Wellness writer, yoga teacher and coach Rachel Grunwell interviewed more than 30 health experts globally for her new book Balance: Food, Health + Happiness.
1 Why does your book share advice from so many different experts?
It could have just been me sharing my journey from unfit mum to multi-marathoner but as a journalist who specialises in wellness, I'm in a unique position where I have an oversight of the industry. I've spent years interviewing the best minds in wellness. The people I've chosen are change-makers and thought-leaders.
2 What importance do you place on science?
I care deeply about sharing science-backed advice that can genuinely help people, so there's clinical psychologists, professors, dietitians, nutritionists and university researchers. Mindfulness and meditation are heavily science-backed. My background as a journalist and now qualified yoga teacher and personal trainer helped me find the right experts.
3 You've got a chapter on giving back. Why is that important?
Giving back is a secret to being happy, but there's a way to do it. Giving money is great but to actually feel connected with a community you're helping gives you heart-lifting joy. I give back through a charity aligned with my passion for running, Achilles, helping disabled athletes achieve their marathon dream. The people I've worked with over the years have become like family. I've also got chapters on living for a powerful purpose, not just a pay cheque, and how to relate better to other people. Emotional intelligence is also a key to happiness.
4 Growing up in Rotorua, did you always want to be a writer?
I talk a lot about the power of transformation because I think it can really resonate. I was just an average kid who grew up with not much money. Dad worked on a rubbish truck and mum was a cleaner so it was a real, raw background. But I was a fearless kid who was courageous enough to dream big. If I set my mind on something, I was bloody-minded about it. I decided I wanted to learn the saxophone, so I took all the money out of my bank account and hired one. I ended up being the lead saxophonist in the Rotorua Orchestra when I was at high school.
5 How did you become a newspaper journalist?
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No one in my family had been to university. To fund it, I worked 30 hours a week in my last year of high school tutoring music and at a greengrocer. In my second year at university I got a break with the Daily Post in Rotorua. They saw something in me. I was taken under the wing of some amazing people and was able to train on the job. I went back to uni later and got a post-grad diploma in creative writing so I wore the fancy cape. The key message is that hard work pays off. If you believe in something passionately and you work really hard, you can achieve your dreams.
6 Why did you start writing about wellness?
It was by accident. I was at home with my third baby, feeling unfit, when the editor of the Herald on Sunday magazine got in touch and asked if I'd like to write a fitness column where I tried a different type of exercise weekly. I did everything from flying trapeze to boxing. It was so much fun. I still get stopped in cafes by people saying, "I tried that idea — I loved it".
7 Do you miss covering hard news?
I'm proud of my work as an award-winning journalist. I covered the High Court, health and education. I was gutsy. If there was a murder, editors would send me because they knew I'd be courageous and get in there to find out what was happening. I've gone from helping the underdog by telling their stories, challenging politicians and holding people in power to account to helping people in a different way in the wellness world. Now I get to walk beside them, motivate and guide them into a smart approach on how to feel healthier and happier. There's this incredible ripple effect where if I help a client, generally their partner loses weight and their kids learn healthier habits too.
8 What drives you to keep going?
I want to run faster, lift heavier and be healthy. It's not about the aesthetic; I wasted my 20s and 30s worrying how my bum looked in a pair of jeans. Now I'm fitter, stronger and healthier than I've ever been in my life and it gives me amazing energy levels.
9 You've now run 24 marathons. How do you train for those?
I've changed my approach. I now do a lot of strength-based training through a CrossFit gym. Lifting weights is smart because your bone density starts to go on a downwards slide from age 30. It's good for your metabolism too. I can deadlift 90kg, which is more than one and a half times my body weight.
10 As a busy working mum with three boys, how do you find time for exercise?
That's the question I get asked most. I get up early and get it done while the kids are sleeping. There's nowhere else I have to be at that time. My alarm goes off at 5.50am. I'll run 10km or go to CrossFit for an hour. I'll have one or two days off a week because recovery is important too. One of the secrets to getting fit is finding that section of the day when you can do it. For a corporate worker it might be lunchtime. For a mum with a baby it might be walking with the pram.
11 How has your wellness journey affected your family?
It's quite funny; over the years I've had anxious mothers come to me because they've invited my son to their birthday party and they know I'm a wellness expert - they want to warn me there'll be cake. I'm like, "Great, he'll be first in". We live by a 90/10 approach where most of the food we eat is nutritionally good but it's fine to have some outside of that. So my kids have grown up knowing what goji berries are and how to make a super-smoothie, but they still have chocolate or a treat every day. I don't expect them to become runners like me but I'd dearly love them to find a form of fitness they love and want to do.
12 Your book is called Balance. Why is balance important?
A lot of people are crippled by guilt-ridden anxiety the moment they have a cake. Do you know what? When I have a cake, I savour it. I have a lot of male clients who I help keep beers in their life. I'm not perfect at anything and nor should we strive to be. I enjoy a glass of red, I eat chocolate but the secret obviously is not to have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
• Balance: Food, Health + Happiness by Rachel Grunwell, Beatnik Publishing, RRP $40