Like so many women, celebrity nutritionist and best selling author Amelia Freer just assumed she’d one day be a mother. But as she ended her thirties, she suffered a spate of miscarriages - including one that occurred while Freer was appearing on live TV, promoting one of her best-selling books - and doctors told her to prepare for a life without children...
Her chances of becoming pregnant, they said, were incredibly low. “It was quite brutal to accept that my future was going to look different to how I had imagined,” she says. “But I don’t think I really accepted it or gave up, I just quietly hoped for a miracle. I saw it as yet another of life’s hurdles and I do have an attitude of just seeing how things turn out.”
It’s this attitude – and a healthy dose of reproductive luck, of course – that saw Freer fall pregnant at 41 with her first child. When we were finishing this story, the London-based nutritionist was currently in her third trimester, and though she said she still had a level of anxiety about her pregnancy (“I’m still cautious; I’m not there yet”), Freer couldn’t wait to meet the newest addition to the family. Her beautiful daughter, Willow, was born on the 18th September.
During her pregnancy, Freer’s attitude to health stayed as sensible as it has always been. With a focus on gut health, vegetables and good fats, Freer has always steered away from fad diets and trend-based superfoods when it comes to her clients (who include Victoria Beckham, James Corden and Sam Smith, among others). “I eat what I feel like eating when I feel like eating it,” she says. Freer admits an unusual craving for white carbs (“It’s like my brain and body are totally disconnected”) but says she doesn’t feel bad about wanting to eat differently.
Her new book, Nourish and Glow: The Ten Day Plan was borne of Freer’s no-nonsense approach to nutrition. “I wanted to write a meal plan,” she says, “but I realised people really needed to know the foundations of good nutrition first. The book is about laying the right foundations, and then putting it all into practice.” Based on a modified version of the Mediterranean diet, Freer says the book is a great place to start for anyone looking to improve their nutrition. As in all of her work, there’s an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and complex grains.
We caught up with the inspiring Freer to talk motherhood, the experience of miscarriage and more.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
How hard… we are all so much more than three components. Empathetic, shy, discerning….
Can you tell us about your childhood?
I grew up in Northumberland, in the countryside. My father was a vet so we had a lot of animals coming and going. My mother was an antique dealer and so the furniture was always changing as she’d always be selling it or buying new pieces.
Can you tell us how your approach to health and wellbeing changed when you were pregnant?
It didn’t change at all. I have listened to my body for some time now and pregnancy speaks very loud and clear. I was exhausted and suffered from terrible nausea for most of the time so really scaled back on work and social life and took it easy. I ate what I feel like eating when I felt like eating it. This was vastly different each and every day ranging from healthy salads to salt and vinegar crisps!
Did you enjoy being pregnant? Any food cravings? Morning sickness?
I think like so many women, I wanted white carbs a lot and foods that I didn’t usually like or eat. It’s like my brain and body were totally disconnected and I’m surprised at how I didn’t have the energy to fight the cravings. But I haven’t worried about this; I don’t believe in attaching shame to foods. I’ve felt nauseous throughout and so have lost my appetite and my love of cooking and food for much of the pregnancy. I am really looking forward to it returning. I can’t say I enjoyed it much, although in the third trimester, things were a lot better. I think it is quite a myth that it is a glowy, beautiful time as really there are so many unpleasant symptoms. Feeling my baby kick was certainly the most wonderful part of it.
Can you tell us what we can expect from your third book ‘Nourish & Glow: The 10 Day Plan’? How can it help busy, tired mothers feel good?
My inspiration for this book came from wanting to write a meal plan. But simply writing a 10-day meal plan alone felt like the epitome of an unsustainable way of eating! So I realised that this meal plan needed to come at the end of the book and be the icing on the cake as such. The most important messages are found in the foundations of good nutrition that the preceding chapters discuss in detail. So the reader can first focus on laying the right foundations then have the chance to put into practice with the 10-day plan if they wanted, but it’s certainly not obligatory.
I would say that this book and the dietary pattern that is promoted within it (based on a modified Mediterranean diet) is a great place to start for anyone looking to improve their nutrition, but particularly as a first line intervention for people managing health symptoms or disease, and for those looking to optimise their energy and weight. However, it covers lots of psychological and social aspects of nutrition too (so it’s great for emotional or stress eaters as well). When people find that they need a little more than this book offers, I encourage them repeatedly to seek out professional nutritional support.
How did it feel when your doctor told you that, at 41, your chances of having a baby were incredibly low? How did you deal with this news – do you meditate/exercise/what gave you strength?
Obviously, it was difficult news and a very challenging time. I had always just assumed I would be a mother and it was quite brutal to accept that my future was going to look different to how I had imagined. But I don’t think I really accepted it or gave up, I just quietly hoped for a miracle. I saw it as yet another of life’s hurdles and I do have an attitude of just seeing how things turn out. I learnt to meditate to help me with anxiety, which I have found to be enormously beneficial for me in all aspects of my life.
Can you tell us about your experience with miscarriage – what advice would you give to women who have experienced a miscarriage?
I was totally unprepared for it. I never understood the pain until I went through it. On all occasions for me, they were missed miscarriages so I only found out at the scans. I’d gone through the first trimester with all of the awful symptoms only to be told my babies had died. No one can really prepare you for that pain. And then the surgery to remove the foetus afterwards is just awful. Then it takes time for your hormones to return to normal. And the whole time we are supposed to pretend that everything is normal, keeping this big secret that for some reason we encouraged not to talk about. I found that I needed to be upfront and let people know what was going on. I find it hard not to wear my heart on my sleeve and tell the truth at all times. It makes some people uncomfortable but that’s their issue I think. I encourage more people to talk about it, as it’s happened to more people than we realise.
