FoundHer: Amelia Freer, Nutritional Therapist
Updated: Aug 10, 2019
When I first meet Amelia Freer I’ve already cooked countless recipes from her second book - Cook. Nourish. Glow. - like the Asian Salmon Broth, the Coconut Prawn Curry, and the Savoury Fruit Salad. In fact, I’d cooked the (insanely good) Celeriac Carbonara only the night before. So when I’m introduced to her, and suddenly recognise her smiling face from the cookbook cover, I do what feels natural: I hug her tight. And so does my husband. In unison. An Amelia Freer sandwich, if you will.
Amelia Freer is one of the UK’s best-loved nutritional therapists, and has counted Sam Smith, Boy George and James Corden among her clients and devotees. She has an intricate knowledge of the benefits of – and our barriers to - healthy eating, and with her gentle yet measured approach, she has helped to tackle eating habits and transform people’s relationship to food...forever. She is currently putting the finishing touches to her fourth book, Simply Good For You – a collection of 100 nourishing recipes for all the family.
Amelia talks to Storytellhers about the impact of her former unhealthy lifestyle and the tragic circumstances that contributed to her formal training in nutrition. She also speaks candidly to us about how motherhood overwhelmed her, and how she has learned to be as kind and encouraging to herself as she is to her clients.
What was your relationship to food as you were growing up?
I'm really lucky that I have never had a particularly complicated emotional relationship with food. My mum always made us home cooked meals, although I would definitely indulge in ‘junk’ food from time-to-time, but it wasn’t the main focus of my thoughts growing up. However, when I moved to London in my early 20s, I stopped eating those home cooked meals, and started living on croissants for breakfast, baguettes for lunch and ready meals for supper. I thought it was the height of sophistication, having come from the remote countryside! But this way of eating (combined with long work hours and stress) flared my acne, and left me feeling bloated, shattered and with abdominal cramps. I also picked up every virus going.
Was that the beginning of your interest in nutritional therapy?
Yes. A friend mentioned to me that I might want to look at my diet to feel better, and she told me about the Institute of Optimum Nutrition (ION). There, the practitioner explained how ‘beige’ my diet was and how it was lacking in nutrients. After that initial consultation, a fire was ignited overnight. For the first time, I was excited about shopping and cooking. I'd never had much kitchen confidence before, but I started to look at recipes and adapt them to suit my needs.
I'd also gone through a period of really difficult life events - I'd had a big break up and my step-brother had died in a plane crash. I felt like I needed to escape everything. I took myself on a yoga holiday to India and it struck me how much time I'd lost grieving for my step-brother. It was at that point I thought: I'm just going to go for it. I got back and I joined the course at the ION. I didn't tell anyone I was doing it, as I thought I might flunk it, but within the first few hours, I felt like I'd met my tribe and I didn't look back. Even then I didn't have the confidence I could make a living out of it - I was there for my own needs. My acne disappeared and my health was thriving; I graduated at 31 feeling vibrant and with no symptoms at all. Although at that time, I never would have imagined the career that I now have.
Your third book, "Nourish and Glow: The 10 Day Plan" aims to help people positively shift their relationship with food for the long term. How does it do that?
I feel that too many of us have fallen into the misconception that in order to be healthy and slim we need to restrict our intake of food or live in a constant state of dieting and deprivation.
In reality, our bodies need a huge variety of nutrients – vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and carbohydrates – every single day. And the only way we are going to get those are from food. Our bodies are, quite literally, made up from the food we eat. So consistently denying ourselves this essential nourishment is a little counterintuitive in terms of health and vitality. Yes, of course, we need to be aware of energy balance, but I wanted to bust the myth that healthy eating somehow also equals restricted eating. And that is the basis of Nourish and Glow.
In it, I really try to shift thinking from what ‘not’ to eat, to what we should focus on trying to eat - and that is a surprising amount of food for some people. It's all laid out in the Positive Nutrition Pyramid – a handy tool that you can apply in practice during the 10-day plan, but can then continue to use long into the future.
