She may be hailed a celebrity weight loss guru, but Amelia Freer does not believe in ‘diets’. As her new book, Cook Nourish Glow is published, the nutritional therapist reveals why we all have time to cook from scratch and eat healthily
Amelia Freer has one word of advice for convenience food fans who say they ‘don’t have time to cook from scratch’.
“If you don’t have time for health, you need to eventually make time for disease.”
It’s a stark warning from the no-nonsense 40-year-old nutritional therapist, blogger and author, who boasts James Corden, Sam Smith and Boy George among her celebrity clientele, but she’s passionate about inspiring positive change.
“We used to [cook from scratch] in the old days, before convenience food existed - it’s only convenience food that told us we don’t have time any more and we don’t have the skill. We’ve learnt to not make the time or prioritise it, and now we feel incapable. We’ve got our priorities wrong,” she enthuses. “Preparing and thinking about food has gone to the bottom of our list.”
Freer knows from experience the impact eating badly can have.
In her mid-20s, while working as Prince Charles’ personal assistant, she survived on a diet of pre-prepared food and sugary tea, and was plagued by IBS and acne.
“I had really bad digestive problems, really bad skin problems, really low energy, I was always getting ill, I was always run down,” she recalls. “It wasn’t anything sinister like a disease, but I just wasn’t a healthy girl.
“I think a lot of people aren’t healthy,” she adds. “As humans, we tend to make do and put up with bad health, you get used to it, as opposed to saying, ‘No, I deserve to feel excellent, I deserve to have optimum health’.”
Freer eventually quit her job and enrolled on a four-year nutrition course, which changed her life.
“I started to learn about nutritional therapy, which is working with individuals to help improve their health, through the use of food. It’s amazing how quickly someone can feel better, above and beyond weight loss - they feel a lot better with various symptoms when they improve the quality of the food they’re eating.”
Sam Smith summed it up when he posted a picture on Instagram of Freer’s bestselling debut book Eat. Nourish. Glow., published early last year, with the caption: “Amelia Freer has helped me lose over a stone in two weeks and has completely transformed my relationship with food... It’s not even about weight loss, it’s about feeling happy in yourself.”
She’s not a fan of our reliance on sugar - “The amount of access we have to sugar now is detrimental to our health. It’s so important that people become more aware of it” - but neither does she like the word ‘diet’.
“I don’t endorse or support any diet. If someone comes to me wanting to know about a diet, then I’m afraid they’ll be disappointed. Everyone’s too quick to turn things into extremeness and fads, and I think that’s really disappointing.”
So is the ‘moderation’ approach better?
“I hate that word because it frustrates people, but I think we have to find balance,” says Freer. “ Everyone’s different. What works for some people doesn’t work for others. Some excel at being vegan, others really, really don’t.
“I’m never judgemental, to say that there is only one way for people to eat. We’re all unique and we cannot take a one-size fits all approach.”
That said, if you are going to have something naughty, like a piece of cake, make sure you savour it.
“If you want to be healthy and you like to have your piece of cake, it’s much better to have that slice, sit down with it and actually enjoy it,” says Freer. “Rather than this unconscious picking, where you feel a bit guilty and don’t realise how much you’re eating. If you’re going to have them [treats], do it in a healthy way.”
Individual fish pies
1 x 400ml tin coconut milk
1tbsp garlic-infused oil
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 bay leaves
300g cod fillet (approx 2 small fillets)
300g undyed smoked haddock
A splash of white wine (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large celeriac, peeled and chopped into equal-sized chunks
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 1/2tbsp unflavoured coconut butter
150g raw king prawns
3 spring onions, green parts only, thinly sliced
A small handful of fresh chives, chopped
1tbsp fresh parsley, chopped, to serve
Put the coconut milk, garlic oil, lemon juice and zest and bay leaves into a large, deep pan. Add the cod and haddock and bring to a gentle simmer. Poach the fish for approximately 10 minutes until the flesh flakes easily.
Remove the fillets and set aside. Add the wine (if using) to the poaching liquid, season to taste with salt and pepper, and leave to simmer over a low heat while you make the celeriac mash.
Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas 6.
Put the celeriac into a pan of boiling water and boil with the thyme leaves until tender. Drain and mash with the coconut butter, and season with salt and pepper.
Flake the fish and divide between four individual ovenproof dishes (or you can use one big dish). Add the prawns, spring onion and chives to each pot and pour over a quarter of the poaching liquid - it should have thickened slightly by now. Top with celeriac mash and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the pies are golden on top.
Scatter with chopped fresh parsley and serve with steamed greens, such as broccoli, peas or rainbow chard.