After deciding to pursue her passion in cooking, Irena Macri quit her almost 10 year career in corporate digital world and started a niche website dedicated to healthy eating and lifestyle called Eat Drink Paleo. Today she has her own Paleo cookbook and spends her time travelling the world, cooking, writing and working on interesting projects with like-minded food nerds. She is a strong believer in holistic approach to health and encourages everyone to follow their dreams.
Tell us three things about yourself
- I am on a quest to find the best ways to nourish my body, mind and soul so I can inspire others to do the same.
- I have no fixed address at the moment as I’ve been travelling and working around the world.
- I’m not a good dancer as I’ve discovered in a samba class the other day. But I would love to be a good dancer.
What’s been the biggest health challenge you’ve overcome and what did you learn from this experience?
I’ve never had any serious health issues – probably because I’ve always been quite active and had a well balanced diet – but there were a few common conditions that would creep up regularly like UTI, colds and cold sores, fatigue and phases of feeling quite low and irritated. But to be honest, it wasn’t my own health challenges that drove me to live a healthier life.
My mum went through two cancers a few years ago and it’s not to say she had an unhealthy lifestyle, but it made me think about my own health and how much our daily lives, what we eat, how much we stress and so on, affect our chances of becoming seriously ill one day. I think there are so many people that suffer now due to poor choices they made earlier in life. So I’ve decided to try and make the best choices for my body. I eat a paleo inspired diet, I’ve drastically reduced stress in my life, improved my sleep and I try to be as active as possible.
Combined, these changes have definitely improved my health – I haven’t had UTI for a long time, I don’t get colds very often and I only feel tired naturally at the end of the day or after being super active like hiking up a big mountain. Mentally, I have noticed a big shift as well – I feel very positive, I have clarity and my energy levels are very stable throughout the day. And of course, now I give my mum all my tips to keep her strong and healthy for a long time.
What’s your top tip for getting your day off to a great start?
Nothing beats a good night’s sleep. NOTHING! It’s amazing how much is affected by sleep – our hunger levels and food cravings, our mood and energy and our relationships with people. And once I am up I always have a glass of lemon water and a protein-rich breaky. Oh, and one more if I can, and this is not possible for everyone, but I absolutely love a dip in the ocean, sea or lake first in the morning.
Your brekky usually consists of…
Two eggs – scrambled, fried or soft-boiled – with some greens like kale or spinach, avocado and maybe some kimchi or sauerkraut. Some days I will add grilled halloumi cheese or smoked salmon and on the days I want a break from eggs, I will have a bowl of unsweetened full fat yogurt with berries, nuts, chia seeds and coconut flakes.
Which foods do you eat to nourish your body and give you vitality?
I am a huge believer in the power of Omega-3s so I like to include a lot of oily fish in my diet like sardines and wild salmon as well as eggs and greens. I also try to include lots of other seafood options like oysters, mussels and prawns as they are full of minerals and good fats. I love good quality grass fed meat for iron, vitamins and healthy saturated fat. And every meal is accompanied by lots of vegetables – leafy greens, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, garlic, onion, tomatoes and red peppers. I love them all! Another thing I’ve been trying to include lately is more seaweed products, like wakame and nori – they are great for thyroid function. Gosh, this is a dangerous question as I can go on and on about it. Green smoothies, blueberries, quinoa, raw cacao….ok, I am stopping right now.
Why is fitness an important part of your life and do you have an exercise routine?
We all want to stay fit and toned for aesthetic reasons but for me personally staying active is very important for my mental health. All those endorphins and oxygen have a very positive effect on my mood and my brain. I tend to start feeling a little low and negative after a few days of no exercise so I try to have no more than a day or two off.
I like to alternate between activities to keep my body guessing and to keep it interesting and I typically choose between running, yoga and resistance training (aka pushups, burpees, lunges, crunches etc). Also, depending on my location, I love to do a bit of rock climbing, hiking, swimming, tennis, cycling and diving.
Your ‘perfect day’ in a nutshell would be…
A morning swim at Bronte beach in Sydney followed by a healthy brunch with friends and a trip to food markets to pick up some fresh produce for dinner. We would then drive somewhere outdoors for a hike or a cycle and a great al fresco lunch. In the afternoon I would prepare for a yummy BBQ dinner and friends would come over, we would watch the sunset on a balcony with gin and tonics, eat grilled prawns and kangaroo, listen to music and play board games.
Describe what motivated you to choose your current business or career path?
I’ve always had a passion for food and cooking and I’ve always said that one day I would do something with it. I waited until I was 30 to quit my corporate, high paying job to start cooking and taking photos in my living room. I didn’t get paid for almost 12 months – and some would say it’s crazy – but I had a dream and I was pretty determined to make it happen. Plus, I realized I really wasn’t happy in the corporate world. I mean, I was stressed all the time. I hated the politics, the rules, the unnecessary processes and hierarchies. I just wanted to make things and to inspire people and to have work life balance. Today I can travel around the world doing what I love.
What business or career challenge have you overcome and what one piece of advice would you like to pass on to others?
If you’re thinking of changing careers or starting your own thing, taking the first step will always seem very hard because you’ll think there is no safety net. So you have to create one. I would really suggest planning ahead and in my case that meant saving enough money to keep me going for the first 6 months and then having a support of my partner to help me out financially. We had a deal that if I didn’t start making money after 12 months that I would rethink my idea and maybe go back to full time work. And if I made it, then he’d be able to take some time off to do whatever he wants to do.
Another challenge is parting with your money. You have to remember to keep investing in your business. Whether it’s to fund new products or to hire someone to grow the business – don’t be afraid to part with your money because if you’re smart, you will always get it back plus some more.
Your favourite book or movie of all time is? And why?
My favourite book would have to be The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak – besides being a total page turner, it’s about human compassion, hope, kindness and a lesson in history.
One of my favourite films is Amélie. It’s quirky and has the ability to make me smile when I watch it. It’s about making someone else’s life better and it’s about love and Paris. And Audrey Tautou is as cute as a button. Out of recent productions, I really loved The Intouchables – also a French film that will make you laugh and cry.
And lastly, do you have a recipe you’d like to share with us?
This one is actually from my cookbook Eat Drink Paleo Cookbook.
Chilli Chocolate Mousse (dairy and egg free)
1 large, ripe avocado, such as Hass
1 1/2 ripe bananas
6 tbsp raw cacao powder
3 tbsp coconut cream (from the top of the can)
1/2 vanilla pod, seeds scraped out
2 tbsp coconut sugar, honey or maple syrup
Pinch of sea salt
1/2 tsp red chilli flakes
Optional: Dark chocolate flakes, raspberries and chilli flakes for garnish
Cut avocado in half and remove the seed. Scoop out the flesh and add to a food processor or blender together with chopped banana and cacao powder. Whiz up until smooth.
Remove contents to a large bowl, add cream, vanilla, your choice of sweetener. Whisk using an electric blender until well combined, fluffy and smooth. Fold in salt and chilli flakes.
You can serve right away but it’s best to refrigerate the mousse to set for around 1 hour. You can set it in ramekins or small serving glasses. Garnish with dark chocolate flakes, raspberries and a little extra sprinkle of chilli flakes.
Notes: Raw cacao powder has more antioxidants than blueberries, red wine or green tea. You can replace raw cacao powder with melted dark chocolate and, if looking for a lower carbohydrate version, replace some of the banana with extra avocado and coconut cream.
Don’t forget to check out Irena’s mouth watering cookbook for healthy, creative and yummy paleo recipes! Got a comment for Irena? Leave her some love below