How do you do the least harm possible when it becomes detrimental to do the least harm possible?

Over the last twelve months quite a number of the plant-based/vegan diet and lifestyle influencers have come out and admitted that for health reasons they are no longer able to follow the lifestyle they have previously advocated. I do not judge any of them for this. I too have had my struggles on a plant-based diet and have the nerve damage to prove it. What does surprise me, however is how many of the former influencers become full on carnivores. They seem to just walk away from their former beliefs without a backward glance.

I fully believe that a plant -based diet is incredibly healthy and the most ethical and morally correct diet to follow. I know many advocates of plant based eating who thrive and are exemplars of fantastically good health.  But as I have already alluded I, myself have had terrible struggles with being fully plant-based and my health. As such, over the last three years I have spent a lot of time educating myself on how I can be vital and healthy while following a plant-based diet. Cue several courses on nutrition and extensive reading on both plant based living, my two health conditions and empirical observations based on self conducted dietary trials.

Any good nutrition course will recommend minimal consumption of animal based products and encourage obtaining protein from things like beans and legumes, Tofu, nuts and seeds etc. Likewise all the good plant-based/vegan resources advocate taking a B12 supplement and to seek out plant-based foods that have been fortified with it. B12 naturally occurs in animal products like dairy, meat, fish and eggs and without it we would experience weakness, tiredness, nerve damage and vision loss (to name but a few) so it essential if you are plant based to ensure that you are properly dosed.

However it is here that my own tale begins. I was supplementing and consuming fortified products and yet I still ended up with a severe deficiency in B12 and a plethora of other vitamins. The problem being for me that I have both Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and severe IBS. The Hashimoto’s means that I have very low stomach acid and impaired digestion, meaning that my body does not get all the nutrients out of my food; incidentally, B12 deficiency is very common even among meat and dairy eating Hashimoto’s patients. To manage the symptoms of Hashimoto’s and reduce the risk of an autoimmune attack I have also had to make impose further dietary restrictions including eliminating any thing anything soya based, (tofu etc) from my diet. I also can’t consume gluten, alcohol, caffeine, cruciferous vegetables (kale, cabbage, broccoli etc) or (irrelevantly in my case) dairy.

Similarly the IBS has it’s own list of food restrictions, in particular those high in “fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols” – FODMAP, for short. Foods high in FODMAP often trigger an IBS attack (diarrhoea, stomach cramping, fatigue and brain fog) and include various fruits and vegetables, but most significantly in relation to this post, legumes such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans. All of which as we know, are the main source of protein in a plant-based diet.

However, like the the foods listed on the Hashimoto’s list rather than just accept that I can’t eat these things I have endeavoured to conduct various food trials over a 3 year period and see what my limitations are. My aim has been to reduce the frequency and duration of both autoimmune and IBS attacks while maintaining a diet that is predominantly plant-based. By the end of 2019 I had a solid idea of what I can and can’t eat. Small quantities of kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils are OK; but by small I mean small and not enough to fulfil my body’s daily protein requirements. Soya is a total no go. In addition to the problems soya products cause with regards to the absorption of my Levothyroxine, they also causes – and there is no nice way to put this-……….bowelmageddon. Which in itself might sound trivial but the ‘upset’ as with an IBS attack can last up to a week and affects the digestion of food I consume post a ‘soya event’. I do not function during these occurrences and am bed bound for the duration.

After much experimentation I have arrived at place that works for me physically. But morally and ethically I feel very much between a rock and hard place. I have reintroduced eggs and in the full interest of disclosure haven’t had a problem with B12 since. I also eat oily fish a couple of times a week and although I am even less comfortable with that, and aim to eventually eliminate it, I accept it is where I am for now. As such, I continue to push my diet and continually test the bounds of how much I can go without further damaging my health. It hasn’t been an easy journey so far and as yet, is by no means over.

I think the lesson here is to adapt when you need to but strive to do the least harm possible. I knew that when I needed to make adjustments for the sake of my health that I didn’t want to suddenly abandon my beliefs. To that end the majority of my meals are still completely plant-based; and invariably when I share food on my Instagram account, I share only plant based food. Not because I am trying to deceive but because I firmly believe that plant based is best.
Love and Light (from a work in progress)

Stella xx

“Let me sleep and dream of sheep”

vladislav-muslakov-CwIU33KGToc-unsplash

 

 

 

 

On any given evening I don’t know what the night holds for me. Will I fall and stay asleep or will I be thumb twiddling at four a.m?

