As people often do when they first embark on a journey of health-improvement, my appetite for nutrition and health information grew insatiable. From my first year as a university (undergraduate veterinary science) student, I read everything I could on nutrition to the point of obsession!
In addition to studying the nutrition of various animals including primates in captivity and Moreton Bay's sea turtles, I dabbled in multiple nutritional experiments on myself throughout my time as a recreational triathlete and student, with the primary goal of enhancing my energy levels for the high volume of training and study I was undertaking. I added sustainablity and ethics to the mix when I first discovered yoga.
A riddle in an enigma
Soon I discovered that “improving your diet” is not as straightforward as I first imagined! There are diets based on religion, ethics, medical systems, anthropology, cleansing, the seasons, blood types.
You can choose to be vegetarian, vegan, even a fruitarian; you can adopt a macrobiotic diet, a live foods diet, a Paleolithic diet; you can minimise fats, or carbohydrates, or proteins; you can base your diet on Chinese medicine or Ayurvedic medicine. I experimented on myself and scoured books on each of these, with varied fascinating and often undesired results!
The problem is, most of these systems contradict each other. One book might tout the wonders of soy, another will warn us of its dangers. One book might advocate a diet consisting primarily of raw foods, rich in enzyme vitality; another advises to limit intake of raw foods, so as not to dampen the digestive fire. One book will champion honey as a super-food; another says honey is just as harmful as any other sugar. Ayurveda says milk is a healing nutritious food, modern naturopathy often recommends steering away from dairy as it’s phlegm –forming and allergenic.
Many mainstream scientific journals on nutrition advise us to limit intake of fat, especially saturated fat; an increasingly prominent minority of professionals contend that actually, traditional animal fats are good for you, or that coconut oil, a saturated plant fat, is a cleansing weight-loss food. Some authorities say that supplements are essential; others say they just give you “expensive urine.”
Some diets may be supported by the full weight of scientific opinion (CSIRO diet) yet felt completely wrong to me when I personally experimented with them. Others relied on my sense of environmental, social or moral obligations and these also felt unnatural and burdensome.
The examples are endless. How do we find the diet that’s right for us, if there is one? Maybe they all have elements of truth, despite their blatant contradictions. Or maybe none of them are right.
My chosen "healthy" diet, strict veganism, was not working for me. Faced with this dilemma and armed with the tools of a yoga practice, I decided to try something different. Instead of trusting any outside authority, I would trust my own body – no matter what it lead me to. I also tapped into my inner animal, so to say.
As a vet and wildlife researcher I was always fascinated by chimpanzees, with whom we share 98.4% of our DNA. I was intrigued by their non-scheduled, uninhibited, intuitive way of eating – their tendency towards simplicity, ease and necessity struck a chord with me.
So I began to combine the heightened sense of body awareness I was slowly harvesting through yoga, with my knowledge of these amazing animals, our evolutionary cousins. For the first time, I began to freely enjoy the uninhibited pleasure of food accompanied by a growing wellness and physical vitality.
Nowadays, I still read and learn as much about nutrition as I can, be it the latest esteemed journal article or the blog of a freegan living in New York. I've dumpster-dived in Brisbane, survived as a vegan in Thailand for months on end, and finally discovered and embraced non-diet approaches as my core health philosophy.
I've educated newly-arrived refugees on how to eat healthily in Australia where the diet is often less wholesome than their traditional ways of eating. I've stuck my arm up cows' bottoms and come face to face with the detrimental effects of the refined diet we feed these animals, not only on them but on ourselves. After years of academic and personal study, yoga, and plenty of self-experimentation I have learnt one thing that now guides all my dietary choices:
The only reliable authority, in the end, is your own body.
As a starting point, know that the simple tool of fully enjoying each bite of food has the power to resolve any questions about food choices and diet. This awareness of eating is the foundation of my nutrition practice. From here I work with clients to explore any dietary approaches they are interested in or that feel most attuned to them, keeping in mind sensibility and practicality.
It has been a long and windy journey, one that still continues to this day. I’ve spent the last decade developing my philosophy within every area of the food and nutrition field – from working as a veterinarian in our modern food systems, and researching the eating habits of domestic and wild animals, to working as a nutritionist consulting with chronically ill and hospitalised patients whose health reveals the results of such food systems.
On the surface level, I educate people on how to improve their nutrition (and sometimes prescribe medical nutrition therapy in certain disease states) - but as I've discovered there's much more to healthy eating than this. The process of getting to know yourself, your body and what foods it thrives on involves time and patience. I'm deeply honoured to be able to facilitate this journey with my clients as it's such a beautiful and exciting one.
Thanks for reading my personal story, I'm happy to answer any questions you have. Simply click here to send me a private message or question.