Arriving to Croatia's island Vis in spring was a visual and aromatic delight. I took a journey around the island's meadows and back paths to pick bunches of aromatic sage, oregano and rosemary , wild herbs rich in essential oils wonderfully accompanying lamb. With the help of my newfound fragrant friends , I made two of my favourite go to, easy to make, healthy and nutritious dishes - a roast lamb with spring vegetables and a hearty herbed lamb soup.
SPRING LAMB WITH WILD HERBS
A perennial favourite, with a new, easy twist
HEARTY LAMB SOUP
This dish can be started the day before eating, just make sure you boil the meat and bones for at least 3-4 hours, if not overnight. Once the broth is done , it can keep in the fridge for up to 3 days. Adding the rest of the veggies in half an hour before serving, makes this into an easy and quick assembling hot meal
Bon appetit! x
There were times when my health was wonderful, sure , but heck, back then I thought bloating and constipation, raging PMS and monthly blind cystic pimples were normal ( you know the painful ones that usually come up around the jawline that you really want to pop , but if you try they grow ten times bigger, throb indignantly and yet still stingily withhold juice?) Looking back, somehow I believed feeling these and other discomforts in my body was an unavoidable part of being human, a life sentence for a sack of blood and flesh, trifles bound to get worse with each silver hair. After all, my grandma used to take an entire handful of pharmaceutical pills every day: one for her condition, the others to counteract all the side effects. Watching her swallow her synthetic medicine one by one with her morning coffee, I wondered if this steadily increasing medicalisation of the ageing population came in tandem with a natural progression of their deepening frailty. Why have we been primed to believe uncomfortable, ongoing symptoms are somehow just an unlucky roll of the genetic dice or an inescapable sentence that comes hand in hand with the experience of having a physical body?
Listen, I too was there once; a little pain killer for my painful periods here, a little laxative to move things along there, rare Valium for my anxiety, multiple rounds of antibiotics for my bladder infections - hey it’s all normal right? My doctor certainly thought there was nothing to worry about, besides, I lived in America at the time and pharma sponsored TV ads told me everyone had my symptoms and a cure for most health afflictions already existed on the market. Ok, so sometimes, it wasn’t really a cure but temporary management of symptoms that let me power on with my life but who looks at the proverbial gift horse in the mouth ammiright?
My blind faith in the Western medical system chugged along fine until my boyfriend at the time contracted a skin disease that a doctor prescribed Roaccutane for. Reading the pamphlet within the box got me concerned: the afflictions almost certain to arise through the use of this medicine seemed to me worse than the actual disease. Once freaky reactions took hold, he excused them as something he had to suffer through in order to get rid of this sickness and yet he kept up the exact same lifestyle he had before: an unhealthy diet of sporadic acidic foods, lots of alcohol, smoking and party times. Something inside me began questioning the status quo- was my boyfriend’s skin condition a sign of his body’s struggle to detoxify? Was he simply not acknowledging his body’s cries for change and nutrients? What made him unwilling to hear his symptoms and decide to fundamentally change the way he lived his life ?
In the end, this point of contention became a major part of why we broke up - where I had begun to question the established view around health and wellness, he was unwilling to acknowledge lifestyle played a major role or God forbid, take personal responsibility for how his body felt day to day. After blindly “following science” on the purported benefits of the low fat diet began to adversely affect my hormones, I delved into alternate avenues of information because it seemed to me “experts” I had trusted had got it all wrong.
Still, 15 years or so later, when I separated from the father of my child, a man who introduced me to organics and natural medicine as de facto, I was baffled when my health started falling apart in a major way. After all, I ate better than I ever did in my life - clean, organic ingredients with no pesticides, herbs for illnesses and my usual handful of vitamins and yet, my health just kept going south. First, my life long constipation issues grew into full blown Crohn’s symptoms- bleeding and fever, menstruation changes, ongoing pain, cramping and weight loss. Then, that rare visitor called eczema settled into a near permanent fixture, a seeping wound that just wouldn’t heal. Insomnia, depression and anxiety barged in through the front door, making themselves at home, whilst my energy levels dropped hundredfolds. To add insult to injury, adrenal glands and thyroid now showed signs of depletion and struggle in my bloodwork. Oh -oh! What was going on? For some reason, it seemed hard to get on top of my health this time around, no matter what I did . I even went to get an allergy prick test to see if perhaps I had begun to develop some sort of severe reaction to foods: apart from showing a sensitivity to eggs, dairy and sulphur there was nothing.
A couple of months later, a routine PAP smear showed a level three cervical dysplasia and the gynaecologist’s office began calling me to set up an operation to burn the abnormal cells off. Multiple voicemails ramped up my fears : “ Hello Tanja, have you got the results of your test as yet? The doctor needs to speak to you urgently. It shows a concerning change to your cells due to the HPV virus. We need to operate ASAP before this worsens- are you aware this is likely to progress into cancer unless you take action now?”.
There it was - cancer, the one word everyone feared because no one could yet explain the reasoning behind why some of our cells inexplicably went rogue and turned into our killers. “Cancer, mama! They’re saying cancer is possible! ”- I broke down on the phone to my mum: “ what the heck is going on with my health, I just cannot seem to get on top of it?” - I sobbed, scheduling surgery as a matter of urgency, praying they would scrape away all those damned defective cells on a rampage to destroy me. The surgery was a success - my doctor showed me imagery of my cervix live via her nifty little camera before and after the operation. I rejoiced in the existence of modern medicine - after all, it could stop the progression of disease into cancer - and who could deny this was a miraculous thing?
Whilst I celebrated this win, I met a man who seemed like heaven on a stick and we immediately began a torrid romance. It really started to look as if everything was now finally heading for the better after a year of loneliness and a round of mysterious health problems. However, a six month follow up with my gynaecologist, right after my new amour started showing concerning behavioural red flags I refused to acknowledge, showed my dysplasia was back at level 3 and naturally, doctor advised me to schedule another operation . The voicemails and emails returned too, reigniting panic. Yet, this time, even though I wanted this threat gone, mutilating my cervix again with ongoing surgery that didn’t resolve the issue seemed too extreme and counterproductive.
Surely, there was something I’d missed causing all these problems? From everything I’d learnt about health through independent research in the last two decades, I’d deduced the body is supremely intelligent . Once I began observing my health, it seemed to me that when I did have dis-ease present, it was due to not providing my flesh suit with the right circumstances or ingredients to thrive and return to an optimum expression of health. Perhaps there was something preventing me from healing, but I just didn’t yet know what?
The interesting part of learning to read medical papers was how much good information can be found in independent medical studies - this time I found folate deficiency implicated in abnormal cell replication on the cervix over and over and over again. You see, it seems this part of the female body is also called the point of creation, where cells replicate fastest, hence this is the place that will show the lack of folate quickest as it is so needed for healthy cell division. Was this true? Was I just missing folate? And if I were , why the heck am I now all of a sudden so depleted of it, when I had been trying to eat so well ? Delving further into medical studies pointed at the MTHFR gene mutation as the likely culprit for my condition- a very common affliction which 1 in 2 people carry to various extents of severity.
What is a MTHFR mutation?
Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), is an enzyme that works as a catalyst for important biochemical reactions in our body. It converts vitamin B9 (folate) into methyl-folate which is essential for a process called methylation.
Every single cell and tissue in our body experiences methylation, which protects our body by optimizing DNA cell function and repairing damaged cells. By metabolising B vitamins and processing hormones and toxic substances as well as neurotransmitters such as dopamine, seratonin and norepinephrine, this function controls our mood, behavior, sleep, and overall mental health.
If this was the case, and I did indeed have this, then a likely framework emerged: gluten and other goodies I was eating were impairing my methylation and causing inflammation, robbing me of necessary folate. Everything was relatively ok before because my body wasn’t under as much emotional stress which further pilfered essential nutrients, skewing my cells into an over expression of the gene defect under a process of epigenetics.
Ok, this was it, I was booking a blood test tomorrow. I needed to find out what was going on with my body and if I could avoid another surgery.
Baffled, the doctor nearly laughed me out of his office: “Is this some newfangled thing, some holistic spiritual healer numpty told you about? I’ve never heard of this, we don’t do this test”- he let out a hearty chuckle as I sat next to him tapping my foot: “Ok, but would you have a look into the computer and just check please? Since, I made it all this way, may as well”. He sighed exasperated but did check and lo and behold, the diagnostic clinic did indeed provide the test for the MTHFR mutation. “Well, I’ll be damned - I swear they come out with new things every day” - he scratched his head- “hard to keep up sometimes”.
