As a chef, World Kitchen presenter Nici Wickes has long struggled to balance her love of food with the desire to keep fit.
But as the globetrotting chef gears up for another intrepid overseas adventure – leading a culinary cycling tour in Thailand – she is finding that balance a little harder to achieve than in the past.
“Youth is easier!” she says with a laugh. “I’ve done a lot of cycling before, but I’m really struggling with fitness this time. Eating is a business and lifestyle for me, and it’s taken its toll.”
Never-ending invitations to food shows and restaurant openings has left Nici having to work “a lot bloody harder” to get back in shape before she heads to Thailand in November.
“I don’t want to be leading the cycling tour from behind!” laughs the jetsetting chef, who’s been to more than 28 countries in the last 10 years.
“I realised with some horror, after I said yes, that it wasn’t five years ago, and I hadn’t been cycling for a while. So I engaged the services of a personal trainer, who kicks my butt.”
“She makes me do press-ups and other strength exercises, I swear I nearly die each time. I couldn’t stop giggling when I saw myself do these in the mirror, I had the muscle quiver!”
Along with an exercise programme that has Nici waging a mental battle with herself every morning to get out of bed and on her bike, comes a meal plan which was met with absolute dismay.
“It’s so Spartan,” she says. “I try and follow it, but every day there are openings for me to break it. Which I do. So I’m not making very quick progress!”
As well as trying to find the motivation to leave her cosy Port Waikato home, Nici also struggles with ankylosing spondylitis – an arthritic condition that causes pain and stiffness around her joints and spine, and which, inconveniently for the chef, is aggravated by flour, tomatoes and potatoes.
“As long as I’m active, it’s fine,” she says. “I was diagnosed with it about 10 years ago. It’s important to get that inspiration to exercise.”
And although her fitness isn’t what it used to be, Nici is excited about her Thailand adventure.
“I love to eat when I’m away, so I can’t really do one of those passive holidays where you just lie on a beach,” she says. “I’d look like a house! So I’m excited about biking.”
“And as far as training goes, I just have to do it. It’s a matter of moving my ass and getting on with it!”
Photos: Michelle Hyslop • Hair & make-up: Kate Smith