Nadia Sawalha Talks Emotional Eating, Positive Body Image For Girls And Big Breakfasts

14/08/2014 16:46 | Updated 22 May 2015

Nadia Sawalha: 'What every mum in the world wants is ENERGY!'

According to research carried out ahead of Farmhouse Breakfast Week (January 20-26), 39% of mums are just too busy getting everyone out of the door in the morning to enjoy what's supposed to be the most important meal of the day. How on earth are we surviving?!

Nadia Sawalha, mum to Maddie, 10, and Kiki-Bee, five, is supporting the Shake Up Your Wake Up campaign, so we chatted to her about how we can be better breakfasters, how to get kids to make good food choices, and all manner of other foodie things.

Are you good, do you manage to eat breakfast every day?

Ah yes, me and breakfast, we've managed to fall in love again! It's crazy how many of us mums don't eat in the morning.


What every mum in the world wants, more than sex, more than love, even more than chocolate is ENERGY. We're all knackered!


And if you don't eat all night and then you don't manage to eat something 'til 1pm, it's no wonder.

Our house is madness, utter pandemonium in the morning. But I do manage to get breakfast every day now (Mark is worse than me for skipping it, actually) – the key is getting something on the run if you have to. Not just a banana, I don't know about you, but I get sick to bloody death of bananas! But I'll grab an avocado and eat that with some pumpkin seeds and it's delicious. Literally as you're eating it you're feeling more beautiful.

And did you manage that when your children were younger?

No, I was terrible! I think there are so many new mums who are malnourished – you can even be overweight, but not be well nourished because you end up just snacking and snacking on anything quick. But it's a bit like having tequila shots, it's good for five minutes but then you've got to have another one!

I actually lost loads of weight when I was pregnant, because I ate really well – I had all the meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Then I had the baby, and because suddenly I was no longer nourishing someone else, only me, I stopped!

I just ate biscuits, and I piled on the weight when I was breastfeeding. I hate anyone telling me not to have carbs, not to have sugar, not to have wine (I honestly don't think you can be a mum and not have any of those things) but you definitely need to think about what you're putting in.

Think of it as fuel! What can you put in your body that is going to keep you standing up?!

Do you think some of us skip breakfast because we find it a bit, you know, boring and samey?

Yes definitely, and it's a good idea to mix it up a bit. It just takes a bit of planning, having a few things in the cupboard and changing the grains you eat, it sort of keeps your body alive – as my dad says: "The larder is our greatest pharmacy!" and it's really true.

Try swapping toast for oatcakes, for example. They're so yummy. In fact, I might be heading for rehab with my oatcake addiction. Kids really like them as well – spread a bit of low fat cheese on them and a splodge of lemon curd.

What did you have for breakfast this morning?

I was really hungry this morning. I had some Ryvita spread with Marmite and two hard boiled eggs mushed on top. The eggs have to be steaming hot, so the Marmite goes a bit sticky, it was lovely!

Do you think there is a lot of pressure on mothers to get back in shape after having a baby?

Oh god, of course there is.


Even though Davina McCall drives me mad on almost every other level, I did love one thing she said, and that was it takes nine months to put it on, it should take nine months to get it off again.


The same is true with weight generally, you put on weight over a period of time, and you shouldn't be in a rush to lose it because it won't work.

A lot of it is to do with your mindset as well. When you have a baby, you suddenly feel like there is so much of your life that is falling to pieces! Ha ha! So much has GONE! And sometimes you think, you know, if I can get in control of my weight then I'll feel somehow like I'll get back my old life. Well, your old life has gone forever! It ain't ever coming back! Get over it!

Seriously, if you try and do that with the weight, you'll be on the road to hell. If you try to diet, you'll probably fail, because you're starving and you're exhausted. Just eat well.

There are lots of things you can shove in your mouth, like nuts and seeds, which will give you energy much better than the odd biscuit will.

You're obviously something of a foodie (and a previous Celebrity Masterchef champion!). Has that rubbed off on your girls?

Actually I think I did every single thing wrong that you can do! It can be quite embarrassing going out when people know you as a foodie, and your children are saying: "I just want plain pasta"! I mean, honestly.


I've turned up at people's houses before and pretended they'd already eaten because I was so embarrassed about how fussy the girls were going to be!


