Category Archives: Health and Wellness

A Middle Earth Retreat

So I haven’t posted in a month.  It has been a difficult month filled with disappointed hopes, winter illness, a family health scare and a somewhat overwhelming feeling of disillusionment.

For me, I often have these feelings of overwhelm at this time of the year.  I am beginning to believe it is the universe’s way of telling me to slow down, pause and take stock – what is urgent and essential and what can simply wait a little while until it is addressed.  This is seasonal, cyclical…. And perhaps something I should be able to plan for by now…

It also seems to me at times like these that the only solution is to reconnect with nature.  Not something I can always act on easily with living in the city but this year the opportunity to retreat presented and I took it…

Disclaimer: I am about to reveal just how much of a Professor JRR Tolkien geek I am!

I retreated all the way to the end of the second age of Middle Earth…. It is truly wonderful how much of Middle Earth is easily accessed right here in beautiful Aotearoa/New Zealand.  In a little corner of Northland not far from Whangarei I found another little piece of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  To me it felt like the forests at the very end of the Second Age or the very beginning of the Third Age when the Dunedain first establish the Kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor and High Elves still linger in Greenwood the Great.  There is a peaceful watching of the Sacred Kingfisher and magic on every path up ahead and around every bend.  Magic also sparkles in the song of the waterfall and the trill of the Grey Warbler.

It was cold – the fog rolling in of an evening and a light frost in the morning. Just as it should be this time of year.  The perfect space to get back in the natural rhythm of things.  A better perspective on the first world problems that brought me to retreat in the first place.  A moment to refocus in gratitude at the grace afforded me and mine.

Extraordinary Voices: The Platter Project

Today is Nelson Mandela’s birthday – 18 July.  I chose today to share the story of this incredible woman, Di Wilkinson, because she has chosen to commemorate his birthday in her own amazing way.

Image from The Platter Project Facebook page

I stumbled upon Di Wilkinson’s story on social media.

Hoedspruit, South Africa holds a special place in my heart.  I spent many happy school holidays in that area as a kid.  The Drakensberg Escarpment provides a dramatic backdrop to the mixed bushveld plains that stretch eastwards.  The scenic Blyde River winds its way through the area bringing the waters from the escarpment down to these lowlands.  Interesting rock formations abound.  This unique mix of habitats supports a wide variety of flora and fauna.  It is a place of orchards – citrus, mango and macadamia.  It is also a place of game reserves and over the years has become a hub for conservation research and wildlife rehabilitation.  There are a number of wildlife rehabilitation centres and orphanages in this area.  I follow one of them, the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, on social media.  And this brings me back to Di Wilkinson of The Platter Project.

She is a wonderfully talented artist who produces these beautiful drawings.  Most are inspired by the wildlife of Southern Africa but as I mentioned at the start, she is currently sharing a special print with a portrait of the great Madiba.

I absolutely love her depictions of these three gorgeous southern African bird species – the Lilac-breasted Roller, the Carmine Beeater and the Masked Weaver … these hang in my home and bring my joy.

She “sells” these beautiful pieces – started on platters and is now mostly A3 prints.  All the money you pay for her art goes to charity.  Specifically charities focused on wildlife conservation, like the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre, and organ donation.  A strange combination of causes to support, perhaps, but there is more to her story.

In June 2013 Di was diagnosed with kidney disease.  Serious kidney disease requiring dialysis five hours a day, three days a week.  Miraculously, in May 2018 she found a compatible donor and underwent a life-saving kidney transplant.

To think of all she has gone through during this time but not she has not given up on life, on her family, on her creativity, on her passion, on community.  In fact to still have that generosity of spirit that shares her talent with the world and using it to support lives outside of her own…. Di is a truly an extraordinary woman!

And there will be more to her story too.  She will be a partner, a mother, a daughter, maybe a sister, a friend – all those things that make us who we are.  But I suspect if we asked her she would simply say she was an ordinary woman just trying her ordinary best in space she finds herself.

I find her creativity spectacular.  I find her resilience inspiring.  I find her care and generosity moving.  I find her “voice” extraordinary.

