Sarah Wilson – Sweet Enough AlreadyLast time we spoke you were living Bondi, then you moved to Byron, then it seemed like you had no fixed address for quite some time; where are you actually living these days?
I’m living in Potts Point. It’s quite noisy after Byron and Bondi. I’ve been living here for about a year and a half and it’s great – it’s been fantastic while set up my business and that kind of thing. I walk everywhere, or ride my bike, but I’m going to be heading back out to the beach again soon. I’m heading Bronte way.
Is it good to be back in Sydney after being all over the place for a while?
Yeah, Sydney is my home now. I have to be near the ocean. Even though I live in Potts Point, I’m out doing the Bondi swim probably once or twice a week. I wish it was more often. I’m one of those meditators at the south end of Bondi a couple of times a week as well.
Do you think you will settle down here or will be on the move again soon?
I’ve just returned from two months in the US and the UK doing a book tour. My book is out in the UK and it’s the number one title in its category over there at the moment, and it also came out recently in the US as well. I was over there doing various TV appearances and book signings in Seattle and New York, then I went to London for the release of my second book over there. But I’m in the process of settling down over on the beachside now.
The last time we spoke you were just about to start hosting MasterChef, which was obviously a massive success. Were you disappointed when you were cut from the show after one season?
Basically the story is that I was very unwell for the duration of the filming. I have an autoimmune disease and I’d been diagnosed with it about a year before I got the gig. I actually hadn’t worked for a while before MasterChef. I was really unwell. I was pretty much housebound. Also, the role was very much something that I wasn’t expecting. I’d originally been employed to have a judging and mentoring role, but it turned out to be purely a hosting role – stand up, repeat lines, top and tail the ad breaks. That’s the way the industry works, and I had absolutely no interest in doing a second season. We parted on amicable terms.
With the benefit of hindsight, it probably wasn’t such a bad thing, because it gave you time to build your blog, realise the impact that sugar was having on your health, and launch you ‘I Quit Sugar’ books…
It was during MasterChef that I started blogging and I started writing a column for Sunday Life magazine. I wrote my first piece about sugar, and it just kind of grew and grew and grew. People kept asking me more questions and that’s the great thing about having a blog – you get immediate feedback on where the gaps are, on where people need help and what’s missing out there in terms of information. There was a lot of diet guff out there that people were getting confused about. I was able to pursue it in a really organic way on my blog, and write more and more blog posts about it. Before I knew it, people were asking if I could put it together into a bit of a program. I put it together into a succinct program and turned it into an e-book, expecting to sell maybe 50 copies to the people who were asking for it. It really took off, and then of course a publisher came along thinking that maybe we should turn it into a print version.
Have you had any backlash from the sugar lobby since you shunned the sweet stuff?
Oh, absolutely. They work in insidious ways. I’ve had all kinds of things. I’ve had trolls, fake trolling accounts and Twitter accounts set up to basically just drag me down. I get approached by Coca Cola and their PR department wanting to meet with me. I’ve resisted those invitations. I speak at conferences and there will be Coke representatives and Sanitarium food representatives in the audience. A lot of nutritionists and dieticians are ambassadors or sponsors and are paid by sugar companies. That’s probably the most difficult aspect of it all, because it’s not obvious.
So are you a full blown sugar Nazi or are you just presenting an alternative view for people to take as they like?
My book’s called ‘I Quit Sugar’; it’s not called ‘You Must Quit Sugar’ or ‘Quit Sugar or Die’. I guess I’ve always presented what I did when I quit sugar – it worked for me, this is how I did it and if you would like to try it, this might help you. I am very careful to say it’s an invitation and this second book continues that. I basically present the options, present the information and then I invite people to empower themselves.
Have you found that many people have jumped on the sugar-free bandwagon and are trying to put out books and compete with you given the success you’ve had?
There are a lot of young women who have wanted to find out what courses I studied and how I went about things, and I’m really open about it. I post all the details of the courses that I did that informed me with a lot of this theory and I also share tips on how to write and publish an e-book. I have all the information out there if anybody wants to go and make their own e-books, and I’m really happy to support anyone in this realm.
You’ve become the face of the sugar-free movement; do you feel a lot of pressure now given the monster that you’ve created?
Yes and no. I certainly can’t be seen in public eating a Tim Tam any time soon! I am a very reserved person and a very private person. Believe it or not, every personality test comes up with me as an introvert, so my challenge is to manage my private life and manage my life away from all of this. I go to a supermarket and I’m not the most recognisable or famous person out there, but people who do read my blog and my books feel that it’s a very intimate connection.
