The need for a Holistic approach to disease – Behind the Health Hun

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I decided to write about this topic as it is something I feel very passionate about. It is one that is close to home, having dealt with numerous ‘incurable’ conditions myself. Over the past few years, I have taken a closer look at my health from all angles. Having been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and more recently polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), I struggled mentally and physically as a result. One thing that irritates me still is the blasé attitude towards ‘treating’ these conditions – prescribe a drug, masking the symptoms. Don’t get me wrong, doctors are great, and I have witnessed what they do first hand, on a daily basis. They are amazing, passionate and highly intelligent human beings. The pressing issue I feel is that the ‘incurable’ conditions tend to get pushed to one side and not taken seriously. It is not entirely any one doctors fault, rather the foundations on which they practice. I accept the classical argument that there is a need to prescribe a drug due to patient safety. For example, take a patient with high cholesterol. The practitioner may preach the need for a lifestyle revamp to the patient, but they both know that probably won’t happen and so, a tablet is prescribed.

I have spoken to many young women and one thing I cannot wrap my head around is the prevalence of unexplainable symptoms amongst them. Symptoms include, but are certainly not limited to, acne, cramps, bloating, constipation, amenorrhea (loss of period), anxiety, depressive symptoms and so on. These symptoms are becoming the norm as on paper there is nothing necessarily ‘wrong’ with them, but can you honestly tell me that discomfort and pain is normal?

A close friend recently said to me that perhaps being diagnosed with IBS was a blessing in disguise. This is something that really resonated with me, as she was completely right. Since my diagnosis with IBS, I have gone through trial and error in terms of diet and exercise styles – overall with the aim to improve my health. I did however, play the role of the teenage girl undereating, over-exercising and body-shaming myself. My intentions when I started out on this journey to better health were things like looking better in a bikini and keeping up with my peers. Just like every other girl will go through at some point, eventually finding their way back to focus on simply being the best version of themselves. It wasn’t until I began to realise this, that I began to focus purely on me. I began to accept my condition and research how to improve myself.

I had little to no help from doctors and was prescribed ‘medication’ for my type of IBS. I will save the details to the can of worms that prescription opened, but I will say one thing. It caused further, more intense issues both physically and mentally, something that took a long time to overcome. My diet, lifestyle and psychological state were never discussed. Never. This is something that still, to this day, deeply angers me. Four years of educating myself through websites, books and papers has taught me that these three aspects, are some of the fundamentals to the development and management of the condition (note: the gut microbiome plays a central role too). The more I learn, the more I realise that these aspects are not limited to IBS. They are relevant to many other conditions such as the development of amenorrhea – something that is very common and often misdiagnosed as PCOS. Again, the simple solution offered here is to mask the symptoms with the contraceptive pill, rather than getting to the root of the problem. The prevalence of amenorrhea and PCOS has increased in recent years and something I have asked myself is why? Why are these ‘incurable’ conditions on the rise? Why are these conditions becoming the norm? Everywhere I look there is a new Instagram post on accepting our bodies and practicing self-love, accompanied by a picture of a bloated stomach, acne, or a caption describing their mental health. Don’t get me wrong, we should all be accepting our bodies and being more kind to ourselves, but why do so many young women battle with themselves regularly, when these things are almost considered normal?

My point? Greater consideration should be taken when any medication is prescribed, as it isn’t always the answer. There is a need for a holistic approach for tackling conditions like IBS, PCOS and the ‘unexplainable’ symptoms that are so common in many young women these days. There is a need for a movement towards improving overall health in terms of nutrition, physical shape and psychological state. All aspects of a patients’ life should be investigated that little bit deeper, leading to a better understanding and a possible root cause of irregular symptoms.

From studying science, I have always wanted to know the ‘why’ behind everything (nerd life). Pair that with my interest in the human body and how everything we do in our daily lives can impact our health, or lack thereof. Food, stress, sleep, activity levels, gut flora – everything is related. I suppose you could say the above has ignited a passion within me, taking a closer look at this grey area. An area that very few want to address.

IBS – Collab with Thrive Festival

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a functional gut disorder that effects the large intestine, also known as the colon. It is classified as a syndrome as it is collection of symptoms, meaning it can manifest differently from one person to the next. Symptoms can include flatulence, bloating, distention, diarrhoea, constipation and stomach cramps. How it effects an individual can depend on which subtype they have been diagnosed with; IBS-C ie. constipation dominant, IBS-D ie. diarrhoea dominant, or the mixed subtype. Alteration in bowel patterns can vary for an individual, regardless of their diagnosis.

The cause is currently unknown, but a theory is that those with IBS have a hyper-sensitive gut. Factors affecting IBS trigger symptoms by influencing gut motility ie. speeding it up or slowing it down. These factors include stress, sleep, exercise, fibre/FODMAPs, caffeine alcohol and composition of microbes in the gut. There is no cure for IBS at present, so the aim for treatment is symptom management to improve quality of life. However, new emerging research on the connection between the gut and the brain – known as the gut-brain axis – has expanded treatment options available for individuals with IBS.