Following week, I picked up my results finding I did indeed have the MTHFR mutation on both alleles of the gene but my doctor still didn’t have any idea what to advise me: “Er, so it says here you do have this” - he fumbled with his glasses looking at the printout, then turned to the clunky, outdated office computer and typed MTHFR in the search bar : “ I believe it is a problem on the methylation pathway”, he said after beginning to read the top entry… “ …It’s ok doc, I know “ - I interjected- “I got this, I just wanted to know if this was a possible factor for me”. When I got home, I began reading out all the illnesses possible due to impaired methylation: dear reader, it was like I was counting my family tree’s entire health history; homocysteinemia, a term for abnormally high levels of homocysteine in the blood or urine, ataxia, a neurological condition that affects coordination , peripheral neuropathy, a neurological condition that damages the nerves , anemia, which means that there is a lack of healthy red blood cells in the body , cardiovascular diseases, such as blood clots, stroke, and heart attack ,mental health conditions, such as depression ( which I had long battled ), behavioural disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ( which gave me my at times insane hyper focus obsessions) as well as a plethora of cancers including; lo and behold cervical cancer.
Even though I’d previously believed my livin’ was already pretty clean, after reading up on the MTHFR diet, I had to admit my cheat food items weren’t clean enough by far : out went all gluten and most dairy, seed oils, synthetic foods, colours, preservatives and processed sugars - anything that may be causing my body’s impaired methylation to worsen, fuelling the inflammatory super storm driving autoimmunity issues. Where I used to take a handful of vitamins every day, I had now pared them down to just a methylated version of folate and Bs, glutathione, magnesium plus a spoonful of bee pollen , medicinal mushrooms and loads of citrus fruits, avoiding any unnecessary man made products. I became more stringent about only drinking filtered water, exercising for at least half an hour per day, avoiding heavy metals in anything ( it’s extremely hard to detox heavy metals from the body if you have this mutation but zeolite can help ), removing my toxic amalgam fillings and making sure I spent a lot of time in the sunshine, meditating in nature. I also had to say goodbye to my wine binges on the weekend dand restaurant dessert treats until I got this situation under control.
A few months later, on a holiday to Croatia, I realised I missed the appointment with my gynaecologist to set up the operation yet couldn’t relax for fear of cancer so I booked a PAP smear at a local clinic. Only 4 months after I had cleaned up my diet and supplemented with folate, my results came back clear. Even better, over the following months other inflammatory autoimmune issues slowly begun to reverse ; I no longer had symptoms of Crohn’s or eczema and my depression reduced by 90%. But the real magic happened after I broke up with the abusive guy I was seeing and no longer had constant emotional drama draining me of nutrients, nowadays, most of the time I don’t even know when my period is coming anymore because the debilitating symptoms I used to experience aren’t there and neither are the cystic pimples.
Listen, I am no doctor and this isn't medical advice but getting tested for MTHFR changed the course of my life. At age 42, I am the healthiest I have ever been - even seasonal colds and flus seem to have dramatically reduced in frequency and my skin has never been this consistently clear. These days I no longer take vitamins every day because I watch my diet carefully to include cruciferous vegetables and lots of greens, free range chicken livers, avocado, black beans ,bee pollen and other foods high in the nutrient I so need . I also quit smoking tobacco, which is a major folate thief and replaced it with smoking chamomile and mint (yes, this is a thing and it’s very much methol cigarette-esque!)
Sometimes, I still cheat; a croissant in Paris, a pasta in Rome, a pretzel at 10 William street - gluten is always going to be my Achilles heel, but these days I know better than to risk making these a regular occurrence or I know my old chin friends will be the first to pop up again and say hi followed by all the other unwelcome visitors. The body gives us little signals first, quietly whispering its needs into our ear but if we disregard the signs, it shouts louder and louder until its rage at being unheard becomes an inflammatory storm difficult to quell. Patience, consistency, good will and curiosity are beneficial in any relationship - have we just forgotten how to honour the most important relationship of all, the one with ourselves?
...the waiter says as I walk into the local cafe, perspiring with existential dread, gesticulating wildly. 'Ugh' - I sigh - 'missed the ferry 'cause I can't find my wallet , so worried about my meeting now! ' - eyes darting everywhere, I realise I must look a madwoman fresh out of an asylum. ' Pomalo' - he says again, calmly: 'nothing changes if you stress, you will only ruin your health. Here in Dalmatia we say Pomalo ( a little bit, slowly ) because things aren't done well or enjoyed if we rush them. Let's think from the beginning whilst we order you a nice, cold , pressed orange juice".
Two minutes after retrieving my wallet from the shop where I left it , I get a call informing me that my meeting in Split, 2.5 hours away by ferry had been postponed for two weeks due to unforeseen circumstances. I let out a sigh of relief at missing the boat and with it a pointless 5 hour round trip to the mainland and back. 'Pomalo' - I think to myself - 'Perhaps everything is unfolding in it's perfect time just the way it's meant to. Perhaps even the misses are divine?'
The next day, I scoot to Pritiština beach , 45 minutes drive away up the wretched unfenced serpentine above the old town where salty breezes sway pine and wild rosemary hanging onto rocky outcrops with panoramic views toward Hvar, then over to the other side, into the calm of the green heart of the island ; all sun drenched vineyards and neat olive groves, pheasants and rabbits scuttling in ripe chokeberry bushes, centuries old stone houses, some in ruins , still standing attention by the roadside and then finally; a bumpy, scary unsealed trail going down, down, down, down to sapphire water coming out of the mouth of a quiet beach at the end of a conifer lined inlet.
From here it's a climb up a sheer cliffside to a narrow goat track , weaving perilously in single foot width high above turquoise waters below, then a ramble down an escarpment where I nearly fall when a stone I hold onto dislodges , muscles shaking with adrenaline as I reach the bottom, strip nude and jump hot into the cool of the sea , diving long for refreshment then paddling lazily for 10 minutes until I reach my final destination; a tiny gem of a white pebbled beach hidden behind an outwardly jagged rock face, a sanctuary where walls loom smooth and curved like the inside of a shell, sanctum worthy of a mermaid kingdom. I frolic here with no living soul around me, forgetting the cut on my hand and the difficulty of the journey - ' Pomalo' - I exclaim loudly with joy as echo multiplies my voice over a summer symphony of crickets.
On the swim back to where I left my things I reflect on how my world hasn't been anywhere near as languid as this the last 4 years. As soon as I'd completed a year's worth of therapy after violence of domestic abuse at the hands of my ex fiancee rendered me incapable of being present in my body due to PTSD, just as I'd started getting into a semblance of life free from rolling panic attacks , the pandemic hit in all it's fear and 'new normal' slogans putting my nervous system straight back on high alert. Same as I'd not anticipated I'd walk over coals of grief from a split with the father of my child, just to enter a relationship with a man who justifies strangling women, so I couldn't perceive the upheaval a single pathogen would bring to the course of my life. Somehow though, in the fray of chaos and soul testing, I found even deeper layers of my history, healing and truth.
This blog sat abandoned and largely disused these last 3 years because I believed I could communicate to you solely on social media but lately I've grown tired of self censoring under increasingly narrowing community standards across major social networks. M-E-L will remain a hub for recipes and health tips , fashion, opinion and experiences , but now there's also a new entry in the side menu titled Empirical which leads to my page on Substack, a free speech platform that promised not to censor is going to be the host of my edgier essays.
M-E-L is extremely excited to announce we now have a resident astrologist and mythologist in the amazing Pippa Kate who is going to present her advice on what the stars have in store for us each month. Pippa blends astrology and mythology as a means of understanding this physical manifestation from our personalities through to our relationships , careers and key lessons on our paths. Learn more at ww.pippa-kate.com
Last but not least, I want to thank my friends over at Kore Digital for making my blog look and run like a million bucks - you guys rule!
There is other new exciting developments to be launched soon, so stay tuned.
Until then ; pomalo, and welcome friends.
wearing a dress from SoleilLuna
Understanding of my own body changed a whole bunch over last decades, so much so that I find it hard to comprehend some of my previous thinking patterns, no matter how sanctioned they were/are by the health and wellness industry. People often ask me to share my tips on staying slim yet I don’t know what to say because I don’t have a regiment, at least not in a traditional sense of the word - all I can share with you is the road that led me to my current mindset, including the many traps I got stuck in along the way.
