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Nadia Lim on her baby boy – and new magazine

Just months after giving birth to her first child, there’s a new arrival in Nadia Lim’s world - her own magazine.

It took 30 years but Nadia Lim has finally found the perfect workout partner. Forget your TRX resistance bands or your colourful kettlebells, her number-one pick is a 7.5kg tumble of fluffy dark hair and giggles: her six-month-old baby boy, Bodhi.

When Lim opens the door to her suburban bungalow, she is wearing brightly coloured tights and a singlet after completing a workout with the aforementioned squishy bundle (“it kills two birds with one stone,” she jokes, of exercise and child entertainment). Her husband Carlos Bagrie is getting the pushchair ready to take Bodhi for a walk.

With a goodbye kiss to Bodhi, Lim leads me into the kitchen and starts preparing us both turmeric lattes. The entire situation is so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed that I – clutching my decidedly un-wellness selection of brownies which I’ve brought along for morning tea – feel like asking Lim to become my life coach. I’ll have what she’s having, basically.

Luckily, for those of us who are slightly more challenged in the wellbeing department, Lim is about to throw herself fully into the lifestyle universe. The 30-year-old is at the helm of a new magazine titled, simply, Nadia.

Launching in October, the bi-monthly title, both in digital and print, features a lot of recipes, yes, but it will also focus on the other elements of overall wellness: people and entrepreneurs, food, travel and ‘wellthy’, a focus on overall wellbeing. It’s aimed at busy women, busy families.

It’s an impressive goal; a big step into establishing Lim, already a best-selling author, as a lifestyle brand.

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It’s even more of an achievement when you consider she gave birth to her first baby just a few months ago. But while it might sound like a logistical nightmare to an outside observer, it makes total sense to Lim.

“When you have a child, it gives you a new burst of motivation,” she says. “It can give you a new lease on what you want to do with your life. As long as you look after yourself, though. Sure, you’ve got this little human being you’ve got to give a lot of attention to – more attention than I thought they required, to be honest – but you do have to make sure you look after yourself, so you can look after them. As long as you’ve got that, you can feel reinvigorated and reignited in your life. It just becomes about ‘how do you fit what you want to do in?’”

It’s been a big year for the couple: new baby, new job, new house. Lim and Bagrie moved from an apartment to a more family-friendly bungalow; and on the day of our NEXT chat, the sun is streaming through the windows and there are two main sounds filling the peace: birds twittering, and the hysterical laughter of Bodhi as Lim plays me a video of the new game the couple has invented to entertain him: Bouncy Pig.

Bodhi, she says, has brought a lot of fun back into their daily lives.

“You can be a kid again! You can play really silly games. He’s pretty fun.”

It should give you some indication of just how busy it is being Nadia Lim that she felt having a baby gave her ‘a bit of a break’.

She covers her mouth and practically whispers it – as if going against the sacred mum code – but the truth of it is the six weeks of maternity leave she gave herself when Bodhi was born in April, before her calendar started quietly filling up again, was the least manic her schedule had been in a while.

For Lim and Bagrie, who met at university and have been together for more than a decade, the decision to have babies was always one of ‘when’, not ‘if’. But considering Lim’s 2011 MasterChef win shot her instantly into the stratosphere of celebrity chef-dom, and the couple both worked full-time with My Food Bag since its launch in 2013, you can see why ‘when’ wasn’t an easy concept.

“I was always putting it off,” Lim admits. “But the old saying that there’s never a right time is true. If you want a family, you just have to do it.”

It was just before her 30th birthday, in July last year, when Lim’s mindset began to shift.

Her beloved father had passed away the previous year and Lim and her mother went on a trip to Cambodia with the Cambodia Charitable Trust. The trust, run by former NEXT Woman of the Year finalist Denise Arnold, works to provide education for children living in poverty.

It was a cause that had always been close to her father’s heart and the time away helped reinforce the message of ‘life is pretty short, and what is most important is family’. So when she got back, she and Bagrie had ‘The Chat’.

“We said, ‘Well, we’re very busy and it’s probably not the best idea, but let’s try it and see what happens.’ Then later that week we thought, ‘Actually, there’s too much on – we’re travelling too much; let’s leave it until next year.’ But it was too late!”

