Chapter 1 - The Younger Years.
When I was in primary school I was often sent home poorly. My Dad would pick me up, take me home and bundle me under duvets on the sofa handing me a warm lemonade. He’d keep an eye on me from the kitchen table as he caught up on paperwork until my Mum got home from work and my Dad would return to his job. I always felt sick, my tummy always ached and my legs and arms were always sore. I was often teased for my podgy tummy and legs - those poor legs carried me to and from school every day, running around the playground playing TAG and that little tummy really did struggle. Even at a young age I would berate myself for not looking like the other kids - looking back I looked exactly like the other kids. I looked like a kid, end of. The doctor said I had growing pains and a nervous disposition.
In my teen years the upset tummy got worse, it turned into vomiting. The joint pains was unbearable at times. I became good friends with my doctor, we saw each other on a regular basis. I’d tried every diet under the Sun, even though I was pretty poorly, I wasn’t immune to the media and the various diets my friends were trying. From Slimming World to The Atkins Diet and workouts like the 30 Day Shred (I still have nightmares about that even now!). I desperately wanted look like my friends were. Why couldn’t I have those abs and teeny tiny legs?!
Chapter 2 - Norris.
As I approached my twenties everything seemed to get a lot worse very quickly. I’d have bouts of being off work for months at a time, struggling to hold any kind of food or liquid down. I was often in and out of hospital. Test after test was done, nothing could be detected. I’d sit opposite my doctor begging for answers. On each Results Day I’d perch on the end of the chair in the waiting room with allllll my hopes pinned on that day being the day I’d find out what was wrong.
The way I spoke to myself was awful. “Why can’t I just have a normal body?” Goodness knows what I thought a normal body was. “Why can’t I hold food down or when I do why the hell does it just go straight through me?!” “What’s wrong with you stomach?! I just want to be normal.”
At the age of twenty-three I found a lump on my neck whilst showering. The doctors got serious very quickly. They called it a tumour, I called it Norris because people get awkward when you’re throwing the word Tumour around. My body got to the point that it couldn’t hold down any food at all, I lost twenty kilos in weight, I was so tired and exhausted.
Poked and prodded, I went from being a human being to a body on a table, often partially naked, often in front of a doctor and a handful of medical students, not one of them looking me in the eyes. Norris had to be evicted, he was making me way too poorly and I was taken in for an emergency operation. I was told I could lose the use of my legs, those legs I’d berated for being short and podgy, those legs that had taken me all around the world. When I woke up from the operation the first thing I did was wiggle my toes and move my legs, I’ve never been so grateful for those gorgeous legs.
Because the tumour had taken over my life and involved so many hospital visits, in my mind that was it. Once Norris had left the building I’d be better just as soon as I’d recovered. My doctor came to see me the morning after surgery, “the operation went well and we removed the tumour, now we can really begin finding out where all of these issues are stemming from.”
That's not how this was supposed to work. That was not in the plan. This was supposed to fix me. More tests and procedures ensued and a few years later I was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome a chronic illness which affects the body’s tissue, everywhere. I was told that the type of EDS I have was very debilitating and would get worse. The list of symptoms never ending - hyperflexibility, joint dislocations, heart palpitations, tumours, severe joint pain, migraines, vomiting, upset stomach, the list goes on and on and on. My doctor assured me that this was why I couldn’t hold down foods and that it was something I just had to learn to live with.
Chapter 3 - Change.
Now, as you have probably guessed from my website, I’m not the kind of person that is told to just live with something. I spent all of my time researching EDS and the lifestyle changes I could make. I’d gone from hating my body to wanting to take care of it to the very best of my abilities. Feeling so grateful that I could continue to live my life, even if things had to change. It was clear that my exercise routine had to be altered and I made adjustments - I threw myself into yoga, swimming and pilates sometimes a little too vigorously, I hadn’t quite shaken off that “Must Do Exercise To Be Healthy” train of thought.
Next on the list of changes was food. During the two years I had been in and out of hospital and unable to work I’d been experimenting with foods. In fact whilst poorly, my body began rejecting foods one by one, until I was left with rice, jacket potatoes and toast. At my worst, the only thing I could hold down was a bite of a jacket potato every few hours. Gradually I began introducing food items in, whenever I’d have a bad reaction I’d know not to eat that anymore. It quickly became apparent that dairy and I did not get along, neither did refined sugar and I. The doctors later confirmed this. For some reason spring onions, bananas and leeks make me vomit instantaneously.
