Diet & Nutrition

Jamie Oliver opens up about his recent weight loss and his mission to inspire healthy eating

Jamie's new approach to healthy eating helped see him through the heartbreaking closure of his UK restaurant chain.
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Celebrity cook, author, restaurateur, father, husband, and political activist – Jamie Oliver wears many hats.

Since bursting onto our screens in 1999, the cheeky ‘Naked Chef’, has evolved from Essex-born, mop-haired man-child into one of the world’s most successful foodies, forging a culinary empire that most chefs can only dream of.

He has amassed a string of top-rating TV shows and best-selling cookery books, but more importantly he’s used his celebrity status as a platform to lobby for important issues, whether it’s decent school meals, better health for kids, or training troubled youngsters as chefs.

And right now the heroic activist is tackling his next public awareness project – he’s on a mission to make us eat our greens.

“I want veggies and veggie dishes to be something to celebrate, no matter who you are,” the 44-year-old tells Good Health & Wellbeing.

“Regardless of whether you’re veggie, or a meat eater, we should all be getting more of the good stuff into our weekly meals.”

(Credit: Supplied)

Kickstarted with the release of new cookbook, Veg and accompanying TV series, Jamie says that for the past few years he has “completely submerged” himself in the world of vegetables with an end goal of showing the world how to produce delicious, flavoursome meals.

“Healthy food does not have to taste bad,” he says.

“The whole point of this book is to change the default ideas around veggie cooking. If you give veggies the same love, care and attention that you’d give to a prime cut of meat, then you’ll taste the difference. Add some spices, or a nice sauce. And if you want a heartier dish, try a curry, or stew, or one that you can slow cook with potatoes, sweet potato, and the like.

“There are all of these fancy ‘superfoods’ now, but regular veggies are also superfoods. Eat the fruit and veggies that are in season and you’ll get all the nutrients and flavour you need. Plus, as well as being better for your health, having veggies at the centre of your plate will help the environment, and for those on a budget, you’ll save money too.”

And, just like with anything he does, Jamie makes sure he practises what he preaches.

“My family and I aren’t vegetarians,” he says.

“But for the last five years we’ve been trying to eat vegetarian meals at least three days each week – sometimes more. And for health and weight loss, adding more veg into your week and having more meat-free days is good for everyone.”

The proof is, as they say, in the pudding. And Jamie’s new way of eating clearly works for him.

A chef for decades, long days in the kitchen tasting calorie-laden food saw him pile on the pounds, but since adapting a more veg-heavy diet over the past few years, he has shed a whopping 12kg, and now he’s in the best shape of his life.

“I realised around my 40th birthday that I was eating more than ever before and was far from my healthiest,” he admits.

“It’s tough, because my job is to eat for a living!” he laughs.

Jamie has swapped meat-heavy meals for an extra serving of veggies.

“I lost the kilos fairly quickly through changing my diet. I swapped my meat-heavy meals for an extra serving of veggies. I swapped other meat meals for eggs.

“I cut back on the booze too – that is such a big one. Not only is there a load of calories in each glass, but often you crave comfort food to soak up the alcohol, and then comfort food the next day to feel better. I also started snacking on nuts, rather than unhealthy treats.”

Equally as practical when it comes to fitness, the TV chef may not be naturally inclined towards exercise, but he stays in shape in as much of a ‘no frills’ manner as possible.

“Exercise is often the first thing to drop off when I get busy,” he reveals.

“But it is something I am working on for sure. I do enjoy it when I get into it and now I have a PT booked in each week to keep me honest!

“On top of starting to exercise more regularly, I also started to get more sleep. My lack of sleep each night certainly didn’t help my weight. When you’re tired, you often crave more food, heavier food and food with more sugar.

“Sleep is now high on the agenda for me. I went through about six years of getting only about three hours each night, and thankfully had a bit of a revelation and ended up spending time with sleep scientists. It has made a big difference.”

While these days Jamie has an enviable résumé, millions in the bank, famous friends and a red-carpet lifestyle, he hasn’t always had it easy.

Diagnosed as dyslexic, he struggled at school and left at the age of 16 with minimal qualifications to go to catering college. Little realising it would become a lucrative profession, for a young Jamie cooking was so much more than a job.

Saying that it was the only thing he “ever felt good at”, his passion for the kitchen helped see the fledgling cook through many of life’s bumps and humps.

“I battled dyslexia as a kid and was bullied as a result,” he explains.

“I went to special needs classes all through second school and that was not the greatest. Cooking helped me a lot – it kept me safe mentally.”

Married to wife Jools for the past 19 years (though the pair met years before when Jamie was 17), the loved-up couple have five children – Poppy, 17, Daisy, 16, Petal, 10, Buddy, nine, and River, three.

But given the size of his brood and the size of his culinary empire, how does he strike a balance between work, family life and ‘me-time’?

“Balance is hard,” Jamie admits.

“I have a wife, I have kids, I am tackling childhood obesity, there are books and TV shows… it’s tough. But self-care and self-love is a concept I’m warming to. I quite like Ayurveda and Chinese medicine and the concept of mindfulness. I never used to be spiritual, but I am now. I think nutrition has made me more spiritual the more I’ve learned.”

Undoubtedly, Jamie’s new approach to holistic wellness helped see him through the heartbreaking closure of his UK restaurant chain, which went into administration and resulted in more than 1000 job losses.

The TV chef was put through the wringer by the British press, and even though it was a trying time for the go-getter, his passion for sharing simple cooked good food, is undimmed.

“I have a pretty thick skin these days,” Jamie admits.

“I think in Britain, being enthusiastic and having an opinion – and God forbid you earn a couple quid – can make me disliked. I have been in the face of ridicule for a long time. You learn to let things go.”

But rather than focusing on the naysayers and critics, Jamie continues to do what he does best: inspiring us to make good, simple food at home, and trying to make the world a better place.

It’s this campaigning, he says, that is his defining legacy.

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