Thursday, March 19, 2015

wholefood mama: Joey De Backer

It's been a while since we've had an interview with a wholefood mama, so today I am very happy to introduce you to a Mornington Peninsula local wholefoodmama, Joey De Backer.

Joey is mama to Isla who is 1, and is also a dietician who is committed to holistic nutrition counselling. Amen to combining those two practices!

I first met Joey almost two years ago at a fermented foods workshop that she hosted through Living Nutrition, her holistic wellness business that she operates with Heidi Sze a nutritionist and dietician.

Joey was inspired to start Living Nutrition in 2011 after facing her own health struggle. In her final year of nutrition and dietetics study, on holidays after clinical placement in a hospital, Joey had a snowboarding accident that left her debilitated with sciatica and on heavy pain medication. 

"I then did a public health nutrition placement at Peninsula community health where I looked at breastfeeding support services on the peninsula (which has been so helpful for my own breastfeeding journey, knowing just how much support is available)! 

The effects of the snowboarding accident really intensified when I started my first job as a dietitian in Bairnsdale at the end of 2010. The stress of a new job and questioning my role and how I wanted to practise dietetics certainly played a part, it wasn't long before I decided that hospital work was not for me, although I learnt SO much that year!" 

Joey took some time off work and researched everything she could do better to heal her back, stop taking the pain medication and relieve the anxiety and depression she was feeling as a result of her injury and the treatment she was enduring but was not relieving her pain.

Joey's holistic recovery included meditation, emotional freedom technique, visualisation and an anti-inflammatory diet. Through Living Nutrition, Joey and Heidi now offer individual consultations and a range of wonderful workshops and courses such as an 8 week Healthy Habits program that walks participants through developing healthier eating and lifestyle habits.

I love Joey's common sense approach to eating well and living well so I thought I'd invite her to share more of her story here with you. Thankyou Joey! x

What prompted your interest in becoming a dietician?

It was mostly the influence of my mum who was always into healing with food and herbs instead of medicine. She'd take us to a naturopath or homeopath instead of to the doctor and I was always a super healthy kid, so that sparked my interest in natural health and food as medicine. 

During adolescence I became aware of my weight and started paying attention to the nutrition sections of women's magazines, you know where there's a little picture of a dietitian in the corner and some news bites like 'blueberries fight ageing'... I remember designing myself a diet to lose weight (which I didn't need to) and boost my brain power, collating everything I'd learned from these magazines! 

I wanted to know how to design the 'perfect' diet, hence my interest in studying nutrition. As I studied I of course realised that it's much more complex and the huuuuuuge role psychology plays in eating behaviour - it's not as simple as 'here's a diet for you to follow'!  

As the mother of a young child, what is your philosophy when it comes to feeding your family?

Isla is 1 year old now phew! We're practising baby led weaning with Isla so she breastfeeds on demand and eats family foods with us at the table (or running around, as she is not a fan of being restrained by a high chair HA!) 

We get a veg box weekly from Transition Farm in Rye who are a CSA that farm biodynamically and their produce is just beautiful! 

I also run the food coop in Balnarring so we get our non-perishables like grains, nuts, seeds etc; from organic suppliers such as Mount Zero and Honest to Goodness. Buying in bulk makes it a lot cheaper and it's a wonderful community of people! 

We go to the local farmers and craft markets for treats, fruit and meat and my partner goes hunting so we get wild rabbit, deer, pig and kangaroo. So I guess the philosophy is eat as much SLOW food as possible. 

We eat out a lot too, which has been made more challenging as Isla seems to be dairy and egg intolerant (off soy and wheat too but not sure about their effect yet), so we both avoid these foods but there's always something we can eat and I'm not fussy!

For many people when they decide to quit their processed diet one of the main hurdles they face is being challenged by friends and family members who argue 'everything in moderation' is ok, what are your thoughts on 'moderation' and what words of encouragement and advice do you offer your clients as they make change?

It's such a cliche phrase now hey, but I do agree with it in general. Imposing restrictions on your food choices usually leads to feeling of deprivation and then giving up all together and potentially bingeing on unhealthy foods. 

It really depends on the person and their relationship with food as to how they should approach making changes to their eating. Because it is something we do every day, I usually recommend changes are made gradually so that they are sustainable and become the new habit. It can be useful however to do something like a whole 30 for a specified period of time as an experiment. Then you can really tell what is the effect on your body and you build skills in being able to eat that way and say no to processed foods. 

You devote a little more energy to food preparation during that time, knowing its not forever and you learn the habits that you can easily continue in your normal lifestyle or the things that really pay off and you want to change as well as the things that don't work. 