Perhaps stereotypically for a girl, I spent most of my teens and twenties picking myself apart. Without the meta cognition of understanding why I was so obsessed with my “imperfections” aka, anything that differed from the images in magazines, I just never felt good enough. It didn’t start off like this - I was a skinny tomboy that no boy looked at like that, always on the go, with a big appetite and zero self-awareness of body having an aesthetic appraisal benchmark – my flesh was just this instrument that ran, dug for worms and climbed trees – a vessel which I’d push to its limits, revelling in breaking important personal records such as - how far can I jump off the swing when it’s at its highest point? - of which I was the neighbourhood record holder. It was the 80/90s, the last vestige of that blissful era when mums yelled out: “come home before dark! “as kids skipped outdoors to roam uncontactable and wild. Meanwhile at home, my beautiful curvy mum would occasionally sigh: “I’m so fat, I must go on a diet” - before embarking on a miserly 7-day intake of only apples one day, carrots the next then cucumbers and so forth. Watching her starve herself whilst I munched on crispy pork rind, I wondered when the terrible curse of needing to worry about what I eat was going to strike me too.
The move to New Zealand from Croatia at the tail end of my 14th year, left me with crippling depression as I pined for my first love left behind in the old country, drowning my tears in a family sized tub of ice cream every day, stacking on 12 kgs. in the process. The truth, as it turned out, wasn’t that my metabolism was miraculously fast, but that eating huge amounts of sugar whilst huddled in blankets E.T style piled kilograms on me just like most humans’ bodies naturally do. Here is where my sojourn into nutrition, dieting and body shame starts. As an avid reader of Girlfriend and Dolly magazines, as well as more adult ones like Cosmopolitan, I started getting my dietary advice from their resident dieticians, whose opinions from today’s perspective leave much to be desired. It wasn’t the magazines’ fault per say, the scientific world, paid off by the sugar industry, had gone insane demonizing fats in the 90s so I bought low fat everything, cut out meat and dairy fat and joylessly nixed dressing on my salad.
Man, looking back at those days I cringe at myself – feeling extremely sure I was so much more science based in my newfangled food education, I would turn my nose up at delicious slow cooked lamb and veggie stew mum made, and instead cook myself a pasta with tomato paste, low fat processed cheese and preservative loaded low fat ham, when in reality, the fresh meat and veggies combined with bone broth was a much healthier and nourishing choice. At least I took up focused exercise after not moving my body at all for months and running 5 km every day like a determined female version of Rocky Balboa I imagined myself to be paid dividends; three months later, I fit into my old clothes again.
The joy of triumph was short lived – this was only the beginning of the War On My Body. If that conflict had a game plan, it would’ve carried a banner saying: “You Will Never Be Good Enough, Ever”. Strictly a losing play of course, but I didn’t know that at the time – besides, my body was back to a size 8-10 and all my clothes fit again. I was a winner, a person able to discipline myself and produce results I desired – and boy is there something very addictive about that feeling. Through today’s lens I see a young girl tight fisting perfectionism and an overidentification with the external to cope with all the undealt trauma she refused to acknowledge and didn’t know how to unpack. Back then though, it seemed that if I could just focus on this one small part of my life I could control, everything else would feel manageable too.
One year later, after being scouted by a modelling agent in a shoe store in Auckland, New Zealand, the War on My Body intensified even more. Now, size 8-10 was “too large” and people wanted me to lose even more weight. The thing was, I was already eating a low-fat diet and exercising every day – to get down to a size 6 I would actively need to starve myself. So, I tried not eating but kept failing and feeling guilty – I suppose the Balkan in me isn’t able to pick a career over food or get so excited over fashion that I forget about steak. In retrospect, thank goodness for that programming, because without it, I could’ve really damaged my reproductive system like a lot of young models back in the era of “heroin chic look” did. This dark underbelly of modelling became apparent when I started travelling internationally for work - arriving into places like London and New York, I was put into agency provided shared accommodation for international models and the things I saw there made me want to leave those apartments as swiftly as I could. Often there would be remnants of vomit in the toilet bowl because girls were bulimic, one of them tried to teach me how to eat cotton buds to lose weight, another boasted about not eating for 5 days straight, her calves as skinny as my arms, spine painfully protruding, so tiny she looked as if a gust of wind would send her flying into the air. Some couldn’t remember when they last had their periods but still managed to do 14 castings and an exercise session on 1000 calories per day. Gym bros have nothing on desperate young models – I've never seen such gritty determination and dedicated self-denial. These qualities I'd found so inspiring and motivating in losing my ice cream weight all of a sudden looked extremist, harmful and insane. I promised myself that I would never become like that.
Dreading the days when the agency made me go in for a tape measure – a way to see if my body was still sized 34”-24”-34” as stated on my modelling card, I would eat a miserly salad the day before, in a deluded hope that one day of dieting would undo the previous week of relatively normal eating. Getting older meant my narrow child pelvis widened into woman’s hips– now it was really impossible to keep my old measurements - often the unforgiving tape found my hips to be 36” or even 37” inches around. Of course, this is still darn tiny but in the runway world back then, it wasn’t good enough. My agent would tell me to get a gym membership and do that on top of my running regime, but I couldn’t be bothered- it wasn’t that I was lazy, I was already jogging 6kms and walking to all my castings, often raking 15-25 kilometers worth of steps in one day. I didn’t find emaciation in any way appealing, not as an action or as a look – I grew up on early 90s supermodels and loved how strong they looked in comparison to the new breed of early '00s model. Deep down I wanted to be more voluptuous than thin, even though my body shape was less hourglass than rake.
Subconsciously I felt this was my hips at my tiniest healthy weight, yet still berated myself- swapping my normal muesli, fruit and yoghurt breakfast for a can of Slim Fast and a Parliament cigarette, or a ham and cheese salad sandwich lunch for a bagel with low fat cream cheese. Thank goodness my Greek Australian boyfriend at the time often cooked dinner, completely ignoring my no fat fad or I would have suffered malnutrition. Misguidedly swapping real food for empty calories, I relied on artificial vitamins to fill the gaps in my diet, then suffered painful, long periods, cyst pimples around my jaw and candida infections as a punishment for my work hard, play hard lifestyle on a crappy low-fat diet full of preservatives, empty additives and hidden sugars. Basically, just a clueless kid making money and having fun, usually down at the Twilo super club dancing the weekends away to house music and drum ‘n bass in the throes of ecstasy.
Admittedly, I wasn’t very nice to my body back then; I spoke to it awfully, always picking faults, expected it to be ok with a whole bunch of stupid behavior, lack of sleep, toxins and overexertion, generally driving myself into the ground without listening to any messages it was sending. In reality, I wasn’t really tuned into myself, constantly rushing, obsessed with how I looked, my livelihood relying on others’ perceptions of my face and body.
One day, walking down 8th street, I entered a crystal shop to browse for a new nightstand friend and found books that outlined natural, food-based ways of curing many diseases and ailments. Curious, I started taking stock of registering how certain foods felt in my body, making sure I was mostly eating the sort of sustenance that would encourage healing, avoiding vices such as sugary cocktails, “white death” bread or processed sweets. Then, my boyfriend developed a skin condition and, in my quest to help him, I visited health food shop naturopaths for advice and started buying all sorts of herbs I never even knew existed. The Universe clearly thought I was ready to learn some stuff about these wonderful meat suits we all wear because all of a sudden information bombarded me from every direction. They say when the student is ready, the teacher appears and boy was that right in my case. Once curious about a topic, I tend to become obsessive, yet it still took decades of learning and unlearning to get where I am today.
Fast forward 6 years and I’m pregnant, standing in my obstetrician’s office getting tested for gestational diabetes because I put on 30 kgs. It wasn’t that I ate a crazy amount of food or ate badly and yet my body just kept stacking weight on. By this point, I was hooked on learning about a new and exciting emerging field of medicine called the microbiome and its interconnectedness with our mental and physical wellbeing, often experimenting with fermented foods as a part of my diet. Books such as Gut and Psychiatry Syndrome and Weston Price’s Natural Traditions led me deeper into appreciating properly prepared nutrients and food grown without pesticides and GMOs.
