A fussy eater as a child, bullied at school for being "chubby", and thrown out of dance classes for being "too solid", Claire Turnbull went from diet to diet, starving and bingeing.

Turnbull could have grown up to be one of the many, many women who worry about their weight and have an unhealthy relationship with food. Instead, she has channelled her own experiences growing up into a passion for nutrition and wellness, and now the 33-year-old is one of New Zealand's leading experts on diet and nutrition, and is particularly passionate about helping women to be the happiest, healthiest versions of themselves.

A qualified dietitian and fitness instructor, Turnbull owns Mission Nutrition, leading a team of dietitians and nutritionists, offering one-on-one nutrition consultations, workplace wellness programmes, workshops and supermarket tours.

She also is a best-selling author, advice columnist and the television face of Healthy Food Guide, a regular on TVNZ's breakfast show, What's In Our Food and TV3's Target, has her own radio health and fitness show on Newstalk ZB, and often appears in newspapers and magazines.

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She juggles all of this with caring for her year-old son, Zac, finds time to cycle, do yoga, and travels all over New Zealand and internationally to share her ideas on happier, healthier living.

Turnbull is coming to Tauranga in October to speak to Bay women at the indulge Speaker Collective in association with Craigs Investment Partners, which features female experts on women's health, nutrition, business and finance. Turnbull will speak on how to boost your nutrition to look good and feel better.

indulge caught up with Turnbull on her 33rd birthday, in a rare break from her busy schedule, to find out more about her own food journey and how it led her to motivate others to eat well and take better care of themselves.

"Growing up I generally had a very, very unhealthy relationship with food. I was a very fussy child. My Mum has every food allergy under the sun and coeliac disease and eating disorders also run in my family, so food and nutrition have always been of interest to me.

I grew up with my Mum on and off diets for as long as I can remember and I had major issues with my relationship with my body and food from very early on."

But out of her struggle with eating issues came a love of food.

Nutrition has just got so confusing; there are so many opinions out there.

Turnbull experimented with being a vegetarian for 14 years and, as her mother went to university as well as working full-time when she was growing up, Turnbull ended up doing much of the cooking for the family. It is her dream to have her own food television show.

"I love to cook. One of my biggest passions in life is teaching people how to cook healthy food without it being difficult or super-expensive. I grow a lot of my own veges, have chickens in my back yard and make a lot of my food from scratch."

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With her father a doctor, her mother a nurse and her older brother a pharmacist, Turnbull says the health profession was a natural move for her.

"I was always very keen to follow in their steps and help people to improve their health and wellbeing."

At 16, while still at school, she took a part-time job as a nursing assistant in care homes and hospitals - and this grew her interest in helping people keep well.

"When it came to choosing what to do at university after school, knowing I wanted a job in the medical field but didn't want to be a doctor, I decided to follow my passion for health and food and study to be a dietitian and fitness trainer."

After initially working in hospitals as a clinical dietitian in the UK, in 2005, Turnbull was offered a job in New Zealand as a dietitian for Diabetes New Zealand.

"I jumped at the chance."

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Turnbull then started up in private practice in her living room, but demand was so great that from her living room Turnbull is now one of New Zealand's biggest names in health, rivalling Dr Libby.

"I would get approached by people all the time wanting my advice on nutrition and started chatting to people in cafes, going to their homes, they came to see me, and before I knew it, I had such a waiting list."

Now Mission Nutrition has five dietitians and nutritionists, and a workplace wellness division. Turnbull thinks there is a growing need for people to get help with their eating.

"Nutrition has just got so confusing; there are so many opinions out there."

Nutritionist Claire Turnbull used common sense to overcome debilitating food issues. Photo/Supplied
Nutritionist Claire Turnbull used common sense to overcome debilitating food issues. Photo/Supplied

There's much more to nutrition than eating, says Turnbull. It affects your whole wellbeing.

"There are also so many ways we now know that nutrition can help manage conditions which used to just be treated purely with medication or, really, not at all. This includes things like PCOS, infertility, irritable bowel syndrome as well, of course, as nutrition advice being essential to help people manage their weight, cholesterol, diabetes and so on."

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Turnbull sees a range of people, from those who want to get the best results from their training, get their bodies in better shape, or perform at their best in sport.

