Melanie Sykes - Amelia Freer photographed by Ali Allen

Melanie Interviews: Amelia Freer

Amelia Freer is the author of best-selling book Eat. Nourish. Glow. and is a world-renowned nutritional therapist. Her healthy, relaxed approach to food has inspired countless people and Melanie was delighted to meet her recently in her home in London to discuss how her book came about.

Melanie: Congratulations on the huge success of your books. How does it feel to have such a huge impact on people’s health and their lifestyles?

Amelia: It’s my biggest source of pride.  I got into nutrition primarily to help myself, because I needed to understand how to feel better and how to eat better. And by the time I’d finished studying I suddenly realised that I could maybe share all this amazing knowledge that I’d learnt with other people. And to help someone get from a stage of not feeling good about themselves, whether that’s emotionally or physically to a stage, a place where they’re feeling excited and vibrant and happy with life, I mean what more could I be prouder of? And to have the book be that well received, I mean I still get emails every single day from people all over the world just telling me how much the book’s impacted them and I’m like yes, I got it right!

Melanie: It’s everything about the book as well, it’s not just what you say, it’s how it’s presented. Did you have a lot of creative control over the way that looked?

Amelia: I’d never done a book before and the publisher left me to my own devices. It was a very independent stage. But I knew what I wanted. There’s loads of great nutrition books out there and there’s amazing nutritionists out there who have this incredible grasp of science. But their books were not really effecting change, they were only read by other nutritionists. So I would be going to lectures and being around nutritional colleagues and coming home and wanting my book to kind of meet their needs and their standards. And then I would see a client who just didn’t want to be bombarded with the science, they just wanted to know what they needed to do, they wanted it to be normal and friendly. And I’m so grateful that I was seeing lots of clients while I was writing the book because that always bought me back to reminding me who I was writing the book for.

Melanie: So how long did you have clients and how long were you doing that before anybody approached you about the book deal, or did you go to publishers?

Amelia: I’d been seeing clients since 2007 and had had a pretty busy, thriving practice. But that was all I was doing so it was, it was full on every day, 9 to 5. And then I was approached to do a book and I kind of thought well I don’t really know what to write about.

I thought, to do a book you have to have been thinking for years and having this  big dream inside of you. And so I said to them well I would love to do a book thank you very much, what shall I write about? And they were like, well what about, you know, how you help your clients? I’m not really driven by ego so everything that’s happened has happened by mistake, in a way, as opposed to me going, right this is where I want to be in five years time, I just don’t think like that.

So that’s how the book was born. I went back over what were the things that create the biggest change when I work with clients, what are the things that are their biggest obstacles and how do we get started?

 

Melanie: What is it about your ethos that resonates with people?

Amelia: I had to learn. When I first graduated, you know, your mind is just full of all of this incredible knowledge and you just want to force it onto absolutely every single person that you meet. So I think most of my family hated me and didn’t speak to me for about four years and most of my friends were just like, oh god don’t invite her for dinner! People don’t like having it shoved down their throat.

I was so used clients coming to see me who were open and most of them were quite keen, so they were really willing to take on board the advice. But I would still overburden and overwhelm them, and I noticed that there was a clear pattern between the people that I’d get completely over-excited with and give them all of my knowledge in one go and, and how that translated into them actually sticking with it and working with it.

And then what started to happen as my practice got busier and I got more and more referrals was I noticed I was getting a lot of these really intelligent women, you know, driven, successful, hardworking women who just had all of their ducks in a row in life but they ended up having their head shoved in the fridge at midnight or they were drinking too much, and I kept thinking what, what is it? I don’t know how to help them and they would keep coming, they didn’t hesitate at buying the supplements or buying the food, paying the money but they would come back week after week and they hadn’t managed to stick to it. And I think that was the start of me realising that I have to do so much more than just give them nutritional knowledge and that this is a whole lifestyle approach. And so I really got into it and started studying a lot..

Melanie: So do you think it includes therapy of sorts?