Inclusion vs exclusion – When we experience symptoms like bloating or a distended tummy, we tend to jump the gun by blaming a particular food and removing it to prevent reoccurrence. While this can be useful for the like of FODMAPs, the role of food intolerances in IBS is somewhat over-stated. Myths continue to circulate online such as cutting out dairy or gluten, have played a role in demonizing certain foods or entire food groups. This restrictive mindset can do more harm than good, as an individual can develop a fear of foods as a result. This can trigger an emotional response in the body, which in turn, can further exacerbate symptoms.

Before you start restricting foods, take a look at what’s missing from your diet. Do you have a ‘balanced’ diet? Are you getting adequate amounts of fibre? Protein? Fats? Fruit & vegetables? Carbohydrates are an example of an entire food group that is often removed from the diet when cutting calories. By doing so, individuals are at risk of nutrient deficiencies, reducing the diversity of their gut microbiota and not consuming sufficient soluble fibre. The language used is also important, ensuring that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ views of food. Of course, there are foods that are less nutritious than others, but context is important. The value of food should not only be measured by the calorie content, but also by how it makes you feel. Is that bar of chocolate really all that bad if you enrich yourself in the experience, while savouring the flavour?

FODMAPs – The Low FODMAP (Fermentable oligo-, di-, monosaccharides and polyols) diet has become somewhat ‘on trend’ lately not only for those with IBS, but for individuals with general bloating. FODMAPs trigger symptoms as consumption can increase fluid in the gut, along with gas as they’re fermented by gut bacteria. The aim of the diet is to, under supervision, identify particular foods that can trigger symptoms, specific to that individual. The first phase involves restricting all FODMAPs, followed by the re-introductory phase. Unfortunately, it is common to see Instagram accounts sharing recipes of ‘FODMAP-free diets’, when this is not the purpose of the diet. While it may seem logical to remove all FODMAPs from the diet, this is not advisable due to their prebiotic nature and the potential risk for nutrient deficiencies. This approach has proven successful for symptom relief, but should be done under the guidance of a trained nutrition professional.

Supporting digestion – Manipulating fibre is important for those with IBS as increasing soluble fibre can help prevent constipation, while decreasing insoluble fibre can help prevent diarrhoea. How you eat is also important to ensure blood flow is directed towards the gut, and not away from it. Slow down your chewing and remember not to eat while stressed, emotional or on the go. There’s no need to down tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar, simply swap those ice-cold drinks with your meal for warmer ones. Herbs like ginger can support digestion, while mint can be beneficial for symptom relief. Ensure to avoid or reduce the consumption of stimulants such as caffeine, ‘detox teas’ and alcohol that can trigger stomach cramps. Ensure to also drink adequate water to prevent dehydration of the digestive tract.

Self-care – Stress management techniques, rest & unwinding are key to preventing flares in IBS. The latest research studies have shown Mindfulness-based stress reduction interventions such as yoga and meditation, to be as effective as traditional interventions. Taking time out to unwind from our busy lifestyles is so under-rated, yet so impactful. Deep breathing methods activate the parasympathetic nervous, which can both alleviate and prevent symptoms. Making time for adequate rest is important for IBS, as poor-quality sleep can have a negative impact. Learn from my mistakes and avoid getting caught up in the ‘team no days off’ mentality.

Minding your mind – Having IBS can affect an individual’s mental health as they struggle with things like body dysmorphia and shame around their condition. Prioritizing mental health by developing helpful coping strategies and seeking professional help when required, will enhance an individual’s quality of life. Developing skills like emotional resilience and learning about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can improve their ability to cope, therefore reducing the prevalence of flares.  

Having IBS can be difficult to live with due to the multi-factorial nature of the condition. It used to hold me back as I felt embarrassed and ashamed of my body. By changing my mindset, I’ve discovered a new appreciation for my body. My sensitive gut tells me when I’m taking on too much, being too hard on myself or trying to burn the candle at both ends. A flare is a warning sign that I’m not looking after myself and that I need to slow down. I’ve tried multiple different diets, teas, lotions and potions, all with the aim to ‘fix’ myself. What I’ve discovered is that I was never actually broken, I just needed to understand my body that little bit more than the average person. I’ve learned to accept and love myself, even when I look 9 months pregnant or suffer with painful cramps. Self-love isn’t a quick or easy journey to embark on, but we are all worth the time and effort required. Show yourself some compassion, prioritize your health and tune in to your body.

Spicebag Veg #fakeaway

I absolutely love fried potatoes from my favourite Thai take away Tuk and this recipe using ‘spicebag’ seasoning is a healthier, lower calorie recreation. I enjoy accompanying this dish with Satay style chicken (recipe here).