Towards the second half of her pregnancy, the opportunity for a lifestyle title came up from Bauer Media, who publish glossies like Home, Taste, Fashion Quarterly and yes, the magazine you’re reading now. It was an idea Lim had toyed with for a while and she threw herself into the project all guns blazing.

“It’s to help people in nice, easy, fun, realistic ways,” she says, with particular emphasis on ‘easy’ and ‘realistic’. “I do not live a perfect life, by any means. If you were to come here during a week day – or any time, really – you’d see quite a lot of chaos. But there are little things you can do to make things more fun, even in the midst of everything being so busy.”

Show me a person who doesn’t need either more fun or organisation in their lives in 2016 – chances are, you’ve got a drastic lack of both.

‘Wellness’ and everything it entails is tipped to become one of the next trillion-dollar industries worldwide as everyone becomes more time-poor. And there’s nothing like becoming a working mother to help you relate to the stressed-out sisterhood, Lim says.

Even though Bodhi is, by all accounts, a ‘chilled out’ baby, the daily routine has changed from the get-go.

“When Carlos and I were a couple with no kids, I used to think, ‘Oh, it’s so easy to throw a smoothie together; why don’t more people do it?’” Lim laughs. “Now I know why – because even the five minutes to throw the ingredients together doesn’t exist anymore! Instead, every week or so when I’ve got 15-20 minutes, I pre-chop all my smoothie ingredients and freeze them, so they’re ready to go into the food processor.

“You do have to change your life in little ways, now you have this little human being that 100% relies on you. But it can be done!”

Back in 2011, when Lim was a contestant on MasterChef, the healthy food landscape was fairly bleak. She wryly recalls being referred to as ‘the dietician’ because when she’d make a dish on the show, she would describe it in terms of nutrients as well as taste.

Five years later, everyone’s local café has a green smoothie on the menu, we’re all chasing nutrient-dense superfoods and even overseas celebrity chefs like Nigella have jumped on the wholefood express.

“I do remember battling the perception that healthy food means boring, tasteless, rabbit food. Now people think it can be tasty, fresh and delicious; and they actually prefer it because they feel good afterwards!”

I feel it’s important to note that while we’re drinking turmeric lattes, a delicious mix of fresh turmeric, ginger, vanilla essence, almond butter, water and cinnamon, we’re also eating the aforementioned brownies. In fact, at one point during our chat, Lim asks me – with the kind of gravitas you don’t normally associate with baked goods – which brownie is my favourite and we have a lengthy chat on the merits of each one (salted caramel is the winner).

You wouldn’t get this with Gwyneth, would you?

This is the kind of health guru you want: one who’ll whip you up a turmeric latte but doesn’t react to sugar the way some people react to nuclear weapons. It’s the key mix that makes Lim the perfect pick for New Zealand’s first proper lifestyle guru – that and the fact she’d probably never, ever refer to herself as one.

The beauty of Nadia magazine – and the six pillars it focuses on – is none of it is rocket science. It’s just common sense; a return to the kind of sustainable, clever thinking we’ve forgotten or simply run out of time for.

“A lot of health advice out there isn’t sustainable,” Lim says. “You can go on a health detox for a while but you can’t do it for a long time. And it has to be fun, so you enjoy it, so you’re likely to do it. It has to fit into your life and be easy. For me, exercise has to be easy or I won’t do it. I’m not naturally an exercise lover.”

That’s why today’s fitness routine worked with Bodhi, rather than without him. He adds resistance to her squats and lunges, and has a great time being lifted up into the sky as arm exercises.

It’s the same with her working life; Bodhi has become a constant companion at meetings – a relaxed baby, happy to be passed around the table while mum talks business.

“I didn’t want things to change too drastically,” Lim says. “It suits him, and it suits us as well. We’re very lucky in that you can be a bit more flexible these days.”

She admits the temptation to still try to work at full pace is there; often she finds herself breast-feeding on one side and replying to emails on the other.

