My Journey to Wellness

illustration by Olive on Blonde

illustration by Olive on Blonde

I have been on a truly amazing journey of self discovery over the past year. About this time last year I was working full time, partying a lot (code for “drinking too much”) and while I has really good intentions about health I wasn’t really walking the walk. Skip forward I am now a mother to an absolutely gorgeous 3 month old girl and she has given me such motivation to be truly healthy. And now that I am actually doing it right it is amazing how good I am feeling. I heard a quote once that said something along the lines of “most of us go through lives unaware of how amazing our bodies are designed to feel”. I am starting to realise this is true. My new interest in wellness is changing my life and, therefore, also changing my blog and career path! I thought I would share some of the discoveries and decisions I have made…

New Career Path

I am a jack of all trades, master of none. It is actually an in-joke that my close friends and family direct at me at virtually every meet up. I have started studies in Journalism, Architecture, Graphic Design and Sustainable Development but not completed any of those degrees. But… I don’t regret any of it! I have learnt a lot and loved every bit of those studies but they have not made my heart sing and grabbed my passion by the proverbial balls. It was then I realised that there has been one recurring interest and challenge since I was a teenager – Nutrition. Since my teenage years I have had a completely tortured relationship with my body and confidence: I have spoken previously on this blog about my struggles with anxiety (see here). And while I am still wading through a lot of those issues (with the help of the Wellness Warrior… read on) I am getting better every day. So the bizarre little cocktail of my past experiences, how I used to feel, how I feel now and the people that have helped me have motivated me to change my course… and I ended up here.

I will be commencing studies with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to start my career as a health and wellness coach! This is a college that boasts such luminaries as Jessica Ainscough (The Wellness Warrior), Sarah Wilson (of I Quit Sugar fame among other things) and OF COURSE raw food guru David Wolfe. Beyond that one of my all time favorite bloggers and friends Vegan Sparkles will be completing the course also. I am so excited about this new direction and for once feel completely confident that it is the right choice for me. As I move along with my studies and keep going with my own journey I will blog about all the new things I learn. I am still going to be very focused on sustainability and DIY but with the added focus of wellness… in all seriousness they go hand in hand anyway!

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The Lifestyle Transformation Guide

This has been the vehicle I have used to change my life. I always talk about Jess (she was one of my Wonderful Women of Wellness in this last post) and the amazing work she does on her website The Wellness Warrior and have also mentioned that I was lucky enough to win a Lifestyle Transformation Health Scholarship. The Lifestyle Transformation Guide is a 12 step course that leads you to your dream life. There are no deadlines and you work your way through at your own pace – though an end date is recommended. My end date is April 13 (not so coincidentally my 27th birthday)!

Photo courtesy of www.wellnesswarrior.com.au

I will go into this in more detail in another blog post but the crux of it is practicing a serious amount of self-love as shifting your priorities so that your health sits above everything else. I have learnt the power of affirmations, believing in myself, setting your day up to achieve your goals and truly healthy eating. Before starting the LTG I used to eat well but still had unbelievably unhealthy habits. For example, I would still think of bad food as a treat, I still grappled with a bit of an eating disorder which I have never been able to quite crush and if I had a stressful day I would drown it in wine. I never really thought I could get rid of these down right shitty habits but slowly and surely they are melting away. It is feeling amazing. As part of the course you are also granted access to a private Facebook group where all of Jess’ scholars can share ideas, milestones, setbacks and everything else in between – it is an amazing support network. Not to mention the coaching calls from Jess. If you are struggling with anything in your life or even if you are not but just want to feel better then I sincerely recommend signing up for the course!

Next stop is conquering stillness and this is bound to be my biggest hurdle yet. Can’t wait.

It's all about visualising your perfect self!illustration by Olive on Blonde

It’s all about visualising your perfect self!
illustration by Olive on Blonde

New Diet

As part of the course I am not only retraining my mind but also my taste buds  I have adapted to a life free of gluten, most grains (I very occasionally have a bit of rice or Quinoa), refined sugar, caffeine (apart from the amount found in raw cacao) and anything packaged at all. My big challenge started yesterday and that is cutting out my 2 glasses of wine every evening. I realised that I have been eating this amazing alkaline diet that is free of preservatives and additives and then dosing up on an acidic glass of nasties every evening. It is going to be difficult as wine is my way of coping with my anxiety (not so healthy) so I am under no illusion that this will be my hardest task yet.

I have switched to an all organic diet. I previously would incorporate a lot of organic foods but not entirely: I always found the cost prohibitive (especially now on a single income). But having a baby changed it all because I want to ensure that she only ever consumes organic food (within reason – I will let her experience the wonder that is a choc-dipped soft serve icecream one day!). I seem to managed to get the formula down for how to live organically within fairly tight budgetary constraints. (I will blog about this this week!).

