Nadia Lim on healthy eating, baby Bodhi and her fresh start

'My body does look different now, but that’s okay; it’s all part of the process.'

It's 7.30am and the street lights have barely switched off in Auckland's leafy central suburbs when I tap softly on Nadia Lim's front door.
While it might sound like a rude awakening, the early start was her idea, and with a diary packed to the brim weeks in advance, it was the only time she could spare to sit down for a chat.
Emerging in her dressing gown and ushering me inside with a cheery welcome, the culinary guru looks fresh-faced, relaxed, and not remotely bothered by the idea of talking business with a journalist before the coffee pot has even boiled.
In the kitchen, Lim's husband of five years, Carlos Bagrie, cajoles baby Bodhi to eat his breakfast, as the toddler waves fistfuls of scrambled egg and flashes a gummy grin. It's the sort of scene that's typical for many young Kiwi families each morning, but as soon as Lim starts reading out her upcoming schedule, it's safe to say hers is something of a life less ordinary.
"I'm cooking with Richie McCaw this week," says the businesswoman and bestselling author. "That's a line you don't get to say very often! I'm really looking forward to meeting him."
Other days include filming for an appearance on My Kitchen Rules, publicity events, a magazine photo shoot, and time dedicated to recipe testing and a special family gathering.
And while little Bodhi might still be in nappies, he isn't Lim's latest baby.
Most recently, she's been tinkering on a new venture as part of her wildly popular business, My Food Bag. The latest offering in the line-up is a weight-loss bag called Fresh Start, which the trained dietitian has helped develop in response to countless emails from customers wanting her down-to-earth advice on shifting excess kilos.
"It's really different to anything we've done before," she says. "People have been asking us for good, credible information on weight loss, and this is about giving that information – and the tools you need to do it – in an easy, sustainable way. I want to help people into good habits they can continue for the rest of their life, not just something they are going to do in an extreme form for a few weeks and then go back to their old ways."
In the days of celebrity food fads, extreme cleanses and conflicting health advice, each new trend makes Lim shudder like she's heard nails on a blackboard.
"Don't pay attention to fad diets, just eat normal, unprocessed, real food," she advises.
"Don't eat too much, and move more. Eat plenty of veges; there's not a diet in the world that doesn't agree with that, although they seem to disagree on everything else!"
In her former role as a clinical dietitian working with diabetic and obese patients at a district health board, Lim saw first-hand the confusion, and sheer despondency, that comes with battling the scales.
The topic of how the modern Western world has lost its way with food is something she's particularly passionate about, so it was a logical next step for the cook to pour her knowledge into her business.
With the new Fresh Start range, home cooks can expect the same sort of tasty dishes that have made My Food Bag a household name, albeit with a lower calorie count. Meatballs, Thai chicken salad and 'naked burgers' are all part of the menu, and Lim says the clean, lean fare reflects her favourite style of cooking.
"The meals are around 450 calories, so they're low but not super-low calorie, but they're filling because they're really high in fibre, high in veges, and don't skimp on the protein," she explains. "They're lower in carbs than the other My Food Bag meals, but you feel really satisfied after eating them."
The Fresh Start range is modelled off Lim's most popular cookbook of the same name – a runaway success that opened her eyes to the extent to which people were desperately seeking trustworthy guidance on health, wellbeing and weight loss.
"I'm not surprised people are confused and anxious about food; I don't blame them," she says. "But food is your friend! It's almost like we've been taught to focus on what we shouldn't be having, rather than all the great foods we should be eating. I want people to have a healthy relationship with food and really enjoy it."
As she talks, she cuddles a giggly Bodhi on her lap, while running her fingers through his silky mop of black hair that she can't bear to cut just yet. [Since talking to her, the proud mum has made the big chop!]
She might be one of the most recognisable faces on New Zealand's food scene, with an influential role that sees her recipes cooked in thousands of kitchens across the country each night, but at home, she's like any other Kiwi mum.
There's the drying rack laden with clothes in the living room, a broken plate sitting in two pieces on a side table, and a bag of potting mix waiting to be put to use just outside the door.