I have struggled with bouts of insomnia and poor sleep most of my adult life and having tried various things I now have a routine that seems to be helping and although my sleep isn’t perfect, it is much better than it has been. Whether you are a serial insomniac like me or just suffer occasionally here are a few of my tips for a restful night :

  1. Bookend your day with exercise: I start the day with a walk in my local area or spend some time on the cross trainer followed by an invigorating flow yoga practice. At the opposite end of the day I like to do a short Yin Yoga practice to help me wind down for the day. I, like most of the world subscribe to Yoga with Adriene on Youtube and have found it to be an amazing resource. I have linked my favourite sequences down below.
  2. I love coffee and historically was second only to the fictional Lorelei Gilmore in my consumption of it. These days however I limit myself to 2 cups per day, both of which are consumed before 11 am.
  3. Research has shown that magnesium is important for aiding with restful sleep. I prefer to boost mine by eating lots of lovely magnesium rich foods throughout like Kale, spinach, buckwheat, quinoa, avocados, almonds, cashews, chia and pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate. Legumes (lentils, chickpeas and beans) are also a rich source but I have to be more careful with these as they are high FODMAP and really don’t agree with my tum. Bananas are also an excellent source and are my supper of choice.
  4. Post my evening yoga practice I don’t have any interaction with screens – phone, T.V or laptop. This is my official wind down that lets my brain know that I am preparing for sleep. In this time I take apply a lavender body oil. Sometimes this will be homemade blend of fractionated coconut oil, a few drops of lavender and either a drop of patchouli or frankincense or a ready made product like the bath and shower drops from The Scent to sleep range by Neom Organics. Once the oil is applied I jump into the shower where the heat and steam helps to release the essential oils that aid a restful night. I then do all the usual skincare ablutions and brush my teeth.
  5. I jump in to my Pjs (I find natural fibres are better for sleep) and make a warm. I know many people swear by a milky drink at bedtime but they just don’t do it for me and I prefer a herbal tea. I’m currently drinking one from Neals Yard Remedies that has the herbs chamomile, lavender and valerian in it. I do really like it but I also love the super affordable chamomile tea from Aldi and the Pukka Night Time Tea. Valerian, chamomile and lavender are know soporifics and through personal experience can vouch that I sleep better when I have had a tea with them in. I have also read some great research regarding the benefits of lemon balm for aiding sleep, however I haven’t tried it because it interferes with my thyroid medication.
  6. I pop some lavender essential oil into my diffuser and climb into bed between 9- 10 pm. I like to read for a short spell while I drink my tea. I tend to read fantasy fiction in the evenings because A. it is my favourite genre and B. I have found that it is more restful than other genres; for example If I read non-fiction books my brain tends to whirl all night.
  7. The last jobs of the night are to turn off my diffuser and  to spritz my pillow with a sleep spray. I’m currently using the Deep Sleep Pillow Spray from This works; it was a thoughtful gift from my sister, Victoria and I love it. I do sleep noticeably better and I think that’s because it contains a blend of yummy essential oils rather than just lavender.

If you struggling with sleep – which given the current anxiety surrounding the Covid -19 pandemic isn’t surprising – then just implementing some of this routine might help you too.

I’m aware that I have mentioned a number of proprietary products in this blog and want to reassure you that I am in no way affiliated with any of the companies mentioned. These are the products that I have found genuinely help me and I have supplied links to either good offers and reliable suppliers

Love and light

Stella

Image by Vladislav Muslakov

Yoga with Adriene:
https://youtu.be/RQyX48NtDrQ

Fractionated coconut oil https://mothernaturesgoodies.co.uk/fractionated-coconut-oil-pure-natural-authentic-base-carrier-aromatherapy/

Lavender Oil https://www.nealsyardremedies.com/aromatherapy/aromatherapy-oils-and-blends/essential-oils/2182.html

Patchouli Oil https://www.nealsyardremedies.com/aromatherapy/aromatherapy-oils-and-blends/essential-oils/2135.html

Frankincense Oil https://www.nealsyardremedies.com/aromatherapy/aromatherapy-oils-and-blends/essential-oils/2237.html

Neom Organics https://www.neomorganics.com/products/perfect-nights-sleep-bath-oil

Pukka Tea https://www.hollandandbarrett.com/shop/product/pukka-night-time-tea-60097652?skuid=097652&brandId=344

Neals Yard Remedies Herbal Tea https://www.nealsyardremedies.com/wellbeing/herbal-remedies/herbal-teas/8360.html

Pillow Spray https://www.thisworks.com/sleep/sleep-category/pillow-sprays/deep-sleep-pillow-spray-1145.html

 