Who helped you through this trying time – who did you lean on?
I am lucky to have great friends and an incredibly supportive partner. But life goes on and time does heal wounds. I love my job and I tend to focus on the positives each day, which I always find helpful.
We’ve read you learnt that “you can’t control your body, no matter how healthy you are.” Can you elaborate on this?
Well I think that there is a bit of a misguided belief that if you live a healthy lifestyle, you are somehow protected from having health issues, which is simply not true. And that way of thinking can be hugely judgemental towards people who get unwell, suggesting that they did something wrong or something to deserve it. I had people ask me what I thought I’d done wrong, as if my miscarriages were in some way my fault. And of course, I questioned myself too. That’s a pretty brutal way to think. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that healthy living (by this I mean way more than just diet; good quality sleep, stress management, happy relationships and exercise are also parts of healthy living) can help us all to feel better and can be exceptionally powerful in promoting good health and sometimes even stopping the development of many poor health conditions. But if anyone does get ill or experience a miscarriage, it is not their fault and there should never be blame or shame attached. There might be some things that they can do to help or investigate perhaps but it’s wrong to condemn.
As mothers, we all crave more energy. What kind of foods would you recommend busy mothers fuel themselves with?
Just as wide a variety of food as possible, starting with more vegetables. I don’t endorse faddy trends or superfoods – I just encourage people to eat food in its most natural state where possible. As a general guideline, I’d say make half of the plate at each meal be vegetables, then the rest of the plate a split between carbs, protein and healthy fats. The Positive Nutrition Pyramid in my book makes this all very easy and clear.
Oh everyone’s needs are different so I don’t like to be drawn into making such statements – some people thrive on skipping breakfast, others not. For me though, especially in pregnancy, I do enjoy a good breakfast. Eggs, avocado, spinach or sauerkraut on toast is a favourite with a bowl of berries and a black (decaf at the moment) coffee to finish it off.
What’s your approach to sugar?
I don’t suggest an entirely sugar-free diet as I don’t think that’s realistic or necessary. Our body knows how to process sugar and there should always be a place for a slice of cake or some chocolate, cookies or whatever you enjoy. However, I am balanced with it and I “use” it wisely. I work hard with clients to help them learn the difference between using sugar to avoid or numb certain emotions and just being balanced with their consumption. Pregnancy has definitely upped my sugar consumption – there are some days when cake is the only solution!
How long do you personally think it takes to break a bad habit or set a new healthy habit?
Oh, it’s just so different for everyone, particularly around food habits. This is such a complex and huge area and so it’s hard to simplify it. But, I think one of the biggest drivers of food habits are deep-rooted emotions. And so in order to make real change, the root causes need to be addressed. This is so different for everyone. For some people, it can simply be a week of replacing one habit with a new one but I think everyone needs to understand why their bad habits are there in the first place in order to make change. Taking things slowly is always my advice – eating well is something we should aim to do for life, not just for a short period of time, so there should be no rush.
You work with countless celebrities – how would you describe your unique approach to health and nutrition and why do you think you’ve been such a success?
Everyone comes to me with a completely different set of challenges with their diet and lifestyle. I work very closely with my clients to really try to understand their unique lives, stress, health history and mindset. So whilst it may look like there are some common themes amongst clients, the underlying drivers are usually hugely different. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach in good nutrition.
What are your top time management tips?
I say “no” a lot of the time, more than I am often comfortable with but it’s the only way to make time for me. And I don’t spend much time on social media! I prioritise me first, then time with my partner and friends and time at home which is where I am most happy. Then I make everything else fit around those. And I have accepted that I don’t like to rush or get stressed so I factor in “empty” time each day to accommodate for the random things that happen and eat up time.
Talk us through a typical morning in your home…
A ‘typical’ day doesn’t really exist for me, as every day it is slightly different, depending on what’s in the diary. But generally, it will start with a black coffee, taking the dogs out for a walk, followed by a good breakfast. And then I will spend some time catching up with emails, seeing clients, team meetings, researching or writing. Sometimes I am at home in the countryside, sometimes I am in London where I have more meetings. I love the variety and the flexibility of my job – there is always something interesting going on.
How much time do you spend on social media – do you ever detox and do you think it can be a negative thing to spend too much time on social media?
I don’t spend much time at all on it these days. I feel it has become a very negative thing, especially for the health food industry. I try to avoid it on weekends, at least for one day and I’ll only check it once or twice a day during the week. I make sure that I follow a wide variety of fun accounts so that it is a joyful place if I do look – I follow elephants, florists, dogs and friends as well as chefs or cooks who I admire. I unfollow anyone that posts lots of selfies or posy style pictures talking about their weight or their body, wearing bikinis or doing workouts or anyone that promotes restrictive or faddy ways of eating.
Amelia's Little List Of Loves:
My dogs, always.
My vegetable garden: it’s bursting with an abundance of wonderful, organic produce.
The Bump Class: it’s the most useful book on pregnancy I have found so far.
Annee de Mamiel’s pregnancy facial oil.
Pythouse Kitchen Garden in Wiltshire: it’s my local restaurant and a favourite of mine.
My book, Nourish & Glow: The 10 Day Plan. I am so proud of it and delighted to receive such positive feedback from readers every day.
Good Grain Bakery gluten-free bread.
My White Company cashmere dressing gown.
Words: Lauren Sams. This story was originally published in the Spring/Summer 17-18 issue of GRACE magazine. Download the issue via THEGRACETALES.COM