Exercise

illustration by Olive on Blonde

illustration by Olive on Blonde

Starting to exercise again after a year off and with a new post baby body to get used to was terrifying. But if I didn’t throw myself in the deep end it was going to keep getting scarier. So I have signed up for a 2 month intense training program which ends in a 10km obstacle race. *GULP*. Throw in some calming yoga and I am definitely moving again.

New Health Habits

It is funny that embracing organic produce and raw foods is considered an ‘alternative lifestyle’. You often hear it in the media being described as ‘extreme’ but could anything make more sense? Ancient practices are often scoffed at these days – remember this Pete Evans fiasco regarding activating his almonds? I would have been one of those people a year or two again. Eating clay in the morning? Pull the other one. But I guess I should not have judged it before trying. I will blog about these new habits in further details but some of the quirky new habits I incorporate in my life include;

  • Dry Body Brushing – every morning I use this Ayurvedic cleansing method to kickstart my bodies system from the outside.
  • Oil Pulling – borrowing from Ayurveda again I also practice this cleansing method every morning.
  • Activating my food – Nuts, seeds and the occasional grain gets activated. (See my post about activating foods here).
  • Meditation – I am still practicing this… it is very hard. Who would have thought that just concentrating on your breath could be so difficult?
  • Affirmations – sometimes if you say something enough (even if you don’t believe it at first) you can change your own mind. Case in point saying into the mirror “You are beautiful and I love you”. Sounds insane… but try it first.
  • Gratitude journal – Write something that you are grateful for every day. This can turn your worst day around when you realise how lucky you are. I have a Gratitude Jar and I also write one on behalf of my daughter (its a nice way to remember her milestones i.e. “I am grateful that I learned how to laugh today!”)

More on those ‘crazy’ ideas later.

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Onward and Upward!

So I hope that wasn’t too boring or self-indulgent. I just wanted to share my revelations and also mention where I am going with my life. I am so excited and can’t wait to blog all the way along.

What about you? Have you made any major changes in your life? Any crazy, quirky health habits? 

How I Beat Anxiety Naturally

When you are pregnant it is quite amazing to watch your body morph into this out-of-proportion vessel and feel all the changes that experienced mums warn you about: a sore back, a pain down your thigh or a craving for chalk. What can be even more bizarre though are experiencing changes that you didn’t expect. For me that was finding a ‘cure’ for my Anxiety Disorder – an issue that has governed my life for close to 4 years now. It struck me as odd though considering impending parenthood is a fairly terrifying concept in itself. Surely I can’t be less stressed? So I examined the changes in my lifestyle since learning I was pregnant and BOOM – the solution was under my nose the whole time. What an idiot I have been.

Stress and Health

Stress is incredibly bad for our health and that was what really scared me about my Anxiety Disorder (see below) – I was permanently in ‘the red zone’. A study by Dr Bruce McEwen from the Rockefeller University shows that ‘chronic stress’ lowers the immune system and damages bones, organs and brain cells. Stressed bodies release cortisol and adrenaline – that explains my high blood pressure and racing heart – and cause us to age quicker (hear him talking about his study here).

From Natalie Shell.com

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety is a normal feeling until it becomes a persistent state – when high anxiety, extreme discomfort and tension become the norm. Well-known disorders include Agoraphobia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) but there are loads of different types – you can click here to see a handy guide provided by the Australian Government.

My Experience

I had Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) which is defined as an excessive, uncontrollable, and unrealistic worry about everyday things, such as health, family, friends, money, or career. I would live in constant fear of panic attacks which would occur completely randomly – on public transport, before social occasions, in work meetings or while I was just sitting around minding my own business. Panic Attacks are debilitating and can lead to all sorts of symptoms such as racing heart, difficulty breathing, a feeling of choking (my least fave), dizziness, nausea and tingling extremities. All accompanied by an unwavering belief that you are dying. Needless to say it can make you a little reclusive.  And crazy lookin.

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Doctors suggested anti-depressants, Counsellors suggested some underlying ‘issues’, Naturopaths suggested left-of-field disorders like Pyrrole and friends suggested cuddles (Mark, Sal and Jenna – I love you). None of those shoes fit though (apart from the hugs) and I certainly didn’t want to try brain-altering medications. I would like to state that I whole-heartedly believe that for some people that is an option that should not be ignored – I am only saying that for me I felt that it wasn’t right. It was just so flippantly suggested to me without any investigation into my medical history or mental state. It was suggested to me as if it was nothing – going onto any medication is something. In the end it was a Doctor in the Emergency Department (I told you – it really feels as though you are dying!) cemented my resolve to avoid them by telling me just how dangerous and addictive these medications can be. It really should be a last option. Either way I started resigning myself to the fact that maybe I was insane.

Image from Food Based Nutrition.com

The Cure

With pregnancy came healthy lifestyle changes which let’s face it, I should have been doing from the start! But all of a sudden things started getting better. I have completely stopped having panic attacks, started sleeping better, feel happier, have lost weight (I am lighter at 4.5 months pregnant!) and I am just functioning better in general. I cannot tell you how freeing it is not creeping around my life waiting for the next panic attack to jump out from a corner and absolutely floor me.

