The AM Show’s Amanda Gil­lies on the big changes she’s mak­ing to be ‘a bet­ter ver­sion’ of her­self

FOR THE AM SHOW HOST AMANDA GIL­LIES, THE PAST FEW YEARS HAVE SEEN HER STRUG­GLING WITH SOME DE­BIL­I­TAT­ING HEALTH IS­SUES. BUT LATELY SHE’S BEEN WORK­ING ON SOME BIG CHANGES TO IM­PROVE HER WELL­BE­ING, SHE TELLS SARA BUNNY

Good Health Choices - - Be Content -

When you’re on the na­tion’s tele­vi­sion screens at 6am, morn­ings tend to be busy. There are the makeup chair ses­sions in the small hours, the flurry of cam­era crew, the rush of prep­ping the day’s top sto­ries, the ex­cite­ment mixed with adren­a­line as the show be­gins. At the heart of the ac­tion, jour­nal­ist Amanda Gil­lies reads the news with a mag­netic mix of au­thor­i­ta­tive­ness and warmth, bounces ban­ter off her co-hosts, and looks right at home amid the fast-paced, move­able feast that is live tele­vi­sion.

On the day I meet Amanda for our Good Health Choices in­ter­view, there’s a sec­ond of awk­ward­ness when she goes in for a hug at the ex­act mo­ment I reach out for a hand­shake. But bear hug­ging a to­tal stranger is noth­ing new for the bub­bly re­porter. With Amanda, one of the first things you no­tice is her gen­uine warmth and kind­ness, and it’s this gen­eros­ity of spirit that makes her such a pop­u­lar per­son­al­ity on our screens.

But be­hind the scenes, she knows first-hand about sol­dier­ing on when health is­sues have taken their toll. In the past few years, ex­pe­ri­ences with en­dometrio­sis and an au­toim­mune ill­ness have seen her change her ap­proach to well­ness, prompted a ma­jor diet over­haul, and made her more aware of manag­ing her stress lev­els.

It’s been a phase of trial and er­ror, re­flec­tion and re-eval­u­a­tion, but she’s kept her trade­mark pos­i­tiv­ity and picked up some valu­able life lessons along the way.

“As a re­porter you be­come very am­bi­tious,” she says of her younger days as a suc­cess­ful for­eign cor­re­spon­dent. “I wanted ev­ery­thing, and be­ing a fe­male in the in­dus­try, you want to make your mark. But then you grow up, you set­tle down, you be­come kin­der and more gen­tle. I think I’ve soft­ened a lot, and you start pri­ori­tis­ing what’s im­por­tant − and you re­alise that’s where fam­ily, friends and your health comes in.”

The wakeup call

It was about four years ago, while pre­par­ing to go live on tele­vi­sion that the jour­nal­ist, who has cov­ered ma­jor sto­ries on shows like Camp­bell

‘YOU GROW UP, YOU SET­TLE DOWN, YOU BE­COME KIN­DER AND MORE GEN­TLE’

‘You start pri­ori­tis­ing − and that’s where fam­ily, friends and your health comes in’

Live and 60 Min­utes, started get­ting bad stom­ach pains. Think­ing it was in­di­ges­tion, Amanda put on a brave face and car­ried on, af­ter ask­ing to be put higher up in the bul­letin in case she had to make a quick exit. She made it through the live cross, but as she later found out, a big­ger story was brew­ing.

“I was in agony and a cam­er­a­woman drove me to the hos­pi­tal straight after­wards. They thought it was ap­pen­dici­tis, then a scan showed

I had a cyst. Six weeks later I went back for a fol­low-up and it had grown big­ger, and I was told it had to come out. I didn’t un­der­stand at the time how se­ri­ous it was.”

The op­er­a­tion re­vealed wide­spread en­dometrio­sis, an in­flam­ma­tory dis­ease where uter­ine tis­sue grows out­side of the uterus, caus­ing le­sions and scar­ring. In Amanda’s case, the lack of pre­vi­ous symp­toms may have spared her from the on­go­ing se­vere pain that is com­mon with the dis­ease, but it had also al­lowed the ill­ness to ad­vance, un­de­tected, in her pelvis.

“They were able to clear out the en­dometrio­sis, and then a cou­ple of years later I had a sec­ond op­er­a­tion,” she says. “That was a real wake-up call as I didn’t want any more surgery, I wanted to be healthy. It’s been a learn­ing curve; it flares up ev­ery now and again, but it’s just a mat­ter of do­ing what I can to al­le­vi­ate any is­sues.”

A bet­ter un­der­stand­ing

To man­age the en­dometrio­sis and help boost her en­ergy, Amanda, 41, em­barked on a health odyssey she sums up as “gluten free, dairy free, al­co­hol free, with gen­tle ex­er­cise”. She’s never been a cof­fee fan so caf­feine was al­ready off the list, and she has stuck to a mostly al­co­hol­free life­style since she first com­mit­ted to it in Fe­bru­ary 2017. At times it hasn’t ex­actly been easy, but she says the process has al­lowed her to un­der­stand her­self bet­ter.

“Peo­ple take the mickey out of it some­times and say ‘Oooh so you’re gluten free and al­co­hol free…’ but I think ‘well, you’re get­ting a bet­ter ver­sion of me be­cause of it.’ Go­ing to big so­cial events when I first started avoid­ing al­co­hol was hard, but I just don’t miss it any­more. I sleep bet­ter, my Fri­days, Satur­days and Sun­days are bet­ter, and I like that I can al­ways drive home. My friends and other half like it too as they have a built-in sober driver!”

As a self-de­scribed “in­flam­ma­tory per­son”, prone to stress and in­ter­nal flare-ups, the gluten and dairy-free diet has been help­ful, but be­ing a stick­ler for food rules just isn’t her style.

