There’s a new working parent at the top of our dream dinner party guest list… Zoe Bingley-Pullin. Refreshingly candid and oozing with optimism, you can bet this internationally trained chef, nutritionist, media personality and mum would liven up the conversation and keep the fun flowing (plus, we could hit her up for all the healthy cooking tips!).
But as much as Zoe visibly exudes passion and positivity, she’s faced her share of obstacles on the journey to success. Dyslexia, fertility and mental health challenges battled and overcome, add depth and compassion to her many endearing qualities and wellbeing expertise. We chat to Zoe about finding her passion, the road to success, and get her go-to tips for cultivating a positive mindset.
You’re a chef, nutritionist, media personality, writer, educator, business woman and counsellor… wow! How did you come to have such a vibrant and varied career?
My career wasn’t necessarily as planned as maybe it looked. I was crap at school. I got 16 out of 100 in my HSC. I struggled with dyslexia, and I was just a rat bag! I was in trouble all the time. Whatever mischievous thing was going on, I was the one normally at the centre of it.
But I loved cooking, my mum was a great cook (unfortunately she’s not very well anymore), and cooking was such a part of my life growing up. My family sat down to eat together at the dinner table every night. We spoke about our lives, and it was very normal to eat that way. And it was during this time, when I was cooking at home, that I felt confident. Outside home I had this bravado, but I wasn’t actually very confident.
With a little push from my parents, I spent a year at Le Cordon Bleu [culinary school] in London, after which I got an amazing opportunity helping to run villa-based culinary holidays in the south of France for people from all over the world. I experienced that love affair with food, the cultural impact, and the sensual element of food, and I really honed my skills. I loved it so much, I did two seasons there.
I came back [to Australia] at 19 ready to jump into my career. On a friend’s suggestion, I decided to pursue nutrition studies. I was surprised when I started doing really well. I had chosen the more complementary field, which was the way that I’d been brought up, and I loved it.
I had very good schooling in regards to business from my dad, so when I finished nutrition at 22, it was logical that I go straight into opening my own practice. While slowly building my practice, I also began working in media with the ambition to work on a TV cooking show. And that’s when Good Chef, Bad Chef came along. It was great there and I loved working with Adrian [Richardson], but it was also a lot of hard work at a time when I had a lot going on in my personal life. Coming into the fifth year, I was tired and it was taking a toll on my family, so we all amicably decided it was time to move on.
Since then, I’ve been able to branch out through my nutritional consultancy. I’m still always doing a little bit of TV, like The House of Wellness which goes beyond just cooking, there’s the 2GB radio show, ambassadorships, and I’m also retraining to run psychotherapy courses. I want to work with women to help them identify the hormonal changes that happen within their body as they age, and put some pragmatic tools in place to be present and curious rather than living in their emotions.
I want to work with women to help them identify the hormonal changes that happen within their body as they age, and put some pragmatic tools in place to be present and curious rather than living in their emotions.
So, your entire career has been centred around eating well and living a healthy lifestyle. Did your passion and curiosity for wellbeing come from the way you were brought up?
I had chronic eczema and asthma as a child, and my mum was quite ahead of her time, taking me to see naturopaths and chiropractors for treatment. She really looked at health from a holistic point of view. So when I was studying nutrition, I could really apply the ideology, knowing that it had worked for me. So I grabbed the concept and was able to run with it.
We all know and love you from Good Chef, Bad Chef. But behind the cameras you were experiencing a difficult path to motherhood and an epic juggle once your gorgeous daughter Emily arrived. Can you tell us about that time?
Good Chef, Bad Chef was a fun show to work on – I loved working with Adrian and we bounced off each other quite nicely – but there was nothing glamorous at all about that show. It was filmed in Melbourne and I lived in Sydney, so I would fly down on Sunday evening and fly back the following Friday. We filmed five to six episodes a week and it was just on. I was going through IVF as well. I miscarried. Then I became pregnant again and fortunately had Emily. And then Emily came with me one year. Em was a great sleeper until then. She was only six months old when we started travelling and from that point on she became a really average sleeper. And I’m pretty sure that is what elevated my depression – because I was just so fatigued. I was so fatigued. And I wasn’t putting in any of the support networks around me that I really needed.
You’ve been bravely very open about your IVF journey and mental health struggles. In what practical ways do you cultivate a positive mindset?