It’s a big piece of you…
That’s right. I share everything and so people feel very comfortable to come up to me and tell me about their problems or what they think. I’ll be in a supermarket or I’ll just get out of the pool at Icebergs on a day when I’m not feeling very good and somebody will come up to me and want to tell me all about their issues with their toddler or something. That is hard but I kind of accept it. I’ve got constant feedback and that has been able to steer me with what I do. Not many people have that.
Can you tell us a bit about your two books?
‘I Quit Sugar’, the first one, is an eight week program. It shows you how to get off sugar with some recipes that can support you while you do it and it really runs you through that whole detox. It’s a process. ‘I Quit Sugar For Life’ is for people who want to continue the experiment and, if I was to sum up my second book in one word, it would be about sustainability. Firstly, it’s sustainable in an economic sense. I use all cheap off cuts of meat, use up leftovers where possible and use the cheapest way of cooking. It’s also sustainable from an environmental point of view. I use vegetables and inform people on how to shop and what to buy organic, and what you don’t have to worry about. And finally, it’s sustainable from the point of view of that it’s really doable. I’ve designed it for families of four and single people. Everything’s designed to be made in bulk and to be frozen, and everything is designed to be able to be used in all different directions.
Is quitting sugar just another flash in the pan nutritional fad?
I get asked that a lot. What I say is that around 60 years ago we just didn’t eat the amount of sugar that we do today. Instead we were told to cut our saturated fats. For the last 60 years we’ve had a whole heap of diets: the Pritikin diet, the macrobiotic diet, the list goes on. Quitting sugar takes us back to a time and a way of eating before the diets, so I actually say it’s the anti diet. It’s taking us back to the way we ate for two million years. If people want to say that’s a fad, I don’t call two million years a fad.
Why should people quit or reduce their intake of sugar and, more importantly, why should they buy your book?
I don’t use the word ‘should’. If people want to give it a go, the causal links to obesity increasingly are pouring in from all sorts of scientific labs around the world. Basically sugar intake has increased at exactly the same rate and the same upward curve as the increase in metabolic diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even ADHD, autism and Alzheimer’s disease. As far as I’m concerned, when you see that correlation, it’s pretty convincing. The thing I’d say is to trust your instinct. If you have a gut feel, so to speak, that sugar could be the reason why you’re just feeling a bit crappy most of the time, or a bit addicted, a bit mood swingy, or needing to have a hit at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, then you might just want to try quitting sugar and see what happens. My book is probably the most positive guide. I work in positives, so I really do share the good news messages and the foods that actually make it fun. I don’t make it feel like a diet. It’s not a scare campaign.
You seem to keep very busy; will you be having any downtime now that this book is out or are you already working on another project?
I recently had three days off in Canada to go cross-country skiing in between Seattle and New York, which was great. And yes, now that I’m back in Sydney my aim is to move to the beach, get a dog and work a lot less. No new projects for a while.
You’ve got eleven staff working for you; are you a slave driver? Do they have to work as hard as you?
I’m ashamed to say my perfectionism probably does place the team under stress, and it really does upset me at times that they probably feel like they’ve got to kind of live up to my obsessed standards. Having said that though, they’re really, really talented and do a damn sight better job at a lot of the stuff than I do. I’m not in there all the time. I sort of go in and do a bit of seagull management – fly in, shit over everything and leave again. I hope it’s not really quite like that though…
Have you had any genuine failures along the way?
I am a walking casebook of failures. I’ve had to quit lots of different things because I’ve been unwell or I’ve got things wrong. I’ve got a couple of recipes wrong. There was a big typo in my first book, which was quite embarrassing. I remember a sealed section – my first, second or third sealed section when I was at Cosmo – I had to get the female anatomy double-checked because I had absolutely no idea what was going on down there in the diagram. I’ve learnt from my mistakes and I’m not scared of mistakes. I think there are two types of people: those who look backwards and their stress is based on regretting and worrying about what they did in the past, and those who fret about what’s coming up. I make sure that I’m a forward stresser. I don’t really worry about my own mistakes in the past.
Do you look at your books, those little pieces of Tasmanian old growth forest, with a sense of pride?
