In 2014, I went to Bali for a friend’s wedding and brought a parasite home with me. After a year and no luck killing it I was sickly, underweight, depressed and suffered constant stomach troubles, migraines and fatigue. When I finally succumbed to antibiotics (literally my life saver) I was left with 11 food intolerances and a journey of discovery as to what anaphylactic allergies I had developed.
Obviously, my diet was limited, but as fellow foodies will know this does little to diminish a passion for food. And so, I started to adapt recipes and get creative in the kitchen. At first, I made complex and expensive meals with gluten and dairy free alternatives, egg replacer and faux foods. However, I soon got tired of needing an assortment of special foods just to make dinner or whip up a treat for the weekends.
From this came a return to real food (with my own twist) and a return to healthy well-balanced food. Many gluten free options are high in refined starches and sugar, many dairy alternatives are full of soy or sugar and something like egg replacer suddenly seemed ridiculous. Why not use a banana, some chia seeds or psyllium husk to hold a cake or meatball together? Using food as food and adding nutrition at the same time.
I found myself going back to recipes that my Grandparents had taught me and made for me as a child. Stews, casseroles and slow cooker meals, roasts, braised meats and curries. Eating slow cooked meals and including offal where I could, meant that I could access an array of nutrients which were already broken down so my poor tummy could absorb them. All naturally free from inflammatory foods, filling, homey and packed with fat, protein and nutrition.
My years in health food made it easy for me to start to replace simple things like nuts with seeds, eggs with chia eggs and milk with a range of seed milks and coconut milk. Along the way, I learned the value of fermented foods and developed skills in doing this at home, which I now teach all my clients and anyone else who is interested. In addition to tasting great and adding new flavours to my palate, fermented foods were key to healing the damage done to my gut by the parasite.
And then there are my clients. If I thought I had it bad I had no idea - the tummy troubles that people struggle with! Do we think it’s normal? Or is it because we have been given the diagnosis of IBS we think there is nothing more to be done? From chronic diarrhoea to chronic constipation, bloating and pain after eating and then fatigue, depression and anxiety that this can cause.
I will never forget the lady who had suffered terribly with chronic stomach trouble since childhood; Swinging bowels, urgency, weight gain, sharp pains and severe bloating. Only to be told there was nothing wrong and nothing to be done. She just had IBS. Working together for the last 3 years, she is now healthy, fit, strong and well with absolutely no stomach or bowel complaints. I could not be happier or prouder of all her hard work. We have now started to successfully reintroduce some of the foods which had previously caused her pain.
As I started to find wellness again and develop a tolerance to reintroduce foods, I wanted to share this way of healing through food. Of course, I am an herbalist and I use herbs and supplements as well to help heal the gut but this is short term and the goal is always to help the body find normality again. Food is long term medicine, lifestyle change and re-working how you think about food is essential.
Rather than new ideas, I find myself preaching old ways of eating and enjoying food that we have moved away from and lost throughout the many years of fat free, sugar free, low carb, fad dieting. This way of eating involves going back to our roots and how our ancestors ate. I could then integrate my knowledge of health foods and really utilize the best offerings of the super food movement.
To me, all whole foods are super foods. Whole foods are foods that come just as they are and have been, for the best part, unchanged. Think fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and many animal products. The study of nutrition and implementing a balanced way of cooking and eating really took me back to my childhood and what my grandparents cooked, ate and shared with me. Reintroducing butter and throwing away margarine, saving the lard from the cooking process and learning to prepare, cook and eat new (and old) parts of each animal.
Moving away from fast food cooking and towards slow cooking, braising and pressure cooking allows so much more nutrients to be transferred from the food to our bodies plus gives such a better flavor. It is also a wonderful way to eat for leaky gut and an easy way for kids to enjoy tougher cuts of meat. An extra bonus is that when we eat this way we save money! By eating cuts that are not as popular and using the whole animal we get better yield (so are able to feed more people) and we do not pay a premium. It is cheaper to buy one whole chicken than a few kilos of chicken breast. This allows us to afford better quality meat and move away from mass produced, feed lot animals and to stop supporting such industries.
My favorite part of all of this is being transported to my Grandad’s kitchen as a child whenever I smell offal cooking, such as kidneys or liver. Many people will screw their nose up at the idea of eating offal but as you read through the book hopefully you will see the beauty that I do in using these incredibly nutritious and delicious parts, and maybe even try them! Starting with something as simple as a steak and kidney pie is a great way to introduce new flavors to the family in a familiar and tasty way.
Eat well and be well.