Mingling with celebrities is all part of her job, but she always looks forward to coming home to her family and kicking back in her suburban bungalow.
It been six years since her MasterChef NZ win propelled Lim into the public eye, and four years since she co-founded the multi-million-dollar food delivery business that shot her success into the stratosphere.
While she jokingly laments at how much younger she looked in her MasterChef days, the 31-year-old foodie has no complaints about where the journey has taken her so far.
As well as overseeing key aspects of My Food Bag, she has written six cookbooks (three with My Food Bag), runs her own lifestyle website, and develops recipes and provides input for the popular bimonthly magazine that has her name as its title.
Life for Lim is busy, 'me time' is virtually non-existent, and finding ways to keep all the plates spinning was a learning curve.
"I've got a pretty good diary," she laughs. "I've learned over the past few years to pace myself, which is really important.
"I used to look at my diary and think, 'Okay I've got a half day there, and an afternoon there', and then someone would ask me to do something and I would say 'Yes, I can fit you in' – but my diary was always 100 per cent booked, seven days a week. You think you've got time to do it all but the reality is, you really need some downtime in order to function effectively."
With Bodhi on the scene, family time is now even more important, and Lim has recently made a habit of stopping work at 5pm. She hasn't owned a TV in years, so evenings are for quietly unwinding, although she admits the pull of emails often sees her doing an hour or so in front of the computer after her son has gone to bed.
"Outsourcing is a great thing," she says. "I've learned to do that well! I used to think, 'I'm the only person who can do this, I need to clone myself', but no, not now. The other thing is prioritising. I used to feel I couldn't let any opportunity pass, but the truth is, there will always be opportunities out there."
These days, she rarely takes time out for herself, but being with family is her downtime.
"I love hanging out with Bodhi and Carlos, and sometimes Carlos is away so I'll be hanging out with Bodhi for the day, I might fit in a quick read or [she whispers like it's a bad word], do a bit of work! People might say that doesn't sound too great, but I don't mind not having any 'just me' time. I've been working on and off since Bodhi was about six weeks old so I look forward to spending more time with him."
With Bodhi celebrating his first birthday on April 12, the couple have been relishing their whirlwind year as a family of three. When Lim and Carlos, who works full-time with his wife, were talking about names, both had chosen Bodhi as their top pick for a boy, despite never talking about it beforehand.
"It was bizarre," laughs Lim. "We both love the name for very different reasons. Carlos' favourite movie when he was a teen was Point Break, and Bodhi was the cool surfer dude main character. I love it because of the Bodhi tree that Buddha sat under and found enlightenment. My dad was Buddhist, plus the Bodhi tree is really beautiful."
Despite being sold on a name, the couple waited until the baby was born to make the final decision, and luckily, Bodhi's calm demeanour made the moniker a perfect match.
"He didn't even cry for almost an hour after he was born, it wasn't until they had to prick his heel that he let out a little squeal," she smiles. "He was so chilled out so we thought 'Yep, that name's for you!'"
When his parents are busy with work, Bodhi goes down the road to the nanny, who also looks after two other children who have become Bodhi's best mates. Lim says adding to her family is definitely part of her future plans, although she's re-thinking her childhood dream of having four children.
"I wonder if I've started too late to have that many," she muses. "If they're all spaced a few years apart then I don't want to be doing this a decade later! It takes a big toll on the body.
"While I felt like myself again quite soon after the birth, there are other little things I'm still recovering from. My abs have separated as Bodhi was a big baby, and my balance is still off from my hips moving – there are all these things no one ever tells you about! My body does look different now, but that's okay; it's all part of the process."
With her career keeping her on her toes and family life ticking along nicely, she's just enjoying things the way they are. Next up on Lim's 'to do' list is planting a vege garden, and wrangling her diary to allow some free time on Fridays.
"That's the extent of my goals at the moment," she laughs. "I want to have more time to take Bodhi to fun things like the zoo, or swimming. I'm sure this year is going to go by so fast."

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