Be well, Di Wilkinson 💚

Check out her beautiful work on Facebook – The Platter Project or on Instagram @theplatterproject.

Period poverty – this is going to get a little personal

I remember my first period really clearly.  I was 11 years old and it was awful.  Even though I knew what was coming, understood its reason biologically – my mother is very pragmatic and we had already had “the talk” – it was still awful.  I had fairly scientific leanings even then and while my rational mind could make sense of the biological function of it all, this pretty early blooming, relatively speaking, made me feel quite defective.  As an introvert I was already struggling with how to be more invisible but somehow this experience made me feel like I had a big, scarlet “P” on my forehead – “she’s a woman now!” – which completely freaked me out. Quite bizarre thinking back on it.

Unfortunately getting my period also signaled the beginning of a 30 year struggle with my body and its hormone functions – a legacy of “woman’s issues” in my family.  Every doctor, naturopath, acupuncturist, chiropractor, endocrinologist visit under the sun.  Countless hours reading everything about women’s’ health and I won’t even hazard a guess at the amount of money spent on these visits, procedures, tests and medication.  Who would want to be a woman?

But I am not sharing any of this really personal stuff to solicit sympathy. No, I am about to utter words of absolute gratitude.  Never once have I had to wonder how I would afford my next pad or tampon or even pairs of underwear ruined by flooding.  Never once have I had to say I will just live with all this pain and agony around that time of the month – there was always a new doctor to try, a new treatment within reach.  Never once did I have to sit in shame, alone thinking I was dirty or unclean.  Never once did I have to face any of the medical stuff alone or keep all this to myself for fear of shaming my family.  Never once did I have to face as a child making the decision not to go to school because of my period or later in life postpone happy travelling adventures because of my period.

I have just watched “Period. End of Sentence” – a 26 minute Netflix doco that brought me to tears.  One thing I know for sure from talking to all sorts of women over the years is there is nothing straight forward about periods.  The documentary highlights what is going on for women in rural India with regard to their periods.  They can’t even talk about it, don’t understand why its happening, have no access to even basic sanitary products never mind trying to navigate pain, complications, disease, hormone imbalance and all the other complexities that often arise around our monthly bleed.  My heart is broken.  And then all I could think was these are disposable pads they’re making! What about the waste, what about the planet!  These women have only just found some empowerment, access to a basic need.  Just in time for others to probably tell they are clogging up landfills with their waste!  My heart is broken again.

In my little bubble of a world the new conversation is all about waste-free managing-your-period alternatives like moon cups, period underwear or reusable cloth pads.  Most of these options come with a hefty price tag.  You would have to approach this with an investment in the future mentality.  While trying to find an option to suit me I came across a New Zealand start up – I am Eva.  Brilliant!  I invested and I am sold – great product!

But no sooner had I started congratulating myself for another little waste free win than I read something that shocked me.  Period poverty is thing.  Right here.  Right in my backyard.  Young girls in New Zealand are missing chunks of school every month because they cannot afford sanitary products!  Even older women working minimum wage jobs are sometimes missing work for the same reason.  This is insane to me in a country like New Zealand.  Thankfully there are amazing things happening out there to try and solve this.  I am Eva is one example – you can buy period underwear on behalf of women and girls who cannot afford this basic need.  Australia has just taken sales tax off sanitary products… perhaps we should be doing the same?

In May I am adventure bound once more – an elephant conservation project in Mozambique.  Part of our plan is to visit village schools along the way with environmental education materials but also reusable cloth pads for girls.  The importance of girls staying in school cannot be overstated, not to mention a little dignity with a side of empowerment.  I am humbled to be a part of this Journey with Purpose and to help in a small way support the work of armswideopen.org.

If after reading this you feel inspired to give, I am asking for donations in support of my expedition in May – for more info click on the link – https://www.givengain.com/ap/a-bit-of-ubuntu/

In my early 40s now I have finally learned to stop fighting my body.  I have learned to find stillness and listen to the sacred rhythms of womanhood.  This may sound weird or airy fairy but it is truth.  Seriously.  And I wouldn’t even consider myself a feminist.  All I can speak to is what I have learned about life from tapping into the wisdom of what makes me feminine – our periods are so much more than biology.  My wish is for us to find a way to lift taboo and allow all girls to tap into their sacred feminine too. And we can’t even consider that if most girls don’t have access to basic sanitary products.

