Melanie Sykes On Healthy Living

Burgen bread has teamed up with TV star and wellbeing advocate, Melanie Sykes, to call on Brits to discover new things and go for the good stuff, whether that’s playing around in the kitchen with new ingredients, or throwing yourself into a new workout routine. We talk to Melanie Sykes & Harley Street Nutritionist, Rhiannon Lambert about their healthy living goals…

You guys are really busy, how are you managing to fit everything in?

Melanie: I actually plan my week in terms of food, in terms of when I can fit in exercise, its actually in my diary! It’ll be yoga on Wednesday, and you know it changes every week because my schedule changes every week. But I do do it and I’ve learnt to do it over the years, and the older I’ve got the more time I put in for myself because I suddenly realised it’s not a selfish act it’s actually really crucial for my wellbeing. And if I’m not feeling good I can’t perform and be a good mother and do all the things that I do.

So I learnt to put “me” time in, I’d say it was only about 10 years ago, I realised I wasn’t having time to myself at all and it wasn’t healthy, so I joined a gym and it was from there it’s kind of grown into an interest in nutrition and an interest in health. It happened when I was in my mid-to-late thirties and I think from the research, that’s also when people start looking at their lifestyles and what the impact it has on your health.

Rhiannon: Hearing Melanie talk about that is so wonderful and refreshing for me as a nutritionist, because we do need to be prioritising these things, we really do. I think our health is dependent upon it.

Another aspect to consider is of course the mindful aspect. Are we actually eating away from screens these days? Are we taking the time to do that? Are we even chewing our food? Are we drinking enough water? Very, very basic things, but we need to remember because it’s such a crucial part of how we feel every day. Even things like dehydration can affect our mood, and then of course we’re looking at elements like getting enough carbohydrates and different food groups. Carbs are always essential for life so it’s really important to remember that glucose is the brains first source of fuel, so essentially that’s what keeps us going every day. It keeps your energy high, it fuels you, it keeps your mood at a good level. When it comes to picking the right kind of carbohydrate you really want to be looking at things that contain good qualities and complex nutrition – wholegrain, lots of fibre in food.

We were talking earlier about how there’s always myths saying different things and we are often influenced by them. How do you guys get around them?

Melanie: I think a lot to do with it is common sense. I don’t tend to get whipped up in fads luckily, I’m quite a grounded and logical person believe it or not! So, I tend to just not care. You kind of know the basics healthwise, don’t you, and your instincts I think?

Rhiannon: I think if there’s alarm bells going and if something sounds too good to be true, it kind of is a bit too good to be true? It’s very much don’t take headlines for your nutritional information, you need to take that from actually reading the text and reading between the lines a little bit.

Melanie: And its moderation, isn’t that a key word for all of the elements?

Rhiannon: It’s very very true and goes without saying that balance is key, 100%.

Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?

Rhiannon: I’ll jump in on the breakfast one as this is floating around a lot. You may have all heard of the term called ‘intermittent fasting’ or ‘working out on an empty stomach’ and its never a one size fits all approach. In fact, there’s a lot of research that says there’s no difference in your workout in terms of how much you burn if you do it fasted or if its fuelled, let’s just put that out there! In fact, you’re more likely to perform better if you’ve got something in the tank depending on the type of workout.

Now, skipping breakfast is just an energy in, energy out kind of thing. So, of course if you’re looking over the course of a day and taking energy out then you’re going to be having a bit less, but then it depends on how good your meals are at lunch and dinner. If you’re not eating a nutritious lunch and dinner and breakfast was maybe your most nutritious meal it might be a bit of a problem, so I think it’s completely up to you.

Melanie: I mean I’m the type of person when I wake up I’m hungry, so I would always have breakfast, but if you’re not that type of person it’s no big deal.

Mel, what kind of workouts are you doing to keep fit?

Melanie: Oh gosh! At the moment… I discovered hot yoga at the beginning of last year. I had a back injury very early in the year and I thought ‘oh gosh, are my gym days over?’. I was a bit worried about it but I just took care of it, stopped training and started doing yoga, and now I’m fitter and stronger and I’ve put training back in.