Wellness and the road to equilibrium

I haven’t been great at blogging over the last couple of years, with the number of times I post dwindling to about once or twice a year.  I assumed it was due to waning interest and a lack of things to say on my part, but it transpires that my apathy was medical and not indifference or laziness. In March I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, not exactly life threatning I know, but debilitaing when left untreated. Which it had been for over 12 months. Given that both my Mother and late Grandmother also had the condition you would think I would have recognised the signs. But I didn’t. What I saw was weight gain and assumed my diet was to blame, so went on ever stricter diets to counteract it. I was sleeping poorly so embarked on a mission to eliminate all stimulants such as caffeine. I was fatigued all the time; just walking upstairs would leave me so exhausted I would have to lie down for a while. My mestrual cycle became erratic, so I assumed I was going through early menopause and spent a fortune on supplements to help ease the transition. I ached and assumed it was my age.

It came as a relief when I discovered what was actually wrong.  It took about 8 weeks for ther thyroid medication to enter my system fully, but I did notice changes after 2 weeks.  I have been slowly building up my activity from about then, and have adopted a proactive approach to my health and wellbeing in the months following diagnosis.  I think the activity that has most impacted on my wellbeing both mentally and physically is my Yoga practise. Having practised at home for years on and off,  I decided it was finally time to seek out proper instruction so that I could get the most out of my practise. Fortunately for me our local Health Centre has just moved into a beautiful new purpose built building and offers an array of activities including Tai Chi, Pilates and of course Yoga.

Twice a week I do a Kundalini Yoga class and the once a week a Yin Yoga class. Both present enormous challenges for me and are helping me with both my physical limitations – years of HIIT training and weight training has left me with short tightened muscles, likewise an injury sustained in dance as a teen has resulted in a very sore and tight left hamstring-  but also my emotional and mental wellbeing.  Kundalini is very breath focussed and is cleansing and uplifting, whereas the Yin is concerned with holding each Asana for anything up to 5 mins, so isn’t the most comfortable experience but is incredibly rewarding. Interestingly both practises have stirred up emotions concerned with my past that I thought long forgotten, but as the tension in my hips, back and chest is released so are the negative emotions. Slowly with the help of my practise I am able to let them go and feel for the first time in a long time I am starting to find my equilibrium.

 

Sleep Play Move

Being in my forties has been amazing. I’m happy in my own skin. I say pfft things that used to really bother me, I’m braver with my clothes and generally much more confident. That being said, I’ve noticed that my health and wellbeing – things I took for granted before- need a little more TLC than they used too.

indexI’ve always struggled with poor sleep and just accepted it as part of my lot. However over the last year I’ve been more proactive about improving it, not least because I’m not as resilient I was in my twenties and thirties. A bad night’s sleep these days = a really crappy day.  The road to better sleep for me has been a combination of inclusion and elimination.

First on the elimination list was caffeine. I’m not exaggerating when I say I used to drink an obscene amount of caffeine loaded drinks everyday….coffee, cola, tea…I did them all in ridiculous quantities and had the jitters to prove it.  I read so many horrendous accounts of caffeine withdrawal  that I expected mine would be a living hell,  but you know what….It wasn’t too bad. I had a terrible headache for a day or two and then felt a bit tired for about a week but that was it and the improvement to my sleep was almost immediate. Having replaced caffeinated drinks with decaff and herbal teas I drop off to sleep these days without too much trouble. My sleep is by no means perfect but at least I don’t spend most of the night staring at the ceiling like I used too.

ec2a0fdb6c8afab838cc0383f162511d_playing-children-clip-art-group-play-kids-clipart_519-525In my twenties and thirties I was a total stress head. I worried if I was doing the right thing, what other people thought of me, what other people were doing and constantly compared my life and achievements with other peoples and found my own wanting. Much of my insecurity stemmed from one toxic friendship. This person made me feel like all my achievements were insignificant and my tastes, hobbies etc. inferior. I removed the person from my life and learned to celebrate all I had achieved and love. I really appreciate the small group of good friends I have for their honesty, caring and support. They taught me to play with wild abandon and I love that we do some slightly bonkers stuff together.

imagesThe sight of me in my exercise gear is not always a pretty sight but I don’t let that stop me. Every day I hit the sitting room floor for either, cardio, strength or flexibility work. It’s not always easy but I stick at it because I know the difference daily exercise makes to my mood. I’m brighter, more optimistic and the aches and pains I get in my hip if I’m too sedentary, disappear. Plus I have the joy of finding ever brighter, ever crazier exercise wear. It’s a win, win.