So I thought I would share what has worked for me in case you are experiencing the same thing, know someone that is or have just been feeling a little ‘off’ lately. All these habits are good no matter who you are.

Cut Caffeine

From Coffee Scholar

This is the biggest factor in my new, calmer attitude. It is recommended that pregnant women limit their caffeine intake to fewer than 200mg a day – the equivalent to 2 cups of instant coffee, 4 cups of tea or 1 cup of café coffee (might even be over 200mg). This led to me living on DIY herbal teas (like this easy ginger tea), warm water with lemon in it and homemade fruit mixes. Immediately I felt a change. I had minor withdrawals and craved a ‘buzz’ still so after a while tried black tea. As soon as I had one I got the funny feeling again; my heart started to race, I felt nervous – the tell-tale signs. Now I just don’t miss it. I have one decaf coffee (only 3mg per cup) in the morning and it seems to act as a kind of ‘caffeine placebo’.  Give it a go.

Only Consume Natural Sugars

Processed, nasty sugars are another trigger. Lollies, pre-made sauces, sugary drinks, (basically anything processed) would send me into the crazy-haze again. But I consider it a good thing – it forces me to cut out an ingredient that is not only addictive but also utterly damaging to my health! I now avoid it as much as I can and try to sate my sweet tooth with fruit, raw honey and maple syrup. My favourite health blogger, the Wellness Warrior, has provided a whole list of alternatives here.

Scary! From Strong Lola Facebook Page.

If you want to completely boot sugar then check out former Cosmopolitan Editor (now healthy guru) Sarah Wilson’s awesome blog.  She quit sugar altogether due to an auto-immune disease and then wrote a great e-book guiding others through it, aptly named ‘I Quit Sugar’ (buy it here). She also recently appeared on a 60 Minutes segment about the dangers of sugar.

Eat Healthy

Lots of fruit. Even more veg. Colourful = antioxidants. Wholefoods. Choose organic wherever possible. Avoid packages.  Steer clear of gluten and lactose where possible. Simple enough.

Reduce Your Alcohol Intake

Not surprisingly, when you are actually drinking/are drunk anxiety levels are generally low. “Where the hell did my champagne go?” was the extent of my stress on a night out. However for anxiety sufferers (particularly anyone with an Anxiety Disorder) the next day can be torture. This is because alcohol affects the Serotonin levels in our brain (happy gas), dehydrates us, drops our blood sugar, makes us hyperactive and elevates our heart-rates.

I have cut alcohol from my diet completely while pregnant and have definitely felt the benefits but I am not unrealistic about our future relationship. Once I have the bub I imagine red wine will be back on the menu however I have definitely changed my attitude towards it. I don’t need it, I certainly don’t need to get drunk every time I have it and I will savour it glass-by-glass rather than crate-by-crate in future. I will also aim to regularly have a few weeks of being a teetotaler every month or two.

Meditate Daily

Why we constantly look for super pills and magic formulas is beyond me: Meditation is free and flexible – you can do it anywhere! It has recently been shown that meditation (or deep relaxation) changes our bodies on a genetic level – our genes actually become disease-fighting machines. Researchers have shown that this ‘relaxation effect’ as they’ve coined it can be as powerful as any medicinal drug and can fight off cancers and inflammatory effects within the body. People who meditate daily also have greater chances of remaining free of arthritis and joint pain, have stronger immunity, healthier hormone levels and lower blood pressure. I didn’t know all of this when I started (I just wanted to calm down) but now I am hooked!

Search for ‘Guided Meditation’ on Youtube, find one that you click with and see how you feel after a week. You can also buy CD’s, iPhone apps and plenty of books if you get really hooked. Here is a great one I found on YouTube;

Practice Yoga

Meditation is one of the 5 Key Principles of Yoga so everything you read in the above section applies here to. You also get a million other benefits (which you can read here) as well as toning your body up – which always makes me feel better about life.

(I always wear glamorous fuchsia frocks and practice the  yoga atop a mountain by the way. I take my wind machine too).

DEDICATED. RELAXATION.

For at least 30 minutes every day banish technology, throw away your to-do lists and pamper yourself with some devoted you time. I never realised how little I turned my mind off. I would be ‘relaxing’ by walking along the beach but constantly running through what I would have to do as soon as I was off the beach. Then when I was out and about doing those things I would think about how I need to relax more and do calming activities – like walk on the beach. Now I have adopted a different philosophy and I try to appreciate what is going on in the now for at least half an hour every day. Wherever you are, be truly present. Read a book, go for a walk, have a bath, sit in the garden. Feel comfortable within your own skin.

Take some time out to just have fun!

Well – that’s it. Those are the changes I made. I think they are a hell of a lot easier and more enjoyable than medication or the alternative. Do you have a natural solution to beating stress? Have you overcome an anxiety disorder naturally? I would love to hear in the comments.