Then when you have that slice of cake at a birthday party it isn't a big deal and you will feel the effects it has on your body. The main thing we all need to work on is listening to our body and heeding its messages. It can be hard to do because we're so used to heeding external indicators that tell us how much, what and when to eat - the clock, the packet size, the plate size, what our mother told us, what our friends do, advertising, processed foods that trick our body, is it cheaper to get a larger size (movie deals WHAAAT!)....   

So words of encouragement and advice:

1. Be kind to yourself. People who work on improving their self compassion end up eating better without trying.

2. Listen to your body. Pay attention to your hunger and fullness signals and your digestion and responses to eating different foods. What makes you feel really satisfied?

3. The point of power is in the present moment. There is no 'perfect' diet that you will one day achieve and maintain. Life is forever changing, as are you, as is food - Just do the best you can right now.

4. Look for real food. If you want a sweet treat, make it yourself or buy it from someone who made it themselves e.g. from a market not something processed made in a factory. 

If you're comfortable with what you're doing i.e. making diet changes it's easier to be assertive when others put pressure on you. Sometimes you need to be prepared with other food options. 

Were you raised to appreciate wholefood or is it something you have grown into in your adult years?

Yeah mum always cooked things like adzuki beans and artichokes and used herbs from the garden. 
I was the kid who brought a whole lemon or tomato to school for a snack. Being able to eat straight from the garden has made me appreciate the real flavour and vitality in fresh, organic food. I just can't eat supermarket apples, there is nothing in there for me. It's made me consider the energy in food - you can really tell when food is fresh and you get that nourished, buzzing feeling of satisfaction. I'm intrigued by flavour balance and how it nourishes us too - like chinese medicine beliefs that different flavours nourish different organ systems. 

Thanks Joey for a great interview, so much to think about in your answers. And now here is some inspiration for your cooking from Joey as she offers her tips on how to 'build' salads that your family and friends will love.

Salad Building by Joey De Backer

Forget ‘rabbit food’. Salads shouldn’t be boring or bland. Follow this 4 step formula to create well rounded salads that you will make friends with.

      Start with a solid foundation of leafy greens. These leaves should form the bulk of your salad because they’re jam packed with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The chewing factor and the fibre fills you up and keeps your gut happy.
Think roquette, radicchio, mizuno, mesclun, baby spinach, baby silverbeet, baby beet greens, lettuce (something darker than iceberg such as cos or oakleaf), cress, mustard greens, oh the list is endless!

2.     Build on this with something to add colour and texture. Your eyes, mouth and the rest of your body will thank you.
Veg – try sprouts (alfalfa, mung beans etc…), avocado, capsicum, fennel, radish, roasted pumpkin, beetroot, sweet potato…
Fruit – apple, pear, orange, pomegranate, berries, grapefruit, stone fruit are all delish in a salad – raw or grilled mmmm.
Grain – quinoa, grainy bread croutons, pasta, freekeh, cous cous, brown or wild rice…
3.     Stack in a source of protein (~90g) to fill you up.
Meat/fish/eggs – my faves are tinned sardines or salmon with the bones, grilled chicken, turkey or roo. This is where grilling/steaming/poaching in advance can be really handy.   
Cheese – good old cubes of tasty or maybe a soft goats cheese, crumbly feta or grilled haloumi.
Legume – lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans – easy peasy to add rinsed from a can or extra points for cooking from dried!

4.     Top it off with something for flavour.
Homemade dressing – olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, S&P is my go-to, make in a minute dressing. Or try ¼ cup tahini, juice of 1 lemon, ½ cup water, 1 minced garlic clove + S&P all whisked together for a more creamy dressing. 
Herbs, edible flowers and spices – these can be used in cooking e.g. sprinkle ground cumin and coriander over your roast beetroot, or fresh green herbs and edible flowers such as parsley, basil, borage and nasturtium can be tossed through raw.
Antipasto - Olives, marinated artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes…
Dried fruit – currants, cranberries, apricots, crystallised ginger…
Toasted nuts or seeds – pine nuts, slivered almonds, walnuts, sesame seeds, pepitas…

You can easily make these in advance so you’re ready to grab and go in the morning although it can help to keep soggy items separate until you eat, e.g. keep your dressing in a jar or try a mason jar layered salad! See Carolyn Kylstra's Mason Jar Salads for ideas!

Have fun experimenting and finding your favourite combinations!
Jar your dressing and drizzle it over before you eat so the greens stay fresh longer! Also handy if bringing a salad to a function. Each person can dress their own salad and this way if there’s leftovers they’ll last.


  1. Great post and the salad building is a great way to look at it. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

  2. great read.. I had a giggle at the 'I was the kid who bought a whole tomato to school' comment- as that was me too! and people were like WHAT? haha thanks, I love this blog and others that I have found through reading it too x


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