Week 8: Refining and Moving Forward

Here we are at the end of IQS Week 8 and the end of our little experiment.  In an effort to think about moving forward this week I decided on a further cleanse – internal spring clean if you will.  This took the form of a homeopathic based liver elixir and drops of a habit relief formula.

The first 2 days of this process was just awful – headaches, nausea and very low energy (in bed by 8pm those nights).  I also cut back on coffee to coincide with the cleanse so I am not sure if the two days of awful was actually just caffeine withdrawal?  However, by the third day I was feeling fine again.

I did experience a few odd cravings this week so I am not convinced those habit relief drops were actually that useful?  Spicy fruit toast and deep fried chicken were the cravings, although not simultaneously.  I am most certainly not pregnant!

With cutting back on the coffee I am trying to instigate new rituals around drinking tea morning and evening.  In the morning a cup of organic rooibos or green tea in a pretty cup is most rejuvenating.  And a chai infused milk in the evening makes a great dessert replacement.

Luxurious and fragrant  chai ritual
Luxurious and fragrant chai ritual

So in conclusion:

  • Was sugar controlling my mind and messing with my body?  YES
  • Has this 8 week IQS process recalibrated my system? YES
  • Do I feel more in control of my cravings? Definitely
  • Has the past 8 weeks been worth it? Absolutely
  • Do I feel substantially better in my health? I do
  • More than anything else I have tried previously? Yes, again
  • And the question everyone is asking – did I lose weight?  Well, I have not gone anywhere near a scale or tape measure but I venture a yes here too based on my clothes fitting more comfortably, especially round the middle.

So moving forward once more:

Yes, I do think I will be incorporating the IQS principles “for life” and minimising sugar intake as much as possible without becoming an anti-sugar bore.  Mostly I will strive to be gentle with myself always.

I have a more balanced relationship with food and I want to keep it that way.  Food is fuel for every day.  I need to pay attention to the cues of my body (a different sensation from cravings).  I have the idea of no sugar more the 3 – 6g/100g at the back of my mind most of the time and certainly minimising processed foods as much as possible.

But I will also enjoy every moment of times of celebration with friends and family that invariably involve food and indulgence.

No more “cold” comfort on my own after a hard day at work.  I will look to new forms of comfort such as making tea, lighting a candle and meditating, walking on the beach, sitting in the garden, fresh linen on the bed, splashing out on a manicure, buying and arranging fresh cut flowers, etc.

So I congratulate myself for all the times during the past 8 weeks I did not give in to the cravings or temptations.  But also for all the times I bounced back from a small lapse.  I will not berate myself for the fried chicken or that bag of potato chips.

Ultimately I now think our relationship with food and getting a balance between mind and body is not ever a one-off process or stumbling luckily across one cure-it-all.  Rather it is a journey (like life is).  A journey of reflection, growth, refinement and finding your flow.

I am also looking forward to checking out Dr Libby’s new book – Sweet Food Story.

Good luck with your wellness journey!

Week 7: Recovering from Lapses

After the lapse in IQS week 6 it has been amazingly simple to bounce back now in week 7.  As Sarah puts in the Week 7 chapter of her IQS book, you revert back to your blank slate by eating fat and crowding out with lots of fresh greens.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, there is a much better mind body balance at play here.  I feel  more balanced, the cravings no longer control me.

Having previously (for years) struggled with headaches and a fairly constant foggy brain state, I am feeling so much clearer and focused and energised.  I have had practically no headaches in the last seven weeks.

My energy levels are so different to what they were before this little experiment. I wouldn’t say I leap out of bed in the mornings but I am not waking up with a heavy head feeling more tired than when I fell into bed the night before.

