Calgary Avansino on her new book, Keep It Real While the name Calgary Avansino might not instantly ring a bell, we promise, you’re well and truly acquainted with her work. She spent over a decade at British Vogue, climbing the ranks from intern to wellbeing editor and later executive fashion and digital project director. Dubbed Vogue’s very own unofficial health guru, she left the magazine in 2013 to launch her own eponymous website. Now, of course, her day job is different from her magazine days. She still writes (she has a column in The Sunday Times Style and writes for Vogue.co.uk), but she’s also at the forefront of London’s new ‘eat clean’ movement. She’s the embodiment of the art of eating well; her debut book, Keep It Real, is selling like hot cakes (healthy ones, of course); and her disciples are lapping it up.

When asked about her nutritional qualifications, she’s first to admit she’s never had any formal training, nor is she a chef. Like the Hemsley sisters, her love of good food started in the kitchen rather than the classroom and comes from an honest place. The evangelism of her eat clean message is outshone only by her skin, which, at 40 is clear, plump and puts mine to shame. She’s unmistakably glossy. If anyone was going to make you swap your pinot for a green juice, it’s her. When she first moved to London from the US with her husband 16 years ago, people thought she was strange for eating quinoa and drinking cold pressed juices. Today, we’re all at it.

Her approach is pretty straightforward: simple, unprocessed food that tastes good and makes you feel better. No gluten. No refined sugar. No compromise. The cornerstone of her philosophy is about taking control of your health and, above all else, keeping foods as close to their natural state as possible. It’s not about obsessing over foods you can’t eat, and more about thinking about foods you can introduce to your diet that can nourish your body and give it what it truly needs. You might say that sounds just like deprivation but Calgary disagrees. She believes it’s all about teaching ourselves to adopt new habits, replacing bad food with things that taste good but will make us feel better. So if pizza is your vice, she’d simply recommend switching it for a homemade gluten-free, veg-based alternative. The new book will ease you gently into healthier ways of cooking and eating, as opposed to shaming you into the closest health food shop.

To celebrate the launch of Keep It Real, we sat down with Calgary to talk about where her approach to food and wellness came from, on how to making healthy eating a lifestyle change and whether there’s a danger of being too health-conscious. Think of this as healthy eating 101:



ON THE NEW BOOK: When my publisher first asked me to write Keep It Real, she told me to go home and write a list of everything that I believed in. I put together a combination of things that I had grown up knowing and feeling, along with things that I had learnt along the way as I’d got older. This was the foundation of the book. I wanted it to encapsulate everything that I believe is important – eating a wholesome, plant-based diet, teaching children about the value of food, and reorganising our food priorities – and I hoped to make it as simple and easy to digest as possible. I want my book to be something that people can flick through, come back to every now and then, write notes on and photocopy pages. My mission was to change the way that people think about plant-based living and exactly how delicious it can be. Keep It Real is definitely about keeping things simple, making life easier and eating well while stressing less. I have lots of top tips about ways to organise your cupboards, planning prep time to get your veggies washed, your grains cooked, your granola made in batches, and your overnight oats mixed. I also talk about ways to get your children involved without major fall-outs and how to stay on top of your fridge, freezer and pantry. It all just requires a little bit of TLC and organisation.


We need to remember the importance of balance and that we don’t have to be ‘perfect’ – we have to have a peaceful relationship with food and an equilibrium in our lifestyle. We need to stop being so hard on ourselves and stop giving that negative voice inside us any airtime. Instead, it should be about loving ourselves for who we are – that’s not egotistical.


ON HER FAVOURITE RECIPES IN THE BOOK: All the recipes in my book are favourites in my household – they are really how we cook and what we eat – and some recipes have been passed down the generations in my family. There’s my sister’s amazing guacamole recipe, which is a huge favourite at gatherings. I love the broccoli ‘meatballs’ – they’re a fabulous choice for Meat-free Mondays and are a great alternative. My children are always asking me to make the cashew thumbprint cookies from my book – so I make double the batch so we have extra – although, even though they’re ‘good’, they’re still treats. It’s important to remember that.

