Life according to nutritionist Laura Thomas, PhD.
My first question for Laura is about where she grew up, as she has a lilting accent that I can't quite place.
"I grew up in Aberdeen, and studied health and nutrition at the University of Aberdeen. As part of my undergraduate work I did research on the gastrointestinal microbiome and how probiotic yoghurts influence our guts.
"Then I went to work with a professor in the US who was doing similar research, so I lived in Texas for five years working on my PhD. Then I lived in DC for a while, doing public health nutrition and then did my post-doc work in New York. So I was in the States for seven years, came back and lived in Leeds for a year and now I’ve been in London for year, which is why I’ve got a weird accent!"
So how did the podcast come about?
"When I started my business I tried a load of different things to see what stuck; I was blogging and doing recipes and then it occurred to me that nobody is that interested in recipes, because there are thousands, and people can do it way better than me. Also, when I moved to London I found it quite isolating. I didn’t really have any contacts here; I thought a podcast could be a good way for me to connect with people in the industry, but also, there was nothing like it in the UK, as in a health and wellness slash lifestyle podcast that was UK-based. I’ve listened to a lot from the US, and they’re really cool but often you can’t access the things or products they’re talking about, and there are also a lot of cool things happening in the UK. I went through around six months to a year where I was like, ‘should I? Shouldn’t I?’ It got to the point where I needed to do something with my business or just go and get a different job. But it’s turned out better than I expected it to, it’s getting to the point where I’ve built an audience and can start looking for sponsorship."
Me: On mentioning sponsorship, Laura says it’s a bit shitty to talk about making money from it, but I totally get what she means – we all need to make money, and what better way to make it doing something that we love and actually know about?
What’s been the biggest challenge since starting the podcast?
"There have definitely been challenges in trying to find people to come on, especially when I first started. I would tell people I was starting a podcast and they’d ask ‘why?’ There was a lot of hesitancy for people to come on, and of course there’s the challenge of building the listeners. You start to second guess yourself – ‘am I just talking to myself?’ The other thing was getting people to share the fact that they were even on the podcast! I’ve always seen it as more of a collaboration but I soon realised that I couldn’t always rely on my guests to share the fact that they’d been on the podcast. It just means that I have to make more of a conscious effort and be more of a presence on social media. Which is kind of a love/hate thing for me, as sometimes I’m like, ‘do people really want to know what I ate for lunch?’ (If you do, scroll down for a couple of recent examples.) But connecting via email or social has definitely been a powerful driver of downloads and subscribers.
Me: Laura also talks about the frequency of no-shows – a pain in the ass at any time right? I’ve never understood the concept myself; if you commit to something, just show up, especially when someone is offering you a platform to speak from.
"Another issue; there’s a lot of ego tied up in doing your PhD. You’re supposed to be this academic - you’re a professional scientist and you feel this need to prove how smart you are. But that doesn’t work [when it comes to educating people]. Now I don’t sugarcoat things; I swear and I also try to inject fun into it. People take nutrition so fucking seriously! It’s food – you still have to enjoy it. I just want to keep people informed as to what the food is doing to them. But at the end of the day, if you want a piece of cake, just eat a fucking piece of cake."
Speaking of cake, what do you like to eat?
"I like to try and eat lots of different things. My breakfast doesn’t really change that much, but I try to mix it up throughtout the week. My boyfriend and I will do some batch cooking at the weekend, so this time of year that mignt be a curry or veggie stew. Or we’ll make a bowl with grains and veggies. I like to make a big pot of chipotle black beans. I’ve also been making these chickpea cutlets – they’re delicious, so I’ll eat them with collard greens, corn bread and black eyed beans. Nothing boring!"
What do you say to those who think it must be ‘so hard’ to go veggie or vegan?
"When I went from being vegetarian to vegan it opened up a world of ingredients that I didn’t know about. I was living in Texas where they had no clue what vegan was, so I had to buy a load of cookbooks* and teach myself. I learned about ingredients but also flavour combinations. Maybe I have to think a bit more about where I'm going to eat when I'm traveling. But you end up exploring and finding neighbourhoods that you might not have come across before. In some places you’ll have so many options, like in Mexico; there are so many plant-based restaurants. When it comes to London options, they just give you a bowl of salad."
Me: I definitely found it so much easier to eat when we travelled around California – the wealth of vegan pizza, Thai food, Mexican food was unreal. If I ever went vegan, I would do it in LA. On Laura’s website you can check out a list of books that she loves to use. One that I love that she mentioned is Isa Does It – just good, tasty food that happens to be vegan. She also loves minimalistbaker.com, as do I. There are so many great options that you can make veggie or vegan that really make cooking fun.
"I have really sensitive skin and I feel like every time I move cities, my skin does something weird, then you’ve got the change of the seasons. Everything influences my skin. Honestly, I do very little. I take my makeup off with coconut oil (that’s the only thing Laura uses coconut oil for – find out why here). Then I use Skin & Tonic’s Rose Water Mist and then a light moisturiser. That’s morning and night. Due to the pollution in London I’ll do a clay-based mask once or twice a week. Again, it’s a Skin & Tonic product; I use their Coconut Mask. I try to keep things simple; when it comes to makeup I basically use five products. I’ve used the same foundation forever (Chanel Vitalumiere Aqua)."
What are you reading right now?
"I’m reading Love Your Lady Landscape: Trust Your Gut, Care for 'Down There' and Reclaim Your Fierce and Feminine SHE Power by Lisa Lister, and it is exactly as bat shit crazy as it sounds. It’s all about how women are very cyclical but as we’re living in a man’s world we don’t take into account how our cycles affect our productivity, how we approach our relationships. The concept is about tuning into your cycle and how, when we use our innate female power we can help tackle problems like PCOS, infertility and endometriosis. I’m obsessed with tracking my period anyway! I want to understand how my body works so that I can work with it or pre-empt things like tiredness. Or being able to recognise why I just had a complete meltdown and not think that I’m a crazy person."
How do you wind down?
"I try to meditate every day. I try to work out most days of the week. At the very least I’ll make sure I get my 10,000 steps in! I think sometimes I have a tendency to just keep working, so sometimes it’s more about carving out time for myself. I’m not very good at that but I'm working on it."
What’s the thing that you’re most proud of?
"I’m proud of the work I do; every time I help someone, whether they’ve seen me at an event, or heard something on the podcast, that makes me feel great."
What would you like to create next?
"I would really love to write a no bullshit guide to nutrition. People don’t understand the basics and they don’t want to go and sit through a university level course, so I feel they need an intermediate learning tool. People are fed up of being fed bullshit."
Images above via Laura's Instagram