Amelia: I certainly don’t claim to be a counsellor or anything like that but I am a nutritional therapist, that is my qualification, so it is a very therapeutic role. And that’s because we are trained to not just look at diet, we’re trained to look at all of the four pillars of health which is how we move, how we think, how we eat and additional nutrition so that’s where nutritional supplements come in.

 

Melanie: There has been an explosion of the health market and the appeal of clean eating and all of that stuff is massive at the moment. Do you ever look at other people’s work and what they’re doing, what do you think of it?

Amelia: I don’t, really. I don’t have that much time and I think I’m much more engaged with the nutritional therapy community who are qualified professionals and I enjoy spending time with them because they’re actually working with clients and they’re the people that understand on a much deeper level than any sort of trends and bloggers. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully to bloggers, of course.

I think Instagram is an incredibly powerful medium and so I do see and look at what other people are posting but I try to just stay in my own lane which is what I enjoy, what makes me happy and most of all what I’m qualified to do.

Melanie: Your stuff is the real deal, the recipes are interesting and new, unusual. They are quirky but doable. Sometimes you get these books where it’s all the chia seeds and this, that and the other, you think I’m going to have to change my entire kitchen in order to make this. I don’t feel like yours does that.

Where does your ability to cook come from do you think?

Amelia: Thank you! Honestly I’m self-taught, it’s been my own little journey. In my 20s I didn’t have a clue how to cook. I had no interest in cooking, which I think is kind of normal – I was having fun, I was working. I just thought it was absolutely fantastic that Pret a Manger and all of these other places existed where I could just pick up food and didn’t have to think anything of it. Even my mother, who had come from the background where she had to cook everything from scratch, thought Marks and Spencer’s ready meals were pretty fabulous. So, you know, that’s how I lived.

It was only after I’d started studying and was out the other side I realised if I want to practice what I now believe in and what I’ve learnt I’m going to have to get confident in the kitchen and I’m going to have to have a go. But I’m a lazy cook, if I get a recipe and it’s got a million ingredients and lots of things I just go no.

So I think that’s why my recipes are quite simple because I genuinely cook them myself, and I also never want someone to think that they’ve got it wrong. I think with my recipes you can’t really get it wrong – it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t look beautiful, it’s going to taste good.

 

Melanie: But that’s another thing with you as well, you say you’re self-taught but your presentation is so beautiful. Like really I look at it, mine doesn’t look like yours – nothing ever looks amazing when I prepare it, but it tastes good.

Amelia: That’s alright, it’s about the nutrition and the taste and the fact that your boys are eating it. So that’s brilliant, but remember the for the book, I didn’t take those photographs – that’s an incredible studio of brilliant photographers.

As for my Instagram, well I love food. I want to take pictures of it covered in soil and show that that’s beautiful and that’s what food looks like, that’s food in it’s whole and real form.

So whenever I take pictures I want to show the colours, I don’t want to spend hours talking about the nutritional facts because I think that bores people a bit and people get the gist that if you make your food look pretty it’s about self-care. It doesn’t mean you have to have perfect edible flowers and all that kind of stuff, I just think it’s all part of that self-care.

Melanie: When you got the green light for your book did you have to literally stand in your kitchen and start creating things or was it food that you were already making?

Amelia: I do generally throw food together and then think that was awesome but next day can’t remember what was in it. So I did have to go back to the beginning! My boyfriend got these two pieces of A3 paper and pens out, he said every time you have an idea just scribble it down here. And then very quickly we started to see the chapters come together.

So it was this really lovely visual start and straight away I knew that I didn’t want the chapters to be breakfast, lunch, dinner or starters, main courses, puddings.  That’s not what the first book was about, it’s more about getting it into people’s lifestyle and for it to be used as a handbook.

But I did spend about six weeks in the kitchen, creating as many as six meals a day and just getting fat basically, overeating and force-feeding food down my boyfriend’s throat, going do you like it?

Melanie: So have you got any foodie idols? Is there anybody that you think creates beautiful food, what recipe books have you got?

