Surely one of the most appealing qualities of pharmaceutical medicines is the speed with which they manage and/or suppress symptoms of discomfort. If I have a headache and I take a couple of ibuprofen I feel some sort of measurable relief (usually pretty complete) within 15 to 20 minutes, and it’s pretty much guaranteed before taking. Reforming my diet and lifestyle to improve my health, however, doesn’t work so fast, and health foods are never labelled with printed guarantees either. I forget it most days, but I live my life now so very differently from how I did 5 years ago, just because I decided to take complete ownership of my health and well-being and I consciously decided I wasn’t going to outsource it to anyone or anything else anymore. For the most part, I feel soooo much better than I did before, and the evidence is in my state of mind. Having experienced depression more than once before, I am always a little wary of my body and mind’s ability to cope with stress, but I know that I have become much more stable and balanced over these years, and my husband assures me it’s true. However, living in a world of quick-fixes and instant gratification, I sometimes crave more tangible evidence that all the effort I’m putting into my health is paying off – and it IS a lot of effort, there’s no doubt about that. It’s effort that rewards me spiritually, mentally, and physically, but you know, sometimes I just feel superficial and I want PROOF that what I’m doing is working, haha!
So I’ve been thinking about all the little physical changes to my body that I’ve experienced over the past few years – ones that I feel pretty sure are not just part of the natural course of ageing, and not part of the deal of having children either. Of course, this list is entirely subjective because our bodies are ever-changing and are responsive to so many influences in our environment, and I guess their own environments. You could dismiss my whole post as conjecture, or you can just trust me and my gut and marvel with me at how food and lifestyle changes have so much (untapped) potential to heal us. So anyway, in no particular order of chronology or importance…
My finger- and toe-nails have become pink and smooth
I was in my twenties when I came across my friend’s plastic foam-y buffing tool one day. It occurred to me that I should have nice smooth fingernails – I was mostly thinking about how if I did, my nailpolish would go on smooth too. But I didn’t bother using it for long because the ridges on my nails were so deep it would have taken me forever to buff them flat. I even considered a nail file would be more appropriate for the job! Of course, now I’m glad I didn’t go there because my nails would have been left so thin, there would’ve been hardly any nail left 😬. I had really deep ridges on my nails for as long as I can remember until just last year when I noticed that the ridges have gone and my nails are smooth! I also took a zinc test late last year and supplemented with zinc drops for a few weeks. The white spots on my nails all disappeared. My toenails are also looking much better these days; they are nice and pink in colour now. They used to have a yellow tinge which was probably due to them constantly being covered in nail polish (to hide the yellowish colour haha). The nails are also less brittle and dry than they used to be.
My skin is not so dry anymore
These days I don’t have a lot of time for daily self-pampering (like I used to before I was a mummy) so I don’t moisturise anything other than my face except on the odd occasion like when I’m going out somewhere special enough that I have to shower and dress just for it! But I noticed the other day that I don’t actually need to moisturise like I used to. It used to be that when I shaved my legs my skin on my shins looked really dry if I didn’t rub lots of lotion on them. My skin would look really shiny and taut, and have white lines that looked like cracks. I also had really dry skin on my elbows, all the time. It was so dry that it would crack and occasionally hook on woollen jumpers, which really hurt. But I recently noticed that my elbows are now soft and smooth. They’re not dry at all, and they don’t feel sore. I have no idea when that happened because I wasn’t paying attention but it’s certainly happened in the past couple of years. I bet no one else has noticed it but me, because my skin has always looked good to others. But when it’s your own and you’re in it all the time you notice things that other people don’t…
The skin tone on my face has evened out
Another skin one. I’ve always received compliments on my skin even when I considered myself a pimply teenager …twenti-ager …thirti-ager, and now I have a daughter who has inherited my Asian complexion, I understand why. We are very lucky to have inherited this skin from my Japanese mum – I say this now when I understand it and know how to manage it, but when I was a teenager oh, how I wished my oily skin wouldn’t shine in photos so bad you couldn’t see my expression! A couple of years ago, when I received the final print in a series of portraits taken over pregnancy – child no.1 – child no.2, I was intrigued to notice how my complexion had improved oh-so-subtly over the couple of years I’d started cleaning up my diet/lifestyle. Now, another couple of years later I’m taking selfies (🙄) and selfie-videos (😬) on Instagram, I can see how the skin on my face has improved even more (I didn’t know it needed improving, but it has anyway!). I’m sure that dietary changes have been largely responsible for these improvements to my skin, but the way I look after my facial skin has evolved over the past couple of years too, and I plan to write more about that in my next post 😉.