Norris wasn’t the only tumour in my body, after reading The China Study - The Most Comprehensive Study Of Nutrition Ever Conducted, I experimented with removing animal protein from my diet. Within two weeks the tumours shrank in size, within a month they were nearly not there. I followed a strict vegan diet for a year, but other complications surfaced.
Chapter 4 - The Plant Based Diet.
I was that girl, the plant based diet girl who only had praise for my newfound love of plant eating. Whilst the tumours shrank my hormones went haywire, the acne I had during my teens returned with a vengeance, it plagued my face. I always had a headache yet I insisted I felt great. I think not having such noticeable tumours took such a huge weight off my mind. I’d also stopped vomiting so much as I wasn’t eating dairy or refined sugar so I genuinely was feeling the best I had felt ever. I didn’t realise I could feel better than that. I went to the doctors and health food shops in search of supplements. I tried so so so so so many. None of them really seemed to work. After a year I re-introduced a little meat and fish into my meals a few times a week
and bob's your uncle things started to settle - the acne stayed firmly in place though.
Chapter 5 - Happy Food.
It took years to discover what foods my body likes and dislikes, but once I had nailed it down I began really experimenting in the kitchen. Sometimes it went terribly wrong and sometimes it went oh so very right, I loved every single moment of this experimentation and still do!
I can’t begin to tell you the wave of relief that washes over you when you eat something and you don’t run to the bathroom after fifteen minutes, it took so long to get to that point. Little by little the food fear ebbed away and I really began to embrace and enjoy my food again.
I’m a huge advocate for mindfulness, mediation and tuning in. Learning to listen to my body, how it feels each morning means that I rarely push myself too far physically - of course there’s the odd day that I do, we’re all only human. Some days I wake up, check in with my body and all of my joints feel fine, my muscles strong and I spring out of bed. Other days, when I take a moment to listen before getting up, I realise that today is a slower day. A day to get up gradually and take a little more time and be that extra bit gentle with myself.
Learning to listen to what my body craves has been such a huge life lesson for me. It never steers me in the wrong direction. Sometimes I ignore it, because I’m out with friends or can’t be bothered and always regret it, but once again, we’re all only human. 98% of the time I listen to my body, I practise what I preach and ask myself what I feel like eating.
When we separate our emotions and thoughts from what our body is actually craving, that panic to just eat anything dissolves. I ask myself if I’m hungry. What do I feel like eating? What will make my tummy feel all kinds of wonderful? Then I potter around in the kitchen and put together whatever I fancy. If I’m really hungry I’ll drink a glass of water, knowing that the yumminess will be ready in no time. For breakfast it might be a smoothie, it also might be chocolate brownies or pancakes, sometimes it’s porridge and quite a few times it’ll be brown rice and apple. When I have EDS flare ups it immediately affects my tummy, I have always found that boiled brown rice with apple and a pinch of salt settles my tummy like nothing else. Also, those aloe vera drinks with a little bit of lemon juice works wonders too, who’d have thought it?!
Having been through years of goodness knows how many hospital visits and very scary times with my body I’m so grateful for the body that I have. I have so much love for my tummy which has been through so much. A wealth of appreciation for my legs, my arms, my lips, my eyes, my whole body which never gives up. A body that supports me through all that I do. A body that I want to treat with as much care and love as I do my dear cats, my very best friends and family members. Our relationship with our body is the longest relationship we will ever have, I’d like to make it the best relationship I ever have.
I watch my self talk, sometimes I do fall back into old habits and old stories I used to tell myself, but I put a stop to it quickly. I choose positive, loving words instead. Quite honestly I cut myself some slack. Three years ago I threw away my bathroom scales and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I now listen to what my body wants to eat, whilst you’d think it would be chocolate brownies every day all day, it really isn’t. My body has found it’s happy weight by itself and stuck at that weight. I’ve been to two health check-ups in the past two years where my doctor weighed me and both times I’ve weighed in the same.
Being able to eat the food I love, prepare meals and snacks which fill my body with goodness and my soul with all kinds of wonderful has honestly changed my life. When we change our mindset on eating it rubs off in all other areas of our life too.
Here’s to living a life full of goodness, in the food we eat, the people we love, the adventures we travel and the lessons we learn. Here’s to many more chapters to add to this story full of goodness too.