ON THE MYTH THAT STAYING HEALTHY MEANS COMPROMISING: I think it has come from the fact that ‘healthy’ is so often associated with diet and deprivation, which it really shouldn’t be. I completely disagree with this way of eating and think it promotes really negative habits. Eating well is so delicious – there is such a bountiful array of foods available to us and we can do so much with them. Rather than taking foods away from our lives, we should be looking at adding good ones in (of course, anything processed, sugary and chemical-laden should definitely go). I find people are also quick to dismiss things when they’re considered ‘healthy’ so when we have dinner parties or I am giving my children new things to try, I never give the foods different names and I don’t make a big deal out of what friends or my children are eating. It’s surprising how many plates are cleared and how many ‘delicious’ comments I get – and then I reveal to them just how nourishing and wholesome it really was.



ON HER 80/20 RULE: It’s all about balance, because it’s completely unrealistic and counter-productive to try and be ‘perfect’ all the time. It’s just not achievable or attainable, and trying to uphold that way of living can feel suffocating. The 80/20 rule is about eating well 80% of the time and then giving yourself some flexibility for the other 20%. This means that if you’re on the go and you really can’t find anything good or you’ve treated yourself to a date night at a restaurant, that you shouldn’t then feel guilty if you opt for something a little less healthy. Just try and make it up to yourself the next day – as long as you have balance, that’s the key. Remember every meal is a new start.

ON BEING PREOMINATELY VEGETARIAN: I grew up as a vegetarian but along the way, I started eating meat and fish again. I have drifted back more towards a plant-based diet now, but I still occasionally have meat proteins, so I guess it’s more of a flexitarian way of living. That said, however, I prefer to not put a label on diet choices as everyone is unique and we don’t fit into square boxes. All that really matters is how many plants we eat.

Calgary Avansino on her new book, Keep It RealON BEING AN INFLUENTIAL VOICE IN THE WELLNESS SCENE: I find it an enormous privilege to be able to share my ethos and my message with so many people along their journey. I am always really conscious of how realistic and accessible the things I talk about are, but pretty much everything I say and do is based on how I lead my own life, so these are all tried-and-tested methods. It’s not necessarily about adopting every single one, but finding ways to take ideas and inspiration and maybe one or two key things and then looking to integrate it into your own life. I always strive to be honest, helpful and positive – that’s it!

ON WHETHER THERE’S A DANGER OF BEING TOO HEALTH-CONSCIOUS: This is something that is being discussed increasingly and I think it is important that we are aware of it and talk about it so that it doesn’t become taboo. Extremism of any sort is what we must avoid. We need to remember the importance of balance and that we don’t have to be ‘perfect’ – we have to have a peaceful relationship with food and an equilibrium in our lifestyle. We need to stop being so hard on ourselves and stop giving that negative voice inside us any airtime. Instead, it should be about loving ourselves for who we are – that’s not egotistical.

ON HOW TO GET CHILDREN TO EAT BETTER: As a mom of three young children, I completely appreciate how difficult it can sometimes be to get them eating well, but it doesn’t have to be this way. I always say that parents are the biggest role models for children – they will do what you do, not what you say. So the first step in ensuring your children eat better is making sure that you are setting a good example to them. Second, clear out your cupboards to ensure there is nothing in there for you to argue about – remember, you are the one in control. You say what passes your threshold. If you haven’t bought chocolate bars or crisps then they’re not up for negotiation. Third, as I mentioned earlier, don’t give things ‘new’ or unusual names. Ice cream remains ‘ice cream’, even if I make mine dairy-free and refined-sugar-free. Muffins are called ‘muffins’, even though they’re savoury and full of veggies. We have scrambled eggs filled with spinach, leeks, and kale but I don’t call them by a different name. Finally, getting children involved in the kitchen is really key. Don’t try and do this on a weekday when homework is looming. Wait until the weekend – or your prep day – and then have them help you with specific jobs, get them talking about where the food is coming from, take them shopping with you and get them to choose a new ingredient to try cooking with. It will definitely peak their interest and food always tastes so much nicer in their mind when they’ve helped.