Ada Nicodemou has barely aged during her 20 years on Home and Away.
With her youthful looks and enviable abs, you might think she'll wax lyrical about balancing work, motherhood, daily green juices, getting eight hours of sleep and fitting in Pilates classes five-times weekly – she doesn't.
In fact, when Good Health & Wellbeing gets together with the straight-talker, she's very keen to bust illusions, and to shatter this "having it all" fantasy.
"I think there's so much pressure on women to be perfect," the Summer Bay star and mum admits.
"And it's just not realistic. I've always got about 10 balls in the air. But now I'm learning to let go. Instead of making five appointments in the day, I'll just make one. Or rather than having a picture-perfect showroom home, I'll let the house be messy so I can play with my son."
"I've learned to pull back on a lot of stuff and to realise how important it is to have time for myself and time with my child. Now I pick and choose, otherwise you end up running yourself into the ground. It's such a common female trait that you just try and make sure everyone else is happy that we forget about ourselves."
Ada's desire to keep it real has also translated into her social media content.
In today's world of hyper-perfect, painstakingly curated Instagram posts that are designed to guilt-trip the rest of us mere mortals, Ada's posts (all unfiltered and honest) are an antidote to the Insta-perfect one-upmanship.
"We've just got to be more real," she says, seriously.
"Because it's putting so much pressure on us – especially younger women. It's impossible to be perfect all of the time. But there are so many images out there that are all retouched, filtered, or face-tuned."
"Now, I love putting on makeup, I like getting dressed up, having facials, and I do get Botox – I'm not going to lie about what I do – but I'm not going to make my waist look thinner or airbrush out my wrinkles. I think it's so important to be honest and to empower women."
"We're all beautiful in our own way and I think we all need to be there for one another and to help lift each other up."
For anyone who has seen snaps of a bikini-clad Ada recently, it's clear that there's no need to retouch anything – as the go-getter's toned tummy and thighs testify. But rather than the result of digital wizardry, her beach body is the result of a lifelong passion for exercise.
"I've loved to exercise for as long as I can remember," she enthuses.
"I guess it is a lot easier for me to stay fit because it's something that I enjoy. I don't exercise because I want to look a certain way, I exercise because I love it – it just makes me feel good.
"I live by a sort of 80-20 rule – 80 percent of the time I'm exercising and eating quite well, and 20 percent of the time I'm having creme caramels and indulging. It's about living – you can't always watch what you're eating, that's just not fun. If I go away to Europe, for example, I eat a lot more pasta then I do at home, and on holidays I'll have dessert every day."
A "sweet tooth" by her own admission, outside of a regular sugary treat, Ada says that her diet is pretty healthy overall.
"I was lucky because I grew up in a household where we ate really healthily," she reflects.
"We never had fast food and rarely had anything fried. Instead, there was a lot of fish, good meats, good oils and veggies and fruit. It's carried through to how I eat now. Simple and tasty is key and my meals tend to be some sort of protein, such as grilled fish, with vegetables or salad."
An ongoing and ever-changing shooting schedule is the nature of working on a show like Home and Away.
So, how does the busy TV star manage to exercise amidst the erratic filming?
"I've learned to schedule in exercise," she explains. "My Home and Away schedule comes out on a Thursday and I'll then go through my calendar and make appointments with myself for training sessions or classes."
"I try to do two to three weight training sessions a week – one day focusing on the upper body, the next the lower body, and the third day all-over body. I used to do a lot of classes and what I've tried to do recently is to also try two new classes each week."
"I did a Body Jam class last night, which was so much fun and something that I haven't done for a long time. I think it's always good to push yourself and try different things."
After getting her big break in 1994 playing Katerina Ioannou on teen show, Heartbreak High, it was six years later when she would land the role of a lifetime, playing Leah Patterson in cult soap Home and Away.
"I can't believe it has been 20 years," she says, beaming.
"But then, it has been a part of my life for such a long time, I can't remember my life before it!