Come on then, what did you do wrong?

I have a lot of issues around food, I think because I had a lot of emotional feeding as a child. My father is an Arab, and he'd say: "Oh you didn't EAT! You ate at so-and-so's house and now you don't eat this that I've cooked for you!" which basically meant 'you don't love me'!

So I think I went the other way, I could hear myself, really annoying and sort of middle class, saying: "Darling, would you like a rice cake, would you like a different type of juice?"

Everyone told me I was making a rod for my own back.


I ended up like a short order cook, cooking five different meals just so they'd eat something. And the girls whittled and wore me down to plain spaghetti.


So I've gently been trying to change that! I'm still crap though, I still ask them what they want instead of putting it down on the table. But I have managed to move them up to spaghetti with olive oil, with garlic and loads of tomato puree.

What I do is tell them: "You can have this, but you have to have a starter of either broccoli, green beans or peas". It's like United Nations style negotiations!

It must be a bit exhausting?

Their music teacher Mrs Holmes helped. They drove me mad with this song they learned for the Harvest Festival: "One, two, three, four, five a day... It has to be the healthy way!"

She really engaged them with it. They started saying things like: "Have I had my five a day, mummy? Is there enough colour of this plate? My dinner is too beige!"

Do you let them loose in the kitchen and what do they like cooking?

They make breakfast on Saturdays, and they can make pancakes without looking at a recipe. Yesterday, they weren't that hungry at breakfast time, and I thought, well fair enough, we did all stuff our faces last night. So I just got the juicer out and got the girls to make their own juice.

It was amazing, they had carrots, apples and broccoli at breakfast time! Because THEY made it, you see? They're all egomaniacs, children, aren't they? Screaming narcissists! Everyone who came in the house yesterday was made to drink a broccoli juice, it was hilarious!

How important do you think it is to teach children, perhaps especially girls, to have a healthy relationship with food?

For me, I see it as the single most important thing I can do for them. They have an incredibly clever and highly academic father who can do all the other stuff. I don't think I have a single day when it's not on my mind.

It's such a good idea to get your kids cooking, and even grow their own vegetables if you can – although that does take some work. But if they're involved, they love that. I get the girls to make their own museli mix – you can put all the stuff out in bowls, and then chuck it in and you end up with a big jar of it.

And then you don't get that thing where they're saying "Urgh, what are these bits?" because you can say "Did you put dead ants in it when you made it? No? Then there aren't any dead ants in it now."

Making them see the positive aspects about foods is much more effective than nagging and bartering.

I tell Kiki, "Do you want to be able to beat the boys at running? Then you have to eat THIS! This is what they're all eating!"

Do you worry that your daughters will be concerned about their body image?

Yes, I do. Maybe it's a sad indictment but I feel already that I've had some success in that my 10-year-old, so far, has not turned round to me and asked: "Am I fat?" Because I have friends, who have children younger than mine, and already they're saying "I look fat from the side", or "I look fat from the back". It's awful.

There's also some pressure in as much as I have put myself out there, saying I used to be overweight, and then I got thin – and I feel I have to be really careful about how they perceive that side of me out there in the world.

It's very hard not to project our own food issues on to our children, isn't it?

I had an epiphany a few weeks ago. I realised no woman needs to have a single enemy because you have them all nestled in your head, you know the inner voices? For so long, I let those those inner voices talk to me in a way I would never have let anyone else talk to me. And I'd barter deals with myself – I'd have a slice of garlic bread and think, damn, well I won't have breakfast tomorrow.

Anyway, recently, I saw that Maddie was eating a bag of crisps and I said something like: "Well that's okay, because you'll be having carrots at lunch". And I thought, oh no! I'm channelling the voice! I don't want to do that, that was me projecting on to her my own fears about something she was eating. I don't want to plant that seed. Now I'll probably spend the next two years trying to undo it!

Describe your family meal times. Do you sit and eat together regularly?

We do try to. My husband and I are both freelance, but when we're at home, we do sit down, all together, and even if Mark and I are going to eat our meal later on, we'll put something in front of us as well and sit at the table with the girls.

If you could just one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Bread. Definitely bread. Any type of bread. I've never had a bread I didn't love.

Check out the video of Nadia making her yummy breakfast scones, and go to the Shake Up Your Wake Up website for the full recipe details.


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