My Personal Story
My skin started to break out when I was 7 years old. I don’t remember, but my parents took me to the women’s and children’s hospital, worried about a rash or something being wrong with me. They determined I was to see a doctor, who prescribed antibiotics. This would start an 8 year journey of cycling through all kinds of antibiotics and skin medications, including the oral contraceptive pill, something usually prescribed for people older than myself but often used to control acne issues, and Roaccutane, an incredibly potent drug with a laundry list of side effects that include having to terminate a pregnancy should you fall pregnant whilst on it. Couple that with every topical treatment you can think of, but really nothing worked.
My skin affected me deeply. I had large cystic acne all over my face, my chest and my back, long before any of my friends even had pimples. My face was constantly oily, red, blotchy. The pimples were painful, and would often burst under my school uniform, leaving dark patches of blood stain on my shirts. It was awful. I was forever conscious of my skin and what I was doing to affect it. I was teased and bullied by other kids for the way that I looked and the way that I spoke. Of course, it didn’t help that I was overweight, not allowed to be in the sun, and too self-conscious to let myself be active if I had been. My family moved to the Sunshine Coast in the second term of Year 8, right after the pecking order and friendship groups had been established through school camp and a term of getting to know each other. It was incredibly hard to break in to a friend group, feeling like an outsider and with high school power dynamics I didn’t understand, having come from a school that was made up mostly of kids I went to primary schools with and grew up with. Still being on medications and deterred from being in the sun made it hard to live by the beach. I was a weird kid, with unconventional tastes and a sarcastic sense of humour heavily influenced by Monty Python and Wayne’s World. I used food as a way to socialise, and as a way to comfort myself.
Getting Closer and Further
When I was around 15, my mum took me to a naturopath to see if we could change my skin. She prescribed a low glycaemic index diet, but as a weird kid who’s main outlet was eating with my friends, I wasn’t great at following it. I was still inactive and had no interest in changing what I ate. After school I travelled around Australia working in resorts, where the recipe was bain-marie foods and a heavy intake of alcohol. I still mostly avoided being in the sun, even working in beautiful sunny locations, and the bar work and party life kept the inactivity happening.
For my 21st birthday I travelled with a friend to South East Asia, backpacking our way through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. When my friend left me to myself in Thailand, I found myself introduced to yoga, taking a few classes in Bangkok and starting to make the connection that if I moved my body, it could affect how I felt inside myself. For someone who had never before made that connection, it was revolutionary. My movements can affect how I feel and how I look? It was truly astounding.
I started to take more of a conscious approach to working out, becoming completely addicted to the way working out made me feel strong and empowered in my body. I clocked time on the treadmill and trained in weights circuits in a women’s only gym, while still maintaining a connection to yoga. I took up playing roller derby, which ultimately changed the direction of my life, drawing me in to play bigger, stronger, more powerful in my training and in my life. This culminated in a broken ankle in my first season, which put me on my back for a surprisingly short 10 weeks. During the time I was laid up, I was still training as much as I could, doing workout DVDs in my parent’s lounge room and graduating to a wind trainer bike as soon as I was allowed to weight bear on my ankle. I had a deadline – I was travelling to LA for the first time for a roller derby bootcamp with my idols and I couldn’t believe this break happened a short 3 months before I was going! Fortunately all the training and “clean eating” I did in that time supported faster healing, which I would tell anyone who listened.
After returning from the States and eating foods I had only seen on tv previously, my skin was a mess. My mum recommended another naturopath, and this was the first time someone explained to me the relationship between foods I was eating and my skin. Again, this was completely revolutionary. I removed gluten and dairy from my diet and my body started to heal almost immediately. This was in 2010, when gluten-free foods were far less common or even known about, but we found some great alternatives and I was hooked. I went on to study to be a personal trainer so I could teach other women to feel strong and empowered in their bodies, and moved to a bigger roller derby league to pursue my dreams of being an international player, which paid off in two World Cup teams and multiple overseas tournaments and playoff seasons. My health was mostly on the up, but I never felt truly well in my body.