"I started on the show as a young, innocent, single girl – I don't think I'd even travelled overseas at that point – and now I'm a mother. I've seen the country, I've been to other countries, I've met so many incredible people, and I've learned so much."
"It has afforded me such an amazing life and I feel so grateful to be doing something that I love every single day, and to be working with such amazing people. The relationships that we have formed off-screen shows onscreen too. I think you can genuinely see that we all like each other. They're my family. It just feels like home, it really does."
Though she's been beyond lucky professionally, Ada has had to deal with some devastating blows in her private life over the years, the first of which was a health diagnosis that came before she turned 21.
"Growing up I was always in pain during my menstrual cycle," she remembers.
"I suffered really badly – sometimes I couldn't go to school and it was just really awful, but I never knew why. Eventually I went to a specialist and they said, 'You've got endometriosis and you can't have a baby. Sorry about that.' And then I paid my bill and left."
Occurring when endometrial tissue grows on the ovaries, bowel, and around the pelvis; hormonal changes due to the menstrual cycle cause this misplaced tissue to become inflamed and painful. The disease can also lead to fertility problems and there's no cure.
Left reeling from the devastating diagnosis, a young Ada was distraught at the prospect of life without children.
Thankfully, the doctor's harsh predictions proved to be unfounded and the brunette stunner gave birth to son, Johnas, in 2012.
However, endometriosis reared its ugly head and played its part in a devastating miscarriage in 2014, which left Ada delivering a stillborn son, Harrison, eight months into her pregnancy.
It was a heartbreaking turn of events that left the screen regular feeling devastated and totally alone.
"I'd never met anyone who had miscarried," she reveals.
"I felt so alone, and like I had no one to talk to… I felt like there was something wrong with me. So I feel like it's really important for me to talk about it and to say: 'Look, it's okay, it happens to all of us – one in four women miscarry.'"
"We need to talk about endometriosis, we need to talk about postnatal depression, we need to talk about miscarriage and all of these things. We can't just talk about the ups, we've got to talk about the downs."
Going through these tough times has seen Ada turn to the skills of professional counsellors to help her make sense of the "downs" and to help build mental resilience to get her through.
"I've seen counsellors and I'm seeing one at the moment," she says frankly.
"I'm not embarrassed to tell people that. It's great because you're in a space where you can say whatever you want, and you're not judged. It's quite liberating. I've learned so much about myself by going to a counsellor. It really works for me."
WATCH BELOW: Ada talks about raising her son Johnas. Story continues after video.
Another source of life lessons for the Sydney-based personality is her seven-year-old son, who has changed her in "so many ways."
"He's taught me to be more present and to spend my time in a better way," she reveals.
"When you become a mum you realise what's important – and that's playing with your child and creating special moments with them, as opposed to cleaning up, talking on the phone, or whatever."
"It's on their timeframe, not yours. I'm more relaxed as a person and I'm not as much of a perfectionist. My son gives me so much joy – no matter what goes on in the day, the minute that little boy starts giggling, my heart just melts."
Now aged 42, it's realisations such as these that have helped Ada take stock of what's really important.
"I think when you're younger you almost have a 'checklist' of things you need to do," she ponders.
"You need to get the boyfriend, then you need to get married, then you have to buy the house, then have the kid… there's all this pressure! Whereas now, I feel like I've done it all and now I can just enjoy my life. There's no pressure now to do anything in particular.
"The older I get, the younger I feel. I just worry less about life and I don't take myself seriously. I think that is something that comes with age. As does realising that life can turn on a dime – you never know what's around the corner. So, I do try to enjoy the highs in my life – all those happy moments, because they need to be celebrated, as life isn't always like that."
While many of her Home and Away luminaries have moved stateside in pursuit of their Hollywood dreams, Ada is more than content.
"I've never had that burning desire to go off to Hollywood or anything like that," she finishes.
"I think that's why I've enjoyed my time on the show so much, and continue to do so. I know that nothing lasts forever, but I could happily stay on Home and Away for another 20 years!"
Home and Away* airs Monday to Thursday at 7pm on Channel 7.
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