-wise, she says). These days, Midults are on her radar. “Moving into our 40s, women have to go into radical self-care. There’s no more pretending you’re 25. Your hormones are in overdrive.” When she’s clutching her green juice in the café queue, yes (she admits) she IS frowning at that frappe mocha sugar fest you’ve ordered but her style is anything but judgey-judgey. Whether you’re a stressed-out banker or a junk food couch potato, she’ll meet you where you’re at. Warm, funny and knows her stuff.
2. THE GOOD FOODIE: SARAH FLOWER (EXETER)
It was the tins of tomato soup that did it. Sarah’s son was born with a cleft palate and got meningitis and septicaemia when he was 15 months. She asked to see a dietician – who turned up clutching three tins of the, ahem, healing red nectar. She despaired… but it propelled her to get a training in nutrition. That was in the 1990s and since then she’s been spreading the word about good nutrition across Devon, Somerset and Cornwall. Nutrition, as she sees it, is a form of medicine and she sees people with a range of health problems, be it IBS, insulin resistance (which she’s written books on), weight issues plus she does diagnostic testing for food intolerance, allergies, thyroid. She’s a truly good soul, never happier than when she’s teaching kids in schools about healthy eating. She’d love to be able to help people on a low budget all the time, teaching them about how to cook – they’re the ones who need her most but they’re also the ones who can’t pay, and she can’t afford to work for nothing. So she does what she can. She also writes books: The Part-Time Vegan and The Sugar-Free Family Cookbook.
3. THE NO-NONSENSE NUTRITIONIST: JACKIE LYNCH (LONDON)
I’m the practical one, says Jackie. Nutrition made easy for busy people, that’s her thing. Probably because she had a stressful corporate job with a lot of global travel in her past life. She’d been thinking of making a career swerve when she took on some nutritional advice and saw dramatic changes in just seven days. Cue lightbulb moment. Most of her clients are professionals and she totally understands the challenges they face. It’s all very well telling a jet-setting corporate lawyer she needs to grow her own alfalfa sprouts – well actually, it’s not. Jackie is more likely to spend hours analysing the menu at Pret so she can say to her clients, “Okay if you’re buying your lunch there, eat these two things and definitely DON’T eat this.” She knows there’s so much nutritional advice out there and that it’s a nightmare trying to interpret it, especially when soy is good one day, bad another, ditto wine, coffee, wheat, sugar, fat… Her job is to help you navigate it all. Which she does brilliantly. She does a lot of work on the menopause and has a menopause cookbook coming out, track it down, it’ll be a goodie. She’s a pragmatist. “I could say you should make your own almond milk… but life doesn’t have to be that way,” she says. For that Jackie, we love you.
4. THE FERTILITY GODDESS: ROSIE TADMAN (MANCHESTER)
Another corporate refugee, Rosie was feeling meh about her job in HR when she went to a talk by nutrition guru Patrick Holford. Bam. She decided to retrain as a nutritional therapist. Newly qualified, she found women were coming to her about hormones and fertility issues, so that’s what she started focussing on. “Only 30-40% of people having IVF will get pregnant and the perception is often that it’s pot luck,” she says. “Not so. I’m not saying I’ll make your chances 100% but I’ll definitely improve them.” She works on her own and in a Manchester fertility clinic. This woman is a delight. She’s supportive, chatty and intelligent with tons of science peppering her advice. Her big thing is how we need to stop fighting our bodies and listen to them more. We like her seasons theory. “Imagine your cycle like the seasons,” she says. “Winter is your period, the time after your period before ovulation is Spring, ovulation is Summer and Autumn is after you’ve ovulated. People say they don’t like being tired in their period but it’s naturally a time when we’re supposed to nurture ourselves. If you do one thing, listen to your body.”
5. THE WELLNESS WARRIOR: TRACEY HARPER (HERTFORDSHIRE)
Tracey puts so much energy into every client she prefers not to see more than two a day. She’s utterly passionate about her work. It’s a familiar story – a full-on career in marketing drove her to the brink, she was working long hours, travelling, renovating a house outside London, commuting and eating the wrong stuff. Then two things happened – she changed her diet to treat bad rosacea (presto, it cleared in a few days) and she met an old school friend who’d become a nutritional therapist. Soon she’d signed up to the training. After working with dementia patients for three years, her mother’s autoimmune illness led her to functional medicine, a biology-based approach and ta-da, she knew she’d found her thing. Now she sees complex cases, plotting their symptoms in a matrix chart to see where their imbalances are. She likes to see you face-to-face but might not even talk food in the first session, instead focussing on breathing techniques, sleep, books to read, meditation, yoga, you name it. She’s based at home which is great as she can go through food prep with clients if they need it. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself chatting to her while you chop up the ingredients for minestrone soup.