This is such an incredible sense of freedom.  I never would have believed it possible.  I must admit to having been quite sceptical before starting this process that I would feel this level of result after seven short weeks.

I’m feeling happily full after meals.  I only eat when I’m hungry and this week have had almost no cravings between meals.  My portion sizes are much smaller too.  It is all becoming a lot easier to manage.  What felt like quite a chore to think and plan through the meals for the week and shopping, etc. is now coming quite naturally.

Even my supermarket choices are improving, more controlled.  I stick to my list and listen to the cues of my body as I’m wandering the aisles.  My body is not signalling a need for the bad stuff.

Another thing I have noticed is I seem to be processing water more effectively.   What I mean by that is, I have gone for a number of years now feeling almost constantly thirsty.  As a result I would drink about two to three litres of water a day and still feel thirsty.  I struggled a lot with water retention at the same time.  My weight could fluctuate 2 – 3 kgs in a single day!  In the past weeks I am definitely not as thirsty.  I am still drinking about one to two litres of water a day but it makes me feel full and seems to be doing what it is supposed to instead of sitting around where it is not supposed to and making me feel huge and unhappy.

All rather miraculous really.  Long may this last.

I Quit Sugar book cover
Thank you, Sarah Wilson, for sharing your IQS journey

Check out the IQS Store online for lots of other info and ideas from Sarah.

Week 6: Add some sweetness back in

Cathedral Cove, Hahei, Coromandel, NZ
Cathedral Cove, Hahei, Coromandel, NZ

This week we went on holiday.  Beautiful New Zealand in the spring time.  I know people complain about spring weather in this part of the world – the wind, the rain, its changeable nature.  But at this same time we see the gorgeous shades of green of paddock and forest, washed bright and fresh by the spring showers.  The aquamarine blue of the water washing up along the white sands on the Pacific coast.  The blues and greens of spring are rejuvenating, whispering hope and growth.

We put aside IQS restrictions and took advantage of being on holiday in every sense we could.

I didn’t feel guilty but rather relished indulging in a few of the delectable delights on offer – a 2 hour wine tasting plus accompaniments at a local vineyard with my mom; a delicious tapas meal with smoked beer in a converted church and tiny tastes of yummy baked goods at the local cafe chased with a fabulous macchiato (difficult to find a good one of those in this country in my experience).  The perfect break from our normal.

And so we head into Week 7: Recovering from Lapses.  This seems pretty appropriate considering the the week 6 we just had.  Reading what Sarah says about IQS week 7, it seems we are ahead of the game.  This week’s conscience lapse has reminded us of why we quit the white stuff in the first place.  So we focus back on being mindful in a gentle and kind way of how our bodies responded to a little sweetness.  In my case, I can definitely say that I have broken a bad habit and feel better for it.  I can hear my body’s voice asking for whole, fresh, vital and nutritious food.  I feel more in balance and not fighting against the cravings.  That makes staying without sugar a much easier choice.  I am motivated to continue…. maybe IQS for life?

Week 5: Get Creative, Experiment and Detox

So I am a little late with this week’s installment.  I got side tracked this weekend with spring cleaning the kitchen and organising cupboards (which I get some kind of weird kick out of).

IQS week 5 started well and I definitely felt quite energised by Thursday from my liver cleanse regime that I decided to tackle as the detox part of this week.  However, it all came to a crashing halt on Friday with my first real lapse to my old ways.  My justification –  the end of a really long, busy term combined with my usual “that time of the month” cravings.  So I indulged in a decidedly delightful lamington at the end of term morning tea, chased that with an equally delicious carrot cake cupcake at lunch and a bag of Maltezers after dinner.  Well, I guess a blow out is a blow out.

Woke up on Saturday with what can only be described as a sugar hangover.  The heavy -headed, thick, lethargic feeling is one I have not experienced for weeks.  Very interesting.  In some ways I don’t regret this lapse as I have learnt a lot about my body’s reactions to sugar.  I am so much more mindful of the incredible strides I have made towards health over these past 5 weeks.  And I have learnt that I can cope with a lapse like this, not feel too guilty and just move forward making more positive decisions food wise than unhelpful ones.  Massive progress really.