Turns out I didn’t get diabetes but I did develop a bit of a delusion when it came to the perception of my body, amusingly in an opposite direction of anorexia. Once I gave birth, I felt like I had magically sprung back into shape within a month so I went shopping for new jeans. The shop keeper asked me what size I was and I said – “Well, I’m not sure, perhaps 2 sizes bigger than I used to be, maybe a size 12?”. She looked at me as if I was mad and brought out a size 16 – “I think these are more your fit” she said, leaving me in the changeroom jaw dropped, eyes swelling with tears. Turned out I had only lost 10kgs when I gave birth and now here was all this other weight just hanging around.
I was determined to embody my female Rocky Balboa avatar again but things weren’t so easy this time – my baby had terrible colic, only slept 45-minute naps day and night and needed to be held to sleep around the clock. I was a walking mess, a tired, wired, emotional mess with no time to shower, let alone exercise. It wasn’t until a year later, when my daughter weaned off the boob and started sleeping through the night that I felt I had energy to spare for myself. Whilst over that year, 8 kgs. melted through breastfeeding and baby rocking, another 12 hung around so my partner, at my request, gifted me a personal trainer for my birthday. Her regime stated one was to wake up in the morning and immediately have 2 large glasses of water with lemon, along with an espresso, then walk to the gym for 25 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weight lifting, followed by a 5-minute stretch twice per week for 6 weeks. No carbs or starchy vegetables were allowed after midday, food had to be fresh, protein had to be palm sized and I wasn’t to look at sugar apart from 80 or 90 % dark chocolate or low sugar fruit such as strawberries as a treat practiced in extreme moderation. On some of the other days I wasn’t training with her, I’d go for a 30-60 walk instead. Miraculously, by the end of that month, I had lost 10 kgs whilst eating balanced, nutritionally rich meals. I would like to say that it was just hard work and dedication but frankly, it was also finally sleeping and feeling settled as a mother and human, stepping into my own power again after the chrysalis of infanthood.
In the years that followed I became obsessed with Pilates, which I did twice per week, reveling in the range of movement and isolation of individual muscles I was never aware of before, then discovered Power Plate training , whose short sessions and quick muscle gain gave me a rush. Reading a book by Louise L Hay called “You Can Heal Your Life” introduced a radical idea that our emotions and thought patterns directly influence our health and wellbeing into my consciousness. Mirror work and affirmations felt so uncomfortable and weird to do at first – I had an aversion to saying nice things to myself because after years of putting myself down, the words felt phony. Yet, the more I persisted in doing this work, the more something started expanding and healing inside me, bringing ever more compassion and love into all my abandoned parts, cracking me open to a new perception grounded in self-acceptance.
Life was good, I could eat in an 80/20 fashion, exercise 2-3 times per week and be healthy and happy.
6 years later, everything changed when the relationship with the father of my child began unravelling. Crohns disease symptoms I’d never had before flared up- suddenly in pain, losing weight and having major intestinal issues, I wondered if it was all somehow related to the stress I was experiencing. Doctors said I’d most likely need to just live with this now, recommending corticosteroids, but I refused to accept this as my new life.
In hindsight, attempting to resolve my health at this time became the second springboard into learning more about this flesh suit , deepening my appreciation for the wisdom of nature. Naturopaths, diagnostic tests and kinesiologist visits found my body was reacting to gluten, dairy, and empty sugar, even in small amounts plus I had low adrenal function and an impaired thyroid alongside my autoimmune disease. On the inside, my body was falling apart, but on the outside, I was skinnier than ever and getting amazing compliments in the fashion industry : “Oh My God! You look FABULOUS! So tiny! What’s your secret? “– people would say as I wished my gut would stop hurting , notwithstanding my disappearing butt.
I had to become a lot more disciplined about what I put inside me– before, I’d rarely worry about gluten, now, avoiding it was more a matter of choosing comfort over pain. Reading ingredients in an obsessive manner, learning about fillers and sneaky toxins, I started putting together a plausible puzzle of how my body could be overreacting to my lifestyle choices and sending assassins to attack itself.
Even though I was told no one knew why my body turned on me, I couldn’t accept it was inherently unintelligent, instead, it seemed to me too many bombs were going off on too many fronts and it was exhausted, trying to cope the best it could. Through my decade long research into the microbiome up to that point, it was clear to me that something was going on with my gut flora so I started suspecting that even something previously innocuous such as citric acid derived from GMO black mold could act as an allergen and set my recovery back.
People often laugh at humans serious about their health to the point they become nitpicky about ingredients, but it’s often those same teasers that are so disconnected from their body that they refuse to heed its signals, choosing instead numerous synthetic medications with many inconvenient side effects to treat lifestyle preventable disease. Reinventing everything about my life was hard , I’m not going to lie, but it did work –no more whipping the dead horse with coffee and wine, now I was hawkishly watching every ingredient I put in my mouth, parasite cleansing with strong herbs followed by probiotics, smoothies and juices, frequent naps, deep meditation sessions, affirmations, healing binaural beats, gentle walking, yoga and breathing exercises. Some months later, pain in my gut stopped and that satisfaction I once got from keeping myself a certain weight returned, this time, as relief for the healing miracle I was blessed with due to my vigilance and purity.
Soon after, I met a new man and fell in love with him quickly, missing the many red flags he waved, too hypnotized by the sweet words he spoke to see the lack of his actions. Turned out years down the line he was emotionally and physically abusive, but I still kept seeing the world through rose coloured glasses ,hoping things would go back to how they were in the honeymoon stage . During the relationship, my body would often send me signs in the form of illness, such as a really bad kidney infection, pain, depression or anxiety and hormonal fluctuations but I would gaslight myself into thinking I just needed to eat better and take more vitamins because that had worked so well before.
I suppose I couldn’t admit or see that the person who was deepening my beliefs of being defective, causing me to walk on eggshells and live in a perpetual fear of being abandoned was abusing me. After that realization finally dawned on me and the spell was broken, I spent years learning about how the emotional body influences the physical launching me into therapy and plant medicine journeys, releasing built up trauma, purging what felt like generations of programs and beliefs from my DNA. This material self that used to seem all encompassing, solid and important became only a small part of me that needed nourishing - after all we’re actually made of 99. 999999.. % energy. Joe Dispenza’s work further refined the hunch that we exist as a blueprint on an energy plane to which the material body effortlessly synchs to when in harmony with all parts of itself, leading to profound healing.
When someone asks me how I stay skinny now, it seems like an oxymoron because regaining physical and mental health has been so hard won for me that being thin will never be my goal again. This skin suit naturally fluctuates a size up or down and when it does, I don’t freak out anymore- I have jeans and clothes in both sizes and fluidly shift between the two as needed. Usually my body burns more calories in the cold and less in the warm and this naturally translates to craving richer foods in the winter than in the summer.
Intuitive eating didn’t come easy for me because I had mentally white knuckled control so hard in the past. Counting calories and programs like the 5/2 diet, with its extreme hunger on the “on” days only made me overeat on the “off” ones -I must be the only person who puts on weight following these sorts of plans. Simply put, the more I try to diet, the more miserably I fail - worrying about numbers leads to an increase in my naturally ADHD like obsessive tendencies, but once I notice myself becoming like this, I know I’m in the wrong place mentally. When I started trusting my body, I didn’t need to count kilojoules anymore because I could just tune into it's needs– this means I’ll have massive dinners with dessert out occasionally, but sometimes after eating rich food for a few days, I’ll take a day out to eat fruit, or gorge on fish tacos for a week, or have noodle soups for 3 days straight because that is what my body craves.
Saying that, I do eat clean, ( an instinct borne from feeling lousy for so long and learning what suits me through trial and error) and have strict rules around avoiding seed oils, chemicals, GMOs, hormone and antibiotic fed conventionally reared meat and processed food 99% of the time. I usually don’t eat breakfast because I am not hungry in the mornings, naturally fasting about 14 hours per day, but even this isn’t something I subject my body to every day, neither is it strict – I’ll drink a coconut matcha or a coffee with lashings of ghee most days before fasting time is up. Gluten is only ever a special treat, dairy I eat sparingly now and white sugar is never on the menu unless it’s an occasional artisanal gelato or dessert in a restaurant. I swap sugar for sulphur free dry fruits, honey or maple syrup and hardly ever eat things like muesli bars or trail mixes. My body is bad with nuts, cashews, soy and some grains, so I made a lousy vegan when I tried that type of eating, finally settling on a diet that is loosely branded paleo, but lately I’ve also been eating lots of beans, properly prepared by soaking overnight .