6. THE BOWEL HERO: HELEN AUBURN (SWINDON)
All sparkly skin, bubbly laugh and bouncy hair, Helen is the best advert for good nutrition. Though it wasn’t always this way. When she was a teenager her IBS was so bad she was hospitalised. She had spots, eczema, hyper thyroidism, low blood pressure. On her wedding day she was so bloated she looked pregnant. But she’s been working as a nutritional therapist since the 1990s and she’s all sorted. Straight-talking and curious, she’s highly determined (being the youngest of seven helps) and gets frustrated with doctors who dole out pills rather than looking at people’s lifestyle. Her results are impressive. A chap came to her recently, about to have his bowel removed but after a few weeks on her programme, he was fixed, op cancelled. Two of her clients have been accused of cheating at Slimming World, so impressive was their weight loss. Just don’t swan in glugging from a plastic bottle – her pet hate. As is ‘fake foods’ like Quorn (people think it’s healthy but it’s so processed, she tuts).
7. THE GUT GIRL: MARIE JARVIS (GLASGOW)
There are easier places to ply your trade as a nutritionist than Glasgow, home to the deep-fried Mars bar, but she’s doing a cracking job. Her approach is ‘very holistic’ – she might not change anything in your diet at first, recommending massage or daily walking instead. “One of my mottos is ‘Small changes applied consistently lead to long-term change’.” When she was starting, she tried giving clients a long list of things they must and mustn’t do but they were so overwhelmed they didn’t come back. Now she’ll give them goals and ask if they think it’s achievable. ‘I might ask them to reduce their coffee from 3 to 2. It’s about the little victories.” Her suggestions can be as small as chewing your food more mindfully and drinking more water. Your digestive system doesn’t work if you’re stressed, she says. She was an IT programmer for years but after seeing a nutritional therapist herself for poor health it sparked her curiosity and eventually she trained to be one. She does a lot of work around diabetes type 2 as well as gut and thyroid issues. She has a cracking Facebook group, Tip Top Tums, where she gives loads of good advice on the gut.
8. THE ACTION MAN: STEVE GRANT (LONDON)
At last, a man. Steve started out in sports science where 90% of his class was male. But when he moved on to nutritional therapy he was one of two guys in a class of 70. Until the other bloke dropped out. His approach was always holistic, the bigger picture, what’s going on with sleep, stress, food, booze. Then he heard a talk from a functional medical practitioner about blood and stool testing, and was sold. A lot of nutrition is about behaviour, he says. He has a team of experts – meditation, hypnotherapist, osteopath, physiotherapist, life coach – all working together. He’s building up a side-line with film stars too – say on a POW movie where the actor needs to look emaciated or where the character has motor neurone disease and they have to show the regression of their physique. Our Midult put off calling him as she’d a feeling he’d be an OTT smoothie but far from it: he’s sensible, straight-talking, salt of the earth and bursting with ideas.
9. THE WONDER WOMAN: MARILYN GLENVILLE (KENT)
She’s been doing this for a while now and, as a result, she gets us. “We’re the sandwich generation, looking after everyone but often not ourselves,” she says. “But unless you look after yourself and keep yourself well, the plates you’re spinning will fall down.” The biggest one is balancing blood sugar. “Not living on caffeine and sugar, not missing breakfast then grabbing a coffee and a Danish at 11am. That’s not sustained energy. It makes for more stress and leaves you unable to make decisions because you’re living on adrenaline.” Marilyn is warm and nurturing as well as no-nonsense and clever. She’s been doing this for 35 years and did a PhD in Biological Sciences at Cambridge, as well as writing a book on Alzheimer’s (our biggest killer as women, apparently). She’s always been interested in menstrual syndrome, especially why so many women are put on anti-depressants even if they only suffer for part of their cycle. From there she went to specialise in women’s health, particularly hormone imbalance, PMS, helping IVF, women going through the menopause… anything that affects women more than men.
10. THE SUPPLEMENT SENSATION: GABRIELA PEACOCK (LONDON)
It was a career in modelling that kick-started Gabriela’s interest in nutrition. Because of all the rubbish people told her. “It’s not the healthiest profession,” she says. “Some of the advice I was given on how to lose weight by bookers was crazy. Once I started to learn about nutrition, I was hooked. The biochemistry of it is so interesting and the supplements – basically concentrated nutrients.” Which she sells. “I take a holistic approach, yes I do a lot of weight loss but it’s not just about the food, for instance if you don’t sleep properly you won’t lose weight. We live in the city, we have busy lifestyles, kids, work, focussing on diet can increase stress for some people if you just tell them to change what they’re eating.” Turns out she’s a bit of a foodie guru to the younger royals but charmingly she doesn’t drop that in and is refreshingly down to earth. Gabriela’s big thing is protein. Top tip? Have protein with every meal. Also, everyone gets an energy dip around 3-4pm. You often reach for coffee or something sweet, but don’t. “I tell people to have seeds and nuts as that’ll help you hold your blood sugar levels. If you don’t, you’ll get home and eat everything – then a huge dinner too.” You’ve been told.