My receding gums have grown back
Just after Daniel was born (3 years’ ago) I visited the dentist for a long overdue checkup. Fortunately for me, I didn’t need any fillings and my teeth looked good (although he could tell I’d had a hankering for grapefruit during that pregnancy as my enamel had taken a bit of a hit) but my gums were receding so badly that he decided to put filler in one, with the promise of doing a couple more on my next visit. My teeth, especially on my bottom jaw, were exposed so far down that it would hurt when I pressed my finger against them. He was not the only dentist who told me I needed to brush my teeth with less vigour and using a softer bristled toothbrush. Unfortunately, he said, receding gums don’t grow back. Well, fast forward three years and they have grown back. Almost COMPLETELY. That filler he put around the one tooth is almost completely covered with healthy pink gum tissue now! And funnily enough, my tooth-brushing technique is no less vigorous than it ever was, and my bamboo toothbrush bristles are no more or less soft than they ever were. I’m 100% confident that my gums are healing now due to 1. diet changes, and 2. ditching toothpaste and switching to soap/activated charcoal and homemade mouthwash¹. And I’m fairly certain that I’ve kicked candidiasis, which I didn’t know I had until I was almost rid of it, and that candida had a role to play in my gums receding so badly. I used to have a white coating on my tongue, but since I quit dairy I have a pink healthy-looking tongue even first thing in the morning. I also don’t really get that furry feeling on my teeth or tongue much anymore.
Yep, you read that right. Farts. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may recall that post where I wrote about how embarrassing it was to do extended length, loud and proud farts in public without having enough pelvic floor tone (post natural birth) to contain, or even significantly shorten them!² It’s so embarrassing to even write about this but it was something I was unable to hide for a couple of years so I learned to just accept the embarrassment on the chin. Late last year I decided to see if I could get my flatulence problem under control by reducing my fructose intake as much as possible. This included fruct-ans (the vegetable equivalent of fructose) so I quit garlic and onions as well as sugars and most fruits, coconut milk & cream …and most other delicious foods 😩. It was tough, and of course I decided to do this just before Christmas too. But I felt almost immediate relief from bloating and flatulence, and if my resolve weakened and I caved in over a couple of feijoas or a dried banana, I would feel the effects within half an hour. I thought I had something called fructose malabsorption which is a condition that can suddenly present at any time in life, and would mean I’d be farting over dried fruit for the rest of my life. However, fortunately for me I have discovered only in the last month or two, that I can tolerate a bit of sweet food now with no ill effects, and my farting is at completely normal levels now hurrah! 😅 Provided, of course, that I don’t go overboard and binge on feijoas or raisins, or delicious raw slices, my tummy feels very settled after meals now. I can only assume that I had a bacterial imbalance in my digestive system (maybe like SIBO?) and that taking a break from fructose, and sugar in general, helped to rebalance things inside. I also did a 24 hour fast which had a noticeable effect on my digestion – I would definitely do more of these if I had the willpower, but I’m just loving food too much these days to willingly deprive myself of it while I’m awake!
My B.O. is less stinky
It took me a couple of years to fully convert to natural deodorants and I finally did it about 5 years ago. Why did it take me so long? Well, because every time I tried to ditch the aluminium roll-on anti-perspirant (so bad…) I would stink SO terribly, I couldn’t concentrate when I was teaching in the classroom. I grossed myself out! And I have memories of a poor French teacher who was completely victimised by my classmates in high school (an all girls’ school – girls are mean) for her body odour – she complained that she was allergic to deodorant, which failed to arouse any sympathy from her tormentors, poor thing. Anyway, I didn’t want to have my students point out how stinky I was, so I would always cave and go back to the anti-perspirant. But when I was pregnant with Stella, suddenly it wasn’t just about me anymore. I stopped using anti-perspirant like I didn’t have a choice and I switched to a homemade coconut oil-based deodorant. I stank for a good few weeks, but then the smell kind of went away all on its own and I haven’t looked back! A couple of years ago I noticed that my homemade deodorant left funny stains on the armpits of my clothes (from the coconut oil I assume) which wouldn’t wash out. It annoyed me because I didn’t want to toss clothes just because of my deodorant, so I stopped using that recipe and switched to a homemade magnesium oil deodorant instead. More recently, I have experimented with salt as a deodorant and it seems to work fine although I haven’t tested it rigorously enough to feel I can promote it to others …yet. In fact, I still don’t feel I could rate and compare conventional versus homemade deodorants based on my own experience because to be honest, I’m pretty sure my armpits are naturally less stinky than they used to be! And I don’t believe it’s really about which deodorant I’m using, but rather the health of my body due to improved diet and lifestyle, leading to better digestive health, leading to better overall health (and less stink!).
Well this is something that I’ve already dedicated a couple of blog posts³ to, and I will update in the near future. For now I will just say that my periods have got to the point where they are pretty ‘normal’, and I feel that the catalyst for this change was quitting dairy and gluten. No proof, just my gut feeling. I should point out that when quitting both dairy and gluten, I didn’t replace either with any processed food/drink replacement. I used this dietary change as a reason to commit to making/eating/buying wholefoods and even when I’m eating out I avoid processed food ingredients whenever I can.
