Balancing act

For naturopath and nutritionist Janella Purcell, food is pivotal to wellbeing, but it is only one of several foundations that maximise health and happiness.

Words: Stephanie Osfield

Imagine how much more you would enjoy your life if it were like a scale, on which duty and pleasure were equally balanced. "Instead, in our modern world, there is a growing epidemic of distress, because people feel they have no down time, no control over their lives and no ability to turn down or change the pressure," says Janella Purcell, naturopath, nutritionist, herbalist and author.

"To achieve true life balance and wellness, you should give only 50 percent of your time to 'must do' responsibilities like your job," she advises. "The other 50 percent should be devoted to enjoying time to yourself, socialising with friends and pursuing your true passions. Otherwise, you burn out and are more likely to suffer disease, depression, panic attacks, migraines or the urge to binge on unhealthy foods."

Flexibility and food

For Purcell, food is like a rich soil that lays the foundation for the body's health. "Unfortunately, in our digital age, what we should eat has become an 'information battlefield', which has left people completely confused," observes the wellness coach, who consults with clients in her clinics in Bangalow, near Byron Bay, and Sydney's Surry Hills.

Her response? "Keep food simple," she says. "Reduce your intake of processed foods and eat food in its natural state. Add in plenty of plant foods, some fermented foods and super foods high in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids and you will have a very healthy diet."

Purcell herself is a vegetarian — for both environmental and health reasons — so her latest book, Janella's Super Natural Foods, is filled with vegan and vegetarian recipes, influenced by her travels to Italy, Japan, India, the Middle East and South-East Asia.

"I don't suggest people cut out meat, but I do suggest they cut it down,” she says, adding that going 'flexitarian' (having a few 'no meat' days a week) is a good approach for meat lovers and is a health-boosting practice we could all be adopting. "Fanaticism is not the way to better health; quite the opposite. It's important that people feel friends with their plate, not deprived by it."

Exercise and energy

Stillness and movement are also key elements of a balanced lifestyle, says Purcell, who enjoys meditation twice a day. Her varied workout regimen also includes Iyengar yoga, jumping on a mini-trampoline and jogging/walking four kilometres two or three times a week. “If you’re not training for the Olympics, you don’t need to exhaust yourself to stay fit,” she says. “But it is important to set healthful routines and incorporate nature into them.”

For Purcell, the maxim ‘early to bed, early to rise’ gives her life and body a rhythm that ensures she sleeps well and wakes with energy.

Though her working life has long revolved around optimal wellbeing – including time in an organic store, as a wholefood chef and now as the Lifestream superfoods ambassador – Purcell has not always enjoyed good health. In 1995, aged 27, she was struggling with digestive issues and related weight problems. Her desire to heal herself and others led her to train as a naturopath, then study traditional Chinese medicine and kinesiology.

Five years ago, she realised a long-term dream when she relocated from busy Sydney to the Byron Bay hinterland. "My body, mind and spirit constantly thank me for the slower pace in a beautiful environment, where I can grow my own produce and feel even more deeply connected to nature," she says. "I can shop at farmers markets five days out of seven, then jump into the ocean on my way home. It's an ideal life."

Bringing back balance

"I see many people who mistakenly believe that wellness will come if they are rigid about food and go gluten or dairy free, cut out all fructose or eat more protein on a paleo diet," observes Purcell. "But food and exercise regimens are only bandaids if you ignore chronic stress or emotional issues like relationship disconnect or too much stress due to unsustainable work expectations.

Having time to do things you enjoy is critical to good health, and it's the key thing we often forget." Making time for spiritual and social nourishment, through socialising and sharing good company, is a pivotal pleasure of life, according to Purcell. "It is incredibly important to spend time with family and friends, to have your kin around you and feel supported, understood and listened to," she says. "It reminds you that you are loved, even when you may momentarily forget how unique and valuable you are"

Janella's top tips

To enjoy greater wellbeing physically and emotionally, Janella Purcell recommends the following five steps:

  1. Enjoy good nutrition
    Eat fresh, good-quality foods, free of chemicals. Consume more vegetables and less meat. Eat less overall and chew your food well.
  2. Move your body
    Mix it up so you do some slow exercise as well as more energetic movement to increase your heart rate. Boost your incidental activity, such as taking stairs instead of a lift.
  3. Prioritise sleep
    Aim to rise and retire at the same time of day. Don’t push your body to stay up when you’re tired. Avoid looking at bright screens close to bedtime, as the light can interfere with sleep hormones. 
  4. Be mindful
    Try as much as possible to be ‘in the moment’ and not always racing ahead with your thoughts. Slow down, breathe deeply and enjoy every experience through all your senses – whether drinking a coffee, writing an email or walking on the beach.
  5. Nurture Your Spiritual Life
    Meditate, reconnect with nature, do things that are meaningful, listen to music and spend time with your partner, friends and family.


Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.