As long as I can remember, I’ve been passionate about food and nature – and I’ve never seen the logic in keeping them separate. Hence my decision to study ecology at first degree level before continuing my academic journey with masters and doctorate degrees (Imperial College London), followed by a 7-year stint as a postdoc in agricultural sustainability.
As time went on, I increasingly felt the disconnect between agricultural and medical scientists. It never made sense to me that Western medics weren’t more interested in using food as medicine, especially given the copious evidence to support its use. And why is medicine preoccupied with dealing with sickness, rather than with creating or regenerating health? Perhaps because I grew up in diverse African and Eastern cultures, I was more open from a younger age to the role of food on health than my academic colleagues? It was as if we spoke different languages.
Sustainable agriculture was all about working with nature, and applying learnings from stable, complex ecosystems like rainforests and coral reefs, to real-world farming systems. Ecological medicine existed but was in its infancy, being little more than a flea on the medical orthodoxy’s back, scarcely being noticed. The year was 2002, and that’s when I threw in the academic towel and decided to devote my energies into setting up the non-profit, the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH) International, as a vehicle for positive change, working to co-create health with nature.
Along my journey, like so many of us bearing the torch of ‘food as medicine’, I’ve been both harmed and healed by food. It wasn’t until I quite radically changed my eating patterns, identifying then avoiding the foods to which I was intolerant, changing the way I prepared my foods, looked at foods as a source of information not energy, and became keto-adapted, that my health, resilience and vitality all came together. That was in my fifth decade of life, just as some of my peers were starting to wind down. Despite now being in my sixth decade, I feel a new dawn lies ahead of us. One in which we become inexorably engaged and respectful of natural systems, rather than chasing shiny new technologies that over-promise and under-deliver.
I spent the first 20 years of my life sick. A trauma in early life treated with years of drugs set me ricocheting between bouts of tonsilitis and gastro-enteritis. The latter was no surprise after the multiple courses of antibiotics year after year to treat the tonsilitis. By the time I reached 16, my resilience hanging by a thread, it was a short and swift descent into an autoimmune disease, but not without contracting glandular fever, quinsy, scarlet fever and dysentery on the way. A textbook journey to Grave’s Disease. Yet not once was food ever even considered, either as a possible cause or for healing.
Having my entire thyroid removed at the age of 20, with the extent of unresolved metabolic dysregulation and inflammation I was experiencing, did not make me well. Quite the opposite. But it was the trigger for me to take back responsibility for my own health and it set me on a profound healing journey which has been extraordinary, enlightening, consciousness expanding and deeply heartfelt, for which I am now truly grateful.
Along the way I’ve practised many diverse healing modalities encompassing energy medicine and healing through to bodywork and nutrition, including receiving a BSc in Nutritional Medicine and a post-graduate diploma in Clinical Psychoneuroimmunology. My life’s mission meshes so seamlessly with Rob Verkerk’s and ANH that it was only a matter of time before our worlds collided back in 2002. I joined ANH full time in 2005.
Food and feeding are evocative and emotive because they are so integral to our survival as a species. But food is also one of the most powerful medicines I have encountered on my healing journey. Combining food and lifestyle interventions with finding your mission and purpose in life creates an effective prescription for much of what ails us. I hope the information in these pages helps you to also successfully push your metabolic reset button. The remainder we’ll leave for another book.
My passion for nutrition and cooking began as soon as I could stir a cake batter with my Nan. I learnt to cook from scratch at an early age and could feed a family of 6 by my teenage years. I continued to explore food and cook from scratch as I moved away from home but was soon seduced by the siren call of the supermarkets.
Fast forward 10 years and my health was on the floor. I discovered gluten and dairy free long before it went ‘mainstream’. This sparked my love of recipe development and experimentation as I had to find other ways of feeding myself without the plethora of ingredients now available.
I continued my food and health journey by training as a nutritional therapist over 6 years ago, which led me to the door of ANH — the opening of a whole new world. The rest, as they say, is history!
When it comes to food, we ignore our genes and evolutionary history at our peril. As well as being a carrier for energy, food is a profound source of biochemical information that needs to communicate in a language that our genes recognise and can interpret. While we've had the odd upgrade here and there, the main genetic blueprint we're running is an ancient one, Paleolithic even. That's one of the reasons it's struggling to cope with the incredibly rapid changes in our food supply since agriculture became industrialised. Changes that include much more processing (think additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners and flavours), GMOs, a massively simplified diet, as well as one that is frequently sterile. Because of this, we modern humans are at risk of losing a good deal of our ancestral vigour!
Food literally changes the way our genes express. Far from being set or static, our genes are constantly being turned on or off - amplified or silenced. And this process is what dramatically affects our response to changes in our environment. Our health depends on our ability to adapt, to become resilient in the face of change.
You may have heard the term 'epigenetics', which refers to the effects of diet, lifestyle and environmental factors on our genetic expression. But the exciting bit of this is that changes in the expression of our DNA towards either health or disease are significantly under our direct control. This is because of the power of the foods we eat, the amount of activity we engage in, how we manage our stress and how much sleep we get to shunt our gene expression in a certain direction.
When we make the right food choices to inform healthful gene expression we open up to a new world of health and healing with metabolic flexibility at its core. It's very hard for disease to flourish in a resilient, vital body that adapts to change easily. It's why we're still here as a species and it's how we find the road back to health again.