Antibiotics during an illness really messed up my gut and made me gain weight, apparently this is a technique used in fattening up cattle too, so after a round, sometimes it takes up to 2 years to start digesting foods as efficiently as I did before due to a lack of good bacteria needed to transform it into energy. Probiotics are hugely important for nutrient absorption, it’s estimated Western people on the whole hold a much-diminished microbiome than our African counterparts due to our diet of junk food and an overuse of antibiotics and chemicals in food and medicine.
When it comes to fast food, I haven’t had any big chain grub since about ’98. That doesn’t mean I never eat burgers, pizza or take out it’s just that I either make it at home or eat at smaller boutique places where I know ingredients are of better quality. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much preservatives, additives and antibiotics in our food influence our mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as keep us from achieving perfect health and sweet spot weight.
If there was one message I’d like to end this essay with it’s to worry less about counting calories and more about creating a sustainable lifestyle that nourishes your own optimum performance and energy levels. This is truly a different approach and journey for everyone due to the fact that our individual gut bacterial populations are as unique to us as our fingerprint, leading us all to respond to foods, stress and exertion differently.
You and I will not digest things in the same way, so many naturopaths advise we turn to our ancestral diet for answers since it may be the most digestible for our genetic make up – in my case, that would be lots of vegetables with small amounts of meat and lots of fermented foods and saturated fats in the mix . Saying that, if your sugar cravings are mad, perhaps upping your protein, magnesium intake or adapting a Candida diet approach or parasite cleanse for a little bit may actually resolve them. Should they persist, looking at where inside of us we need comfort, safety and sweetness may shine a light onto compulsive behaviors. Remember too that everything toxin free is healthy in moderation , that includes good sugars, which are a brain food.
My whole life people around me exalted the beauty of female form as existing only in parameters of small sizes but to me the most beautiful women have always been the ones that owned their bodies’ sensuality and strength, regardless of their shape– after all, if everyone looked the same, the world would be a boring place to live in. This society has taught us to torture ourselves in order to be deemed attractive by others instead of teaching us how to self validate whilst maintaining vibrant health and happiness. Choosing to be yourself instead of a clone in a world glorifying cookie cutter aesthetics is the ultimate middle finger to a system woefully unequipped to deal with multitudes encompassing who human beings truly are.
Some people come into our lives like magic. This was certainly the case with my friend Ariane Leondaridis. Tapped on the shoulder at a busy Bondi bar, I turned to see a gorgeous, tall, elfin woman with a huge smile saying hi - we got chatting and I suppose, never stopped. She’d just moved to Bronte’s sun kissed sands from New York with her family, leaving her post as Ulla Johnson’s head designer for a dream of providing her children a laid back Aussie childhood.
Coming from a Greek and French background , she has that infectious energy and loudness of Hellenic people coupled with Parisian refinement and a keen interest in culture. With a common passion for the arts and sustainability I spent many a night talking to Ariane about different mediums of artistic expression and ethical production. She is, I must add, annoyingly modest about her talents – I asked to see her live drawing class sketches once and she refused saying that they just weren’t very good yet . After much begging , she was made to relent and dear reader, the sketches were so brilliant , I asked to put one on my wall. When she said she wanted to get into making ceramics and sculptures, I got excited because I really need some for my house and I love her aesthetic. No matter how many mediums she dipped into and experimented with, fashion wouldn't stop niggling in the back of her mind.
Fast forward nearly 3 years and Ariane is starting her own ethical, artesian label Ilio Nema with her old coworker from Ulla, Katia Kelso. The label’s name derives from the word Ilio, meaning Sun, or mythical sun god Helio riding across the sky in his chariot and Nema: meaning thread under Athena’s weaving wisdom or a special tool central to Theseus’ safe return from the centre of the labyrinth.
Effortlessly bohemian with a tomboy edge, handcrafted, seasonless and authentically sustainable, the brand exudes principles of quality over quantity and understated luxury coupled with intricate details. It’s the sort of clothes one looks after for a lifetime then passes on– as far away from fast fashion as possible. One garment sometimes takes days to make by hand by Moroccan weavers - a far cry from the churning machine of mass production. In this world of rampant consumerism and mindless pollution , Ilio Nema stands with few other peers. Making a label sustainable is one thing, making it interesting and original is another.
But, I'm not a model! - Ariane exclaimed when I demanded to shoot her in her own clothes. I think these photos prove, it's just another thing she is modest about.
When the topic turned to fashion reform on a podcast I was on back in February, I expressed a hope for multi-faceted change—it seemed like every single cog of humanity’s activity needed to be lifted out, re-examined, simplified and restarted to ensure our survival, not only the sartorial machine that is the world’s third biggest polluter.
These thoughts were merely an echo among the rising chorus of society that deep down knew it was no longer 1999; the party was over—we don’t have four to six planets on hand to satiate the Western addiction to consumerism.
Little did I know that Covid 19 was already spreading around the globe, soon to shut down the whole world.
This was not the way I imagined change would come. As visions of overwhelmed hospitals, mass graves and dying people filled the news, I broke down, spending an unhealthy amount of time each day consuming red wine and chocolate, wired on a 24/7 coronavirus news loop in an attempt to control rising panic.
Soon, I realised that this anxiety was tightly knitted into other traumatic times in my life, namely the experience of living through the Yugoslav War and New York during the September 11 terrorist attack. Remembering gruesome scenes and media headlines highlighted how my identity had been shaped anew each time by adversity and stress. Taking a bird’s-eye view on history, I saw myself become a little wiser and more expansive because of those difficult times.
I don’t want to romanticise trauma, I believe humans can learn without it, but it is equally true to say that pain shocks us into new realisations and points of view. Our survival then, like Charles Darwin would imply, lies not in what happened to us but in how well we’re able to catalogue our experience and adapt to a changing landscape.
At 14, the war gave me a deep understanding of problems with xenophobia, division and hatred, while at 21, American media crying out for conflict in Iraq based on an unfounded fear of weapons of mass destruction became a perfect lesson on the power of spin doctrine. Losing my life to a bomb or terrorist attack back then felt like palpable possibilities, so this situation was nothing new, I reasoned with myself, just another chance to practice acceptance for the only unavoidable variables in life: change and death.
Passing over is something we in Western societies have overwhelming fear for, yet I remember when my grandfather, a man who lost his eye fighting the Nazis and later enjoyed a daily trip to produce markets so he could cook up feasts, had a stroke and became paralysed down one side. He said to me: “Tanja, live your life with full lungs and don’t fear death. We will all die one day but the important thing is that we really lived and loved. I don’t care about life anymore, this existence of counting lace on curtains bores me.” He died not long after, stifled by the loss of the sort of life he relished. As sad as I was to no longer have him around, I admired the way he chose to let go without being afraid of the unknown.
The Dalai Lama once said: “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying.”
It was clear from data that this virus prays mostly on the vulnerable and the sick, so out went the coping mechanisms of alcohol, sweets and late night Netflix binges and in came a routine of meditation, journaling, walking, healthy eating and vitamins to strengthen my immune system. I spent years learning about food as medicine to cure my autoimmune issues and became well-versed in mental self-care after a particularly toxic abusive relationship sent me to a year’s worth of therapy in 2019, yet implementing a structure of discipline under a cloud of worldwide health trauma was proving to be difficult. The human body likes to return to the cosiness of its preferred coping mechanisms. I went for the 80/20 approach to minimise chances of a coup by my inner rebel, immersing myself in books and podcasts on various topics to avoid mindless news scrolling and it’s disastrous effect on my nervous system.
One day, I listened to Sean M. Carroll, a theoretical physicist who specialises in quantum mechanics, talk to a guest on his podcast about the upcoming utopia and automation age, courtesy of new technology. Are we about to witness the crowning of Artificial Intelligence through the internet’s birth canal, a world more sci- fi and futuristic than anything I had imagined as a starry-eyed 13-year-old Arthur C. Clarke fan? We now stand on the precipice of new age, just as we had done at the start of the Industrial Revolution but most of us aren’t aware of how our lives may change as a result of this shift.
This new lifestyle that non-essential workers found ourselves in during lockdown may well be the beginning of a trend, one in which robots increasingly take on more tasks as humans become less needed for menial jobs, as well as traditionally high paying ones such as banking and law. Discounting the concern of it all turning awry (Terminator style!) once AI reaches singularity—killer hornets destroying all the pollinating bees, the economic downturn morphing into a devastating depression, a deadlier second Covid-19 wave or an unlikely alien invasion (the Pentagon did release that UFO footage, nothing can surprise me this year!)—humanity may eventually find itself with more leisure time than ever before in history, with universal income forming the backbone of humanity’s sustenance.
