There aren't many nutritionists who will serve you up "a killer hangover cure" at the start of an interview. Then again, given Gabriela Peacock is directly responsible for my hangover, a "crisis smoothie" – blended avocado, berries, banana and more – is the least she can offer me.
Full disclosure: the 41-year-old former model is my nutritionist and friend, and she is only either of those things because she loves wine and food. Which is why her philosophy – tweaking and intermittent fasting rather than making huge changes or cutting out food groups – is so appealing, requiring as it does minimal effort while delivering impressive results. It's also why her new book, 2 Weeks To Feeling Great, shot to the top of the Amazon charts less than two weeks after publication.
"It's fair to say that most of us gained weight over the pandemic, including me," Czech-born Peacock says from the Notting Hill home where she has started to see her royal and A list patients again. A close pal of Princess Beatrice, Peacock is known to advise everyone from Katherine Jenkins and James Blunt to Jodie Kidd, Donna Air and Anna Friel. She is also said to be responsible for preparing Prince Harry and Princess Eugenie for their weddings (and was a guest at both), but repeated attempts to prise details out of her fail ("I cannot talk about my patients").
Any weight Peacock claims to have put on has been efficiently shed. "One of the great pluses of being a nutritionist is that I know exactly how to lose any weight I do gain – with my 4:3 fasting plan." Slender honey-brown legs crossed beneath a green jacquard romper that would look preposterous on anyone else, Peacock still has a modelesque figure, even after three children (she and hedge-fund manager husband, David, have a 10-year-old daughter and 4-year-old twins).
"Anyway, it's perfectly normal to fluctuate," she insists, "depending on what stage of life you're at, what time of year it is..." And whether or not your entire world has been turned upside down by Covid? "Exactly. Whoever said 'don't eat your feelings' has clearly never lived through a pandemic. In many ways our bodies were trying to look after us the best way they knew how. Did you know, for example, that all the cheese we've been eating was largely because we were craving salt, which is the body's response to uncertainty?" I did not. But that explains a lot.
Because Peacock always tries "to link nutritional advice to a patient's optimal mental health" she believes that our coping mechanism during the pandemic "wasn't actually a bad one. After all, it's incredibly unhealthy to have high levels of cortisol in your system, so however much people have overeaten (within the normal parameters) to get through such a stressful situation can be forgiven. But," she holds up a finger, and I sense an impending telling off – all the more gulp-worthy for the clipped Slav accent, "we need to stop all that now and reset."
Right on cue a tray of snacks appears with some hummus crisps and homemade falafel. That's one little ruse I noticed early on with Peacock. She's big on blood sugar levels, and the two life-changing tweaks she made after I'd described my food and drinking habits were to ban me from drinking coffee on an empty stomach, first thing (preventing spikes and crashes in blood sugar later) and urge me never again to drink alcohol on an empty stomach (preventing those infamous late night booze binges).
Since Covid, the conversation around weight has changed a great deal, we agree. Body positivity is all well and good, but when you reach a point where it's taboo for a GP to tell an obese patient to lose weight, the pendulum has swung too far the other way, hasn't it? "Absolutely. One small silver lining has been this new understanding that weight and staying healthy isn't just about looking good in a bikini but avoiding illness, and being in control of your body. So the link between weight and health has been massively underscored."
To kickstart a client's programme, Gabriela favours a two-week 4:3 plan when people will alternate fasting days – women eat 500 calories and men 600 – with healthy eating days. Day seven is what she calls "magic day", when they can eat anything they like (within reason). "You can have a McDonald's if that's what you're craving, so it's not two weeks of misery, and it's also very good for your metabolism." Intermittent fasting works by "putting your body into shock," she explains, "when you go from 500 to 1700 and then back to 500 again. Because to eat 500 calories a day would not only be unhealthy but slow your metabolism right down."
The daughter of a construction company owner and a kindergarten teacher who started catalogue modelling at the age of 4 has seen plenty of unhealthy and unsustainable diets over the years. At 15 she beat thousands of girls to win a modelling contract with jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels, and within weeks found herself on a plane to Paris. Although she loved the work itself and the friendships forged along the way with the likes of Eva Herzigova and Mad Men star January Jones (with whom she shared a flat for a time in Milan) "there was this complete irresponsibility in terms of how models were treated back then. Back in Paris I remember them taking all these young girls out to nightclubs and telling them how to lose weight. I had this French booker called Melodie who once sat me down over lunch at the Hotel Costes and announced: 'You've got fat. From now on what you need to eat is just steamed fish and green beans.'"
"Honestly I do now think that modelling was quite a nasty profession." She shakes her head. "I'm sure things have got better, but to be told that you're fat at 16 and then have the fear of being sent home on a bus…" She was "misinformed and I was terrified," she remembers, "but I was lucky in that it never actually tipped over into the kind of disorder... in Paris probably 80 per cent of my friends had an eating disorder of some kind."
Looking back, that was when her interest in nutrition started, and when the modelling work started drying up in her early 30s, Peacock – who had based herself in London by then and married David – did a degree in nutritional therapy at the University of Westminster. "What fascinated me then and still fascinates me now is the amount of misinformation out there. We've gone from a time when there was no information at all to way too much of it – because at least half of everything you hear is complete nonsense."
With "wellness" such an "expensive buzzword", as she scathingly calls it, and every influencer keen to offer up a single "miracle" solution, no wonder we're more confused than ever. "That's why I wrote 2 Weeks To Feeling Great. Because I have had patients too terrified to take supplements while others turn up brandishing whole bags of them, and I keep being told about these miracle nutrients and solutions that even I haven't heard of," she says with a laugh. "Everyone wants a magical solution but that doesn't exist, so the next best thing is a plan that works with your life, not against it, for as long as you need it."
She says it doesn't exist, but given my hangover has disappeared, that crisis smoothie may be a magical solution after all.