I meet Lien in a cozy café in Gent. A cheerful and effervescent young woman waltzes in and while I enjoy my olives and homemade lemonade, she temporarily settles for a glass of water. A little later, we order a few tasty snacks that luckily are “pure kitchen approved”.
Lien tells me about her difficult childhood. She has wrestled with her weight from a young age. It’s a family trait. Heavy Flemish fare with lots of sauce, huge portions of meat and heaps upon heaps of potatoes are considered normal. Those who have been good are rewarded with candy. At age 13, Lien weighed 209 lbs. and she embarked on a diet. She started with Weight Watchers, a strict diet for a young girl, but she did it. She was able to keep that tight control during her teenage years.
It all went awry when started living in student housing. She just wanted to be relaxed and carefree as a student and that reflected in her eating habits: she ate unhealthily and almost never cooked for herself. When she finished school, Lien traveled abroad to work as a tour guide. Periods of strict diets alternated with periods of totally letting go. She returned to Belgium and became pregnant. She gained 84 lbs. This was the last straw for her and she went on another diet after she gave birth. First, the Dukan diet, then a strict shake-diet recommended by her doctor. Lien lost 110 lbs., but was pale, felt tired, had a rash and was in pain. Lien: “I was worn-out at 26 years of age.”
Then she received a Pascale Naessens’ cookbook as a gift from her boyfriend. Lien didn’t cook very much, but she started with the cookbook and was soon convinced. She bought the other cookbooks and started to feel better, more energetic and stable. Three years later, Lien cooks practically every day from the cookbooks, and she has managed to maintain her weight beautifully. What a relief! Lien tells me that she can finally get back to enjoying food, no more extremes.
When I ask her how she manages to stick with it now, she tells me that she finds the recipes in Pascale’s cookbook so easy and so simple; also, she feels bad if she eats ‘bad food’: “The feeling I get with ‘good’ foods is amazing. I used to check my calories, and the fewer the better. Now, I check for the least amount of ingredients in a product: the purer, the better. Easy, right? Simple rules, easy to follow resulting in a strong and happy body... Perfect!”
Lien is surprised at the effect good nutrition has had not only on her body but her mind as well: “I feel mentally much stronger, more resilient and I’m much more confident than I used to be.” Very occasionally, Lien lapses back into bad habits, but now she knows how to quickly get herself back onto the right path. Lien is quite proficient at whipping up a quick and healthy breakfast and each day she takes slices of lemon or a piece of cucumber to work to add a little fresh taste to her water. She always has nuts, seeds and dried fruit with her. Her advice is to really read Pascale’s cookbooks and to take the time to truly understand the theory behind them. And after two days, you'll be totally consumed, you don't need anything else.
Photograph: Benno de Wilde
'The feeling I get with ‘good’ foods is amazing. I used to check my calories, and the fewer the better. Now, I check for the least amount of ingredients in a product: the purer, the better.'