Even the hangover feeling I woke up with passed quickly after a whole lot of water with lemon and focusing on getting started on the spring cleaning.  The fact that I felt I had the energy to tackle the task at hand is amazing to me.  The change in my energy levels for the better is rather overwhelming to me.

Another tool in my health and wellness journey I have this week rediscovered – The Gabriel Method.  I read Jon Gabriel’s book a few years ago and got a lot out of it at the time.  I found his visualisation techniques very helpful (although the results for me were not long-lasting and my body definitely defaulted back to its old ways after about a year).  I found the book again and have reread it.  I have now decided to try the guided meditations Cellular Wisdom listed on his website.  I have thought for a long time now that setting aside that quiet time each day such as meditation or yoga must be highly beneficial.  I like the idea of this being guided – need all the help I can get.  It seems to me that a better mind-body connection can only improve health and wellness outcomes rather than just focusing on food and drink.

Right, time to soldier on into week 6 – adding back a little sweetness. I have already tried the Raspberry Ripple.  This is decadent and delicious – with the freshness of the berries (oh, how I missed the berries!) and the richness of the cacao.  And just a the tiniest taste is enough to sate the need for sweetness.

Week 4: Face the Demons

So this is the half way point of our little experiment.  Sarah says we need to face the demons, that doubt will creep in and you will start to question what you are doing.  Well, she was right.  This week we faced some demons.  For me this was in the form of craving huge slices of chocolate cake, a tonne of Russian fudge would have been great too!  Actually, I think I would have been happy with a handful of berries or a breakfast smoothie with banana and kiwi. But no fruit allowed either.

When planning for this week’s meals we had intended to try a whole bunch of new recipes but when it came down to it, it seemed to make more sense for us to face a tough week by keeping things simple.  So it was tried and true favourites with as much veg and leafy greens as possible.  This seemed to help – too full to crave anything.  Looks like this ties in with week 5’s IQS mantra.

Best breakfast this week was the pumpkin pie and quinoa porridge.  Best lunch – haloumi salad with walnuts.  Best dinner – a vege lasagne (my sister’s secret recipe)….. so good and the leftovers even yummier the next day for lunch.

Going back to the doubts creeping in.  I ended the week reading Dr Libby Weaver’s new book The Calorie Fallacy.  What a fabulous second opinion.  So much of her message matches Sarah’s experience.  I have read most of Dr Libby’s books and have found them most enlightening.  The Calorie Fallacy was a good reminder of some things I already know as well as a trigger to pursue other avenues to health and well-being.  In particular, the link between sugar and your liver.

Dr Libby's new book, The Calorie Fallacy
Dr Libby’s new book, The Calorie Fallacy

Week 5 of IQS is all about being creative, experimenting and detoxing.  The last week of feeling deprived before we can add a little sweetness back.  I am going to focus my week 5 on a liver detox.  I think I can live without fudge or chugging down a tin of condensed milk for 7 little days out of my life ♥

Week 3: Quit!

This week has certainly flown by filled with a lot of work stuff for me; a lot of work/illness recovery for my sister. It really is hard to think about eating right in amongst all the chaos of a busy life. But we do think it is still worth pursuing this experiment. It almost seems a little calm space in our current milieu, even if it does take a large portion of our weekend to plan it so. And, really, it should be so – taking the time to nourish ourselves should be a top priority, right?

My sister and nephews have really struggled with cold and flu nasties in the last couple of weeks and I am absolutely amazed that I have not succumbed so far to the lurgy. I am also motivated to exercise every day even just for 15 minutes of Tai Chi – unheard of before I started this.

Sarah mentions in her book that there will be some negative backlash from people around you. I guess stemming from feelings of guilt that you have taken on a challenge they know they should be tackling too? Well, I have found just the opposite. Family, friends, work colleagues have all been wholeheartedly supportive – well, at least to my face.

The lovely ladies I work with have encouraged me to join them in a pretty intense stair climb. We did this on Wednesday and I could only manage 3 laps to their 6 (they are younger and much fitter than I am). But I am so grateful for their encouragement and complete lack of judgement. Extremely motivating, thanks, ladies. Hoping to reach 4 laps this week coming.