Creative people are to benefit the most from this switch as we collectively still prefer a living mind and face behind music, dance, writing, art and design.
Shifting focus out of chaos into future possibilities triggered a life review, one lived in the fashion industry for the last 25 years. The murmur of voices driving for change in my field had grown to a choir even before the quarantine, but the boat had now sped into uncharted waters. Writing a sustainability article for Vogue a few years ago gave me insight into the pollution fashion was guilty of, fuelling a change in the way I lived, bought and perceived style, yet this virus sobered my industry’s understanding further. From bringing attention to unpaid workers in third world countries, to shining a light on carbon used by air travel in fashion months and the mindlessness of a business model which expects endless projected profit and the resulting demand on designers to produce four or more collections per year—none of this is necessary. And, indeed, it is unethical to continue pushing an outdated paradigm of perceived success at the expense of the planet.
You won’t find me writing an obituary for fashion because I believe it is so deeply part of human culture that it’s indestructible—beauty and ingenuity in how we dress and adorn ourselves will always be a necessary part of humanity’s quest for individuality. Fashion going seasonless and renewable will spark not only enterprise but inventiveness, revolutionising the business as we know it. As we turn into this brave new decade pursued by a shark of a looming downturn followed by a mega shark that is global warming, I am not quite sure why I am this optimistic that humanity even stands a shot at overcoming our problems. Call me crazy, but turning 40 in quarantine has really made me miss and appreciate the roar of crowds, sweaty nightclubs, bear hugs and cramped airplanes.
Some experts say that this is our new normal, but virus crises were followed by feasts and orgies in ancient Rome, the bubonic plague made way for the Renaissance and the Spanish Flu turned into the roaring 1920s. Perhaps humanity thrives on adversity, and this will be our finest moment of truth, change and advancement?
Doing shadow work last year made me acutely aware of the pretty mask I wore most of my life, the many onion layers of trauma that my shame had subjugated into darkness underneath it. Whenever someone asked me how difficult times felt, I’d deflect with jokes because allowing the pain to surface meant my world really wasn’t as perfect as I had pretended. By creating an idealised version of my history, I banished pain into hiding where I thought it couldn’t hurt me. What I learnt is that allowing myself to feel everything brought forgotten memories up into the light for sorting, transforming stuck pain into wisdom. The empathy I developed for myself became the feeling of expansiveness with which I could understand the world around me with more compassion.
Perhaps then, this apocalypse is exactly what the Greeks mean by the word: an unveiling of things previously unknown? Possibly our world isn’t getting worse, it’s only becoming more transparent as truth becomes evident in the brightness of conscious attention. Before lockdown, the planet whirred so fast, noise drowning out all that festered, busyness creating a smokescreen for destruction. Time out made us all reflect on existential suffering we preferred to ignore.
No healing journey is a steady road upward, it’s instead a tangled mess of confusion and enlightenment in increments of one step forward, two steps back. Humanity has developed a mechanism of coping with pain that is anchored in the limbic response of numbness, avoid, fight or flight, feed or fornicate. Our unexamined trauma prevents us from operating in our higher reasoning brain. We treat the planet how we treat ourselves, causing havoc and destruction without being satiated or grateful, inflicting upon it the same illness we have—the inability to be present, examine ourselves and take personal responsibility for our healing.
Confronting issues with open eyes is needed before we can move into an integrated future but that won’t ever happen if we choose to deny their very existence or quell the voices of people brave enough to speak up.
Change lies within us confronting our own darkness, examining our own beliefs and their sources before we can deeply understand issues collectively and pivot away from this path of annihilation. Maybe I’m deluded about the Homo sapien species, but I cannot shake a wild hopefulness that a time of new possibility is coming.
I’ll always be the girl who pretends she is a character in Dynasty, turning any occasion into a runway show, but I think I’ll take a chance into the unknown now and maybe start a podcast on something rather un-fashion like. I’m sure grandpa would love to see me try, even if I fall flat on my face
This story originally appeared on Vogue.com.au here!
We swim in a soup of bacteria and viruses constantly, they are all around us, ever present – it would be so fascinating to watch them enter us and co-exist with us on a micro level , live in us and mutate with us. Also gross and weird, especially since the human body contains trillions of microorganisms outnumbering human cells by 3 to 1 and viruses are still so little understood.
I can see how panic in the face of an unknown bug is so much a product of our collective human trauma- all of us carry epigenetic memories of our ancestors burying someone dear due to an invisible enemy. Viruses are cool though – when they infect us, they have the ability to embed small chunks of their dna into our cells, changing the genetic code – in fact, 2 papers recently stipulated the Arc gene within us descended from retrovirus ancestors and may had led to consciousness appearing in humans. Viruses are basically genetic parasites that inject genetic code into hosts' cells, hijacking them to satisfy their own purposes — typically, into virus factories. The really successful ones make themselves at home and coexist with the victim in surprising symbiosis, although it's hard to get the warm and fuzzies with pathogens because they can make us so sick.
As a kid, I was always coughing and had a sore throat. Mostly bronchitis, tonsillitis and the like. My parents were young, university educated people, trying to raise 2 kids the best they knew how. We ate a regular middle class Croatian diet, which wasn’t eating junk per say , with plenty of high quality fruit, vegetables and protein ...but it did also involve lots of squishy, soft white bread, homogenized dairy and a plethora of sugar - from delicious homemade jams and preserves to Nutella and all the supermarket sweets I could beg, steal ( I was 8 ok and I learnt my lesson ) and borrow.
When I’d get sick, my parents would pull out natural Croatian remedies ( a rakija alcohol body rub for fever anyone? ) but also take me to the doctor who would inescapably give me a round of antibiotics . Yes, even for probable viruses which most definitely cannot be cured with antibiotics because they only tackle bacteria. Dear reader, I was on antibiotics all the time. My teeth were full of fillings. Eventually, I developed rotten tonsils and had to get them out.
Turning 14 saw me move countries , get depressed and unhealthy because all I did was eat ice cream and cry for a year. After a while I woke up and started to look for ways to move my body and eat well as an experiment for my mental health. Soon I was as a young model living overseas finding that sweet spot between staying fit and healthy because, let’s face it, back then heroin chic was all the rage, so wellbeing wasn’t very important to modelling agents. Much more interested in having regular periods than starving myself, wellness became a focus I have been obsessed with ever since.
When my boyfriend at the time developed skin and health issues, it made me curious about exploring natural remedies and healing modalities in an effort to help him. Yes, I have been caught perousing medical journals at 2 am and totally geeking out. No, I am not a medical practitioner, neither is this medical advice. These are tips that I have amassed in my life, experiments that worked for me and a staple of remedies I rely on when I get sick.
Everybody is different genetically - what works for me, may not work for you so please cross check any recommendation mentioned here with any underlying condition or allergy you may have. A lot of natural substances haven't been researched yet and a lot of them do not have “official” remedy status. Some may not suit your constitution. I'm just a mum who tries to live in the most holistic way possible whilst running a busy work and social life .
These are the plants, supplements, herbs and healing modalities I use to keep myself and my family healthy during cold and flu season . I'm sure so many of these are known to you all ,and I wonder how many more are out there that I know nothing about. ( Please do let me know in the comments if you know any not here listed )
-I gotta say this, even though it should be a given: let's wash our hands well people! And like wash them between the fingers and underneath fingernails , not a slight rinse : ) We unconsciously touch our face 200- 3000 times per day. I do not believe in synthetic anti-bacterial preparations however - most of these strip our skin off all the good bacteria that keep bad bugs in check and create a further imbalance in our bio field. Gentle, non toxic soap coupled with warm water is best. Let's remember, not all germs are bad for us, some are actually trying to help us.
-No shoes in the house - it's not just less germy but so much nicer to have no toxins on the carpet we sometimes lay on .
-Wash sheets and clothes in detergent with a tiny pour of eucalyptus or tea tree oil added to the wash – it helps to kill any leftover bugs and fungus and as a bonus if you forget a load in the washing machine overnight, the essential oils will prevent "the stink".
