Woman of the Week: Maxine Ali!
Maxine Ali, wellness guru and social media sensation, is one of the healthiest university students you will find. We are thrilled to chat to Maxine about her inspirational food philosophy, the truth behind those incredible instagram shots, and of course, our mutual obsession for raw cheesecake…
1. You are SO WISE for your age - your fab food philosophy is remarkable for a university student! When did you first discover the benefits of whole, real foods?
Thank you! I've been experimenting with my diet since I was around 12 due to health issues but it wasn't until I was 18 that I completely overhauled my diet in favour of whole, natural foods. I grew up quite active and was a keen dancer all through my childhood but during the majority of my teen years my health got in the way and I lost a lot of my physical strength and stamina. Just before heading off to university I decided to try and regain some of that strength through Pilates and strength training and through learning about physical fitness, I began to understand the role food has in supporting our bodies' activity. As I grew physically stronger through exercise and nourishment, I also found many of my previous health problems were remedied by my change in lifestyle and so was completely fascinated by how something as simple as eating good food could make the world of difference in how you feel. I haven't looked back since!
2. Tell us more (if you don't mind) about your ulcerative colitis - what are the trigger foods you try to avoid?
These days I'm very lucky that my ulcerative colitis is under control and my diet requires very little strict regulation beyond eating wholefoods in abundance. For me, I find minimising my intake of dairy and sugar has really helped me feel my best without restricting my diet. There are so many delicious alternatives - almond milk, raw cheesecake, banana ice cream - although I won't deny that I love the occasional Fro-yo date!
3. For those of us with a sweet-tooth (let's face it, who doesn't!), what are your go-to refined sugar-free sweeteners and why?
My sweet tooth is insatiable so finding some awesome sweeteners which are free from refined sugar has been necessary for survival! As boring as it may sound, fresh fruit is my simplest and favourite sweetener. You'd be surprised how sweet you can make a breakfast or dessert just by using a mashed banana or homemade apple puree - the fibre helps to stabilise your blood sugar levels plus you get a whole host of extra nutritional benefits. For a bit more sweetness, I do like a little rice syrup which is a fructose free sweetener that's slow releasing so it's much easier for your body to metabolise without creating blood sugar imbalances. In my slightly more indulgent treats - dates. They're like little bites of caramel heaven!
4. Being a student, and a healthy student at that, give us your top tips for keeping that shopping basket full of fresh, whole produce, without breaking the bank.
That's such a great question! There's a huge misconception that healthy eating is expensive and it's true - if you're going out and buying all organic ingredients, lots of different superfoods and ready-made convenience products, your bank balance is not going to be a welcome sight! But, if you just focus on buying fresh produce from local markets, stocking up on batches of basic ingredients like oats, brown rice, frozen fruit and vegetables, canned goods like beans and coconut milk, and cook your meals from scratch, you'll probably find that you spend less than your average student. If you shop in a supermarket, keep an eye out for reduced labels and deals on seasonal produce - usually these are absolutely fine to eat and will save you so much money in the long run!
5. Talk to us about fitness - how often do you work out, and where, in your opinion, is the coolest fitness hangout in London at the moment?
Fitness is a huge part of my life - I feel like my day cannot start properly without a good sweat session in the morning! I work out around 5-6 times a week and try to incorporate some kind of active recovery into my rest days - something like restorative yoga or just going for a walk if the weather's nice. My absolute favourite workout at the moment is Psycle! I'm completely obsessed so my weekly visit is something I never miss-out on, even though my student budget sometimes begs me to! I go to an early morning class either every Tuesday or Thursday with an incredible instructor called Gemma who has the best energy! I love how we begin every class by setting an intention for what we want to achieve. It helps you push so much harder and get completely lost in the workout - I always leave the studio a sweaty mess but feeling better than ever! It's hard to believe you've achieved so much all before 9am!