And so the first real week of quitting sugar has been quite difficult. Basically, the idea is not to eat anything that contains more than 6g of sugar per 100g. Have you ever studied food labels? Well, if you have then you will have realised just how much extra sugar we consume everyday without knowing it. Every convenience food, every sauce, every dressing, every beverage contains sugar somewhere. And so, of course, does fruit. So we have survived the first of three weeks with no sugar including no fruit.

I have craved, I have pined even just for a segment of mandarin! Oh, and how I miss my berries. I eat a lot of berries. But I won. I made it to the end of Quit week with my commitment intact.

6 of Sarah’s Nine C’s of Goodness have definitely helped with the cravings: chia, cheese, chicken, cinnamon, coconut oil and coffee. Next week we plan to try out the other 3 C’s – cacao, chai and coconut water.

My favourite meal this week was a combination of two recipes from Sarah’s book – capsicum soup (page 136) and coconut curry meatballs (page 107). We served the meatballs in the soup and said no to the Finnish Scones. Scrumptious!

When I am complaining of feeling deprived, I have to stop for a moment, take a deep breath and put this little experiment into perspective. This is not a diet. I am not forcing myself to eat very little of foods I don’t even like according to a very prescribed formula that is supposed to fit all. But I suppose my body is going to have some withdrawals from the stuff it has been addicted to for so long. In the scheme of things, this withdrawal is really not so bad. And apparently it is only going to take this tiny little 8 weeks of my life to find my blank slate. And that, my friends, is a very happy thought indeed. A blank slate does not come along very often in life.

And so we plan for another week, it really is all about the planning. Huge thanks to Miss Marzipan for the printable weekly menu planner.

The essentials for planning - colour, beauty, inspiration and coffee
The essentials for planning – colour, beauty, inspiration and coffee

Week 2: Operation Eat Fat

Our mantra this week, according to Sarah, was “Replace sugar with Fat”.  Right, ok!?  I must admit to being pretty skeptical at this point.  Surely this is contrary all the healthy eating info out there?  You want me to eat lots of fat this week?  Really?

Apparently the science here is that wholesome, unprocessed fats and quality proteins such as eggs, cheese, nuts and coconuts will fill you up quickly and give you a satisfied feeling (you are not feeling deprived of the food comfort you crave).

Well, turns out it is true.  I experienced feeling full for the first time in ages for most of this week.  By Thursday I even skipped dinner, still full from lunch….. seriously.  I cannot remember skipping a meal voluntarily since high school.

An added bonus for me this week I have definitely trimmed down a few centimetres around the middle.  In 2 weeks.  And after a week concentrating on increasing my fat intake.  Go figure.

We cooked with butter and coconut oil.  We embraced animal fat and whole dairy, whole eggs and ate quite a lot of cheese and nuts.  Blissfully yummy really.

I wouldn’t say my sister and I feel completely different.  We still feel pretty tired in the mornings as well as being our usual exhausted selves after long days of work and family.  And it does take a lot of extra time and thinking to plan all these different meals.  But we do think there has been enough change to intrigue us as to the possibilities of continuing our experiment.

Intrigued.  That is where we are in this process.  Since embarking on this quitting sugar gig it seems everywhere we look is the “sugar is bad” message.

Did you catch Nigel Latta’s take on sugar last week on TV?  Apparently he has now thrown his weight behind the campaign to tax sugary drinks in NZ.  And since going sugar free himself he has lost 8kgs.

Friends, family and acquaintances around the world seem to be sharing their stories too  through the social media grapevine and the message is similar – overwhelming change in health after quitting sugar.

So, delicious recipes tried and enjoyed this week:

And one from Dr Libby’s Real Food Kitchen book (page 181) that we adapted:

beef, ginger and tamari stirfry
We can do trendy food pics too 🙂

Intrigued and enthused we head into week 3 simply entitled “Quit!”.  Guessing this week won’t be as much fun as replacing sugar with fat has been…..