This week, in our Friends of The Happy Pear series, we chat with Claire and Andrew Davies; the husband-and-wife team behind the popular Aussie podcast and health movement, the New Normal Project. Parents, medical professionals, athletes, yogis, and meditators, the couple aim to create mindful and conscious content through their podcast (episode 22 features an interview with Dave and Steve) and events, with a focus on topics such as plant-based nutrition, meditation, yoga and exercise. We caught up with the pair to find out about where the idea for the movement began and how they manage their busy lives.
Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and how you started The New Normal Project?
We are Andrew and Claire Davies; husband and wife, doctor and nurse, and parents to daughters aged 12 and 10. We were granted an incredible opportunity to bring Rich Roll and his wife, Julie Piatt, (check them out if you haven’t heard of them) to Australia, in March this year. Our experience in the wellness field was minimal but we figured it was the perfect time to launch our own venture – a weekly podcast and events business to spread the New Normal Project message. Our background in health care (specifically the intensive care unit, where we have both worked for many years) inspired us to do more to prevent illness and promote practices aimed at not only improving physical health, but our minds and spirits as well.
What is the philosophy behind The New Normal Project?
When and how did you get into plant-based eating? How has it changed your lives?
We began transitioning from a standard Western diet to a flexitarian diet (a plant-based diet with the occasional inclusion of meat), then a pescatarian diet (a diet that excludes all meat except fish), about five years ago. Then two things happened around the same time, about three years ago. First, Claire’s aunt had a radical improvement in her symptoms of heart disease having followed Caldwell Esselstyn’s book, How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. Then, we heard about and watched the movie, Forks Over Knives. As the credits of the movie were rolling, we agreed that we simply had to stop eating animal products. From there, we dropped fish, dairy and eggs, and eventually, went plant-based. We aren’t perfect, and we understand that there are many influences and situations that make eating plant-based difficult, but our message is to do your best when you can and be kind to yourself about the occasional deviation.
Why is eating healthily important to you? What is your favourite meal to make?
The impact on changing what is on our plates and what goes into our bodies has been remarkable and surprising. Once we worked out how to eat this way, eating plant-based at home has been easy, and we feel so much better. Our desire to eat meat products is now nonexistent and, more importantly, our tastes and cravings are for plants, rather than processed foods. From a health perspective, we were both in good health beforehand. However, Andrew had suffered from bad hay fever, which disappeared a week after he stopped eating dairy. He no longer needs medications. He has also seen a massive reduction in tiredness and muscle fatigue after his hard training sessions (he’s an endurance runner), which we put down to removing pro-inflammatory foods, such as animal products, and increasing anti-inflammatory foods, such as leafy greens and turmeric.
You have two children, are they plant-based? What are your tips for encouraging children to eat a healthy diet?
Our eldest daughter is mostly plant-based and our youngest is mostly vegetarian. We take the view that they are on their own journey and avoid putting pressure on them to eat a certain way. If they are out with friends and have a milkshake, then it’s up to them. This can be confusing for their friends, who, at times, like to pigeonhole them in to eating a certain way. We just encourage them to be relaxed about food and show them that we aren’t always perfect in the choices we make, and that it’s ok not to be.
What do you do to look after your mental health?
We know that we live an incredibly blessed life, regarding our access to food, shelter, and safety, but that doesn’t mean that stress is absent in our lives. Similar to many, we have a very busy existence. Managing to fit everything in, and remembering to enjoy it along the way, can be a challenge. Mindfulness meditation provides us with a place of stillness each day, that anchors us and reminds us of a calmness and joy that is always there, if we remember to tap into it. Being together as a family is very important to each of us, as well as being with the community around us, such as our sporting groups and neighbours. Exercise is another important way to release stress and keep us mentally fit.
Tell us about your morning routines?
Claire: I’m a morning person and like to get an early start on the day, beginning with meditation for 20 minutes, preferably outside, before doing anything else. Hydrating with two big glasses of room temperature water is vital. Then I glance over emails and social media on my phone, before starting the day with a good breakfast.
Andrew: I like to get up early and meditate first thing, but that only happens about fifty percent of the time. I like running early in the morning too. I try to write in my journal and plan my schedule for the day as well. If I did all of these things before breakfast, I think it would be the perfect start to my day. Sometimes, however, it’s straight to making our healthy breakfast, meaning I do the meditation and journaling sometime before mid-morning.
Fitness is also important to you both. Tell us about how each of you like to exercise?
Claire: I swim in a squad twice a week, at a 50 meter outdoor pool. I love being outside with a group of fantastic women who laugh and tell stories together afterwards over coffee. I also do yoga 2-3 times per week, plus walk and ride around our local area as much as possible. I took up running at the beginning of the year, and I now run 3 times a week. I have my first proper 5km race coming up in October. I prefer my exercise to be instructed, as I find it difficult to be motivated without the support of a coach. The social aspect of group training is especially important to me.
Andrew: I run 4-5 times per week and mostly on my own. I really enjoy listening to my favourite podcasts while I am running, especially on my weekly 90-180 minute long run. I have been running with a running group each Saturday and I love it. I swim in the summer months twice a week, and I do the occasional yoga session.