I’m not proud of the paper, that’s for sure! Can I be honest and say not really? I’m always thinking about the next thing. That’s not to say that I’m ashamed at all. It’s more like how a chef at the end of the day hangs up their apron and goes home. I take off my make up and my bra. It sounds like I’m being falsely modest, but I’m not. I’m not really wholly aware of it. I guess I become aware of it when I meet people in really weird places and they say they’ve done my program and then I go, “Oh yeah, people actually read it.” A lot of people say, “Gosh, you should probably be happier about it.” I guess it’s just not me.
Do you read all the comments on your blog? It must be great for the ego because you do get a lot of feedback…
I do get a lot of feedback and not all of it is complimentary, but I would say that all of it is helpful. Some people try to avoid the negative stuff. I used to protect myself at first, but I now actually think it’s really good for me. I really don’t mind a little bit of a slap down. I don’t mind a bit of a humility check. Ego is something I’m aware of and I’m conscious enough to try to keep it in check.
You recently turned 40 – I’m allowed to mention that because you publicise it everywhere; has it had an impact on you or is it just another day and another year in the life of Sarah Wilson?
It was a little bit of a turning point because I turned 40 and made a conscious decision. I don’t have a partner and I don’t have children and all these things that a lot of people try to have done by the age of 40. I kind of had to go, “Alright, well, this is the rest of my life. It’s not a run-up anymore; it’s not a dress rehearsal.” I’d been treating my life like a dress rehearsal for when the real thing happens, when I finally fall in love, when I finally find the house or the area I want to live in. I just went, “Okay, this is as good as it gets and this is as good as I get. This is who I am. I’m not going to suddenly change overnight.” It was quite a relief. I realised that it’s not a downhill journey, but nor am I going uphill anymore. I had a really good reflection on it and it felt good.
Do you still hope to meet the man of your dreams and fall in love?
Absolutely, I’m an eternal optimist.
Do you get sick of getting asked relationship questions?
I don’t get asked very often. I think there’s an assumption, and a few people have said this, that I’m either not interested or that I’m already married, funnily enough.
Do you think some people are scared to ask you because when you get to 40 it’s kind of like a question you’re not allowed to ask?
I don’t bloody know. I really don’t know. I’ve been single for a very long time. When I was 35, I was single. I’ve been single for six and a half years, so I’ve run out of theories.
Seeing as you are single and you’re still looking for the man of your dreams, what are the qualities that ‘Mr Right’ possesses?
A pulse and his own teeth! To be honest, I would love to feel looked after in whatever capacity. Safe and looked after, and it doesn’t have to be financially. It doesn’t have to be physically – just one way or another that he’s got my back and that we’re a team. I don’t necessarily think about who that person is. I think about how I want to feel.
Would you be an easy person to live with?
No, not at all! I won’t sugar coat it (no pun intended). I’ve got a really good life. For somebody to step into my life and make it better, they’re going to have to be pretty unreal. That’s like with anybody my age: men and women. We’ve got our lives set up and we’ve reached a point where things are going well. For somebody to come in and disrupt that, they’re going to have to make it better. You don’t want them to make it worse.
What do you get up to in your downtime?
I swim across Bondi. It’s one of my favourite things at the moment. I also bushwalk – that’s my biggest thing. I have to head bush and just go for a hike somewhere around Sydney and I do that as often as I can. I travel to eat, so whenever I travel I tie in an eating program of some sort. Getting a dog is my next hobby, I’ve decided, and cooking is my other big hobby. I’m constantly experimenting with food. My kitchen is like a laboratory, with different ferments and slow cooker experiments and things going on.
Are you still getting around on your bicycle?
Yes, my bike’s just been done up by an ex Bondi boy, Pablo from Chappelli Cycles, bless him. He wanted me to try one of his bikes and then he saw that my bike had a lot of rust. He’s given it a complete refurbishment and it’s looking and riding great.
Where can people get their grubby little mittens on your books?
You can go to www.iquitsugar.com and buy it there if you like, and it’s at every good book store including Big W, Kmart and Target. The only thing I would add is that if people like e-books, we’ve got a children’s cookbook that came out recently. If anyone’s got kids and wants lunchbox ideas and snack ideas for kids, you can get the e-book at the website.
In an ideal world, what does the future hold for Sarah Wilson?
An ideal world would be working at a leisurely and manageable pace. I love working, so I will always want to work. I’d like to have a house near the ocean with enough room for a vegetable garden, a loving, independent partner and lots of food around me.