Interviews » Being Healthy in Lisbon: A Chat With Local Nutritionist Janneke van Dijk

April 4, 2018 by Ellis Dixon

Being Healthy in Lisbon: A Chat With Local Nutritionist Janneke van Dijk

Originally from the Netherlands, 32-year-old Janneke van Dijk came to Lisbon just over a year ago and was inspired to establish herself as a nutritionist and health coach. Despite an already very busy schedule, Janneke soon published the Busy Being Healthy eBook. That kind of motivation, combined with Janneke’s down-to-earth demeanor, got us curious.

Janneke’s road to Lisbon was as unlikely as her road to the world of nutrition from a background of social work and cultural science. But now, she says, there’s nowhere she’d rather be.

Janneke began traveling at 16 and instantly knew that one day she would live abroad. A jaunt through Italy and Croatia followed by three weeks traveling by train through Europe eventually led her to South Korea, where she spent a summer at Konkuk University. Singapore, Malaysia, Sumatra, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka followed and Janneke was almost certain she would end up living in Southeast Asia.

What made you change your mind about Southeast Asia? How did you end up in Lisbon? Fast forward to 2016, when my partner in crime and I visited Barcelona. It took me just one week to change my mind and decide that I wanted to live there instead. When we came back, we started planning our move, and as we were searching for jobs, my partner found a temporary job in Lisbon — a city neither of us had visited before. You can imagine what happened: we fell in love with the city for its culture, creativity, plazas and public spaces, architecture, and, most of all, the proximity to the ocean and the amazing natural parks such as Sintra and Arrábida.

The city inspired me to get to work. A little over a year ago I started my online business focused on nutrition coaching for women and started writing a book from our sublet apartment in quiet and relaxed Caxias, a little town by the beach that’s only a 15-minute train ride away from Lisbon. I also worked from Canopy Coworking Space for awhile (which is now temporarily closed) and coffee places such as Wish in LX factory and Fábrica Lisboa in Alfama.

What made you start working as a nutrition coach? A few years back, I changed my lifestyle in a big way so that I could more easily reach my dreams of becoming a successful entrepreneur. I truly felt like my lifestyle was holding me back. I quit smoking, I started working out, and I created a healthier diet. As a result, I not only lost 15kg, but I also transformed into a different person. By making myself, my body, and my health priority number one, all the other aspects of my life changed for the better. It was such a powerful experience that I want to help other women experience the same.

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Was it difficult to maintain this healthy lifestyle in Lisbon? The alfacinhas aren’t necessarily known for their salads, for example. Overall, Portuguese cuisine is very healthy! My favorite local ingredients are garlic, coriander, kale, piri piri (spicy pepper), rice, beans, and olive oil. I love that the Portuguese eat two hot meals and that it’s common to bring homecooked hot meals to work. However, if I could change one thing, it would be adding more vegetarian and vegan meals to the Portuguese diet. The cuisine here is very protein-centred, and you’re right, they could benefit from including more vegetables and fruits in their overall diet.

What’s your advice to keep a healthy and well-balanced diet in the land of bitoques and francesinhas? How do you think the city’s health habits could change for the better? A great way to add more fruit and veggies to your diet is to have them at breakfast. Start your day with an omelette with spinach or oatmeal with banana and almonds, for example.

I can see Lisbon making an effort to support healthy lifestyles. You can find fitness parks everywhere, fruit and vegetables are widely available for reasonable prices, and more and more restaurants are changing their menus by adding vegetarian and vegan options. It’s a good start, but there’s more to be done.

The Portuguese don’t seem to have a lot of time for exercise and they mostly rely on car transportation. It would be amazing to see companies giving their employees the opportunity to work out during office hours and offering healthy snacks and meals in company canteens.

What changes have you made in your life to lead a healthier lifestyle since you moved here? When it comes to a healthy lifestyle, I like to challenge myself. On my 32nd birthday, I decided to go sober for one year. Moderation, one of the nine elements I discuss in Busy Being Healthy, was something I was struggling with when it came to alcohol. As of today, I am almost 11 months sober and I’m loving it. Not having to worry about moderating alcohol at a party or on a Friday night is very liberating. I’m pretty sure I will keep up my sobriety for the next few years as it’s helping me stay focused and increased my productivity and overall happiness big time.

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Has it been difficult maintaining your sobriety here in LX? Being sober here isn’t that hard, even though alcohol is widely available and day drinking is very common. I love to go out for a coffee during the day and an alcohol-free beer at night and eat tremoços, a can of nuts or batatas fritas at the bar. The great news is that almost all bars and restaurant serve alcohol-free beer — I even found it served at festivals. On top of that, more and more bars add alcohol-free options to their cocktails menu. I love the mocktails at restaurant Boa-Bao for example. And their food is amazing too.

With the added focus I’ve gotten from being sober, compounded with lot of hard work and dedication, I’ve finished writing my ebook, and I’m happy to say it’s already helped a lot of people to get healthy.

Nice work! Can you tell me more about the book? As I was coaching different women from different backgrounds, with different lives and different goals, I discovered that they all have one thing in common: there was something helding them back from leading the healthier lives they wanted, and it had nothing to do with food.

The book contains clear descriptions of all the elements of a healthy lifestyle, exercises, printables, and 12 inspirational plant-based recipes. It also gives you access to me as your personal coach. You can discuss your exercises, ask questions, and even ask for additional tips.

What do you hope people take away from your book? I feel like a lot of us women feel like we have to do everything all on our own and that not being able to eat and live healthy is weak. I want to give those women the support that they need. I want to encourage them to invest time and effort into their lifestyle and for them to know there’s help out there for them.

Ready to get busy being healthy? If you’re curious about the ebook, you can get it here in English and here in Dutch for €17,00. Also, keep an eye out for Janneke’s upcoming six-week nutrition course and videos of the book’s recipes on YouTube.

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