11. THE GENETICS GURU: SHARON STRACHAN, TUNBRIDGE WELLS (LONDON)
If you find yourself in the same supermarket checkout queue as Sharon, look out. She’ll be doing quick mental assessments on you and your food choices. “I usually look into them and think, ‘Really? I could help you with that.’ People are starting to be more aware but there’s an awful lot of disconnect for people with what they eat and how they feel. Everything you eat today will be there forever, but people don’t make that connection.” A lot of Sharon’s patients are 35-45. It’s no coincidence. “You get to a point where you recognise your own mortality – how can I be as fit and healthy for as long as possible? I think stress is killing us off before anything else. It takes its nutritional toll because stress is a nutrient-heavy thing for our bodies to deal with. It uses up a lot of vitamin C, collagen…” She specialises in nutrigenomics, so people come to her with their family history and she looks at what nutrients they could take to make themselves well. Sharon started off in dietetics but found it way too formulaic. She saw a nutritionist in her 20s after her health took a nosedive (too much sitting in an office and going to a pub at the end of it) and she was fascinated. Good thing, as she’s a natural.
12. THE LONG GAMER: DOMINIQUE LUDWIG (SUSSEX)
If you’re looking for a quick-fix, Dominique isn’t for you. “I’m not interested in helping you change your life for 2 weeks, I want to help you make changes that will stick. To nudge you towards a better way of living.” She’s great at digging down to make it possible for you to do x, y and z because she knows if she doesn’t, you WILL find ways not to do it. Even if it’s just giving you twenty amazing breakfast options. She’s been working in nutrition since she was 21 so she’s a wise thing.
“Women often put themselves at the back of the queue and they reward themselves with food more than men. But I always say, even if you mess up, it’s fine. You’re only ever one meal away from being healthy again.” She’ll see anybody unless it’s very specialist like oncology. We love the sound of her ‘reset’ programme, which helps people lose weight. ‘It’s like pushing a giant reset button for your weight.’ Dominique worked in Germany for 11 years, which she thanks for her straight-talking style. “It taught me to be prescriptive.” None of this, ‘It would help if you cut down on…’ No, that way you’re giving people a get-out clause. Instead, Dominique will say: “You can have coffee but only between meals.” I want to get results, she says firmly.
13. THE FANTASTIC FOODIE: AMELIA FREER (LONDON)
The most wonderfully glowy, healthy Midult we know (a doctor who’s also studied nutrition) reckons Amelia is one of the leading lights of the nutrition world. Amelia describes herself as a ‘complete foodie’ but it didn’t start out well. When she was younger she ate loads of junk and damaged her health. She saw a nutritional therapist who showed her the changes she needed to make. Fast forward a few years and Amelia is dishing out nutrition advice to the great and the good. She’s a breath of fresh air, with messages like, “It’s about consistency not perfection.” She’s not into two-week detoxes or quick-fixes, she wants to help you make small changes to your diet that will stick. Her philosophy is beautifully simple. Steer clear of anything from a packet or a jar (we’ve become lazy – it doesn’t matter what food you’re making, so long as it’s from scratch) and beware of the evils of snacking (we do way too much of it and aren’t aware how much we’re overeating). Sadly, for us, she’s doing so well she isn’t taking on many new clients but she’s worth the wait. While you do, check out her many books, articles, her website is brimming with info and recipes and her cookery videos are amazing, we’re champing at the bit to try the aubergine and chickpea curry.
14. THE FIXER-UPPER: DR LISA GATENBY (LEEDS)
After starting out as a chef she did a degree in nutrition then a PhD in children’s nutrition. She was involved in the provision of free school meals in Hull – the first place to offer them – then she went into research at Leeds University, taught lots of teachers to be food specialists, went into lecturing for eight years and finally set up her own consultancy. Now she splits her time between working with people who’ve been brain damaged, and one-on-one clients. She doesn’t specialise, she’ll treat any issue that comes through her door. She doesn’t believe in giving people a fixed plan. “I take into account what their routine is and how they can make changes. In the end most people say it’s not as difficult as they’d feared. The trouble is that there’s so much info out there it’s often more complicated than it needs to be. I spend a lot of time talking to people about regular meal patterns (vital) and getting enough sleep (even more vital). It’s the four pillars of life,” she says. You can’t improve one without the other: sleep, relaxation, diet and activity. Lisa’s trick is that she makes everything seem so simple that you feel she’d be saying stuff you already knew while quietly and efficiently changing your life.
15. THE TOTAL TONIC: PETRONELLA RAVESHEAR (LONDON)
She’s just lovely lovely lovely, our Midult tells us wistfully. For the third time. Yes, but is she any good? “Good?? She’s bloody BRILLIANT!” We’ll take that as a yes. Petronella is based near the King’s Road and has a list of qualifications as long as her arm. She originally got into nutrition as her son was ill and she wanted an alternative to the antibiotics doctors kept putting him on. On the one hand she has a similar approach to other nutritionists out there, such as shunning packaged food, on the other she takes things way further, questioning why we even eat breakfast first thing in the day (a very old fashioned idea, she says. Always exercise first, even if it’s just trotting up and down the stairs 10 times). We like her book The Human Being Diet which sets out to restore our health and reset our rhythm and hormones by changing when, how often and what we eat. Petronella’s voice is like honey, her smile serene and her presence feels utterly healing even before she’s started tackling what you might do about how you eat. Lovely.