Amanda Byram: 'I've tried every diet there is, now I want to be strong, not skinny'
Desperate to be thin, Amanda Byram followed a destructive eating pattern, writes Katie Byrne, but now the TV presenter is focused on her health and not her weight
As she approached her 40th birthday, TV presenter Amanda Byram said to herself: "This has to stop." The ex-model had been on the diet treadmill since her late teens and she was determined not to bring the destructive eating pattern into her fourth decade.
"I wanted to be skinny rather than healthy," she recalls. "You think 'the skinnier I am, the better, so health doesn't really matter'. But when I reached my 40th, I decided that enough was enough. I thought, if I want to be really and truly healthy and in great shape, I need to be totally honest with myself."
The Dublin-born TV presenter's career choices no doubt compounded the pressure. She had to be photogenic for her modelling work, telegenic for her TV work and always conscious that the camera adds 10 pounds.
She also lived in Los Angeles, the body-beautiful capital of the world, for six years when she presented US reality shows like Paradise Hotel and The Swan.
"When I was modelling, I went through phases of not eating very much and over-exercising," she continues. "I literally tried every diet you can think of during my late teens. I did a year of three slimming shakes a day and a bag of popcorn. Then three years of protein-only. I've tried the egg and tomato diet, the soup diet. I did it all."
Most of us have, at this point, realised that diets don't work. However, Amanda (42) wants women to know that they can even lead to weight-gain in the long run.
"Those kinds of unhealthy eating patterns screwed up my metabolism. It took a few years for me to realise that when I was eating 'properly', my body was responding by gaining weight because it wanted to grasp on to the nutrients and store them as fat in the event my body would need food again soon."
This is the type of wisdom that can be found on ByramBod, the Twitter account from which Amanda shares health and fitness tips with her followers. It's a vehicle for her to raise awareness of diet fads and fallacies and promote the mantra "Strong Not Skinny".
"When I started talking to women about it, they said 'We're going through the same thing ourselves'," she explains. "So I started tweeting about these issues and then I called the Twitter page ByramBod and it really just snowballed."
Amanda says the turning point came when she began to consider how current body-image ideals might affect her 10-year-old niece. "I almost cringe at the notion of her reading magazines and seeing this stuff. What does diet mean? What does skinny mean? It's a petrifying notion that kids of this age would hear these words and grasp on to them.
"It starts at home," she adds. "We have to think of the message that we put across to our children."
Amanda now firmly believes that we have to change the way we think before we can change the way we eat. The cornerstones of her Strong Not Skinny philosophy are self-compassion and self-confidence, which is in complete contrast to the "no pain, no gain" school of thinking that is espoused on other health and fitness Twitter accounts.
"You have to be happy within yourself before you can be happy with any part of you," she explains. "Mental health is much more important than physical health because you can't have one without the other."
This mind-body connection occurred to her when she realised that she had to overcome the destructive habit of perfectionism before she could start working with her body, as opposed to against it.
"I'd been beating myself up for years," she admits. "As a perfectionist, you create success, but the flip side is that you kind of feel like nothing you've ever done is good enough.
"I went through that for years, thinking 'You've got to do better, you've got to do better, you've got to do better ...'
"I was hosting shows in America and being satirised on Saturday Night Live, and still I felt like I had to do better.
"I look back at pictures and I think 'God, I looked perfectly fine', but you never think you're good enough."
Amanda reckons many women can identify with this relentless, self-flagellating ambition. "Most of the people I know, at some point in their lives, go through a self-loathing phase. They think, 'This isn't good enough. That's not good enough'.
"Women are drinking all this coffee to make them power through the day," she continues. "And then they crash and burn and do it again the next day. We're burning out."
The comparison trap of social media doesn't help either. "Social media, I feel, can be an evil tool. People become obsessed with other people's lives. It's a constant comparison. I tend to use it a lot less lately than I did and, in the periods when I use it less, I find I'm most happy."
It could be said that Amanda's new outlook is all about avoiding the people, places and things that don't lift her spirits - even if that place is the gym.
