Brain food

Have you ever thought about how the food you eat directly affects your brain? As its Brain Awareness Week, it’s worth sparing a minute or two to do just that. Do you give your brain what it needs?

The brain is the hungriest organ in the body. Mind you that’s not surprising really as it’s always on the go, managing and controlling everything else in the body, even (and particularly) when we’re asleep. 25% of the body’s energy supply (in the form of glucose, its fuel of choice), is used in the brain Continue reading “Brain food”

Empower yourself

I’m in the process of fulfilling one of my life’s ambitions – writing a book. It’s a huge and often overwhelming project – it’s certainly tested my commitment and drive on many occasions as I go on the emotional rollercoaster of self-doubt and belief. I’ve abandoned it at times, and yet still get pulled back in and over 100,000 words later, I’m still going!

The book – The Sensitive Foodie (of course!) explores the connection between food and health based on my experiences of dealing with food intolerances and autoimmune disease followed by a whole range of (mainly new) delicious whole-food plant-based recipes that I can’t wait for people to try. The recipes section was the easy part, and is all wrapped up. The first half has been more of a challenge as I’ve had to work out how to get all the ‘stuff’ in my head out into words that form some kind of sense. It’s made my brain work hard, which it doesn’t like to do!

What’s interesting is that the more I write, the more I realise the power of eating a whole-food plant-based diet. And the thing is, it’s not that difficult! Up until now, this way of eating has been on the fringe, but fortunately the tide is changing; a body of independent research is finally coming up with extensive proof and health professionals are beginning to open their mind to the power of plants. Excitingly, the first plant-based conference in London for doctors and other health professionals in March this year sold out, and reports suggest it was a great success. New evidence continues to support using a whole-food plant-based diet (often alongside existing medication) to help manage and improve a whole host of chronic health problems ranging from diabetes to heart disease to cancer to autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

One fabulous example of this is Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis, the evidence-based diet and lifestyle programme that I follow that helps keep my MS under control. It’s a plan than can be applied to many health problems – super healthy and tasty food, adequate amounts of vitamin D, exercise, stress reduction through mindfulness or meditation and medication if needed. It’s premise is to do whatever it takes to stay well – that’s something that’s surprisingly hard for some people to get on board with! We’re so used to relying on medical professionals to be able to give a pill that will solve the problem. It’s so easy to become a ‘patient’ or a ‘sufferer’.

A change in mindset makes a huge difference; one way to persuade people is through their pocket. Companies like Kaiser Permente, a pre-paid health insurance provider in the US, are encouraging and supporting people to make life-style changes that will reduce the amount of health care services they will need to use, rewarding them with lower premiums.

Even without such financial incentives, it’s worth taking a look at how you feel about your health, whether you have a problem or not. It’s all about empowerment. Programmes like OMS pass the power back to you, the person with the problem. MS is my problem, and it’s up to me to do something about it; I refuse to be a victim but chose to empower myself to make the most of the situation. And get to eat fab food in the process – that can’t be bad! Today (30th May) is World MS Day, designed to raise awareness of the condition and the research being undertaken to find a cure for this currently incurable condition. It’s also a day to celebrate programmes like OMS that may not be a cure, but can go a long way to keep it under control. Check out www.overcomingmultiplesclerosis.org if you want to find out more.

There are many things in the modern world that conspire to make us feel pretty crap. But crap can be useful – lotus flowers feed off the crap at the bottom of the pond. The most beautiful blooms flourish from the dirtiest silt. If you have a health challenge, don’t let that overwhelm you, use it as a spur to make amazing changes to the way you eat and live, and you will flourish beautifully.

Rewarding work

I’ve been shortlisted in the category of Inspiring Business Parent in a national award that celebrates flexible working. I’m very excited. And honoured. And more than a little surprised! But mostly I’m delighted as it shows that even when challenges and difficulties appear to knock you off course, wonderful things can come from it.

This particular award is focused on parents and working; still today there are challenges for mums (and dads) to combine work and family needs, an issue that is slow to be resolved despite on-going efforts to change attitudes and working practices. Similar challenges are faced by many other groups, including disabled, or less abled people who have much to offer but need flexibility that traditional working environments find hard to offer. So when you are a mum and a parent and less abled or restricted by health problems in some way, it just gets even harder.

My career of choice was always nursing; I was one of those people who did it because I loved it, a bit of a stereotype I guess! Human beings are fascinating, the human body the most incredible piece of technology you will ever find. Working in intensive care gave me a deep respect for everything that happens inside and outside the body to keep us functioning well. And an awareness of how easy it is to mess it all up!

When I discovered that my food intolerances were making me feel ill, it was my respect for the human body that made me do something about it. I didn’t want to feel that way, and I didn’t want to take medication to treat my migraines that could cause further damage elsewhere. So I chose food; and it worked! Removing the offending foods – dairy and yeast – started the healing process, discovering the benefits of a whole food plant based diet continued it. Little did I know at the time that these migraines were most probably the first signs of autoimmune disease, and that the actions I took then helped dampen down the inflammation and subsequent damage.

Making changes to the way you eat is hard. I started my blog The Sensitive Foodie to share my new discoveries with others in a similar situation, then I started running workshops and cooking demos; at the time, this was not mainstream at all. How things have changed over the last few years! Showing others how to make changes that helped gave me real encouragement, something I definitely needed when I was suddenly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative neurological condition. There had been signs, and I had already given up my job working in ITU as I could not cope with the long shifts, the harsh lighting and the stress of working in a critical care environment. It also didn’t help that I kept dropping things!

Fortunately I had lots of support at the time to help, particularly my lovely family and friends, as well as my Buddhist practice. Two things stand out – my wonderful husband who agreed to provide the financial support so I didn’t have the pressure of making loads of money from my fledgling business, and the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis programme that uses food as a basis for healing. It was reassuring to know I was already following a research-backed way of healing, that had kept me well for some time, and continues to do so today.

So now, my work keeps me well – through the food and by being able to work flexibly and pace myself day to day. I am fortunate to be in this position, and I now help others in a similar situation make the changes they need to keep well by being an Ambassador for the OMS programme (click here to find out more about OMS) as well as running my Eat Well Live Well courses, giving talks and working with people on a one to one basis.

Interest in the food we eat, health and the environment is growing. I love running my courses and sharing the wonderful world of whole-food plant-based eating, sharing my enthusiasm and passion and seeing that growing in others, making it easy for them to eat well without being a slave to the kitchen. They take that home with them, share it with their own families and friends, and make a choice to be well. That’s a pretty awesome feeling, knowing something positive has come out of something that’s been hard. I may not be able to work as a nurse any more, but it’s good to know I can still help people, and hopefully prevent them from needing that care in the first place.

I’ll find out on 6th February if I’m a finalist for the awards, so I wait with finger crossed to see. I’m sure there are lots of inspiring parents out there who deserve recognition; it’s so great there are organisations like mumandworking and NatWest that are willing to give it.

To find out more about my next course starting on 5th February, click here.

To find out more about The Mumandworkingawards, Sponsored by NatWest, click here