Wellness Warrior – Danijela Unkovich
Welcome to the latest instalment of Wellness Warriors, where we hear from some of New Zealand’s most influential wellness personalities. We were lucky enough to interview nutritionist Danijela Unkovich, the creator of one of our favourite foodie blogs and Instagram accounts, Healthy Always.
Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
I’m an Auckland based nutritionist and health blogger, currently working in both community and clinical nutrition. Within the community I’m based at a residential facility for children and young people, which provides care for those unable to live with their families. As their on-site nutritionist I provide nutritional advice and support to caregivers. I also run a food education program with the children in our care, which has been a real highlight. We’ve set up an organic garden on site and I teach weekly gardening and cooking lessons using the produce that we grow.
Clinically I work one-on-one with clients at Feel Fresh Nutrition in central Auckland. Here I provide personalised dietary and lifestyle recommendations to help guide individuals to reach their health and wellness goals.
I also spend time blogging for Heathy Always, which is a space to share healthy recipe ideas and wellness inspiration. I’m very passionate about what I do, and although there can be a lot going on at times, it never really feels like work.
What was the ‘ah-ha’ moment that encouraged you to get into health and nutrition?
Although health and nutrition is an area I have been fascinated by for a while, it has most certainly been a journey and one in which I haven’t always practised what I preached. Growing up I ate a typical western diet. I really struggled with managing stress and always seemed to have various health issues pop up. After a particularly busy year I totally burnt out and developed of an odd condition called new daily persistent headache syndrome, which is characterised by a chronic unremitting headache – basically I had a headache that would never go away! I was studying at the time and found that between the headaches, work and other commitments I wasn’t able to keep up. That was a real ‘ah-ha’ moment where I had to really slow down, revaluate my heath, and then step into another path of living with more mindfulness and care.
What have been your favourite highlights since launching Healthy Always?
There’s been so many – blogging has opened up some incredible opportunities. If I had to narrow it down, contributing a chapter of recipes to the wholefoods cookbook “WHOLE: Recipes for Simple Wholefood Eating”, by Bronwyn Kan, was a real highlight. The book was a beautiful project, and seeing my recipes in print still gives me a kick. I loved how collaborative the project was - there were nine other kiwi health and wellness bloggers who contributed to the book.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I start my day with a big glass of water, followed by some exercise, such as a morning walk around the block, or yoga. I’ll then sit down to a nourishing breakfast and fuel up for the busy morning ahead. Sitting down for a quiet, healthy breakfast has become habitual – it’s how I set myself up for the day.
Where I’m working will determine the rest of my day. I may be working clinically, and in that case I’ll be preparing and researching for consults, taking clients, and writing up meal plans. If I am working in the community I may be checking in with clients, preparing resources or teaching gardening and cooking lessons - I’m really fortunate to have such a variety in my work! I also spend time working on my blog, Healthy Always, which could include recipe creating, photographing or writing up content.
In the evening I love spending time in the kitchen preparing a delicious dinner, having quality time with loved ones and then unwinding before bed with a good book.
How do you maintain balance and keep your wellbeing a priority when life gets busy?
Life gets very busy and maintaining balance is still an art I’m getting the hang of, but I know if I don’t take the time out to rest and recharge I don’t work and function at my best.
I’ve found putting work-life boundaries in place is important, particularly around bedtime hours. It’s vital to guard our sleep, especially the time right before bedtime and right after waking up in the morning, as getting enough sleep is so paramount to our health and wellbeing. Before it gets too late in the evening I turn off my PC, disconnect from work, my laptop and phone, and then turn to less stimulating activities to wind down, such as reading a book or taking a bath.
I’ve also found it’s important to enjoy a little downtime each and every day, rather than pushing through to the weekend and totally crashing out. Even though I love what I do, there’s a big wide world outside of work, which can slip by if we don’t take the time out to pause.
What are your top three tips for staying fit and healthy?
Eat real foods that aren’t processed or are as little processed as possible. Real foods are naturally nutrient dense and will offer our body the nourishment it needs to function at its best.
Move your body each day – but listen to your body as to how. Over exercising, or even just high intensity workouts, may burden the already frazzled. Check in with how you’re feeling as to what kind of movement your body needs. Restorative based exercise, like yoga or a walk are good for the body and mind, too.
Practice self-love. This includes making the time to do the things you love and being mindful of the words you say to yourself (because if we say them enough we may just believe them).
Do you have a life motto or mantra you live by?
I don’t have a mantra, but the importance of just living in the moment and enjoying right now has become really clear for me. Although we’re very much living physically in the moment, our minds are often jumping back and forth and so we often fail to stop and just smell the roses.
Life is taking place right now and the present moment is the only moment we have control over. Of course I plan life as necessary, but I also try to strike a balance between planning and just enjoying the beauty of now.