'Clean eating has probably changed your diet - even if you don't realise it'
After the backlash against clean eating, wellness guru Jasmine Hemsley tells Cass Chapman why she is now following a new kind of nutrition plan
I regret instantly the coffee and croissant I inhaled en route to meet wellness guru Jasmine Hemsley. As I watch her being photographed, flashing a large dimpled smile and radiating health in a way I, quite frankly, am not, I'm struck by the fact that whatever she is doing, it is working.
Jasmine (37) has a new book, East by West, out this weekend and recently got engaged to her long-term boyfriend, the photographer Nick Hopper, which might also explain her glow. "It took 13-and-a-half years to get engaged so we're not exactly in a rush to plan the wedding," she jests.
As one half of Hemsley + Hemsley, the nutrition brand that she runs with her younger sister, Melissa, the pair have come under serious fire of late for apparently promoting "clean eating", a lifestyle blamed for encouraging diets deemed "dangerous" by many and lumped in with a host of other chefs including Ella Woodward (aka Deliciously Ella) for pushing wellness in a way that some believe can be used to hide eating disorders.
So, let's clarify a few things. What exactly is clean eating? "There isn't really a definition for it," she tells me and, for the record, neither sister has ever promoted it. "Anything to do with health pushes buttons in a lot of people. All the people who are backlashing against clean eating have probably, in some way, changed their habits without realising it."
Jasmine is calm but firm when she tells me that "for 50 years, women have been dieting but, if they're not Jane Fonda, they feel bad about themselves and they've been pinching an inch to see if they should lose weight. There have been decades of that; Mel and I are totally anti that and yet we're still attacked." She and Melissa are not, contrary to myth, vegan, non-drinkers or anti-fats in food. "We're saying it's about nutrition not calories, it's choosing butter not margarine, feeling good all over - and don't punish yourself in the gym," Jasmine implores.
The attitude that "fat makes you fat and if you don't exercise you're lazy makes me really sad. A lot of my clients are women who have gone through that and are really scarred by it. It's so damaging and a lot came to me because they realised they were putting it on their children." Her emotion is palpable; she goes on to say that "people hear Hemsley + Hemsley and think we only do vegan juices but that couldn't be more wrong. I eat steak and drink alcohol. If you open one of our books, you'll see there's meat, dairy, cheese and butter and we have cocktails in there."
It's hard to imagine Jasmine, who started out as a commercial model, deviating too far from the virtuous lifestyle with which she has become synonymous. "I definitely had my bloated days," she insists, regaling me with tales of cheese toasties with white bread - practically dirty words, in the current carb-conscious climate - and that she "loves cheeseburgers".
Though she admits she is lucky to be naturally slim, she says that her interest in nutrition was never about weight control. After her university days in Leeds, she decided to study more about the food she was eating; she is self-taught, having worked with a vast range of nutritionists and practitioners to develop her own outlook on nutrition. She started advising friends and then taking on private clients, cooking for them and teaching them how to eat better.
Her sister Melissa (32) who worked as a brand manager for a shoe company prior to the launch of Hemsley + Hemsley, became the other half of the business - a Vogue blog followed along with two books and a television show, and seven years later, they have built up a steady army of fans.
Melissa and Jasmine may have always come as a pair but for the first time, they are doing their own thing. Following East by West, Melissa releases her own book, Eat Happy, in January - and, contrary to rumour, the sisters have not had a big bust-up.
Raised by their English father and Filipino mother in Kingston, south-west London, they are just, as Jasmine points out, into a lot of different things.
"We knew we were tied as a double act, like the Ant and Dec of the food world. We wanted to figure out how not to tie ourselves together forever."
She hopes her book will allow her to shine in her own right; she recognises, however, that they are likely to be "pitted against each other and seen as in competition".
Jasmine is keen to address the concerns of the anti gluten-free brigade, and has since turned her attentions to Ayurvedic practices, a 5,000-year-old form of Indian alternative medicine emphasising a mind-body approach to overall well-being.
"We are not necessarily what we eat. We are what we digest, absorb and assimilate, physically, emotionally and mentally," she says, adding that it "supports the idea our vitality, well-being and happiness comes from a life in balance".
It isn't just about food but about meditation, and learning to understand what both your body and your mind need. Isn't this just another fad? "Make Ayurveda part of your basic tool kit and just try it out," she urges me. "Every time you work with nature you always get vitality. It's a philosophy that helps you to intuitively know what you need. It's about bringing in balance and really listening to what your body needs."
Ayurvedic living has, if nothing else, 5,000 years of devotees behind it so is presumably less susceptible to backlash.
It is curious, though, that the Hemsleys and Deliciously Ella have been so unanimously lambasted within the context of the clean eating scandal, where male adherents have not. It is, frankly, "weird", Jasmine says, "to bring up the word clean and not bring up James Duigan. I talk to him all the time about this. He is called Clean and Lean, and nowhere in that [fiasco] did he get brought up."
Either way, Hemsley is keen to dissociate herself with any food fads and continues to extol the virtues of her ancient Indian healthcare regime, which involves daily meditation, early nights and as much yoga as possible.
It may sound complicated, but she insists that "Ayurveda is the most simple [of lifestyles]. Tune in and think about what your body really needs. In so many ways, Ayurveda arms you with knowledge so you quickly learn to identify what you need. You'll quickly get into the rhythm of it."