While she still tries to exercise or do something physical every day (Pilates, spinning and weight training are her favourites), she now makes sure to listen to her body and watch out for signs of fatigue.
"If my body isn't up for it for two, three, four days, then I won't do anything. That moment when you feel like you really, really don't feel like going to the gym, don't go. Just say 'tomorrow, however, I will do it. Tomorrow I'll be in better form and I'll feel better about it'.
"It's about loving yourself," she continues. "It's about being kind to yourself. Give yourself a bloody break. We really don't do that enough, unfortunately."
Her diet has also been overhauled considerably. She now avoids foods that deplete her energy or make her feel lethargic.
"My diet is super clean," she says. "I don't eat processed foods. It's all natural - it all comes from the earth.
"I eat a lot of fish, a lot of veg, a lot of grains, as well as good fats like nuts and salmon.
"People say, 'Would you not just have a burger? Just enjoy yourself.' But you know what? I actually am enjoying myself. I really enjoy the food that I eat. I eat lots of it and I don't starve myself.
"You have to be your own nutritionist," she adds. "It's not one-size-fits-all and people know what's good and bad for them."
Amanda now makes a lot of her own produce, including granola and almond milk, and she insists that it's all "quick, simple and easy".
"I'm not a great cook at all. I prepare everything on Sunday for the rest of the week. That's when you boil your quinoa, brown rice and eggs and grill your fish and chicken before putting it into a Tupperware box and storing it in the fridge. So, you never have the excuse to eat unhealthy food."
Her boyfriend, English TV producer and ex-model Julian Okines, is also a clean-eating enthusiast. The couple gave up alcohol shortly after they met 18 months ago.
"He had made a decision to give up alcohol about two weeks before he met me," she explains.
Amanda, meanwhile, had been off it for six months at the time.
"The first night we met we had a couple of drinks and that's probably the last time we ever drank. Obviously we've not given it up completely - I'm sure there will be an occasion...
"I used to drink every weekend without fail, but when I gave up, I found I was so focused," she continues. "I was having conversations with people and looking them in the eyes ... I'm really enjoying not drinking, actually."
The TV presenter's all-natural approach even extends to her bathroom cabinet. "I use paraben-free products. I've read research on nail varnishes and sprays containing chemicals and this stuff can really affect your fertility."
So are Julian and her trying for a baby? She exhales deeply as she considers her answer. "It's not something you can really focus on when you get to 42," she says.
"We're together a year-and-a-half and it's not something you really want to talk about in a new relationship. But we're very much in a place now where all possibilities are being considered. What will be will be, and what happens, happens."
She insists, however, that there is no peak age or time limit for optimum fitness.
"People say 'It's all downhill from here when you hit 40', but I think that's bull. You can be as fit and healthy as you want - you just have to put the effort and the commitment in."
- Amanda is an ambassador for 9bar, a range of nutritious mixed seed energy bars. The 9bar range is available from most leading supermarkets; 9bar.com
Amanda’s tips for a berry good life
- I make my own hummus which I have with vegetable crudites — getting that crunch is really important. Rye bread with avocado mashed on it is really good, too
- Berries and nuts go really well together. The fat slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream
- 9 bars are a great guilt-free treat. I’m a huge nut and seed fan. High-fat foods fill you up
- I also make what I call my “cucumber baguette”. I cut a cucumber lengthways, take the seeds out of the middle and then sprinkle things like avocado, chopped tomatoes and a little bit of onion into it before drizzling with oil. Put the top back on, slice it and you’ve got sandwiches
TOP THREE ORGANIC BEAUTY PRODUCTS
- I use Jason toothpaste. Okay, it doesn’t taste as yummy as toothpastes with chemicals, but it’s good for you
- I love the whole REN range, in particular the Rose Body Oil
- I’ve read too many reports saying deodorant can potentially cause breast cancer. When I stopped using it, I found I didn’t sweat or smell. Obviously, I use it if I’m on location, in which case I go for a natural one by Weleda