While this was a very exciting time, it was also emotionally very taxing. I had started university to learn more about nutrition, to dig deeply into how this magical substance that we use and abuse can actually be affecting our health. During this time I discovered I had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which explained my resistance to losing weight no matter how hard I trained or well I ate, my skin condition, my elevated testosterone levels, and my little chin beard (hello hirsutism!) I was training for roller derby 3 times a week, training for 2 to 4 hours at a time with an hour round-trip commute, often coming home at 11 or midnight and getting up at 4am the following day to get ready for work. I was working 20-30 hours a week, and at school for a similar time. I was burning the candle at any end I could find. My weight started to creep up until it was higher than I had seen it since I started working out, I was teary all the time, I was mean and short-tempered, I was falling asleep sitting up in class, or even standing at a coffee machine while frothing milk! I would stop off at a supermarket on my way home to eat a whole bag of chips on my train ride home, then collapse for whatever nap time I could, having likely fallen asleep on the train and a few times even getting the wrong train! I was also sweating way more than I used to, which was already a lot, but something I thought wasn’t that big of a deal. My weight started to get out of hand – I was training CrossFit 5-6 times a week and the same 8 hour volume of roller derby, how could this be?
I was also in agonising pain. I hit a point where I couldn’t generate power in my legs as soon as I hit a block in roller derby. I was in complete pain at my hip flexors, and couldn’t explain the white hot pain flashing through my legs. It was wildly painful, something I had never experienced before, and I felt like I was letting down my whole team.
From Lost to Listening
I eventually took myself to the student clinic to see another naturopath, who told me I had adrenal fatigue and that all these symptoms were all related. She told me I needed to sit down and rest before I burned myself out. I burst in to tears. I explained I can’t possibly stop, I have another tournament coming up and can’t you see that being busy is how I define myself? I had previously only stopped for injury. I couldn’t stop working out, my weight would blow up, and my team needed me! She was taken aback by this complete outburst, but understood and we negotiated me doing less in the lead up to the tournament, and after that taking a month to just sit down and recover.
During that off season, I took the time to reflect on how hard I had been pushing myself. I was a mess. I couldn’t work out. I felt awful in my body. I finally took the time to look at my life and how hard I had been pushing for 4 years, but especially in the previous 2. I was trying to eat a low carb high fat diet, but wouldn’t get enough fat, which I know now kept me in a carbohydrate burning state and wouldn’t allow for complete healing on any level, leaving myself on a constant deprivation cycle. I started sleeping more. I started trying different dietary approaches to see what helped. I became a maniac for adding salt to my water, and Vitamin C was never far from my side. I started healing and rebuilding my body. I returned to yoga, falling back in love with the discipline, something I had poo-pooed in my meathead training phase, and surprisingly become stronger on the track than I had ever felt before. My body responded with kindness back, slowing my heart rate, healing my gut, slowing the sweating and while I still have pockets of overtiredness, I am much better at listening to the quiet whisper than waiting for the big signals. I have become much more in tune with my body, almost to a fault, but I know that this vessel is the one that knows what it needs, and I need to honour that wisdom.
Through my clinical practice and personal experience, I have started to move beyond just the food, or just the body systems. All of the critical functioning of our bodies, or drive from a stress state to a restful, digestive state is conducted in beautiful symphony through our nervous system. The two tracks of our nervous system, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic, maintain a delicate balance to keep equilibrium in our bodies. Recognising this lead to my interest in the vagus nerve, the master communicator between the brain and almost all other major organs, and how we can heal that communication. I recently became a certified yoga instructor, and I was blown away by how much yoga talks about the nervous system. No wonder it was exactly what I needed when my nervous system was in distress!
It all leads me to a place where I see now that the body needs more than just food, or just one kind of movement, or just one ingredient. We are complex organisms that are constantly communicating with different parts of myself. I had started asking the question, what if it was never only about the food? Of course there is incredible merit in nutritional medicine which I will never neglect, but what I am becoming more interested in is what if it was about the nervous system? We know the nervous system controls digestion, so when we are in a state of fight or flight, we can’t also be in a state of rest and digest. When we eat on the run, we are never fully in our bodies or in our guts, we was operating on a completely different channel that causes malabsorption and blockages.
What if instead of taking a reductionist view, we look instead at how your body’s symphony is playing, and how can we align that back to something that looks like a robust and restorative digestive system, with great daily coping skills to manage the rest of the bubble? We live in a society that values the hustle, the grind. What if instead of achievement, we rewarded harmony? What if instead of pushing uphill, we went back to the whole centre of the system, and rewarded optimal flow? That’s what I work with now, and what I hope to continue to develop and teach to as many people as will listen.
- Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine)
- Certificate III & IV in Fitness
- Yoga Teacher Training - 200hr
- Transauricular Vagus Nerve Stimulation (taVNS) Therapist
- Eating Psychology Coach Diploma (in progress)