My body weight is very stable now
Firstly, I’ll just say that I’ve always been within a normal weight range for my height. I’m pretty used to comments about how I’m ‘wasting away’ or ‘too skinny’ which I don’t quite know what to make of, seeing as I am neither. But it’s only in the past couple of years that my weight has stabilised to the point where it only ever fluctuates plus or minus 2kg, and overall I’m about 5kg lighter than I ever was through my twenties and thirties. My weight doesn’t seem to be affected much by how much I eat or how much exercise I do; rather, what kind of foods I’m eating – I engage in my fair share of binge eating on “healthy” potato chips and “healthy” sweets & slices, haha! Now that I’m less interested in my weight and more interested in my health, I worry more about overdoing the sweets and treats in terms of whether they’ll cause digestive distress (and farts) than weight gain. Although social conditioning is strong – I still catch myself bemoaning tight jeans or unflattering clothes and blame them on my greediness, which is completely irrational and not very good role modelling for my children, I know. I want my children to love and respect their bodies, so I have to catch myself in these ‘teenage’ moments of mine, and consciously correct myself. But anyway, I digress. The fact that my weight has stabilised signals to me that what I’m doing in terms of food and lifestyle is more sustainable for my body in a way. And I can live with a smaller wardrobe too, which is awesome.
I put the ‘h’ there to make the word less confronting, haha! But the truth is, our poohs are a seriously untapped resource which we should be referencing all the time to check our internal health and well being! We could learn so much about ourselves by learning how to read our poohs, which could be considered little messages from our gut, rather than disgusting waste emissions which revolt us so much we dare not look at them before we flush. Since I became a mummy I’ve had no say in how much pooh I’m exposed to daily. I don’t deny it’s gross changing my son’s nappies, but I’ve also developed an appreciation for how much it can tell me. I can tell when he’s got worms, and when the diatomaceous earth is getting rid of them. I figured out his gluten and dairy sensitivity by the contents of his nappies. I can tell when he’s not digesting food properly, and most importantly, when he’s really healthy! As for myself, I will just say that I always thought I was ‘normal’ until I discovered the Bristol Stool Chart. Now I am normal!
Things I consider to be unresolved…
Before you write off this post as being just one long brag list of how awesome I am, there are some little physical irritations that I haven’t managed to heal yet. For one, I still have dandruff. I wash my hair with olive oil soap now, and it looks and feels amazing, but I still have patches of really itchy, flaky skin on my scalp, particularly around my hairline. Because I absolutely refuse to go back to Head & Shoulders, I have to accept that at any moment I might just itch a whole cluster of flakes to the surface of my hair for others to see. I’ve been looking for answers for so long, but so far nothing has presented as a permanent solution, although I did get amazing relief from salt soaks (more about that in my next blog post). My scalp is a whole heap less oily than it used to be when I shampooed, and if it weren’t for the dandruff I could go a week between washes now. But I recently happened upon an incredibly informative and insightful blog post about eczema that gave me much-needed perspective on my scalp-issues. If you have skin issues yourself, I highly recommend this article – it makes perfect sense to me, and resonates with a lot of my own conclusions around health and medications. Apart from dandruff, another aspect of my health that I know needs more support and time is my hormones. I still have quite noticeable symptoms of PMS – not crippling pain or anything like that, just moodiness, bloating and physical discomfort, headaches, and such. I also still get some bloating and digestive distress when I eat sometimes, and I haven’t quite figured out the pattern yet. But I feel like I’m on the right path, it’s just that years of mostly unrecognised poor health will no doubt take years to heal! I’m also pretty determined that I will heal completely one day. It’s a lofty goal, especially at the age of 40 but I’m optimistic!
So there, I just divulged a whole lot of information about my body to a whole lot of people, most of whom I don’t know and will never meet! But I shared this with you because these things I’ve written about can all signal good or poor health, but we don’t often acknowledge them, let alone talk about them with others. All of the above are physical expressions that I never considered to be health issues because I just accepted that every body is different with its own quirks, whether that be ridged nails or a farty bum. Because of that, it has also meant that I’ve sometimes (mistakenly) felt that I’m not making any progress with my personal journey of healing, which is far from the truth. The outward expression of improved health can be so subtle, but I believe our bodies are always trying to show us what’s going on inside, and too often we ignore or misunderstand the messages.
Please be aware that I’m not a qualified health practitioner and I’m not offering advice for anyone else on how best they should manage their health. I am only sharing with you my own experiences and reflecting on how they have affected me. I encourage everyone to take personal responsibility for their own health by prioritising it, making informed decisions, and building a robust support network.
¹ You can read more about this in an earlier blog post called “We brush our teeth with soap”
² This blog post was called “Fructose and flatulence”
Photography by Louise Davies Photography