Becky Graham went from presenting the Kiss FM Breakfast Show in Bristol to working on Magic FM in London, getting up at 4.30am. She soon felt off balance so re-trained as a nutritionist and founded The Healthy Hedonist. She shares her journey and some great tips…
(This was originally published in February 2016, so some things may have changed)
“I started out working for Kiss in Bristol (Kiss 101). A work experience role led to me co-presenting the Breakfast Show in 2010, before the network was nationalised from London. I then moved to London to work for Magic as the assistant producer on the Breakfast Show with Neil Fox.
I originally wanted to write so I studied English Lit at Bristol UWE and when I graduated took a job as an assistant editor on a B2B lifestyle magazine in Bristol. I’d been doing some promo work for radio stations on the side – Heart and Kiss – and soon realised I much preferred talking to writing so decided to make that my mission instead!
The job at Magic came about after we were all made redundant from Kiss at the end of 2010 and I was invited to interview for the assistant producer role on the Breakfast Show. The only thing was – producing was not really what I wanted to do but I took the job hoping I could find my way back into the presenting side of things… that was before I realised just how much of an impact this role would have on my health…
The early mornings and generally unsociable hours should have impacted my life more to be honest, as I continued partying and burning the candle at both ends, living on very little sleep and surviving on sugar and caffeine. After a year of working on Magic Breakfast and getting up at 4am to basically write travel news and make everyone else’s porridge, I was absolutely knackered and incredibly frustrated – there’s only so many times you can write about the Hammersmith flyover without losing the plot.
I wasn’t getting anywhere with presenting because I was simply too tired to put my all into it and I felt on edge, pretty much the entire time. My emotions were shot to pieces and most mornings I would retreat to the toilets at work to cry silently but rather uncontrollably from the comfort of my own little cubicle…
I lived in Dalston and Hoxton where late nights and noisy streets were the norm but being so central, surrounded by nothing but tall grey buildings, left me feeling trapped
Just before being made redundant, my mum and I had invested in a flat in Bristol so it was never off the cards that I would move back. When I was working in radio in London I lived in Dalston and Hoxton where late nights and noisy streets were the norm but being so central, surrounded by nothing but tall grey buildings, left me feeling trapped and longing to escape to the countryside – I just wanted to see a bit of greenery on the horizon! There’s a lot to be said for getting out in nature for the old peace of mind.
Towards the end of my stint at Magic I was desperate for the quiet life and so on a whim I applied for a job doing admin based in the middle of a farm just outside Bristol and to my surprise I got it, so I happily packed up my stuff with a massive sigh of relief and headed west. The move provided me with the perfect little haven to get my health back on track. Also some of my closest friends from my early years growing up in Wales lived in Bristol so it has always felt like home.
I then started thinking about my next move. During my time on the Breakfast Show in London I’d quickly realised the job and the hours were taking a toll on my health. As I mentioned, I was emotionally all over the place but also, the lack of sleep and stress had begun to show on my skin. I had never suffered with skin complaints in my life but I now had a painful rash around both of my eyes and cracks at the corners of my mouth.
My younger brother was working a summer season in France in 2011 so with the promise of some sunshine and beach bumming about I booked a flight expecting to completely chill out and rest for the next 10 days… the plan was to camp on the cheap, courtesy of one of his friends, unfortunately for me though, rather than long lazy days on the beach I was faced with torrential rain that meant I ended up staying with my brother in a room full of guys above the bar he worked in and actually not sleeping at all!
The rash around my eyes got worse to the point it was painful and my eyes watered constantly. My mum had already planned to come and visit my brother at the same time and so thankfully about half way through the holiday she arrived and saved me! She was on a bit of a road trip and had booked to stay in a couple of slow foodie type B&Bs so I decided to go with her. At one of these places I met a couple who were on their honeymoon and one night at dinner Charlotte explained her own career change – from TV to re-training as a homeopath, I remember it clearly, she said if you love food, have you heard of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition? I hadn’t but as soon as I got home I booked in for an open evening and that was it, it may sound cheesy but I honestly felt like I’d found my salvation.
I would never tell anyone to cut anything out entirely unless they had a specific intolerance or allergy, which I would test for
Without any previous science training, before I could get a place on the diploma course I had to do a six-month access course in biology, chemistry and anatomy and physiology. The DipION itself took three years and involved lectures, seminars, practical workshops and clinical practice seeing clients in the training clinics in my final year.
Due to my own personal experience I take a particular interest in supporting stress with nutrition, however since qualifying I have become a regular contributor to a couple of ‘Free From’ magazines which has meant a lot of research into gluten and autoimmune conditions, I also work for a nutrition coaching app specialising in supporting people with psoriasis.
