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