Upon making the move to Sydney from the UK seven years ago, Sally O’Neil aka The Fit Foodie made the conscious decision to start living a healthier life.
She learnt to cook, found a new appreciation for wholefoods, lost 14kg in the process, launched her own Fit Mixes product range, went on to publish a cookbook and enrolled herself into uni where she is currently studying nutrition—all whilst continuing to develop her own recipes, juggle work as a food stylist and photographer and manage her successful blog.
Phew. Talk about an overachiever.
Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Sal knows how passionate she is about living a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. Here, we sit down with face behind The Fit Foodie (and recipe contributor to Amodrn) as she takes us through her health and wellness journey, her struggle with orthorexia, how she’s repaired her relationship with food, the items you’ll find in her kitchen and what she wants her followers to know about real life vs. the ‘gram.
Take us back to the very start. How did this all begin?
After a business degree at York University in the UK, I worked for two years in obesity prevention in the NHS. I wanted to travel the world, so left for six months to see Australia and Asia. A few weeks after arriving in Sydney and landing an admin job, I was offered sponsorship and decided to settle in Sydney for a while. I started sending recipes to my mum on email as I learnt to cook with fresh, local ingredients.
I’d lost 14 kilos in eight months from eating a more wholefoods-based diet. After a few months of writing recipes and emailing them around, my boyfriend set up a website to make it easier to share my recipes back home. Weeks later we looked at the site statistics and saw that it wasn’t just my mum looking at the site! I quickly got myself a logo and began posting recipes to Instagram too.
You’ve recently opened up about your struggle with orthorexia. At what point did you come to realise this was a problem and how did you overcome it?
Orthorexia is a difficult condition to actually acknowledge that something is wrong, because the whole idea is that you become ‘healthiest self’. On paper, I was doing everything right, I was working out a lot, eating very clean so it was difficult for me to understand that it could lead to health problems. Six months into my restrictive journey I lost my period so I went to my GP who very dismissively diagnosed me with anorexia after getting me to step on the scales with my weight coming in at 43kg.
I was devastated so I went in search of a second opinion and found another GP who explained orthorexia to me. I knew at that point there was something more significantly wrong and I had to do something about it, and from there my recovery journey started. This included cutting back on exercise, introducing more carbs and fats into my diet. All up it took eight months plus a number of psychology appointments for me to build a better relationship with both food and exercise.
“As a health food blogger, it’s not really something you are expected to talk about, the concept of being too healthy. But I have experienced it first hand and my hope is that by talking about it I can raise awareness and hopefully prompt others to seek help.”
What are some typical signs/feelings you experienced during this time?
Low body weight, skipped periods, mood swings, depression, anxiety, feeling cold all the time hungry, lethargic, I developed anaemia I also stopped going out for meals socially with friends, restricted typically healthy foods like sweet potato and avocado, nuts and seeds.
How would you describe your relationship with food now?
I actually don’t think about it too much which in itself is a massive achievement, because during that time all of my thoughts were surrounding food. I would say that I generally eat well 80% of the time and other 20% I will allow myself a delicious treat here and there when I feel like it. The key is not to punish yourself when you feel like you could’ve made better food choices.
Instagram has essentially changed the way we perceive health and wellness. What is one thing you want your followers to know when it comes to social media vs. real life?
One thing I want them to know is that there is a lot of time that goes into creating the images that pop up in your feed on the daily. The content is created to be inspiring, and therefore actually takes a lot of thought and planning to make it so. Each food photograph on my feed has typically taken and 1-2hr to create from cooking, styling, photographing and editing.
It’s definitely not how my typical dinners are plated at home. The lifestyle shots of me are taken by my content manager Sasha (@sasha.angelique) who is an incredible photographer, but even with the best photographer we still take anything between 20-40 shots in one outfit to get the perfect pic. For the most part, Instagram acts as my highlights reel and a portfolio for my photography work for future clients. However, I use Instagram stories to show what really goes on behind the scenes of my shoots and day to day life.
You’re also studying nutrition (nutrition nerds represent!) What is one thing you didn’t realise about nutrition before commencing your degree?
With the degree actually being a Bachelor of Health SCIENCE, it’s surprising how much basic science knowledge you have to learn before you get to the good stuff about food and digestion. There’s hours on hours of lectures about cell division, macrophages and blood vessels—not something I honestly thought I would be spending so much time on. I know that the juicy stuff is coming, but let’s be honest, I’m not learning whether coconut oil is in fact good or bad for you.
I’ve spent many weeks buried in biology and chemistry text books, asking myself why I signed up in the first place. For me it is a little harder (it’s my least fave subjects!) so I’m finding it a challenge. Still, it’s not all bad news. I have a much better understanding of how the human body works on a chemical and physical level, which is already super helpful for my line of work.
Can you take us through your typical day on a plate?
I generally try to change the foods I eat regularly, but I usually eat something like this: Breakfast – 30g oats cooked in almond milk with blueberries, cinnamon and almond butter Lunch – large salad with 2 boiled eggs and hummus Dinner – roast veggies, barramundi and avocado Snacks – Almond milk piccolo, homemade raw chocolate
What does your current fitness routine look like? Has the way you exercised changed over the years?
I get bored of different exercises really quickly and I regularly fall in and out of love with certain things. At the moment, I am doing 1 session of yin yoga, 3 weights sessions at Fitness First and 2 spin classes at Cycology in Surry Hills. No doubt in a few weeks that will change. I am a big fan of boxing so I am looking forward to finding a good boxing class to get stuck into.
We love your foodie snaps! For those interested in food styling, can you tell us where you find and source all your amazing props?
I get a lot of vintage items from Etsy and Ebay and work closely with a few ceramicists locally. My all-time favourite is fellow food stylist Jennifer Jenner who has an incredible ceramics business by the name of the Decadent Pantry. She makes beautiful, one off organic shaped pieces that are light and bright, perfect for my aesthetic.
Healthy food you don’t necessarily like but eat anyway because you know it’s good for you?
There’s actually nothing I don’t like, but I do try to have a fish oil supplement every day and I don’t really enjoy the taste of that!
What’s next for The Fit Foodie, what exciting things are you working on?
Book number 2 is currently in discussion, hopefully due for release next year! My commercial photography client base is growing so I am really focusing my efforts there for the next year. It’s something I am so passionate about and I always love to get creative with styling. After enjoying doing some TV stints recently, I am hoping to do more in the future to bring more healthy, fast and delicious recipes for busy women into homes around Australia.