A significant segment of her clientele is women whose main concern is weight loss.
"There are so many women who are serial dieters. Also, many women use food and alcohol to manage their emotions.

They eat when they are angry, sad, frustrated or just out of habit, boredom or, interesting in my view, as a form of self-abuse.

"Food can be like a drug, but it is a bad one and for many women, learning to manage their relationship with their bodies and food is the most powerful thing they can ever do to improve their health and happiness."

Turnbull says this is where much of her passion comes from in her work.

"I meet so many people, particularly women, who go from diet to diet, eating plan to eating plan and just go round in circles and feel bad about themselves.

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I like helping people understand food, their bodies and help them to make eating well easy and painless - no fad diets here."

Turnbull's philosophy is that women should turn their backs on the concept of "going on a diet" for a period of time.

No supplement will ever replace the effects of a healthy, balanced diet.

"Diets don't work long-term and they are bad for your mental health. There are much better ways to get results.

She is sceptical about diet crazes such as the paleo diet or fasting or detoxification diets.

"They can get results, but they seldom last. I am all for dramatically reducing the amount of added sugar we have, going for whole foods, not snacking for the sake of it and having green smoothies, but the need to put yourself into a dieting 'box' and give it all a label is unnecessary.

"You need to find what works for you, what you can do long-term and what genuinely helps you look and feel good without semi-starving yourself or following endless lists of rules."

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She is also cynical about the rise in dieting supplements on offer by health stores.

"No supplement will ever replace the effects of a healthy, balanced diet. These types of things play on people's insecurities and are just money-making disasters, in my mind. I wouldn't touch any of them with a barge pole".

In her talk at the indulge Speaker Collective, Turnbull says she will be elaborating on how eating well can help women not only look good but feel good.

"The quality and balance of the food you eat doesn't just affect your weight, but affects your mood, how your skin looks and how much energy you have."

She will also discuss how we have become "disconnected" from food.

"So many of us eat when we are bored, eat because we can't say no when someone offers us something, or drink to help manage our frustrations after a bad day."

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"While this type of eating/drinking seems helpful at the time, it is a total disaster when it comes to your weight and feeling good, because you can end up eating/drinking a lot more than you need or, deep down, really want to be eating/drinking, and also you will no doubt be eating unhealthy foods at these times.

"Learning to eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full and use food for fuel and enjoyment rather than a coping strategy for your feelings or a time filler, is essential to help you meet your goals of looking and feeling good."

Turnbull has unique insight into some of the more surprising things that may affect our ability to lose weight, such as sunlight, sleep and mood.

"We used to think that weight was simply a calories in versus calories out equation, but now we understand that there are many other factors to consider, including your hormones, stress levels, sleep, gut health and many, many other things."

So, with all our sunshine in Tauranga, we should be slim then?

"So many of us spend FAR too much time inside. We need to expose our eyes to light as it regulates the hormones which control our sleep and mood, plus we need to expose our skin to light so we get enough vitamin D, which is essential for many things including healthy bones and a strong immune system."

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Turnbull will also touch on sleep's effect on appetite.

"Tiredness and fatigue cause changes in the hormones which regulate your appetite. So, if you are fatigued you are more likely to want to eat more, so you are more likely to get fatter. Shift patterns also play havoc with people's hormones and can certainly cause health issues and for people to struggle more with their weight.

Nutritionist Claire Turnbull. Photo/Supplied
Nutritionist Claire Turnbull. Photo/Supplied

How to lose those stubborn kilos

Claire Turnbull has some advice for women who are struggling to lose the last few, stubborn, kilos. For a lot of people, the last couple of kilos often are tricky because they have done most things already to improve the way they eat yet have reached a plateau, in which case as well as some final food adjustments, there are other things to consider:

My top tip for shifting those last kilos is to massively increase your intake of non-starchy veges (I'm talking seven handfuls a day) and to not overdo the fruit (two serves a day is enough), and certainly consume as little added sugar as possible.

Exercise is essential. You need to build up your lean muscle mass as that increases your calorie-burning capacity.

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Stress less. Stress hormones are a nightmare when it comes to fat storage so look into managing stresses, be it walking, meditation, yoga, breathing or sleeping better.

Cutting back on stimulants (caffeine and booze) is essential to shift those last kilos.

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