How do you help untangle a client's complicated relationship with food?
I'm not a psychotherapist, but I do work with one if I feel it would be beneficial for the long-term health of my clients to see both of us. I feel like I hold a very privileged position as a Nutritional Therapist, as clients do share a lot of their personal history and life story with me. Talking about food is always an emotional and intimate topic; I therefore always try to meet my clients where they are at. I have learned through experience that there is no point cajoling people into trying to make changes they are not yet ready to make. The people that get the best results definitely accept that it's a long-term commitment and that their work with me is ongoing. I don't work with people who want a quick fix.
How has becoming a mother affected you?
Becoming a mum was something that I thought for a long time would never happen for me. It was a very challenging journey that lead me to Willow. I therefore want to be really clear that I am incredibly grateful every day for the opportunity of motherhood.
However. It has also dramatically affected my health, and that is something I don’t think is discussed enough. The shortage of sleep for months (or even years) is so challenging, and the lack of understanding or empathy from others about the impact this has on your entire existence has come as quite a shock. There's a correlation between lack of sleep and increased hunger, which inevitably leads to unhealthy decisions. That's what happened to me - particularly while I was breastfeeding - and I really wasn't prepared for it. I was never a snacker, but suddenly I had this insatiable hunger, which led me to frantically crave sugar and carbohydrates.
Yes, I gained weight, but I wasn't worried about it. Those cravings felt like such a strong need, that I listened to my body, and I haven’t had any guilt or shame around that. Willow is 20 months now and sleeping better, so I'm just beginning to lose the weight I gained. But I'm being gentle with myself, starting to exercise and being careful not to tip myself into stress and feel like a failure. I have to be kind to myself – it takes a long time to grow a baby and a long time to recover. It's unreasonable to try to whip ourselves back into shape immediately.
How will you nurture Willow's relationship with food?
I've introduced her to lots of different flavours and textures, and she seems to really enjoy food - her first word was "banana"! I cook almost every meal from scratch (usually in batches, so there’s some leftover for the freezer) and one of us will always try to sit down and eat with her. She mostly eats what we eat, so I don’t cook separate “baby” food. I won't deprive Willow of sugar, but I'm not going to purposefully introduce her to it until she starts going to parties and becomes aware of it. Then she can just have it alongside the rest of her meal, no big fuss made.
What are your thoughts on social media as a tool for business?
I'm troubled about social media. I am not sure it is supporting our mental health to constantly live in a state of comparison. I find myself increasingly wanting to distance myself from it. However, people who work for themselves, like myself, have to have a social media presence as it's more important than a website - but it's quite a pressure and very time-consuming. I find it incredibly stressful to manage.
So, to help combat that, I've turned off all notifications. I limit myself to an hour a day, and then I mostly engage with my followers and answer their questions. I don't have a solution to social media challenges, other than reminding people it's not real: it a showreel. We have to apply some common sense to it all.
Can you tell us about your next book, “Simply Good For You”?
This is my most user-friendly and nourishing cookbook yet, with over 100 easy recipes to follow. Since becoming a mother, my relationship to food, cooking and eating has continued to evolve, and now speed and ease is definitely a key priority. I’ve had to learn to feed my daughter, my family, friends, and myself amid the loss of time, energy and sleep that comes with motherhood – not to mention the additional stress! I’ve wanted to nourish my family and myself properly, without having to cook separate meals for all of us.
Like my previous books, I wanted to create a useful, practical, meaningful book that gets into your kitchens and makes healthy eating realistic, delicious and SIMPLE for you. It’s all about maximising nutrition at every meal, but making it easy - each recipe is infused with the knowledge and expertise I’ve gained over the years, but you won’t need lots of time or any rare ingredients.
I can honestly say that the book offers a real life solution for anyone with a lack of time, or someone who isn’t confident in his or her cooking skills. It ensures that they feed their health without it getting faddy or complicated, and without ever feeling stressed or deprived. It’s taken me a year and a half to write, and I’ve put my heart and soul into it!