“It’s been a few years of trial and er­ror, but I don’t want to be 100 per cent ‘good’ as I don’t think that’s pos­si­ble. I do have quite a bland diet now as things like spicy food, seafood, cit­rus fruits and even choco­late are in­flam­ma­tory for me. But I think 80/20 is great – you don’t want to be so strict that you’re not re­ally liv­ing life.”

Amanda’s open and can­did as she talks about her health highs and lows, in­clud­ing cop­ing with the symp­toms of a rare au­toim­mune dis­or­der.

“I’ve got a con­di­tion called lichen planopi­laris, and it gives me bald patches,” she says. “I hate be­ing a woman some­times! But you know, there are worse things, I can deal with it. I have a great der­ma­tol­o­gist, so it’s just about man­age­ment.”

Morn­ing mad­ness

To­day, she’s come straight from the stu­dio and chats away brightly, im­pec­ca­ble TV makeup still in place, tak­ing sips of her dairy-free smoothie in the rare breaks in con­ver­sa­tion.

“Peo­ple say you get used to the hours,” she says of her rou­tine early starts, “but I don’t think you ever get used to them. They are bru­tal!”

‘You don’t want to be so strict

that you’re not re­ally liv­ing life’

‘It’s been a learn­ing curve, but it’s just a mat­ter of do­ing what I can’

‘I have never dis­cussed sleep so much in my life. in this job, the nana nap is

cru­cial’

‘I think it’s im­por­tant to stop and fo­cus on all the lovely things you

have’

The proud Gis­bor­nite, who first set foot in the Me­di­aWorks news­room as a 20-year-old on work ex­pe­ri­ence, wakes to the alarm at 3.30am, and says she of­ten checks the clock sev­eral times a night.

Sleep, or lack thereof, is a hot topic of con­ver­sa­tion at the of­fice too.

“Some­one will an­nounce at work, ‘I had a three-hour sleep yes­ter­day’, and they al­most get a round of ap­plause,” she laughs. “Ev­ery­one will say ‘That’s so amaz­ing!’ I have never dis­cussed sleep so much in my life. But in this job, the nana nap is cru­cial. Once I’m home I can sleep for up to three hours.”

Life on screen

An­other thing that gets her through the early wakeup calls is the close friend­ship she has with her The AM Show co-hosts Dun­can Garner and Mark Richard­son. Theirs is a tight-knit bond that she calls her “sav­ing grace”, and it’s this deep trust be­tween the trio that has prompted her to share some can­did mo­ments on air.

Early last year when fer­til­ity is­sues were be­ing dis­cussed on the show, she gave an emo­tional, off-the-cuff ac­count of her re­grets about leav­ing it too late to have chil­dren. Her com­ments res­onated with women through­out the coun­try, en­cour­aged wider dis­cus­sions about fer­til­ity, and trig­gered an out­pour­ing of sup­port.

“Some of the sto­ries I heard af­ter that were so heart­break­ing and hon­est, and I re­ally ad­mire that,” she says. “The sup­port was amaz­ing, as I didn’t get up that morn­ing with the in­ten­tion of talk­ing about that; I just felt very safe in the en­vi­ron­ment that we have. We’ve got each oth­ers’ backs, so there’s that safety net there.” But there’s also a dark side to be­ing in the pub­lic eye. Deal­ing with the in­evitable ‘trolls’ is a ma­jor down­side of the job, and de­spite hav­ing two decades of jour­nal­ism ex­pe­ri­ence un­der her belt, nasty com­ments can still st­ing.

“They can be cruel,” she says thought­fully. “It’s more of a worry for my par­ents, and I say to them, ‘Ev­ery­one’s en­ti­tled to an opin­ion, but please don’t read it.’ Some­times you cast your eye over com­ments and you think, ‘why did I look at that?’ It can be soul-de­stroy­ing. Some­times a per­son will email me di­rectly, and I of­ten think they don’t mean it to sound as harsh as it comes out. With oth­ers, how­ever, they’re aim­ing to be cruel and to hurt, and that’s re­ally hard. But I know to not buy into it. We’re just hu­mans, and you’re try­ing to do your job, and you’re do­ing your best.”

Keep­ing per­spec­tive

When it comes to keep­ing a healthy body and mind, gen­tle well­ness is the name of the game for Amanda. She prefers brisk walks to sweat­ing it out at the gym, and jour­nal­ing has be­come her lat­est go-to for a hap­pi­ness boost.

“That all came about at a time when I was feel­ing grumpy with the post-hol­i­day blues,” she laughs. “I heard a ra­dio in­ter­view with a doc­tor that said to keep a grat­i­tude di­ary, and I was driv­ing along think­ing, ‘what am I grate­ful for?’ It was one of those mo­ments like, ‘pull your head in, life is okay’”.

She’s been spread­ing the word about her di­ary on the show to keep her­self ac­count­able to the daily prac­tice, and she’s clocked up about 50 days of grat­i­tude so far.

“Ev­ery day it gives you a mo­ment where you stop and think, ‘this is cool.’ I want to re­ally com­mit to it, so I’m aim­ing for 100 days. It’s some­thing that just puts a smile on your face.” And de­spite jok­ing that en­ter­ing her 40s has made her feel “older and tireder”, she’s find­ing a lot to be happy about.

“You do get to a point in your life where you think you haven’t done all the things you should have done, and you can be­come too fo­cused on the ‘have nots’,” she muses. “But I think it’s im­por­tant to stop and fo­cus on all the lovely things you do have, be­cause all too of­ten, the grass seems greener on the other side. Some­times be­ing happy is be­ing con­tent with what you’ve got, and when you ac­cept and start lov­ing that… It was quite a turn­ing point for me.”

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