How important is sleep to you both? What do you do to ensure that you get good quality sleep?
Claire: I need 7-8 hours sleep. I generally find that at the end of the day, I’m exhausted, and I literally fall into bed and fall asleep within minutes. A practice that I’ve found to be helpful, and takes barely any time, is that once I’m in my sleeping position, I become extremely present to where I am. I feel the fabric of the pillowcase on my face, the weight of the duvet on my body and I visualize a force field around me, that helps block out the events of the day or worries about tomorrow. I also think of three things that I’m grateful for. I’ve found that, since doing this, I sleep more soundly, with less wacky dreams. I also wear ear plugs and an eye mask, and if I do wake during the night, I count backwards from 100, starting over every time I catch my mind wandering. All of these practices help me to sleep very well.
Andrew: I know sleep is important, but as a doctor who is on call some nights, I do have some bad nights. I wish I slept better, and I am constantly trying to get to bed earlier. 7 hours is a good night for me. Thankfully, I almost always fall asleep immediately.
You have both had highly demanding careers within the medical field. Do you have any tips for managing stress?
Claire: To be of service to others, I need to be well-rested and fed. I’m currently on a break from my job as an intensive care nurse, to allow me to focus on the New Normal Project, but I miss nursing and the immense privilege it is to be with patients and families during very stressful times. The practice of self-reflection on my way home from work to critique my day, acknowledging what I did well and what I could have done differently, has been an extremely helpful way to improve myself, as well as a way of letting go of the day. Our minds tend to remember and dwell on negative experiences, so being able to also reflect on what I did well, has been a major way for me to manage the stress of my work.
Andrew: Meditation is the key. I had a period of significant stress and burnout about five years ago. I was in a bad way. Finding meditation has helped me no end, and by combining this with regular exercise and a healthier diet, I feel way less stressed now. I do still have stressful days but, by focusing on the here and now as much as I can, I seem to be able to move past them way more quickly than I used to.
What is it like to be working together as a couple on the podcast?
Do you have any advice for those looking to take ‘The New Normal’ philosophy into their lives?
Take small steps and be brave. Find inspiration from people, books, podcasts, movies, and take from each of them what make sense to you. You are most likely to make changes in your life, based on what you feel is right, not what other people tell you to do. Most importantly, connect deeply with the feeling you have when you try something new. Keep doing it if it feels right and reconsider if it doesn’t. If you live near Greystones, visit The Happy Pear café, or go and do Swimrise!
Now for our quick fire round of questions! Where we grill our guests on a variety of topics to get to know them a little more!..
Our Happy Pear Happy Hummus or Sweet Beet Hummus?
Claire: Sweet Beet Hummus.
Andrew: Happy Hummus- best hummus ever!
Who is your biggest inspiration?
C: Our girls.
A: My family – I love hanging around with them.
What is your coffee order?
C: Long black.
A: Double-espresso (single-origin coffee).
If you were a fruit or vegetable what would you be?
Our Happy Pear Country Veg soup or Tomato Red Pepper and Basil Soup?
C: Tomato Red Pepper and Basil.
A: Country Veg – we can’t seem to agree on these answers!
Do you have a nickname?
C: Clairebear or Butterknife – for being as blunt as one!
A: I like Andy, but my old school friends call me Tone – don’t ask me why!
What is the one thing you can’t live without?
C: Love – and lipbalm!
A: Earphones; so I can listen to a podcast wherever I am.
What is your favourite way to eat our Nuts about Choc spread?
C: On toast.
A: Straight off my finger!
Where is your favourite place on earth?
C: Positano, Italy, enjoying the sun on the veranda at Metung, where Andrew’s parents have a house.
A: This time, I couldn’t agree with Claire more!
What is your greatest fear?
C: Missing out!
A: Not being around to see our girls grow up to become the wonderful women I am sure they will be (thanks to their brilliant mother Claire).
Our Happy Pear Tiffin Bar, Raw Energy Bar or Chia Mulberry Bar?
A: Raw Energy.
What are some words of wisdom that you follow?
C: ‘Desiderata’, by Max Ehrmann, is a poem that has been a source of great strength to me for many years. It begins “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”
A: Listen to your body, which is infinitely better than anything humanity has created, as it carefully guides you on how best to use, fuel and refresh it.
What are you working on right now to better yourself?
C: I’m trying hard to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable, both when exercising and in life. We made a big decision to start New Normal Project, and lots of aspects of it are unfamiliar and scary. At times, I just want to hide under my duvet forever. Change is difficult, but I know that we are doing has already helped many people. Whilst sometimes I think I want to go back to our old life, when I visualize what that looks like, I know that we are where we are meant to be.
A: Ten weeks ago, I started adding a new daily habit every Saturday. So far, I have kept the habits going and I do them most days. This week’s habit is starting my wind down for bed at 9pm.
What is your favourite Happy Pear recipe?
C: A favourite in our house at the moment are the Cashew Butter Cookies from the yellow book. Yum!
A: It’s not in the books yet, but I would love the Nuts About Choc recipe.