I love exercising. Exercising is like my natural antidepressant. It’s just such a quick way to increase all those neurochemicals, so I exercise on a daily basis for mental health. I was actually on antidepressants for a short period of time when I was in a very dark place and life just really didn’t seem hopeful to me. I feel it’s important to be open about that because they were very helpful.
I am a big believer, obviously, in having an amazing diet. I think you can really eat your way to your weight goals. But you have to be able to have a certain amount of healthy food in the fridge to do that, so it’s important to work out a system that helps you always have those foods at hand.
I’ve always meditated to some degree, but I actually learned transcendental meditation this year and it really has helped. I like to talk about meditation as being cumulative. Yes, it works immediately, but if you’re doing it regularly what happens is that your neural pathways are used to dealing with things a little bit differently, so you can go into a calmer state a lot quicker because you’ve felt it so many times. It’s not rocket science to realise that it works because you can recall to that meditative state of mind a lot faster. So it’s just simply about repetitive behavior.
Last but not least, I believe that you should lean on your family and friends – and stop everything you’re doing when they need you. I just feel really lucky that I’ve got an outlet and I think that’s what is really important. It took me a long time to remove the shame about communicating. I thought that I was being needy by communicating what was on my mind. I’m very good at faking things. I’m very good at seeming stoic, and I know how to smile through some really interesting things. I have learned that it’s not productive to do that anymore. Being vulnerable is still something I battle with. I’m not very good at being vulnerable. But I’m trying to be a bit more vulnerable as I get older.
I thought that I was being needy by communicating what was on my mind. I have learned that it’s not productive to do that anymore. I’m trying to be a bit more vulnerable as I get older.
To wrap up our conversation, we asked Zoe some quick-fire questions. Here are some of her thoughts on…
homeschooling during the pandemic… What a wonderful opportunity to have time with our families. Em’s at kindergarten this year, and we were able to take her from just understanding words to reading over the course of that time because we were so ‘there’. We integrated learning into every second of every day. I think it took the seriousness out of learning to some respect. But also, it’s set us up for Emily’s school life and we really have a clear understanding of what part we need to play in it now.
the road to a healthier lifestyle… My philosophy is, if you go from canned or frozen to fresh, that’s an awesome step. If you learn how to cook one day a week – brilliant. That’s a brilliant step towards being healthier.
celebrating the wins… My brother always says: “Celebrate every little win”. It doesn’t matter what it is. I think we’re so good at talking ourselves down in our society. You don’t really give yourself a big cuddle and pat on the back, you just get on with it. Whereas, I’ve learned through my own depression and going through IVF and my own struggles that it’s really important on a daily basis to go, “You’re great. You’re doing really well. You’ve done a better job. Today is going to be a win”. You change your neural process and you really do change that subconscious view on what it is to be a healthy functioning person in this world today.
remote working… I’ve more or less been working this way for the past six years. I think it’s highly effective. It gives people autonomy and gives them a personal sense of responsibility.
screen time… We try really hard to ban the iPad through the weekdays, but normally the time the iPad slips back in is when I need a break.
IVF… It should be absolutely mandatory that you go to group therapy. Right from the beginning, just to hear their stories. I know it’s confronting and everything, but IVF is confronting!
success… I’m really, really grateful that people actually find my way of health interesting to them.
goals… I love working. I love learning and meeting new people. And one of my biggest goals is just to always work with fabulous people. It’s less about money and more about the people. It just creates more amazing experiences.
improving kids’ diets… I know it might seem a little overwhelming when you try to change your kids’ diet. You need to model the behaviour you want to see. And try and give a little bit of education; a little bit of insight. Just slowly integrate it. Be patient. It takes time.
Zoe’s hacks to get kids eating more veggies
- Add hemp seeds to homemade chicken nugget or fish finger crumb.
- Grate carrot or zucchini into egg wash.
- If your child won’t drink green juice, try a veggie juice of watermelon, strawberry, beetroot and carrot (disguised as watermelon juice!) or simply juice up your child’s favourite fruit and slowly add a little bit of neutral tasting veg with each serve.
- Add avocado to smoothies and soups – it’s really important to add a healthy fat and protein into every meal, particularly for children whose blood sugar levels are on a bit of a roller coaster.