- Use a natural hand sanitiser made with grain alcohol and essential oils - I buy some in a health food shops when travelling and wipe door knobs and surfaces at home occasionally with natural antibacterial cleaning sprays. Saying this, I don't do this often, just when I am sick or looking after someone sick.
-Stay away from chemical cleaning solutions that kill 99.99% of bacteria, because they kill the good bacteria too. Again - it is the good bacteria in us and around us that keep the bad bacteria at bay. Using things that kill ALL bacteria promotes bad bacteria mutating into superbugs. Cleaning with natural products and essential oils is incredibly efficient, good for the environment and as a bonus, smells delicious too. Which brings me to…
-A jumbo bottle of eucalyptus and tea tree oil is a must in my house - great for diluting and using on wounds and bites , as well as against mould and pathogens. You can also make your own hand sanitiser by combining rubbing alcohol with antibacterial oils. One combo I love is Four Thieves' oil. The fable goes that during the 15th century bubonic plague, four thieves were caught robbing sick and dying victims in their homes but not getting sick themselves. In exchange for sparing their lives, the thieves gave up their secret - by combining clove bud, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus, lemon and rosemary oils together they made a synergetic combination of oils into a uber strong shield. New research supports these pathogen killing superpowers . I buy therapeutic grade so I can add 1 drop to a glass of water and drink it, diffuse it into the air , inhale it over a steaming bowl, as well as dilute some in carrier oil and rub it into the soles of feet. Oregano oil is also a very strong oil I take a little of when I get sick. Please treat oils with the respect they deserve , they are very powerful and can be harmful to small children and pets so do your research well.
-What we eat directly impacts on our health. We would all really like to circumvent this and pretend like it's not true, because boorrrring ammmiright? How good would it be if we had a pill allowing us to eat and drink anything we want? The truth is, no pill can replace a full spectrum rainbow diet of fresh produce - the foods we eat, literally make the cells of our body. We are constantly regenerating cells -new skin every two to four weeks, liver every 150 - 500 days, stomach and intestines every 2-5 days, lungs every 6 weeks, bones every 10 years - an ongoing process of dying , sloughing, creating and building. When cells split in 2 , they need all the right nutrients to do the process correctly - if they do not have the right stuff, they make suboptimal or abnormal cells. The old saying : “ We are what we eat “ isn't just some old wives tale - it is scientific reality.
- One of the biggest western medicine breakthroughs in the last decade was discovering the gut/brain connection and an understanding that the intestine is the seat of immunity. This perhaps clarifies why some people are more susceptible to illness than others – their “garden” (fancyful word for the intestine) is perhaps less rich in beneficial bacteria. This may sound like bad news but it is actually good news because it shows we have some power over shaping our immune system.
-As a "lucky" beneficiary of the heterozygous MTHFR mutation , I try to live an 80/20 lifestyle because I find it directly impacts on my energy. 1 in 2 people have some version of this gene mutation so it’s a pretty common condition. Generally, even though I allow myself cheat exceptions at times, I try to avoid all gluten, most dairy, processed food and sugar because it creates dis-ease in my body - now that I am so much more in tune I can notice dips in health immediately after eating these foods because these molecules are hard for me to methylate. Sure, the prospect of a hot croissant in Paris is never going to be a no in my books, but when it comes with an inflammation and an autoimmune response , imbibing often isn't fun. As far as the immune system goes, it really shouldn’t be attacking itself whilst simultaneously trying to fend off an intruder. It is already trying to quell a cytokine storm caused by a virus so it doesn’t need us putting any more fuel on the fire. When I am sick, I avoid any “treat” and go 100% clean . If I want my immune system to operate optimally, I need to abstain from anything my body may regard as the enemy.
-On a sick day, I'll start my day with 2 large warm glasses with water, lemon and turmeric, followed by maybe congee , or soft boiled eggs . I’ll simmer a large pot of organic chicken soup, with plenty of bones on the chicken ( I like wings and necks best with some liver in there too ) and a little apple cider vinegar ( to leech the minerals from the bones ) for 3 hours , then drain the bones out and add loads of veg, including garlic and ginger . Collagen in chicken soup is so healing to the gut - this is the mainstay of my convalescing diet and I’ll make a lot, freeze half and store the rest in the fridge. Basically, it is a pretty bland diet of soups, veggies and a little meat, long cooked for easy digestion. I don’t really eat red meat when I am sick - it feels heavy when I'm down , and in my personal experience , it makes any illness I contract last longer. I do make an exception for long cooked bone broth soups and always have some lamb or beef bones in my freezer.
-Sugar gets the heave ho in our house when ill, especially processed sugar, but also brown sugar, agave, dried fruits, sweet chocolate, alcohol and white carbs - simple sugars like these feed bad bacteria in the gut, which disrupt the immune system in turn. The only exception I make is for raw honey. Ayurvedic practitioners believe honey should never be heated and now we know honey has it’s own antibacterial properties and has been found to co-regulate the immune system. Sometimes, I’ll chop up a bunch of fresh garlic ( 2 or more cloves per person ) , leave it to sit for 15 minutes to activate enzymes and healing properties , mix it with some honey and spoon feed it to my family ( it definitely keeps vampires from our door! ). Fresh herbs and spices are great in meals because they are so packed with good nutrients. I try to eat warm and light foods and avoid anything too cold or too heavy and oily or anything that is too Yin (cold) energetically - things like too much fruit, ice, juices etc. The only exception is sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented veg because they are so rich in probiotics and important for good health.
- Dairy is a no go when coming down with something as it increases my mucus production but fresh and hot ginger, lemon, honey tea is drunk by a bucketful, as well as chamomile , rosehip and tulsi teas. My mum always sends me marshmellow root tea for my daughter as it is an old country cure for coughs and helps with her asthma.
HYDRATION- Our body is made up of up to 60% water. We need clean, fresh water regularly to function well. In times of illness extra mucus is being produced to expel germs so we need additional water - lukewarm or warm and preferably not in a caffeinated form. Please try to find a good filter for water - one that takes most of the cleaning chemicals out. Water is so important for good health that this investment will pay major dividends down the line.
NETI POT- good for clearing out nasal passages, bad for feeling sexy. Add a small teaspoon of salt to lukewarm water and flush the nasal cavity a few times per day.
SUPPLEMENTS AND HERBS :
-B vitamins get rapidly depleted during times of stress and are needed for a host of immune processes. Anyone with a MTHFR mutation should only have methylated versions as the others are toxic
-Vitamin C is so incredibly powerful in fighting viruses and stocking up on this is a must. I like to buy bio versions of this, so it has co-factors like rutin, and take a lot ( up to 20 grams ) when I am sick. Basically, unless you have got mild diarrhoea, your body hasn’t had enough vitamin C. Last time I had the flu, I was taking 15 grams a day and my body was just gobbling it all up like it was no thang. I prefer citrus fruit though and will often have 2x lemons squeezed in water with honey multiple times per day when sick. I have been known to have 15 lemons a day when sick - make sure you use a straw when drinking lemonade because it can really damage your teeth.
-Vit A is rapidly used up during fevers and illness - it is so necessary to supplement this vitamin when ill - I like to have mine in cod liver oil form ( because I love it when my kid hates me : ) ) - be careful of over supplementation as vit A can be toxic in very high dosages.
-Zinc and iodine are some other things I like to add to my defense arsenal.
-Probiotics strengthen my good bacteria army, which fortifies immunity
-Additionally, I visit my local naturopath and get them to mix me up some immune boosting herbs, usually a mix of AHCC, Echinacea, Elderberry, Astralagus, Andrographis, Olive leaf and Licorice. These herbs are pretty potent, bitter and horrible tasting, but oh my do they work.
- I have also used the Chinese medicine combination called Xuan Bi Tang, a mixture of Stephania and Blue Aractylodes when I have had a major chest infection. These herbs are really powerful , for example Stephania was used to treat Ebola. Check with your Chinese doctor if these are right for you.
A NOTE ON FEVER - People, please stop freaking out every time the body raises a fever! Fever is not a part of illness, it is a very natural way our body deals with killing germs and detoxes itself. Stop fever phobia and concentrate on making the person with a fever comfortable instead by providing plenty of electrolytes. ( a natural electrolyte recipe here because Gatorade, is full of colours and sugar which are a no no ). Lowering a fever can lead to a prolonged illness and should only be lowered if an adult’s temperature runs higher than 40C for a prolonged period , or a child’s over 38.9C for 2 consecutive days. The only exception is babies - if a baby develops a high fever , it must be taken to the emergency department immediately.
