SHE IS Australia’s celebrity nutritionist, a household name who regularly pops up on TV and in glossy mags as the trusted voice of healthy eating.

But it might not have happened for Dr Joanna McMillan – author, presenter, dietitian, scientist, personality - had it not been for a ‘chubby’ spell as a teenager growing up just outside East Kilbride and a serendipitous meeting many years later at Sydney University…

“My mum Isobel was a home economics teacher and a great cook,” explains Joanna.

“She gave me confidence in the kitchen. I did go through a chubby stage and as a teenager I wanted to lose weight, so mum and I did a few diets together.

“She kept me grounded in reality though and we did it healthily. I guess that is where my interest in nutrition was sparked. I had always loved science and so it was a good fit.”

After studying nutrition and dietetics at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Joanna moved to London to work, but her dream was to move to Australia.

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“One of my mum’s sisters lives in Perth, and after spending a gap year there before going to university, I loved it and always wanted to come back,” she says.

“I wanted to do my PhD and I was very interested in the research work going on at Sydney University in the Human Nutrition department. so I sent them my CV.”

Having heard nothing back, Joanna decided to “take a risk”.

“I had left a reasonably good job with a company car and there I was, teaching fitness classes and waitressing to pay my rent… wondering what on earth I had done,” she recalls.

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“That first year was hard as I had to sit an exam for overseas-trained dietitians to be able to work in Australia and it was not available to me for six months.

“Sydney Uni were still ignoring me so one day, I just went in to the nutrition department and while talking to the PA for the head of department, Professor Ian Caterson, he walked in.”

She laughs: “He asked who I was, and I announced that I was Joanna McMillan from Scotland and I wanted to do my PhD….”

The bold approach worked and Joanna joined the department. After a spot on local radio, she was picked up for a TV show and her media career in the spotlight began.

Joanna grew up in Sandford, a small village not far from East Kilbride in South Lanarkshire. Her mother was a Mackie, the north east farming family now famous for ice cream.

“I rib my cousins that they make ice-cream, crisps and chocolate when I’m trying to encourage healthy eating,” she smiles.

“But certainly, my mum’s farming background had a role to play in shaping our world of food growing up. We lived next door to a dairy farm, and I grew up drinking raw milk until the government banned that.

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“My mum also had a veggie patch and as kids we spent a lot of time outdoors and playing on the farm. I find that really interesting now, with all the research on how exposure to soil, nature and animals help to establish a healthy gut.”

Joanna lives in Sydney with her husband Joel and two sons – Oliver, 15, and Lewis, 13.

“Working for myself has helped balance my family and my high profile job,” she says. “At times it is a real juggle, as it is for most parents, but I seem to have found my balance. I never feel guilty prioritising my family over work.”

With her friend Melissa Clark, Joanna has written a new cookbook, The Feel Good Family Food Plan which was, she says, inspired in part by her Scottish upbringing.

“My childhood instilled in me the importance of mealtimes for family life,” she says. “Being at the dining table for dinner at 7.30pm was pretty much a rule in our house and everyone ate what mum had cooked.

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“In my work as a dietitian I am often dismayed by the battleground mealtimes have become for some families and it is a shame that cooking and eating together is so often seen as a chore rather than a lovely time of the day.

“That is where the ‘feel-good’ comes from. Mel and I wanted to bring back the family dinner and the joy of food and eating. We wanted to do a book that was grounded in good science, not fads, answering the questions I am most often asked (like what to do when your teenager decides to be vegetarian), and brought easy, tasty, budget-friendly recipes for all eating occasions.

“I also felt there were lots of books to help with infants and young children, but very few that addressed older kids needs and how to integrate everyone in the family. We hope it provides inspiration and solutions to families who want to take the fuss out of mealtimes, but eat well.”

Joanna’s top tips for maintaining a healthy diet are “eat lots of plant foods, whether or not you also choose to eat animal foods, as I do; avoid or strictly limit ultra-processed foods; give some priority to mealtimes.”

She adds: “Take time out to sit down to eat, away from other distractions and enjoy the meal. Eating on the run, at your desk or in front of the TV are all sure-fire routes to over-eating.”

And despite living in a land renowned for its superfit, sunkissed Australians and healthy food, Joanna is quick to point out that the Scottish diet is not all bad.

“Australia, like Scotland, is battling an abundance of relatively cheap, ultra-processed foods and drinks that are designed to make you want to eat them and keep eating them,” she says.

“I remind the Australians all the time that the traditional Scottish diet is actually pretty healthy - super healthy wholefoods like barley, oats, salmon, venison, the amazing seafood from our coastlines and so on.”

She smiles: “I didn’t grow up eating deep-fried chocolate bars.”

Dr Joanna McMillan’s Feel Good Family Food is out now, published by Murdoch Books.