It’s a brisk but sunny mid-morning when Lorraine Pascale arrives at the BuzzFeed office in London. She’s running a few minutes behind – she decided to walk the last few stops to get fresh air – and her grin is ear to ear as she lowers her massive headphones from her ears and shakes my hand heartily. On the lift up, we chat about the crowded tube and the chilly weather and my excitement to try some of the recipes in her newest book, Eating Well Made Easy, a practical resource for people who want to eat tasty and varied healthy food.
At reception, we stop in our tracks to admire the front of office’s sweet selection: a literal paddling pool brimming with Haribo packets, Creme Eggs, and chocolate lollies. It’s not strange to me; we’ve always got a healthy stash of chocolate on hand in the office, but Lorraine utters a “wow”. I tell her to help herself, and she does; she dives right in, picking our conversation back up naturally as she sifts through the sweets pool.
An important thing to know about Lorraine is that she isn’t afraid of comfort food or tasty treats. She’s been famous for her rich and decadent cooking for years, writing five books full of recipes for entertaining and holidays. In 2011, she began a stint as an on-screen chef for the BBC, hosting programmes on easy baking, home cooking, and Christmas dinner. And until last year, she was the proprietor of The Cupcake Bakehouse in Covent Garden, home of an unmissable blueberry cupcake that was no doubt the result of Lorraine’s training at the prestigious Leiths Cookery School in London.
Even her current foray into healthy recipes puts flavour first and allows ample breathing room for treating yourself. “Sometimes,” she tells me, “when you’re trying to follow a specific diet, the flavour suffers. So I wanted to use my experience as a chef to make sure the flavour was in.” In her new book, she collaborates with two nutritionists to provide recipes that she describes as “quietly healthy”. It’s nothing like the oppressive clean-eating fads that flood magazines but are so often too daunting for us mere mortals with lives and budgets and period cravings to hop on board with.
What seems to set Lorraine apart from so many of the current faces of healthy eating is down to an understanding and forgiving-yet-motivating approach to her readers . “I struggle with the idea that one diet can suit all,” she writes in her book. Rather than implementing a rigid eating plan, she’s more interested in helping readers carry on enjoying their favourite recipes, “but with bits of the recipe adjusted here and there, be it by cooking method or by ingredients, to make the recipes better for you”.
She’s not asking you to start shopping exclusively at Whole Foods or to order goji berries in bulk. “I don’t even know where to buy them,” she admits, adding: “A lot of ‘healthy’ food doesn’t often fill you up. It’s expensive, and it’s just not practical. There’s many more ways to get the same antioxidants, the same things from stuff that’s easy to buy.” She tells me how she’d rather focus on helping people find ways to naturally incorporate healthy elements into meals they already enjoy. “To eat healthy is just to eat the food that you enjoy. There’s lots of everyday food that people enjoy that just so happens to be healthy.”
Pascale is no stranger to restrictive diets herself. A former model, she’s spoken before to the Huffington Post and the Daily Express about her old habit of living off “Diet Coke … with the odd croissant”, and the pressure on models to be as thin as possible. In her book, she discusses her struggles with bulimia and the “shame, guilt, disappointment, and fear” so often wrought by food and body image issues. These days, with a successful home cooking empire and the better half of a nutrition degree under her belt, Lorraine takes a different approach. “It’s about balance,” she says. “And realising you can’t do everything, you can just do good enough.”
Lorraine’s book isn’t the only place you can find her reinventing healthy eating without depriving your tastebuds. Her YouTube channel is an aspiring healthy snacker’s dream: Lorraine herself walks viewers through the step-by-step process to create quick and easy munchies from biscuits to healthy meals, and she takes her cue from viewer comments. “You told me you’re tired of having the same old lunch week in and week out,” she says to the camera in the introduction to a “Three New Healthy Lunch Ideas” video. “So hopefully this will add to making your lunch more interesting!”
Instagram is another vital part of her healthy lifestyle initiative; the platform played a huge role in her early days of transitioning into a nutrition-based approach to cooking. “I began Instagramming healthy recipes like mad – developing them, cooking them, writing about them,” she writes in Eating Well Made Easy. But her feed is refreshingly light on magazine-worthy food porn. Instead, it’s a lovable jumble of foodie shots, gym selfies, and motivational quotes. “When you screw up, miss a workout, or eat a bad meal, it doesn’t make you a bad person,” reads a screenshot from early January. Lorraine adds her own caption: “Be gentle with yourself. We are all doing the best that we can do with what we have at the time.” The upload is surrounded by other shots you’d find on your own profile: An ever-so-slightly grainy snap of a raw noodle salad pops up between a motivational Disney meme and her completely adorable dog. It’s like catching up with a very put-together but very real friend.
She’s committed to showing followers an actual, real healthy person’s daily life, and what goes into maintaining a healthy lifestyle. “When I started thinking about my food as a way of life rather than a way to get thin,” she writes, “a safety valve released inside me … and made my relationship with food a more pleasurable one.” Her devotion to finding balance and happiness with her food choices echoes throughout her online presence, and she’s more relatable and trustworthy because of it. Recently, she uploaded a shot mourning a post-workout decision to forgo a Danish for a more nutrient-rich, but still very normal, snack of ham and bread. It’s a decision totally in keeping with her just-do-your-best approach, both online and in person.
During our interview, I mention a BuzzFeed article about how Instagram has been used as a technique for documenting healthy eating, particularly for people who are recovering from an eating disorder. I ask Lorraine if she looks at food prep and food documentation not just as branding tools, but also as personal rituals that help her make and celebrate healthy choices rather than, say, picking up a takeaway curry on the way home. “Yeah, now I do get the curry now and then as well,” she retorts. “I don’t eat healthy all the time. Just most of the time.”
When I ask her again if documenting what she makes and eats plays a role in helping her keep up with her own healthy eating initiatives, she pauses thoughtfully before she nods. “It’s not like doing TV, when everything’s there for you. With this, you have to do everything: cooking and editing. It helps you reconnect better with the food, buying the ingredients, making the ingredients. It does help, and it’s a great way to be creative.”
The yin to her laid-back approach to healthy eating’s yang is her commitment to fitness and weight-lifting. In addition to her personal Instagram account, Lorraine also runs a fitspo page, Lift Yourself Slim, where she posts plenty more workout selfies as well as pre- and post-workout meals. It’s another breath of fresh air, since too often you get an edited version of staying fit online: a culture where green juices and hiking are the key to success, and sweat isn’t Instagram-worthy. “Motivation levels are teetering on zero... But I'm going anyway!” she announces on a recent gym selfie – it’s a great reminder that getting there is half the battle, even for former models turned chefs, and she gets that it’s tough on everyone else too. “So great you are staring out at the gym,” she tells several fans who comment that she’s inspired them to work out.
Across every platform, she’s adamant about leaving room for the process – and for giving yourself room to change – whether that’s in your eating or workout habits, or both. “It’s just making incremental changes,” she tells me. “Baby steps. And you can’t be hard on yourself if you can’t get into the groove. It takes a while to get yourself into the position where you’re doing it regularly.”
“It’s about balance,” Lorraine tells me again and again throughout our interview. “It’s about finding food that you like to eat.” And more than anything, it seems to be about cutting yourself some slack. “I just give recommendations,” she insists. “I don’t try to do all of them, I just follow the ones that I can.”