Amelia: The first cookbook that I was ever given was from my mother and it was Delia Smith’s. It’s a complete guide and she wrote this really sweet note in it saying “To my darling daughter, I hope that one day you start cooking”. I love it and now she can’t believe it. Every time she goes into any shop where they sell my book she has to buy one. So she’s got like a hundred at home but she’s just still so proud, it’s lovely. She hasn’t cooked from any of them yet I don’t think, though!

Melanie: Did you use Delia Smith in the end?

Amelia: I remember looking through it and thinking okay, if ever I want to create something like Mum cooks then this is where to go. It’s quite traditional. But then around the same time Jamie Oliver was just coming out and I have to say his slap-dash way of cooking is much more me. He gives you that confidence, he gives you permission to throw a bit in and it doesn’t have to perfect, that’s just kind of how I cook. So I’m not very good at writing the recipes and being precise. Whenever people say how many teaspoons, I have to say that I don’t know, I do it visually.

Then when I was out the other side of my nutritional training I worked out that you could pretty much turn any of Jamie Oliver’s recipes into a healthy version. Not that his food is unhealthy, but you can adapt his recipes to a gluten-free, dairy-free, reduced sugar or whatever version, which is wonderful.

 

Melanie: You live in the country and also have a home in London. Does having both give you balance in your life?

Amelia: I’m still learning the balance but I thrive on having the countryside and it has definitely been part of my stress management. Since I made the transition to having that time in the country I really find that I’m able to work much better and am much more structured about my time and how I work. I come up to London on Tuesday mornings and I do meetings and all that kind of thing all day Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. And then I go head back down to the country on Thursday evening and I wake up on Friday and I have a lovely glorious peaceful day picking vegetables and flowers and cooking, walking the dogs and I love it.

I’m a country girl at heart. When I’m down there I definitely don’t ever want to come back to London, but then when I come to London something ignites in me again, and I get creative and busy and I enjoy myself. So for me I think I need a bit of both.

Melanie: Are you from the country originally, then?

Amelia: Yes, I’m a Northern lass – a Geordie!

Melanie: You’re not? God, you are more Northern than me! I can’t even hear that and usually I can pick up something.

Amelia: Well I never really had the accent! But if I’ve had too much to drink… I think, I can hear a little bit of a Northern twang occasionally.

Melanie: So what’s been the highlight of your success apart from helping people? Maybe being a number one in the book chart must have been pretty special?

Amelia: Definitely. As I said, the first book wasn’t this long driven passion and I went through such a nervous time before it came out afraid that it would be a flop and my colleagues and peers would hate me and think that I’ve let the industry down. I held that pressure. I remember getting those first emails saying Oh my God thank you for giving me permission to be normal around food, thank you for giving me a road map as to what to do.  I just kept getting a lot of these beautiful emails. And then it suddenly went to number one in America and then the second book went to number one in The Times Bestsellers. That was amazing.

 Melanie: The success of Eat. Nourish. Glow. has catapulted you into celebrity. Was that scary?

Amelia: Yes. A lot of people assume that it was a really easy transition but it really wasn’t. It was incredibly stressful and people expect you to be able to meet their demands, and have everything set up in place, and I just didn’t. I didn’t even have a PA, I was just running my little practice. I was working in a very normal, quiet way and overnight it changed. I mean God, I was on Good Morning America!

It was just crazy and it was very stressful, very hard. There was a moment when I had to change from just running my practice to running a business, which was difficult and is why I’ve stepped aside from having a general practice at the moment.

Melanie: But the thing is that the people who buy your books are actually your clients in a way. They’re not the ones that come to your office anymore, but you’re still treating people, only en masse. It’s amazing.

Amelia: Thank you for saying that, because that’s exactly why I made the decision to  stop doing so many consultations but focus more on the books. I have the ability to reach so many more people and all I’m sharing is my nutritional therapy knowledge.

I do believe that we’re all unique and some people do need that individual one-on-one hand-holding but hopefully I’m also promoting my industry in a really positive way.

I hope that my books will get people in the right frame of mind, get them started off, develop the habits and get the mindset for getting started  and getting into the kitchen and cooking.

 

Visit ameliafreer.com to learn more about Amelia’s wonderful way of approaching food and to order her book, Eat. Nourish. Glow.

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