Leah Itsines has more than 400,000 Instagram followers hungry for her recipes — which are bursting with nutrition, made from everyday ingredients rather than exotic superfoods, and (most important) tasty.
Author of a popular food blog and the new recipe book The Nourishing Cook, Itsines says she’s often asked to name the best diet — which she believes is a question with no "right" answer.
"There isn’t a one-shoe-fits-all method," she tells Coach. "I believe everyone should eat for what suits their lifestyle best and what they enjoy most. I personally like to eat everything in moderation — for me, being healthy is all about balance."
Adelaide-based Itsines agrees healthy eating is challenge, given there are so many food opinions out there masquerading as nutrition information. That’s why she teamed with dietitian Lyndi Cohen to ensure her own cookbook is founded in facts.
"I worked very closely with [Cohen] because I want the information I provide to be helpful, rather than harmful to the everyday person," she says. "It’s important if you actually want to improve your eating to see your local dietician or nutritionist to seek their advice."
There are two big misconceptions about healthy eating, according to Itsines: one is that you need to be super strict and avoid all those bad foods you actually enjoy.
"People often think you need to cut things out of their diet to be ‘healthier’," she says. "Most times, it’s actually the opposite."
Her philosophy is based in adding foods, not restricting them: more meals for more energy, "more veggies, more fibre, more carbs to fuel your body correctly."
The other misconception is that healthy eating means food that’s "boring, bland and a little sad".
"It doesn’t have to!" Itsines insists. "This is why I focus on good foods that taste amazing."
The best way to get those foods, she says, is to make them yourself in your own kitchen — a strategy that nutrition experts say is the best way to manage your nutrition and weight because you control the ingredients.
"I like at burgers and pizzas but I make them myself so I can put what I like into them," Itsines explains. "My partner and I always have burger nights at home. We get steak fillets and make really nice burgers. They still taste the same [as a takeaway burger] but they’re a little bit healthier."
"Cook at home" is great advice… but what if you’re terrible at cooking? Itsines recommends starting small rather than trying to go full MasterChef on your first attempt. More importantly, don’t be afraid to fail.
"A lot of people say to me ‘I don’t want to cook [because] I stuffed up once’. I stuff up all the time! Almost every day," she tells Coach. "A lot of my meals don’t go online because they just don’t work out.
"You need to try really simple recipes to start with and then you can go further and do harder things. If you don’t try, you’ll never get any better."
Another key to successful home cooking is planning.
"Being prepared and proactive when it comes to organizing your meals is something we all need to be better at," Itsines says. "If you have a day full of meetings tomorrow, plan ahead and sort out your meals the night before … little things like pre-cutting your veggies, making pasta sauces or soups in bulk and freezing them, or even preparing a breakfast or a lunch one day in advance."
If you’re sold on her advice and plan to pick up a copy of The Nourishing Cook, Itsines recommends trying her zucchini slice first (it’s on page 94, FYI).
"I make it in bulk and freeze it, then get it out when I need it," she says. "It’s really quick and simple."
The Nourishing Cook by Leah Itsines, published by Pan Australia, is out now.