“A lot of the time I consciously stop and go ‘I’m putting my phone away, and I’m just going to look at him’. Because [breastfeeding] is so beautiful and he’ll grow up so fast, and I’ve got to treasure those moments. It’s a balance – you can do the phone/breastfeeding double duty sometimes, but you’ve got to let yourself be in the moment as well.”

Cecilia Robinson – Lim’s My Food Bag co-founder and former NEXT Woman of the Year Business category winner – was instrumental in showing her you can have both an ever-growing career and also still have a family life.

Lim describes her as “a modern day superwoman”, and says she appreciates, now more than ever, My Food Bag’s maternity leave policy that effectively doubles the government allowance, and makes dads eligible to take more leave as well.

“Carlos was around for the first couple of weeks after Bodhi was born and man, you need that help! I’d pre-made and frozen a whole lot of meals in preparation but jeepers, you still need someone to help you warm it up because your hands are full the whole time.”

Bagrie and Lim work from home, and tag team Bodhi duties throughout the day; Lim’s mum steps in when the couple have a date night, which they try to make a regular event. Lim says they’ll investigate childcare options once Bodhi becomes less portable but they hope to continue with their current system for at least the first year.

Learning his rhythm, she says, has been crucial for making the work/family balance as peaceful as possible and making her feel ready to take on yet another challenge.

“I think being a mum is a very instinctive thing and the more stuff you get told, the easier it can be to ignore your natural instincts. We didn’t really do the whole weekly antenatal class thing or read any books. I’ve put my effort into learning his cues and working out, between us, how we work together.”

She does admit, laughing, that the whole ‘fake it until you make it’ attitude was what got them through the first few weeks. After two superb nights of sleep when they came back from the hospital, Bagrie and Lim thought they had a dream baby on their hands. Then on night three, he didn’t get to sleep until 5.45am.

“Carlos and I looked across at each other like, ‘holy shit… I don’t think we can handle this.’”

Her parents provided great role modelling for the work ethic she now finds herself emulating as a working mother. When asked about the strongest memories from her childhood, her immediate reply is that her dad worked hard but always made a huge effort to ‘play silly buggers’.

“He was a lot of fun, but he was very busy; he’d work his normal nine to five job during the week, then do some real estate in the weekend. I can remember him coming home and the anticipation of surprising him and playing. And Mum was a really, really good mum… almost born to be a mum. She’s always been very nurturing, yet didn’t wrap us in cotton wool; I remember eating a lot of dirt as a child – and leaves, and stones! And ants, actually.”

But sitting alongside those inherited strengths of work ethic and instinctive parenting is another trait: ambition. There’s a reason why Lim has gone from being a winning MasterChef contestant to a best-selling chef to a respected entrepreneur, that she is so well-known in New Zealand that her new magazine can just go by her first name.

When I ask her if, à la Gwyneth and Goop, she’s ready to become a full-fledged lifestyle brand, she says she is ready for it to expand in different ways, as long as it keeps the same values at heart: practical, realistic, fun ways to make our lives easier.

And with that, Bodhi and Bagrie return home from their sunshine stroll, and Lim slips from businesswoman to mum instantly, blowing raspberries on Bodhi’s stomach as Bagrie gets him changed.

Yep, she’s ready all right.

Nadia’s Nude Food rules

People will always ask ‘what should I do to be healthy?’ And I always had a lot of trouble condensing it down. Because there are so many things – there is no rule book!

I wanted to explain it in a way that empowered people to make the right decision for them.

Ignore the fads and diets

They’re just distractions. There’s no such thing as a list of foods you MUST have and a list of foods you MUST avoid.

Eat real food

Food that comes from the ground, the sea and the sky, and less that comes out of a factory. But that’s 90 per cent of the time; 10 per cent of the time, eat whatever you want. And enjoy it! Have a balanced relationship with food.

Trust your instincts

Everyone seems to rely on some health expert who they think knows better than them. But how could they know better than you what suits your own body? Everyone is so genetically varied, there’s no one diet that fits all. Like, I’m fine with having gluten so I’m going to keep having gluten. Some people will say five small meals a day is better for your metabolism but for me, three good solid meals work. When it comes down to it, you’re your best guru.

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