Road to wellness: How Julie Nguyen travelled the world in search of good food

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In 2015, I suffered from quite a few health issues – eczema, acne, anxiety, depression, and asthma – which turned out to be, for me, all caused by food. Once I changed my diet, removed dairy and drastically reduced my intake of gluten or processed foods (to next to nothing), all of my health issues disappeared.

At the time, I was working 60-80 hour weeks at a venture-backed tech startup. I didn’t have time to prep healthy meals on top of a very demanding career. My peers suffered in a similar way. When I looked around, I realised so many friends were trading off their health, too busy with work to care about eating properly and consistently. In fact, few of them even knew what eating properly meant.

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Blue Zones are known for large populations of centenarians

That’s when I decided to leave my career in tech and start Methodology, a US-based sustainable food subscription service that uses science-backed nutrition to deliver a rotating menu of weekly meals. Founded with the mission to heal bodies and minds, the service draws on research from nutritionists and personal trainers and offers whole food recipes designed to optimise gut health, weight management and longevity.

Travel plays a big part in the food we create, too. As a health, nutrition and wellness expert, two of my favourite places I’ve visited are Okinawa, Japan, and Ikaria, Greece – both Blue Zones known for having large populations of centenarians and the world’s longest-lived cultures. I was lucky enough to spend several weeks on each island studying and experiencing their local diets. 

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Travelling was something I didn’t start until later in life

The common themes were striking. Both are somewhat isolated islands, preventing industrialised food from entering on scale. Therefore, the communities rely mostly on a diet of what is affordable and available, which includes local or homegrown fruits, vegetables and legumes and a smattering of seafood or pastured meat. Residents in both destinations have naturally low-calorie consumption due to smaller, healthier portions of a largely plant-based diet.

Travelling was something I didn’t start until later in life. I was so career-focused in my twenties, I never even used my holiday days. It wasn’t until my early thirties when I began to explore and fell in love with it. However, taking a week off here and there to visit a new country didn’t really satisfy me. It was never long enough to immerse myself in the local culture and understand it as deeply as I wanted to.

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Wellness is determined not just by diet, but the right environment

That’s when I began dreaming of a life where I could live in another city for weeks at a time. Visiting long enough to befriend locals, find hidden gems and get a more accurate feeling of what life there was like and what people valued. Almost a decade on, that dream finally came true. In June 2021, I put all my stuff in storage and began living nomadically, switching countries once a month.

I’m currently living in Sardinia, another Blue Zone. The most dramatic takeaway I’ve learned from immersing myself in other places is how overall wellness is determined not just by diet, but also by living in the right environment. Residents in these areas are healthy because their entire way of life supports it. 

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On Ikaria, the rat race doesn’t exist

Typically, there’s a close-knit community, quick to help each other. Lifestyles tend to be low-stress, simple and affordable – people aren’t running around with packed calendars or focusing on making money. On Ikaria, in particular, the rat race doesn’t exist. Instead, the island has a peaceful slow vibe that is very soothing. Added to all this is an abundance of local produce, carefully reared meat (which tends to be more expensive and reserved for special occasions) and a lack of processed foods.

I love being in locations where the food is both healing and delicious. My favourite area at the moment is the Greek islands, especially in the summertime. At every restaurant I can order chickpeas, fava, hummus, wild greens and fresh seafood. Plus, the hospitality is the most welcoming I’ve experienced anywhere in the world. 

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My travels also help me discover new ingredients

I continue to make it my mission to look for inspiration and travel to destinations people may not go en masse. This helps me find “undiscovered” dishes to reinterpret and add to our menus – such as our customers’ now-favourite chickpea meal, based on a dish I tried at a winery.

My travels also help me discover new ingredients. This is one of the reasons I fell in love with wild greens, something I ate at every meal in Ikaria. I’ve made sure they have been added to our menus. Grown by one of our partner farms, they haven’t yet been industrialised for higher yield and therefore almost always contain more nutrients.

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The body can noticeably improve given access to proper nutrition

I’d say it’s never too early or too late to start eating more consciously and healthily. At any age, the body can noticeably improve within days or weeks given access to proper nutrition. I truly believe that by adopting learnings from the lifestyles within other places, especially those within the Blue Zone, we can all feel noticeably healthier and happier.

Julie Nguyen is founder and CEO of luxury meal delivery service Methodology. Find out more about Flash Pack adventures right here.

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.

Images: Courtesy of LaRue PR/Julie Nguyen & Adobe Stock

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