Changing your habits, with Madeleine Olivia
If you’d like to live more sustainably but are clueless about where to begin, Madeleine Olivia is your perfect guide.
The popular YouTuber (550K subscribers and counting) is known for her relaxed approach to low-impact living. Her aim is to make it easier for everyone, rather than be judgy about your recycling habits, or the fact you love buying nice dresses.
In particular, she’s won legions of fans for her simple plant-based recipes (we’re fond of her sweet and sticky tofu). Plus, her intimate, honest videos mean her viewers get to know the real her!
In this episode of The Wellness Edit, she shares how to tweak your habits, for a more sustainable, planet-friendly, minimalist life – and why it’s not about perfectionism, just doing your best.
Like many, post-university Madeleine initially struggled to figure out her path. ‘I was really unhappy in my job. I made the nerve-wracking decision to quit and move back in with my parents. Then I started making YouTube videos about minimalism and recipes as a bit of fun, and it took off from there. I found a lovely online community who were also trying to go vegan or declutter their lives.’
Making the change, she says, was a bold decision, but crucial for her wellbeing. ’When you’re struggling and running yourself into the ground, you do have to make the decision to change the path you’re on and do what makes you happy.’
These days, Madeleine is a poster girl for living with less: her book Minimal is all about how to simplify your life and help the planet.
But her definition of low-impact living has evolved over time. ‘At the start I saw it in that stereotypical way: you must own nothing, strip everything back. I saw digital nomads travelling with just a backpack, and aspired towards that, or cutting back to just 30 items of clothing.’
Now it’s about a less ‘extreme’ version of minimalism. ‘It’s far more about finding a balance than being perfect – figuring out what actually makes you happy in your life, and being conscious of your decisions, whether that’s a purchase you’re making, or day-to-day who you spend time with and your habits.’
Central, says Madeleine, is being true to yourself. ‘If you copy other people, you lose yourself. You don’t have to have a wardrobe of white T-shirts and black shorts. I was shutting off things I love, like floaty patterned dresses. The clothes I buy I have an intention of keeping for a very long time. That way I feel closer to myself as I’m doing what I want, not what I think I’m supposed to do.’
She says a minimalist approach leads to a more focused mindset, and knowing what makes you happy. ‘It’s more about looking inwards than outwards. Your mindset about everything in life changes as you’re so much more thoughtful.’
‘Start small and take it step by step,’ Madeleine advises. ‘If you love dressing up then decluttering your whole wardrobe probably isn’t sensible. Instead, find somewhere else to start: declutter one drawer or cupboard, or throw out just one item of clothing.’
If you’re unsure what you can’t live without, she advises putting a collection of items in a box for three or six months. ‘If I haven’t missed them, it makes it easier to get rid of them.’
Most importantly, do what you can and be conscious of your decisions, but don’t beat yourself up. Madeleine points out people’s situations vary wildly. ‘For some, it’s easy to live a zero-waste life, for others virtually impossible. I don’t want to pressurise anyone to be perfect, I just come up with options. Focus on what you can do and empower yourself with that.'
‘I always recommend people find a great plant-based version of a recipe they already love – spaghetti bolognaise or a curry – rather than suddenly having a kale smoothie or salad you don’t enjoy.’
‘I’ll put in grated carrot or courgette, and you won’t even taste it.’
‘Last night we had butternut squash and tofu curry: chop up the squash, whack it in the oven, add lots of spices, chopped tomatoes and tofu, and have with rice: it’s delicious and filling.’
‘I’ll use whatever vegetables are in the fridge that week, and serve with noodles or rice.’
‘I love tofu: it’s high in protein and delicious. The key is buying it extra-firm. If it’s watery, wrap in a tea towel and press between two chopping boards.
‘Make a marinade: soy sauce, garlic, ginger and spices, and put in the fridge for an hour. Then fry till golden and crispy. You can also scramble crumbled tofu instead of eggs. I use black salt, which has an eggy flavour, and turmeric for a yellow colour.’
‘I’m more of a morning person than a night owl. I try to go to bed early and wake up early as that makes me feel better.’
‘I go to the gym most days, as I have anxiety and I’m a high-energy person, and need somewhere to expel that energy. It’s a really positive place for me.’
‘Getting outside is so important for me. On the days I don’t walk my dog Roxy I definitely don’t feel as good.’
With a history of eating disorders, Madeleine says it was important for her to let go of rules about food. For her, intuitive vegan eating works, ‘where you stop counting calories, and instead try to eat what you’re craving and listen to your hunger cues. Over the years, I’ve learned what my body needs. I’m not trying to follow a diet that makes sense for someone else but not me.’
‘I have an evening routine where I do my skincare and get into bed. I leave my phone downstairs, which is a game-changer. I’ll watch Love Island or YouTube videos. I might light a candle, or spritz my pillow with a mist. I just zone out and relax.’
‘I recently had a dip with my mental health and my anxiety came back. Instead of thinking I’ll deal with this on my own, I reached out to my former therapist, and said I’m feeling stressed, can I see you again? That was a really important moment – to realise it’s Ok to have a lapse. Mental health comes above everything for me.’
A doctor for over 17 years, Gemma Newman has worked in many specialities as a doctor including elderly care, endocrinology, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, psychiatry, general surgery, urology, vascular surgery, rehabilitation medicine and General Practice.
Dr Newman's specialist interests are in holistic health and plant-based nutrition as well as lifestyle medicine. In her practice she has come to understand that body, mind and soul are not separate, and that it is only in addressing the root causes of stress and disconnection that we can truly heal, from the inside out.