Interview with Pascale Naessens, best-selling Belgian cookbook author
Are you curious to know who the best-selling Belgian author and recipe creator Pascale Naessens is? Perhaps you have tried some of her delicious recipes on our site.
If you want to know who she is at her core, then keep reading. She shares her food philosophy and tells the inspiring story of how she went from a young model battling eating disorders to a beloved food revolutionary.
Pascale’s new recipes
Diet Doctor: You originally came from the modelling world, where you naturally had a very different lifestyle to the one you have today. You struggled immensely with your eating habits, until one day things changed. What happened and how did you manage to get out of that unhealthy period?
Pascale Naessens: During my modelling days I wanted to be even thinner. No problem, I thought, I’ll just eat less and problem solved. But I had clearly underestimated my daily fight with my ‘hunger’. Starving myself resulted in irresistible binges. Like my thoughts had been completely disabled and my primordial body had taken over. I really struggled with my eating habits for a number of years. Until I discovered low-carb food.
Diet Doctor: When and how did you become interested in nutrition, healthy food and cooking?
Pascale: My biggest fear during my fight with my eating habits was that I would never be able to rid myself of these. I have naturally always been a cheerful person, but I had no control over this and it made me feel deeply unhappy. I started looking for answers to a number of questions during this period: what does nutrition do to your body? Where are things going wrong in my case? I went to see dieticians, doctors and psychologists, but none of them were able to give me usable tools to work on my problem, quite the opposite, in fact! I actually felt even worse, because it was all my fault. I didn’t have enough willpower and I really had to take back control of my life.
Fortunately, I didn’t give up and I continued searching for a solution. My life was far too fantastic to allow it to be ruined by an ‘addiction’. In the meantime, it became abundantly clear to me that conventionally educated experts couldn’t provide me with the solution I needed. By then I had fully realised I was suffering from a(n eating) disorder, but I couldn’t see the solution, quite the contrary. Someone addicted to alcohol can stop drinking alcohol, but surely someone can’t just stop eating? Plus I’m someone who loves long and cosy dinners. So how was I going to solve my problem?
At that point, I started reading, researching and experimenting with food. The emerging internet was a huge help here, as this helped me see there were several visions and I learnt ‘fat’ isn’t the major problem, but actually the excess of carbohydrates. My binges mainly consisted of carbohydrates, I never actually overate in ‘real whole foods’, such as fish, vegetables, eggs, even fruit never gave me that same satisfying binge kick. It was clearly something in those carbohydrates which resulted in that intoxicated feeling, something in bread, pasta, biscuits, cake, fries, pies, … So I started to gain a little insight into my problem, but how was I going to resolve it? How do you put your ideas into practice? That was the biggest challenge.
Diet Doctor: What was the most difficult thing about getting started with the ‘healthy’ lifestyle, if anything?
Pascale: The turning point came when I had to go away with work for four months and therefore wasn’t preparing my own meals. I therefore didn’t need to think about food at all, didn’t need to think about what to prepare, I didn’t need to go shopping or be confronted with food. I was obliged to think about other things: my work. We always went to restaurants and, oddly enough, that turned out to be my salvation. I now knew I had to avoid carbohydrates and that I didn’t need to worry about fat and I could finally put this into practice now. I asked them to remove the bread basket in the restaurant and to replace the potatoes with an extra portion of vegetables and place the olive oil on the table.
It wasn’t all that obvious to others, but I had started the process of really weaning off carbohydrates. I would think about it when I was on my own, like a real addict, I used to dream about sneakily eating ‘sandwiches’. But I could feel a change in my body and in my thoughts and it was this regained freedom which gave me the energy to continue. I relapsed once, when I was on my own. But I instantly picked myself up and continued where I left off. I think I lived on cloud 9 for about two years, I felt so happy there was once again room in my head to think about other things. Everything was back to normal. I no longer constantly felt hungry and for the first time in a long time I felt that ‘real, blissful’ full feeling. You know, being completely full without feeling bloated. I truly felt alive again and was very thankful I had found the solution and therefore also my complete happiness. A food addiction is horrendous and I really had felt the depths of despair, but whoever falls that deep can certainly fly high too … that’s how it feels. I now want to share my experiences and feel blessed I can help others too.
Diet Doctor: You don’t label yourself as a low-carb cook and you outright hate diets. However, most of your recipes are very low in carbs, high in healthy fats and you always use natural ingredients. When creating a recipe or having a nice meal, how do you find the right balance, what works best for you?