6. Give us your top three foods that you simply could not live without.
My number one would definitely have to be sweet potato! Who knew a vegetable could be so delicious and versatile?! I'm on a bit of mission to incorporate it into all of my favourite dishes - so far I've used it in cookies, pizza bases, falafel, chocolate truffles, and marble loafs! It's amazing and as such an awesome nutritional powerhouse, why wouldn't you sneak one in where you can?! My second will come as no surprise if you've seen my blog and Instagram and that's oats. A breakfast without oats is a breakfast wasted in my opinion! There's a way to incorporate them into every morning. If you're after a traditional warming breakfast, there's porridge, if you need something convenient, there's bircher muesli and even throwing them into a smoothie helps keep you sustained and satisfied for longer. Again, their versatility knows no bounds. Though I definitely have my favourite flavour combinations, you can have them with so many different ingredients to keep things exciting! At the moment, I'm experimenting with savoury porridge recipes and I have to say it's an unexpected winner! Last but by no means least - nut and seed butters! Where would we be without a good spoonful on, well, just about everything?! I love that there are so many different varieties - peanut, almond, cashew, tahini - am I choosing too many? All of them are staple items in my daily diet! I use them in all my dishes, from breakfast, salad dressings, snacks, desserts. Right now, my favourite snack is a sliced apple with tahini and cinnamon - so good and awesome for protein, calcium and healthy fats!
7. There is a fascinating theme of 'indulgence' throughout your blog. Why do you think we as a society believe that giving ourselves a little Inner and Outer TLC is an 'indulgence' rather than a 'necessity'?
I think the issue is that we don't perceive indulgence as a necessity in itself. We go about our daily lives working hard, putting ourselves under pressure, feeling stressed and only when we reach our breaking point do we feel we've earned the right to a little bit of self-love. We seem to live with the ideal that to reward ourselves we must first endure punishment. But, what we really need is to find a little indulgence in every day in order to feel our healthiest and happiest all the time. Even just changing how you perceive simple, everyday acts like getting dressed, doing your makeup, cooking a meal, working out - doing these things mindfully and appreciating that these acts are nurturing your health and confidence help to create an equal balance between work and indulgence.
8. Without a doubt, you nourish yourself impeccably through diet alone. But what are your views on supplementing your diet with high-quality vitamins and minerals? Do you/have you ever taken any? If so, what?
Of course, it's always best to primarily get your nutrients from food but sometimes we have to accept when our bodies need a little bit of help. Especially while studying hard for exams, when I'm stressed and tired my digestion suffers so taking a quality probiotic helps keep everything functioning as it should. I've also just begun taking a vitamin D supplement as maintaining bone health could not be more important, especially for active women!
9. By the look of your GORGEOUS instagram shots, it is unsurprising that you have become a social media sensation! How do you get your images to look so pure and beautiful, and what inspires you to take a snap?
Thank you so much - what a compliment! It's definitely been a long process of experimenting and learning. There are three tips I would suggest to any new photographer. Use natural light - so much cheaper than investing in a big studio light and much purer too! Find your own style - draw inspiration from other photographers by all means but really focus on showcasing your own personality in your styling and presentation. This is what sets you apart from everyone else and makes your work recognisable! And have patience - food photography can be a tricky business so really take the time to think about the composition of your shot, what mood you're going for, whether you want your dish to look flawless and expertly plated or real and ready to be devoured. Think of this before you even begin to set up the shot, take the time to try different angles and enjoy the process! For me, I'm always inspired by the little details that make dishes look real, like they've been served up right in front of you. Things like eye-catching colours, drizzles of nut butter or a sprinkle of cinnamon, whatever way you can visually communicate the gorgeous flavours.
10. We have to ask: what's in store for Maxine the graduate, as opposed to Maxine the student?!
As much as I'd love to give you a definite answer - honestly, I'm not sure. Every day I'm bombarded with more and more ideas - both relating to things I'd personally love to do and opportunities I'd love to pursue with the blog. I want to travel and experience some new cultures around the world, but part of me can't bear to leave the city just yet when I feel like I'm still just discovering everything it has to offer. Who knows! It's both exciting and nerve-wracking! Wherever I end up, I hope I'll be able to take my passion for health, fitness, writing and photography with me and continue inspiring on whatever the current platform of the moment is!
For more about Maxine Ali, check out her website and blog here: