How to eat your way to health and happiness

Nutritional therapist Niamh Burke: “I have a lot of clients who are heavy and not losing weight although they are exercising. And there are some whose energy levels are so low that they stop exercising,” she says. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.
Nutritional therapist Niamh Burke: “I have a lot of clients who are heavy and not losing weight although they are exercising. And there are some whose energy levels are so low that they stop exercising,” she says. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

Lifestyle –  Judy Murphy meets nutritional therapist Niamh Burke who reveals why feeding the gut is so critical

When Niamh Burke was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid recently, she was understandably upset.

But then she looked on the bright side.

Niamh decided she would use her condition and its treatment as a way of carrying out research for her clients. After all, that’s what she’s been doing for years.

Niamh is a nutritional therapist who specialises in fat loss, female hormones and metabolic repair – and her appearance alone would inspire confidence. Standing at just over five foot, she radiates energy, with clear skin and eyes and shiny, healthy hair.

But it wasn’t always this way, she says, as we sit for a chat in her comfortable consulting room overlooking the canal in the city’s Dominick Street. Niamh’s hormones were out of kilter for years, although she didn’t know it. But, it was only when she addressed the underlying hormonal issues that she resolved a range of psychological and physical problems.

The 34-year-old, who grew up in Athlone to Galway parents explains that she “suffered from a bit of anxiety growing up.”

“And I always had what I’d class as puppy fat, so I was always trying to lose weight”.

After her Leaving Cert, Niamh moved to Galway to study art at GMIT and took up intensive training to try and shift the pounds. That included running for about five hours a week, but with little success.

“I wasn’t losing much weight and when I’d stop running, any weight I’d lost would come right back. And I wasn’t feeling great.”

In a bid to eat healthily, she was consuming smoothies constantly, but really “I was just pouring sugar into myself”.

Thinking that she needed more exercise, Niamh increased her training regime. By the time she’d finished college, she was working out five times a week in the gym as well as cycling to work in Milano restaurant where she worked fulltime as a waitress.

“I used to go spinning, I was running on the treadmill, doing bootcamp and HIT (High-Intensity-Training).”

While doing all this high-intensity exercise, Niamh started feeling really stressed and getting panic attacks. But she didn’t join the dots.

“Nothing in my life was particularly stressful, but I was waking in the middle of the night with anxiety.”

And because she was doing so much cardio, she was craving sugar constantly. Her skin was a mess and she suffered from spots.

Niamh consulted a counsellor to explore any unresolved difficulties from childhood that might have been causing her anxiety. After a few sessions, the counsellor said there were no issues.

Niamh then decided to see if there was another explanation.  She’d studied beauty therapy while waitressing and learned a lot about the importance of good diet. A period in Australia – where people are very health-conscious – also led her towards nutrition.

She trained as a nutritional therapist with the Dublin-based Institute of Health Sciences, attending part-time for four years.

“By the end of college, after what I’d learned about hormones, my anxiety attacks had stopped”.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.