The Health Diaries

Why Baking Star Bernadette Gee Is Revamping Her Routine

The founder of Magnolia Kitchen gets honest about her struggle to focus on sleep and diet while running her successful business

There are many ways to live a healthy life. The Health Diaries is a weekly series about the habits that keep notable people living well.

NNew Zealand-based Bernadette Gee, the founder of Magnolia Kitchen, wants you to know that she didn’t plan to build a popular bakery business focused on artistic cakes. Instead, it grew out of the Snapchat following she amassed while staying home to care for her third child about five years ago. Along with posting about her daily life and struggles, Gee shared images and stories about the spectacular cakes she was baking out of her home kitchen.

Several years later, Gee stopped baking at home and started to build an empire. Now she has a bestselling book (Magnolia Kitchen: Inspired Baking With Personality, out this year), more than 200,000 Instagram followers, and a thriving restaurant in Silverdale, New Zealand, called Magnolia Kitchen Sweet Cafe.

This week, Bernadette tells Elemental about how she’s changed up her daily routine to make it healthier.

Magnolia Kitchen came about from my love of baking and my daughter. I had her when I was 19 and every year after that, it was a tradition that I would choose a cake for her birthday and design it. By the time I’d started Magnolia Kitchen, she was nine so I’d made nine cakes. I figured I was ready to start a business! What sealed the deal was that I made a cake for my colleague and he gave me $20. I realized people might really pay me to bake.

For a while, I was working full time as a payroll officer while running Magnolia Kitchen out of a market stall and baking in my home kitchen, but then I got pregnant with my third baby and stopped working. Because he wasn’t planned, I was sort of like, this whole pregnancy isn’t happening! Which is probably why I freaked out so much when he was born.

Being home with the baby all day was lonely, so I started using Snapchat as a way to connect with other people. It turns out that people really enjoyed seeing a little bit of my reality of not enjoying being home with a baby while baking. I developed quite a community there and it was like my therapist couch. It was a place where I could say out loud what was going on with me and then have these people gather around to give me a virtual hug.

Eventually, though, someone reported me for cooking in a home kitchen without a license. I was shut down, completely. I took straight to social media, literally in a puddle on the ground, crying my eyes out, saying “Why would someone do this to me?” And I got an outpouring of support, but I also realized that I needed to make a change for my business. I needed to get my permits and go through all the right processes. Two months after that, I opened Magnolia Kitchen as a storefront for real. It’s been three years since then.

Today you’re catching me on the first day of my new regime. In the past, I would get up at 6:45 a.m., get my younger boys dressed and make them some breakfast. My daughter is 17 so she’s fine, she gets herself off to school and I don’t worry about her. But because there are so many of us getting ready in the morning, and we only have one bathroom upstairs, my morning routine has gotten all messed up in the past year. No one wants to use the bathroom downstairs! So instead of getting into the shower, I would get my boys ready and then wait around for my turn in the shower.

And eventually, because I was waiting for my family to get ready, I would go back to bed for an hour, from 7 a.m. until 8 a.m. every day. After, I’d cram all of my time for getting ready into a half-hour, and then it was always a hustle out the door, all for one extra hour of sleep. Every morning I did this and felt like, “Wow, this is just not a great way to start the day!” This isn’t right. That rushing set the tone for the entire day.

This weird morning routine is over now. I met with my mentor yesterday and said I’ve got to make some changes. I’m achieving nothing, I’m getting nowhere. Today I got up at 6 a.m., so I could take time to breathe and slow down. I got the boys up, made breakfast, and while everybody was eating, I sat down with a notebook and went through what I needed to get done for the day. Then, after dropping my son off at school, I go to work, and see what needs my attention that day. Honestly, it’s hard to change a routine, especially when you’ve been doing something for a long time. But I’m going to try.

In the evenings, I have an alarm that goes off at 10 p.m. every night to remind me to go to bed. I read my book, no Instagram or anything like that. I’ve been doing that for a couple of weeks now and it’s working well. I think using social media before bed has potentially been contributing to a lot of my sleepless nights because my brain is way too busy interacting. I’m slowly learning to take time for myself since the past five years have been ridiculously, insanely busy.

I’m a vegetarian. I grew up with very religious parents and part of that religion was vegetarianism. Rightly or wrongly, at some point, my family stopped being religious and started eating meat. But by that point, I had such a developed taste that no way was I eating meat. Now I just don’t need it and my daughter has chosen to be a vegetarian as well.

But overall, I still don’t eat very healthily. Like right now, I’m sitting here with a donut and coffee. I pretty much eat a donut every single day. Sometimes when I’m busy, I’ll find that it’s dinner time and I haven’t eaten anything that day except for coffee. I’m trying to make my life a bit more structured, though. I need to have lunch, even if it’s a frozen Mexican corn and bean mix. I eat a lot of cheese and crackers.

Ironically I’m not a big cake person. I have a sweet tooth for lollies, which I don’t even make. But I’m quite satisfied with a small amount of cake. Savory is my thing, though. My husband does all the cooking at night, and we find ourselves eating a lot of meals driven by what our children want to eat.

My cookbook isn’t just a cookbook. It’s inspired by my personality and I wanted it to be different from other cookbooks. I didn’t want it to be bland. I wanted people to hear my voice like you’re talking to me. I want people to learn to enjoy and dispel any preconceptions about baking and being so precise. I’m completely untrained! I just make stuff up and somehow it works. That breaks people’s brains, and I like that.

I write essays, test products & produce content marketing for brands. I’m also a career coach for freelancers and the co-host of The Writers’ Co-op podcast.

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