A Day In The Life: Helene Patounas
Elite Nutritionist Helene Patounas on her strive for balance, mindful eating and secret love for chocolate. Helene is a nutritionist to high profile individuals including Formula 1 drivers, elite athletes, members of royalty and senior executives. She lives in Berkshire with her husband Barry and puppy Scooby.
My schedule is so varied that one of my biggest challenges is to create a daily routine. My days can be extremely hectic and at peak times, I have a crazily busy schedule. It varies from travelling to see clients in two different countries in one day, heading to a Grand Prix to check in with racing drivers, giving talks to Executive teams, having back to back meetings and consultations or being at home catching up on sleep, emails, research, report writing and time with my puppy and husband. After an intense period of travel I find that I need a good week looking after myself as my circadian rhythm can be affected and I need to get back in to some sort of home rhythm where I can take some time out and take care of myself mentally and physically. Having suffered from a serious health condition many years ago, I am extremely conscious not to take health for granted, and to listen and respond to what my body is telling me.
If I’m having a day at home then I always set my alarm for 7am. In summer, the early hours are one of my favourite times of day when I let Scooby in to the garden for a quick run around and we both get some natural day light and movement no matter how beautiful or bad the weather is.
I make myself a hot water with lemon or an herbal tea blend depending on my mood and if I’m not travelling to a meeting then I’ll do a yoga class which I find so important for my mindset and physical wellbeing - something I’m always trying to listen to and take care of.
I love food and at the moment I’m loving smoothie bowls for breakfast – a fantastic trend that’s come over from California. They’re essentially the same as a smoothie but thicker meaning you chew more releasing more digestive enzymes which aids digestion, and then you add delicious toppings to them. Psychologically you feel like you have actually had a meal compared to just a drink so you are less likely to need a snack before lunch. One of the key points I focus on with my clients is HOW to eat, not just WHAT to eat, so when I can, I take my time with meals, I eat mindfully and try not to rush or distract too much from what I’m eating.
There are a lot of fad smoothie bowls out there but I do try and make sure mine are nutritionally balanced – my favourite at the moment includes: a smoothie base of organic protein and green powder, frozen berries and water. For toppings I really like to play around and keep it as varied as possible depending on my mood and what my body is craving but normally I add: almond butter, cacao nibs, coconut pieces and mixed seeds.
My days at home are then filled with emails, reports and meetings but I try to make sure I have breaks every couple of hours to get some movement, and optimise productivity and focus. Working with high profile clients is exciting and rewarding but it’s full on and the demands are painstakingly high so taking time to recharge is really key for me. In my breaks, I may walk my pup, tend to my vegetable garden, meditate in my meditation and yoga room or meet a friend for a quick coffee – anything to keep me balanced.
For lunch and dinner, if I have time, I usually pick some vegetables from the garden. I steam or make them into a salad, make a delicious homemade dressing rich in healthy fats such as extra virgin olive oil, guacamole or pesto. The vegetables form the centerpiece of my meal, and then I will add an ethically and sustainably sourced protein source such as meat, fish or eggs, or simply some pulses or feta. When I’m home for long enough periods, I buy my fresh produce from Waltham Place, an inspirational biodynamic local farm.
I try to make my plate reflect rainbow as much as possible with lots of varied colours, textures and tastes. If I’m craving something sweet then I’ll have something still in line with my ethos of no refined sugars so I have a trail mix of seeds, nuts and cacao nibs or some homemade protein balls or bars. I love chocolate and in fact I have a secret addiction to all things chocolatey, so much so that I will only keep 85+ dark chocolate and cacao nibs in the house as it’s too tempting otherwise! If a friend brings some chocolate over and leaves it then I have been known to creep downstairs at night secretly eat it! It’s better not to have it in the house so I know I’m not going to be tempted!
I try not to eat anything after 8pm as it gives me at least 2 hours to digest before going to bed. When really focused on getting the best possible sleep I avoid screens and digital devices, take a bath with some Epsom salts and essential oils (lavender and peppermint are my favourites at the moment). I do some deep diaphragmatic breathing to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to aid rest and relaxation and I turn the lights off at 10pm.
When I’m travelling around and my schedule is hectic I do my best to stay healthy but it is easy to get caught out and end up compromising my health because of it. I practice what I preach though. I tell my clients, “Control the controllables and don’t worry about the rest”. I will always make sure I pack a bottle of water, some healthy snacks and a pair of trainers before a flight. The world is getting so much better at offering healthy food to go and it’s a really exciting time with new healthy food outlets popping up all over, such as Vita Mojo.
We now live in such a fast paced world and something that I feel passionate about and often share in my talks is the importance of looking after ourselves. Burn out, health imbalances, chronic pain and disease are so common, and we need to treat our health as a precious gift. We don’t just wake up with disease, it is something that has been manifesting for years and years. It is therefore so important to listen and respond to the subtle messages that our bodies’ tell us each day. Don’t just pop a pill to get rid of a headache or stomach pain, we must identify and address the root cause.
I first got in to nutrition as I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at the age of 29 and I found that conventional medicine offered no support other than anti-depressants, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and being told to pace myself. I was unable to continue work, I had no social life and I couldn’t do anything without needing to lie down and rest. It was completely debilitating and I never want to go back to that place again! I was determined to find a way to get over my diagnosis and after a lot of research I came across functional medicine and personalised nutrition. I found that there were some key elements which had caused my condition and once I’d treated these through changes in nutrition and lifestyle the change was astounding. I noticed improvements after just 6 weeks and I was able to participate in normal activities after just 6 months. After 2 years I made a complete recovery and had more energy than I ever had before.
I will always be grateful for finding nutrition and health and if I could spread one message it would be to treat your body as if it was the most precious gift of all – by eating optimally, you can significantly reduce the risk of so many illnesses. Even small changes can make a significant impact on health. I am so inspired by some of the progressive doctors I work with who advocate looking at the root cause and disease prevention through dietary and lifestyle changes before offering drugs to treat the symptoms and I wholeheartedly believe we could save the economy billion of pounds by treating health in this way.
In the week, my husband leaves early in the mornings and comes home late so we don’t actually have much time together. We make sure we have plenty of time with each other at weekends either going for long walks or runs with Scooby, seeing friends and enjoying filling each other in on what the week held for us both. If I’m with friends I do have a few drinks every now and then and I do splurge on special occasions – I just make sure I have a really good next few days and get back on track. ‘
If you want to know more about Helene’s Personalised Nutrition programs, visit her website.
She will also be running some themed aspirational, fun and interactive workshops at LUX Maldives in November.
Interview by Sophie Fox