Pascale: I have actually given this a name since my last book, as many people continue to ask me. I refer to my way of eating as: ‘moderate low carb Mediterranean food’. But I actually think the world needs to be given a wake-up call. Our Western way of eating should be referred to as ‘high carb’ and my way of eating should be called ‘normal carb’ ☺.
I don’t eat fast carbohydrates, no pasta, rice, bread, potatoes, etc … but I do eat fruit and occasionally chickpeas, lentils and quinoa, so purely wholefoods. My basic rule: don’t mix concentrated carbohydrates with concentrated proteins. Perhaps a theoretic rule, but with major practical consequences: replace potatoes with vegetables on your classically compiled plate and pour over plenty of olive oil. This way of eating will ensure you automatically eat more vegetables and fewer (fast) carbohydrates.
Diet Doctor: You have published nine bestselling books in Belgium, selling more than 1.5 million copies combined. What was the feedback you’ve received throughout the years like and did it change the way you’re thinking of composing your upcoming book(s)?
Pascale: I thought my first book would only be of interest to a small group of people. I wanted to share my story, as I noticed quite a few girls with the same problems I had been struggling with. I was completely astounded at the response I received, I really didn’t know there were so many people who were struggling with their eating habits to a greater or lesser extent. This shocked me. There is definitely something seriously wrong with our Western way of eating and it’s simply unbelievable how many experts are still defending this. That’s why I’m continuing with my books. I have already written the best-selling book in Belgium four times over, so there is clearly an audience for this way of eating.
Diet Doctor: What is your biggest inspiration when it comes to creating new dishes?
Pascale: My biggest source of inspiration is life itself. I like to dive into my thoughts, I can combine different flavours in my head. I think it’s a talent, just like a painter can paint, I suppose. I was worried about getting too involved with food (again) when I first started writing my books and that my problems would subsequently come back, but this wasn’t the case at all. But I still consider myself to be an addict and I know I would instantly be gone if I started eating large amounts of (fast) carbohydrates again. I am very aware of that. My body functions perfectly and does exactly what it needs to do, as long as I stick to the wholefoods and low carb, high fat.
Diet Doctor: People still tend to focus on counting calories. What do you think is the best way to distance ourselves from that idea?
Pascale: Of course it’s always been pumped into us, plus it sounds so logical too, that whoever wants to lose weight, needs to eat fewer calories and exercise more. But calories say absolutely nothing about the quality of the food, a far more important question is: what is the food doing inside your body, what is it doing to your hormones, your intestinal bacteria, etc … this determines whether you’re full or hungry again after an hour, it determines your energy levels, it influences your health and how you feel. That’s why cookery books are such fun, you can instantly put things into practice. My advice to people is often as follows: ‘stop thinking about it all and get to work with my books in the kitchen’. You’ll feel the difference after just one week and it’s this positive energy which will drive you to continue. We always want to approach food from our minds … we think about willpower and coaching. But have we really all turned into desperate, emotional eaters? Of course not, so why not try a different approach: start eating differently and you’ll realise your thoughts about food will soon start to change. Your body will react differently, your hormones and intestinal bacteria will relax and send different signals to your brain. So my advice is: there’s nothing wrong inside your head, it’s simply your body reacting very badly to the ‘fake food’.
Diet Doctor: What is Belgium’s culinary scene like? Do you see a low-carb, high-fat trend happening, or do people prefer to stick to their fries?
Pascale: I think I can say, in all modesty, that I have started a movement in Belgium. The media provided me with great support to start with. They quite liked the fact someone was openly battling against bread and potatoes. But this changed at a certain point. I think they’d had enough of how I dominated the debate about food ☺ and they started introducing experts who defended the conventional way of eating. You know, the classic story: that carbohydrates like bread and potatoes are essential, they were even talking about people with a carbohydrate deficiency ☺. So a classic clash, between the two different visions, which you see in all countries. I think it’s a real shame Belgium doesn’t have any true experts like Jason Fung, David Ludwig (Harvard), Professor Hanno Pijl (the Netherlands),… in order to raise the debate up to a higher level. We did have a young researcher, Kris Verburgh, who wrote a fantastic book about nutrition, but he was slaughtered by the media. I’m trying to bring the insights of progressive experts into Belgium by organising events. This included a lecture by Professor David Ludwig, I wrote a book together with the Dutch doctor William Cortvriendt and I have interviewed nutritional experts from all over the world for various different media.