I try to promote a healthy well-rounded approach to food, whatever it is you choose to eat. I think there’s a bit of a culture at the moment to ‘eat clean’ or be a ‘green goddess’ but quite frankly, I think it can it’s an impossible ideal… in real life we don’t have time to juice our own everything or buy 100% organic and cook from scratch every night… it seems to be the idea that if you can’t live this way then you’re not being healthy. In my opinion, it is far more healthy not just for your body but for your mind to really enjoy and relish what you eat.
I would never tell anyone to cut anything out entirely unless they had a specific intolerance or allergy, which I would test for, because my opinion is that life is way too short to punish yourself or feel you have to go without. Sometimes it’s far more important to have a bit of chocolate and enjoy the endorphins that a little treat gives you rather than be miserable.
Nutritional Therapy takes a completely personalised approach to health and nutrition, what works for one person may not work for someone else with the same condition so there is no ‘one-size fits all’ diet that I would recommend, it depends very much on the individual. Having said that I would of course never advocate a highly processed diet full of refined sugars and carbohydrates. For me, food is one of life’s greatest pleasures and I enjoy trying to come up with alternative ways to enjoy some of our favourite foods (I have a massively sweet tooth!).
For me, breakfast is often a (huge) bowl of porridge made from a mix of oats – the chunkier steel cut versions are my fave, chia seeds and ground flax. I’ll have that with coconut milk, a handful of nuts, seeds and fresh fruit. I don’t really snack as I feel it’s better to give your body a break between meals to do its everyday repairs that if there is a constant stream of food to digest it can’t really do as well.
Lunch is usually a salad with a good form of protein like quinoa or salmon, ALWAYS with avocado, but to be honest I’m often too busy for a proper lunch so I always make sure I have a protein rich snack in my handbag, sometimes homemade protein balls and if not then a Bounce Ball, a Pulsin protein bar or a bag of nuts and I’ll have that with some fresh fruit or veg, whatever I can get my hands on… even though my life has changed a bit since my radio days, it’s still pretty hectic!
Dinner is usually a quick stir-fry or curry, I don’t eat a lot of meat, mostly because I’m a huge fan of veggie but also, buying organic can get expensive! I’m a bit of an expert at creating something out of nothing – as long as your spice cupboard’s stocked you’re winning.
At the weekend I like to bake a little sweet treat like banana bread, lemon cake or make a stack of coconut flour pancakes.
You don’t need to give up your career or change your life dramatically in order to be healthy. I personally did that but I now know that you can still have a busy lifestyle and packed social calendar, enjoy the occasional late night and generally enjoy yourself whether you’re working stupid hours or not. And the same goes for sleep deprivation because of tiny (but lovely) new additions. I believe the right nutrition can help to support you whatever your circumstances.
The key to stabilising your blood sugar is to include a source of protein at each meal
And yes, some treats are fine occasionally, but to be honest there are now so many great healthier alternatives available there’s no need to dive head first into a bag of Maltesers whenever you fancy. Also I try to avoid calling foods ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as I think it’s important to remove any negative emotions surrounding foods, if you aim to eat as ‘healthfully’ as you can that’s better, it’s all about the nutrients in my book.
On the alcohol front, it’s the same old boring advice I’m afraid, choose a quality wine and feel smug about the antioxidants or opt for good old vodka and soda, clear liquids put less of a strain on your liver. Also I have read some research recently about the fact drinking champagne may be helpful in preventing dementia so obviously glug that back by the bucket load.
For people who are up early – parents/ shift workers – my advice is: balance your blood sugar! This is the most important thing to understand – many people don’t realise just how much this can affect your health and it’s actually one of the easiest things (once you’ve got through the first few weeks) to get a handle on.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, this should be your starting point – depression, forgetfulness, irritability, cravings for sweets or carbs, shakiness or dizziness, insomnia, stimulant addiction, poor concentration, binge eating, headaches, anger and aggression or an excessive appetite… the list goes on and it’s pretty exhaustive. The key to stabilising your blood sugar is to include a source of protein at each meal and that can be as simple adding a handful of nuts or seeds to your breakfast or salad at lunch, same goes for dinner.
I now happily, if busily, combine my careers in media and nutrition. I have a clinic one day a week in Richmond, I work as a coach for a nutrition app and write fairly regularly for a number of magazines in my capacity as a nutritional therapist, but I am also a freelance voice artist and have been a continuity announcer and writer for ITV for the past three years which I absolutely love. I live between Bristol and London and am constantly on the go and travelling, I definitely think my knowledge of health and nutrition helps me to sustain my lifestyle. And one more thing: I’m currently training for the London Marathon this April… so you know, just a few things going on.”