So, gym – I do some high intensity workouts and I sort of try lots of new things. I’ve got a lot of friends in that world now, so if anybody’s coming up with a new concept I’m the guinea pig so I try out! There’s loads of things and it’s just great. It’s just great fun and I don’t know what I’d do without it because it gives me energy! You know, even on my tired days where I’m walking towards a class not wanting to go but I just know when I come out I’ll feel a million times better. But, you know I have to plan it, otherwise it just doesn’t get in there. Some weeks its only 2 hours, some weeks it’s 4 hours. It’s whatever I can do. I’ll get there when I can, but I’ll always get there.

Have you ever been tempted to go vegan or vegetarian?

Melanie: Well I went vegetarian last year actually. In May I went to India for two weeks and during my time there I sort of realised I’d been veggie for the last week and a half, so when I came back I just continued it. But just lately I’ve just put fish back into my diet so I’m pescatarian now for the time being. It’s not forever, I’m just trying to eat some protein. So, I’ve tried vegetarian – I liked it but I needed something else.

What is your diet’s downfall in terms of food or alcohol?

Melanie: Well I don’t drink so that’s not an issue. I do, like I say, have a sweet tooth, so chocolate is probably the thing that I like the most if I’m gonna go for something. But luckily for me I do like a darker chocolate, so high cocoa, less fat.

What foods are guaranteed to make you feel good?

Melanie: I do love my breakfast and obviously I’ve just discovered this bananas and blueberries which I’ve been eating every morning on my Burgen toast which is just heaven sent!

Toast spread with nut butter, sliced banana, blueberries, chia seeds and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.

Toast spread with nut butter, sliced banana, blueberries, chia seeds and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.

What’s your stance on superfoods? Are they fads or something to be listened to?

Melanie: Well I don’t know about the term superfood, but the things they say are superfoods, things like kale and blueberries – they’re good for you. End of story. I know it’s a sensational way of looking at it as a title, but anything packed with that kind of nutrition has got to be good for you. So yeah, I’m open to it.

As a society we’re probably kind of quite fixated on quick fixes and shortcuts. How do we take healthy steps to combat that?

Melanie: I don’t obsess over any particular area. You know, not everything is doable all of the time. As well, I think the pressure of that is quite difficult. So yes, some weeks aren’t as healthy as others, some weeks I don’t train as much as others. The worst thing you can do is drive yourself crazy with that expectation of yourself because I think we all do that, don’t we?

Rhiannon: When it comes to living a busy life, it doesn’t mean you have to turn to unhealthy convenience foods, because convenience can mean anything these days. It could be a smoothie that you’ve whipped up in the blender in the morning and you’re out the door with it in your hand. It could even be a pack of microwavable pulses, lentils, grains – things like that. Tins of food – don’t begin to fear these items. They’re actually very convenient to have in your kitchen and to whip things up. Use your freezer, keeping left over bits of bread and things.

If you could give your kids one piece of advice what would it be?

Melanie: The boys know this that they’ve got to be authentic to who they are. But what’s interesting actually, on one of my son’s school reports it said ‘he walks his own path’ and so I’ve done something right! And that’s been a big deal for me – that you are an individual, your thoughts are your own and you mustn’t be swayed by majority if that’s not how you feel. I kind of hammered that home and it seems through the report that it worked. One parenting win! (Laughing)

I cook a meal for them every single night and I catch up with them because you don’t really talk if we’re not at the table. But my mum did that. My parents – we ate every night at the table and talked about our day whether we wanted to or not and I’ve done exactly the same I think.

So, what’s your signature dish?

Melanie: I don’t really have one. Oh, actually the kids love a seafood linguine, which sounds really flash but actually its onions, a bit of seafood and linguine and that’s it! It’s my quick dinner and it sounds like it’s an extravagant thing to give them but actually it takes twenty minutes, tops. So, that’s my quick dinner.

If you could only do one type of exercise, what would you choose?

Melanie: I would say hot yoga is my thing because its meditation as well and it’s all over body. I would choose that over anything else.

Try Mel’s Green & Mean recipe for breakfast, brunch or lunch. You’ll find it here

Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.