EXCLUSIVE: MasterChef judge Melissa Leong reveals her secret health battle

Stressed Mel spills how she overhauled her life.

By Woman's Day team
She's one of the most established food writers in the country and has built a career editing cookbooks, presenting TV shows and writing columns in acclaimed publications, but things haven't always been easy for MasterChef judge Melissa Leong.
"I worked on a book, which involved a lot of travel and close living with a small crew. As an introvert, who manages depression and anxiety, it was a situation asking for disaster," Mel, 38, recalls of her life before MasterChef.
"Managing my mental health in such close confines was challenging. Add to that the fact that living on the road can pile on the pounds,"
she adds, revealing that when the book was complete she replaced her high pressure work with "crazy exercise and a diet regimen" instead of taking a break.
"One day I woke up with what I thought was a bad cold, and it was the beginning of the end. Months later, with thousands of dollars spent on wellness retreats, colonics, acupuncturists, Chinese medicine, endocrinologists and gastroenterologists, I was finally diagnosed with pyrrole [disorder, a stress-induced autoimmune condition] that stops your body from absorbing zinc and B vitamins.
"This meant chronic insomnia," adds Mel, who says she was only sleeping one-and-a-half to three hours a night and suffered hair loss, while her nails "would shatter just by looking at them".
Workaholic Mel says she was at a crisis point and needed to make changes in her life. Image: Instagram
She reveals she had a complete breakdown, before deciding to take charge of her health. Image: Instagram
These days, the self-described overachiever is cautious not to push herself too hard, and she has the full support of the show's crew.
"If I need a day like that where I just need that little bubble of time, it could be 10 minutes, I will tell them and they will find the next available opportunity for me to just have a minute," she says.
"I started going to therapy in my early to mid-20s. I had a breakdown – I'll be really honest. I don't hide it but I don't obviously advertise it either," Mel explains, noting she and the show's executive producer have a "code word" to signify when she needs "an hour to myself" on set.
And it's not just the crew supporting her – her fellow judges also have her back.
Last week, Jock Zonfrillo called out a racist fan who criticised Mel.
The 43-year-old immediately responded to the disgraceful message by sharing it on social media alongside an impassioned caption where he told fans Mel was his "work wife, my sister and my mate", adding, "She's a woman whose origin happens to be different than yours, but why does that make you so afraid?"
Now Mel has a code word on set to signal to producers if she is feeling overwhelmed. Image: Instagram
Thankfully the trolls haven't got Mel down.
She told The Project last week she wasn't aware of her haters having a copy of her CV, responding to criticism she wasn't qualified for her job and highlighted how important racial diversity is in television.
"You really have to stop and take it in because it is a really important, historic moment for Australian TV and for media in general," she said of her role.
Thankfully Mel has learned to find peace in her work, crediting exercise for keeping her disciplined and focused, and unfazed by the noise!
"Recovering from pyrroles is a daily mission. In the beginning, I had no energy to exercise and I felt really down," Mel says. "Now that I'm feeling better, I find that doing something daily is crucial for me feeling balanced and calm."
Mel's star is rising thanks to her judging role on MasterChef this season. Image: Instagram

Shock bullying claims: "He's had enough!"

It seems every week the tensions on set of MasterChef's Back To Win season are spilling out of the kitchen and into real life.
Woman's Day has heard longstanding whispers of infighting and tension since the show's launch earlier this year, but nothing compares to the fresh allegations between two male rivals.
One on-set spy reveals that one cook was left in tears after another competing contestant repeatedly taunted him on set.
"He was reduced to a blubbering mess," insists our TV insider.
"He was completely shattered, he came back to cook and prove himself, not be subjected to schoolyard bullying."
High emotions and drama are expected on a reality TV show, but the source insists this feud was so intense it left the cook wanting to walk off the show and never look back!
"He had enough," says the spy, adding that the situation left a dark cloud looming over the victim's return to the show.
News of the feud comes weeks after it was revealed the stars of the hit reality cooking contest aren't always as chummy as fans would believe.
"It hasn't all been hugs and kisses – when the cameras stop rolling some contestants are quick to rush back to their apartments and practise for challenges rather than socialise," an insider explained.
Rumours have been swirling for weeks that there's tension on the set of MasterChef. Image: Channel 10

Fans rally for blind tasting!

Disgruntled fans have complained all season long about the alleged favouritism plaguing the show, with Laura Sharrad, 24, constantly in the firing line.
Laura's immunity pin win was no exception, with some viewers calling out the judges for bias and claiming she was handed the win over Poh Ling Yeow, 47, because she "hadn't won immunity yet and it made for a good storyline".
Now some fans are even threatening to boycott the show next year unless producers introduce blind judging!
"If the show is about food and taste, they shouldn't need to know who made it," wrote one fan on social media, adding they would be "tuning out" next year if the show's three judges Jock Zonfrillo, Andy Allen and Melissa continue to play favourites.

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