We have certainly made significant progress and the media is now referring to LCHF without journalists choking on the words. But we still have a very long way to go. I get the impression ordinary people are ready for it all, but the same can’t be said about the experts and the media.
Diet Doctor: What is your absolute favourite dish, something you keep making over and over again?
Pascale: I am someone who likes to create things and I rarely make the same dish twice, but I do have some favourite ingredients: salmon, olive oil, asparagus, leek, …
Diet Doctor: What would your advice be to people who are struggling with eating disorders and can’t find a way out to a healthy way of enjoying food?
Pascale: Stop thinking about food, give your head a break, buy a good cook book about LCHF (like mine, for example ☺) and get to work, prepare a plan for the entire week and execute it, simply ‘copy and paste’ and apart from that: just ‘feel’.
Eat differently and your body will change, your intestines and hormones will relax and send different signals to your brain and you’ll be amazed to see you will suddenly have your hunger under control and your hunger/satiety system will start to work normally again. Anorexia is completely different to bulimia, it’s rooted even deeper and the longer you suffer from anorexia, the deeper it’s embedded in your system. I would again recommend separating the problems. See your eating disorder and your psychological problem as two separate issues. Go and see a dietician, who understands how nutrition works, for your eating problems and visit a psychologist for your ‘existential’ problem. An eating disorder is complex, as various different problems can become entangled as a result of a sudden trigger (like dieting). But this really involves separate problems: you have a problem with how your body is reacting to food and you have a problem with who you are, or who you want to be in this world. So my advice is: treat the 2 problems separately, disassemble them, it will be a great first step in unravelling the tangle.
Diet Doctor: You have another creative talent, you design your own beautiful ceramics, which also play a major role in your recipe books. How did you discover this passion of yours?
Pascale: Ceramics and designing make me very happy! I literally got goosebumps when I met the ceramist Tabia during one of my trips to Tunisia. I was both excited and jealous, I wanted to be able to do that too. I instantly started a course once I got back home. I can certainly recommend this to anyone, there is nothing more fun than creating something with your own hands and it will structure your thoughts. It’s a combination of power, knowledge and creativity. It will really make you feel happy. My ceramics are now being sold right across the world. It’s really quite something when you’re sent photographs on Facebook from some top restaurant in the world which has decided to use your crockery.
Diet Doctor: Describe a regular day of yours, do you cook every day? What do you do when you’re not in the kitchen, working on your book or your ceramics?
Pascale: I usually get up at 7 o’clock. I start my day with a workout and depending on how much time I have, this will range anything from 10 minutes to an hour (stretching, lifting weights, short vigorous exercises, walking and yoga). This is something which has developed over the years and which makes me and my husband feel good. I will still do some short vigorous exercises and weight lifting if I don’t have a great deal of time, for a maximum of 10 minutes. Then I have some breakfast, usually mixed fruit with full-fat yogurt and mixed seeds. That’s the only constant, the rest of my days vary significantly depending on my work. You’ll either find me in my studio, in the kitchen, behind the computer or in meetings. I am currently working on a ‘feel good event’ together with the Belgian ‘Feeling’ magazine, which is going to be a culinary experience with the emphasis on inner growth. We’ll be organising workshops and lectures about nutrition, tea, ceramics, sleep, discovering your talents, herbs, … This requires a great deal of energy, but organising it feels great. I try to have lunch and dinner with my husband whenever possible. I usually cook myself, despite my busy diary, but I have plenty of delicious, simple and quick meals to choose from ☺.
Diet Doctor: You’re currently working on your new book, what delicacies can we expect this time?
Pascale: Producing books is one of my biggest passions. There’s simply nothing better than starting off with a blank sheet and writing a story. The angle here was, what if you don’t have a great deal of time, can you still cook healthy meals? Absolutely ☺! That’s why I’m working on a book with recipes which all have a maximum of 4 ingredients. The book is divided into: ‘Ready in 10 minutes’, ’15-20 minutes’ and another chapter is entitled ‘The oven will do all the work’. It’s actually a book which perfectly depicts my own life, I am incredibly busy, but I always want to put a delicious and healthy meal on the table, which looks great too. No problem at all. ‘4 ingredients, Low Carb’ is the title, clear and simple. That’s exactly how I like it ☺.
Pascale’s previous recipes
Click on the pictures to buy the books on Amazon.
Pascale’s website: PurePascale.com