A personal story: how small changes transformed my health
I want to share my story of how small changes have transformed my health. Although this is personal to me, it's something I want to open up about because it has informed the way I work.
As a nutritional therapist I see the power that small changes have time and time again with my clients - each with an individual health story, lifestyle and dietary preferences. I work with clients to support sustainable, long term changes that make a difference to how they feel and function. My aim is that these changes continue having an impact well beyond the period of time we work together.
Because our bodies and our health are not static, we need to adjust how we eat and the lifestyles we adopt during different phases of our life. What suits us at one time (all nighters in my teens and twenties were a breeze), might not at another (now the thought of them makes me want to sleep for a week).
Flexibility is key to maintaining a good balance of nutrients to suit your needs as they change. Tuning into how your body feels and taking notice of the signs it is giving you is an important tool in helping you to do this - one change at a time.
My story begins during childhood when I was constantly sick with mucusy coughs and digestive problems. My mum took me to a homeopath who recommended I avoid dairy for a time, and my digestion and immunity drastically improved as a result.
For me, cutting out milk was a small change that had a big impact. Thankfully it didn't require permanent abstinence from the joys of ice cream, which I was able to re-introduce as a treat (alongside small amounts of more wholesome dairy products) in time.
During my teens I suffered from debilitatingly painful periods. I would miss a day of school a month and would often feel sick from the pain. These symptoms were managed by various medications over the years rather than through diet.
Unfortunately, this didn't provide a long term solution and I continued to battle with pain, pre-menstrual mood swings, hormonal acne and breast tenderness until my late 20s when I sought the advice of a nutritional therapist and things started to change.
Working through her recommendations, I first made the simple change of drinking more water. The most clichéd rule for improving energy, digestion and skin. And I realised it's a cliché for a reason - it made a real difference. I felt less bloated, my digestion was better, I was more alert and my skin started to clear up.
Alongside this, I started to reduce caffeine, which had become a crutch for me to get going in the mornings and to operate in the high-alert state needed for my job. However, I had noticed that my daily coffees and numerous teas were also making me jittery, anxious and more tired when their effects wore off.
The first two weeks without caffeine were hard. I felt permanently hung over and wondered if it was worth it. But as the withdrawal wore off, I felt energised, more stable, alert and calm. It was a revelation.
As I started to feel improvements from these changes, I felt motivated to do more. I reduced refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods, increased my fruit and veg intake and reduced dairy again - still a weak spot for me. As time went on, I tweaked my diet and continued to see and feel the benefits.
My way of eating had become intuitive - it's not that I never drank wine, ate cake or pizza, but that I was more attuned to how food made me feel. I still indulge in treats (and fully enjoy them - pizza and wine are the backdrop to many memorable, happy dinners with friends), but they are not the norm. I am able to balance them out with the foods I know support my digestion, nervous system, hormonal balance and skin, so I don't feel bloated, tired or grouchy in the hours or days afterwards.
My approach to my diet is fluid - for example, it has changed during periods of high stress, when I have wanted to maximise my fertility to conceive and when I have been pregnant, breastfeeding and juggling a new kind of busy, demanding life as a new mother.
As well as my diet, I have also adapted my lifestyle. Aside of the obvious changes, like reducing alcohol and incorporating daily exercise (the type of exercise has been dependent on what else is going on in my life), I have also focused at different times on improving my sleep quality and focusing on stress reduction techniques like meditation, journalling and breath work. I now have a toolkit of practices I can draw on depending on how I feel.
While everything I've mentioned here has been a journey, I am definitely not perfect. I still get over-tired sometimes and have to be reminded to go to bed, or get stuck in less than ideal food ruts when I'm stretched to my limits.
But I have an awareness of how small changes can make me feel better - sometimes that's as simple as choosing a hearty soup and salad in a cafe over a massive sandwich when I'm tired and craving carbs. Sometimes it's about forcing myself out of bed to do an early morning yoga practice because I know that movement will help me feel more awake and focused when I have a desk-bound day ahead.
These small changes are not about perfection, they are about being attuned, listening to my body and treating myself kindly. And this is what I aim to achieve for my clients. Small changes really can transform your health - and in the process, they grow your awareness of your body, what it needs and how it feels. These are lifelong tools that everyone should have.
If you would like to find out how I could support you to make sustainable, effective changes to your diet and lifestyle, get in touch. I offer a complimentary 15 minute consultation so you can tell me what you would like help with and we can discuss how I can best support you.