CHEST INFECTION – I have many natural chest rubs that utilise pine oils akin to Vicks Vapour Rub that I have used on myself and my child during times of laboured breathing and chest pain. As well as rubbing 4 thieves oil into the chest, mustard packs can also be beneficial.
SUNSHINE - Sunshine is so important. It generates Vit D , modulates our immune system and makes us feel better . The sun in Australia is very strong, but slathering ourselves with most sunscreens won't get us the Vit D we need because it blocks the UV rays necessary for the production of this hormone. When I want to get therapeutic sunshine , I first shower and apply some coconut or olive oil on my skin and then go out in the middle of the day sun for only a very short period of time. Please do not bake and know your skin’s limit, it's not a tanning competition. Cover your face and chest with a hat. Some people will only need 7 minutes in the hot sun, some 15 and some with darker skin longer than this. This is an absorption exercise- we shouldn’t feel too hot and definitely not burn .Vitamin D is an oil soluble vitamin and needs time to absorb into the body – the next time you shower only clean your pits and feet with body gel, so you don’t wash all the goodness away . When there is no sunshine, use Vit D sprays or cod liver oil.
SLEEP AND REST: No, we cannot get better whilst running 1000 miles per hour. The body needs us to stop and recuperate. No vitamin, medicine or magic potion can replace good, solid sleep and rest. If the body says stop, we need to listen and stop.
MIND / BODY CONNECTION AND PLACEBO : Ok, we all know that one person who freaks out whenever there is some virus going around and thinks that they will get sick straight away - and are proven right. Then there are those humans that seemingly walk through life like Lazarus, unperturbed and unsinkable by the trifles of human fragility. We know for a fact that the placebo effect is a real thing .Whilst we grapple with our understanding of the invisible factors around this phenomenon, it doesn’t hurt to apply Louise L Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life positive affirmations , do Whim Hoff breathing techniques or look into Joe Dispenza meditations. New research shows that mindfulness meditation can positively influence epigenetic changes in our body
I also love Dr. Bruce Lipton's work, as in this clip, in which he explains how to never get sick again.
Most of all friends don't panic – it lowers the immune system . I have a feeling there will be enough toilet paper for everyone.
My Empirical Life is not affiliated with any brands or paid to talk about the methods and products mentioned in this article.
I love mixing animal prints. For me, it’s like playing with different shades of neutrals. This Kate Sylvester maxi dress loves to flow open on the beach while buttoned up, and adds just the right amount of sheer over my Zimmermann bikini. Add extra luxe with a pair of sunglasses.
If you’re looking for an instant ticket to disheveled, androgynous cool, this is it. This Rika Studios shirt doubles as a great dress when buttoned up over my Bondi Born swimsuit. Don’t be afraid to accessorise either - this necklace from Reliquia and my Pared Eyewear sunglasses exude sophistication.
Comfortable and easy, everyone needs a multitasking staple. This Ginger & Smart dress goes perfectly with my A-Emery sandals.
Nothing sets off a tan like white does. This one piece Zimmermann swimsuit doubles as a bodysuit après swim when worn underneath a sheer White Story dress for universal appeal. Couple with a headband from Reliquia and a Brie Leon necklace.
Pattern-fatigue is a real thing, but stripes are a tried and tested staple. Whether classically nautical or bold and contemporary, they’re always a good idea in summer, exemplified by this Rebecca Vallance dress.
I love a button down – it’s an underrated classic. Wear it like this Nanushka piece as a beautiful robe on the beach and then do it up in a flash for an elegant transformation.
This story originally appeared on vogue.com.au here!
( wearing Zimmermann at Anantara Peace Heaven Tangalle)
The first time I travelled to Sri Lanka was four years ago. Not knowing what to expect, I was blown away by the tranquility of the foliage and beaches that enveloped me in a jungle paradise. My stay had only been a few days long though, and soon enough I was longing for more.
In the years after my short visit, my mind kept drifting back to that emerald jewel in the Indian Ocean that had so thoroughly stolen my heart.I promised myself then that I would go back and explore all there was to see and do, but I don’t think I realised that would probably take someone a lifetime.
With a history spanning back to the great Rama Kingdom, shaped by the peaceful philosophy of Buddhist culture and the smiles of friendly locals, Sri Lanka is a garden of Eden, filled with all sorts of magnificent flora and fauna. Scroll through to find out exactly what to do, what to eat, and where to stay in three of the most special places in Sri Lanka.
This sleepy coastal spot is filled with gorgeous beaches, excellent surf spots, and old temples and relaxing vibes.
Where to stay: Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle is the place to be. Situated on one of my favourite beaches in the world, a palm fringed heaven of golden sand with greenery all around, you’re invited to let go of all your worries and breathe. When I’m asked to visualise my happy place, this is it.
( Early morning swim in the warm ocean wearing Marysia swim)
What to do: The hotel offers numerous activities, including tennis, surfing lessons, an informative nature walk, as well as an insight into their many ecological programs. Do not miss an appointment with the resident Ayurvedic Doctor and the prescribed wellness treatments. Take a short stroll to the next beach and rope a fisherman into taking you on a dawn fishing session. Make sure to pay a visit to the old Mulgirigala Temple – the steep 500 or so stairs lead to a large reclining Buddha and colourful paintings where you can be blessed by a resident monk.
What to eat: The resort's Earth to Table private lunch, made with ingredients from its own organic garden, is a special experience held in a reconstruction of a traditional elephant. There’s more delicious fare across its three restaurants, including a hot prawn curry. If you’re feeling like an evening stroll, walk a beach over to the cute fisherman’s shacks for some quality seafood.
( On a safari in a Nanushka bodysuit, Bassike shorts and shirt, Akubra Travellers hat, Moschino sunglasses, Cartier watch and bracelet, Holly Ryan necklace )
A few hours away in a different climate is the nature reserve of Yala. Teaming with elephants, birds, buffalo, monkeys, crocodiles, picturesque beaches and magnificent sunsets, it’s a nature lover’s dream.
Where to stay: Chena Huts by Uga Escapes offers you luxury glamping like no other. Find your inner peace in generous domed huts within their own private piece of bush, or cool down in the plunge pool on a hot tropical day.
( Within a private oasis in Leo and Lin bustier, Zimmermann dress, A-Emery sandals )
What to do: The resort has their own safari vehicles and informative tour guides. One of the highlights of my trip was learning all about the animals we encountered on our daily adventures. While the beaches aren’t swimmable because of strong currents, it’s the perfect spot to observe the glorious sunsets. Spa treatments are available for getting knots out after bumpy safaris.
What to eat: The resort is all-inclusive, the menu changes daily and the chef is a genius – try the Hoppers, a traditional fermented coconut pancake with egg and curry for breakfast or the incredible BBQs for dinner.
( Picking the best tea leaves is a learnt skill. Wearing Zimmermann shirt, Oroton shorts, RM Williams boots )
Seven hours away from Yala, climbing into the mysterious Cloud Mountains, awaits the endless greenery of magnificent Tea Country. Bordered by wild jungle, the origin place of the famous Ceylon tea provides nothing but serenity.
Where to stay: Forget make-up when you go to the Santani Wellness Resort, because this place is all about tuning in and dropping out in the most luxe/hippy way possible. I spent hours watching clouds create mists over the neighbouring hills from my Villa’s balcony and it felt like minutes. The perfect place to end my big adventure, this resort’s minimal yet cosy interiors left me feeling calm, restored and healthy.
( Watching clouds roll by after meditation. Matin dress )
What to do: The resort offers a morning and afternoon yoga and meditation session and often has visiting master teachers - I was lucky to train with Natasha Richardson on my visit. Various nature walks traverse the hills and rivers below. To say that the spa is pretty would be an understatement – open air pavilions back onto the jungle so you can watch monkeys play from the salt water pool or treatment rooms. One night, after I finished my shirodhara treatment, I opened my eyes to see hundreds of fireflies illuminating the dark around me.
What to eat: The resort is all about personalisation. Instead of a menu, the chef speaks to you each day and tailors a set of meals around your preferences. If you’re here for more than 5 days, that menu will follow your personal detox program. If not, you get to choose between a Sri Lankan or Western menu. I chose the traditional and wasn’t disappointed; these were some of the best curries I have ever had in my life. The desserts are delicious too, in the most healthy-yet-decadent way.
This story originally appeared on vogue.com.au here!
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