Keeping her balance
A freelance assignment while she was on maternity leave seven years ago changed Rachel Grunwell’s life. She talked to Mary-Jane Richmond about her transformation, and how it led to her first book, Balance: Food, Health and Happiness . . .
Growing up in Rotorua, Rachel Grunwell was a music geek. As a student at Rotorua Lakes High School, she did well in English and played the saxophone in the town’s orchestra.
She became a writing geek. She secured a job at the Rotorua Daily Post as a cadet reporter, and dropped out of her university study. After “years” there, she moved on to Auckland where she worked for the Manukau Daily News before moving to the Sunday Star Times, and then the Herald on Sunday. She won a top award — social issues journalist of the year one year — with her reporting and thrived on a diet of breaking news and investigative journalism.
Now she is a wellness geek, thanks to a Herald on Sunday assignment seven years ago that sent her down a path she could never have envisaged.
For two years, week in, week out, she would try a new fitness activity or a new diet and at the end of that week, write about it.
“I was a human guinea pig. You name it, I tried it, from swinging on a trapeze to surfing.” Some of it was torture, she says now.
Torture it may have been, but somewhere along the way Rachel realised she liked being fitter than she had ever been. She fell in love with running and she liked what she was learning about nutrition and healthy eating. She liked it so much she wanted to help other people.
Which is how she came to be a yoga teacher, someone who runs wellness retreats, a wellness coach and a passionate advocate for living a balanced life.
At the start she was an out-of-condition mum home on maternity leave after having her third child. “I was so unfit I would get puffed taking the baby out for a walk in the pushchair.”
Fast forward seven years and she has clocked up 24 marathons. She is a magazine wellness columnist and recipe creator and is the blogger behind the Inspired Health website. She meditates.
She has distilled much of her journey so far into a book, whose title “Balance” says everything about both what is on the pages, and the author’s philosophy of life. But it’s not just Rachel’s words. She interviewed more than 30 global experts — including our own Nadia Lim and Theresa Gattung — and their contributions flesh out the book. Many of them are people
Rachel came across in her current role as a wellness magazine columnist, but also from her time as a fitness guinea pig in the Herald on Sunday
The range of those contributors is testament to the reach of the science-based book. They include Dr Kerry Spackman, neuroscientist and author; Ian Walker, paraplegic marathoner; Rachel Hoffman, de-clutter expert; Sarah Wilson, founder of IquitSugar.com.
“I’m not an expert at everything, nor is anyone. That’s why, in these pages, I’m introducing you to some wise and inspirational minds by bringing together a global community of thought leaders, change-makers and trailblazers.” she writes.
“I wanted my book to be a one-stop shop; it’s not a book about a particular diet or a particular exercise. It’s a mix of people sharing their wisdom to make for a healthier, happier life.”
She says it is important to find a form of exercise that excites you, “and do it often”.
The book is not about absolutes. Rather it is a guide, Rachel writes, “to move well, eat well, think well, feel well and live well”.
It is very much a Rachel book. Those 20 plus contributors are not just names and words on paper. They are presented through Rachel’s eyes, with her lively, engaging writing. She is not afraid to own up to bad habits and imperfections, but sees them as opportunities to learn. She takes the positive from the negative.
The book came about after she approached a publisher. Rachel went in to the first meeting with two definite ideas, and one vague one. It was the latter which got the nod, and had Rachel scrabbling to transform the slight suggestion into a workable formula.
Besides all the wise words, that formula was always going to include some of Rachel’s recipes, and these — there are 30 — are presented in three sections: drink-inspired (think imaginative, flavoursome smoothies and yes there is such a thing), breakfast bliss and sweet treats. “I love food,” she says. Especially dark chocolate.
Asked how she manages to fit everything into her life, Rachel says, no surprise here, it’s a question of balance. And she’s not perfect. “Please remember,”she writes, “the idea of perfection is just an illusion.”
When we talk, it’s two days after her book launch, on Mother’s Day, at Mt Eden’s Time Out Bookstore, her “local”, just a few minutes walk from where she lives.
It was a “lovely” occasion, she says, full of family and friends and goodwill. She says her husband Damien, an IT architect, has been her rock through her working life, supporting and encouraging her. They share family duties, making sure one or the other of them is always at school for pickup time. Fourteen-year-old Zach is keen on mountain biking, while Lachie, 11 is into squash. Seven-year-old Finn — who has never known his mum as anything other than the wellness geek — is having fun trying all sorts of activities before he finds “the one”. Over the years they have been her chief tasters for those recipes she creates.
If the name Grunwell sounds familiar, it might be because Rachel’s younger sister Rebecca is a photographer at the Gisborne Herald and her images appear in the paper on an almost daily basis. “I adore my sister,” says Rachel, who was easily persuaded to hold a launch in Gisborne for her book.
¦ Gisborne readers will have the chance to meet this imperfect but enthusiastic advocate for living well, at Muirs Bookshop and Cafe, on Wednesday May 29, 5.30pm.
And if you can’t make it, Rachel is active online through her website and instagram.