Ingredients

  • Baby potatoes
  • Mixed peppers
  • Garlic
  • Red onions
  • Olive oil
  • Spicebag Seasoning (purchased from Aldi)
  • Chilli powder & Cayenne pepper*

*Only add cayenne pepper if you like very spicy food

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Method

  1. Pre-heat oven
  2. Chop up all of the veg. and place on a baking tray (lined with baking parchment).
  3. Drizzle olive oil over the veg. and add seasoning. Ensure to mix around the veg to cover entirely.
  4. Cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes, flipping over half way.
  5. Serve & enjoy!

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Spicebag veggies with Satay chicken ft. Koby

Reflect & Reset

As the year comes to an end, many people will slowly but surely make plans and set goals for 2020. While goal setting is important, taking time to reflect on the previous year is a really valuable exercise. We tend to look ahead for the next challenge and in doing so, we fail to see how far we’ve come. We can get caught up in equating success with tangible rewards or outcomes, meaning in their absence, we conclude that we have failed. This can overshadow the day to day effort we put in to get us to where we are today. Reflection allows you to hone in on that hard work and give yourself that pat on the back. 

I like to reflect on both my personal life & my professional life. I reflect on the relationships I have built and those that have ended. I look through pictures, recall accomplishments and investigate any failures. I reflect on both criticism and praise, ensuring that neither get to my head, but rather provide an insightful perspective into the mind’s of those around me. Reflection drives self-development as it highlights our strengths and areas for improvement. It can highlight the skills we’ve developed, be it physically, mentally, emotionally, technically and so on. This process helps us to appreciate our efforts and motivates us to move forward.

I’m a firm believer that our challenges shape us. 2019 has been quite a challenging year for me, but if I were to change anything that happened, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone means taking risks. It takes courage and does not guarantee predictable results. This means that we need to prepare not only for failure, but to be flexible and adaptable to change. Although challenging, there’s no growth without stepping outside of your comfort zone, just like there’s no growth without learning from adversity. Maybe 2019 didn’t work out the way you planned, mine certainly didn’t. I’ve worked in 3 different roles, featured on podcasts, battled with my health, read books, studied online, recorded more and created more content, said yes to things I knew nothing about, but knew I could figure out later. I’ve gotten to know myself and my values on a deeper level, while also leaving behind people that don’t align with mine. I’ve developed technically, worked on my emotions, focussed on my health and gone on amazing holidays to ensure I see as much of the world as possible. I could reflect on 2019 with a bitter taste and question ‘why did certain events happen to me?’, but re-framing my perspective to one of optimism changes the question to ‘why did things happen for me?’.

The thing is, every year people set numerous goals and watch them fail before Spring comes around due to the superficial nature of the goals. Most people find it difficult to set deeper, more meaningful goals as they don’t spend enough time figuring out who they are as a person. Goal setting should not be limited to weight loss and appearance, in fact, I urge you to set at least five goals this year that aren’t related to your weight. Go deeper. Looks at your emotions, your relationships, your activity levels, your time spent connecting with people and nature, your talents, your skills, your career and so on. Think bigger, think bolder and think scarier. Nobody is going to do this stuff for you and at the end of the day, 2020 isn’t guaranteed for anyone. With that in mind, stop procrastinating, make 2020 the year of you and take more risks. Reflect, reset & have a Happy New Year!

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Insta post: Lead your life

Are you the leader of your life? Or are you letting life lead you based on what’s been defined for you? Definitions are something that can hold us back and cause multiple barriers along the way. We tend to adhere to certain ways of living, as it’s what has been defined for us.
When we’re in school, we’re told to choose what we want to be when we grow up, but this is what career we want, not what type of person we want to become. When we grow up, we work, we save for a car, for holidays and for our own home. We go through life aimlessly, without delving into our passions, our creativity and our skills outside of the working world.
We get so caught up in defining what’s in front of us that we rarely just go with the flow and see how life pans out based on how we’re developing, how we’re growing and most importantly, how we’re feeling. We literally have one life that can change in an instant, so why are we not living it the way we want? We live the way society has defined for us, but we have the ultimate power to take what paths we truely desire. Lead your life in the direction that you know is right for you.

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Insta post: Labels

L A B E L S
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Why is it that we always feel the need to define everything? We do it to everything from food to relationships, and from characteristics to illness. We often find comfort in fitting into a picture of the way things are meant to be, according to that label. .
For example, if you have anxiety – you may have read somewhere that it can be caused by large crowds so you decide to avoid them at all costs. You may never have had a fear of crowds before, but you do so now because that was defined for the label you grew accustomed to.
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I myself have done it for so many years, tall, lanky, bloated, flat chest, social anxiety meaning I would avoid heels, certain clothes and I wouldn’t put myself through any fearful or stressful situations, for fear of what could go wrong. .
The problem is we then get comfortable. We become content with remaining in a stationary position and there is no room for growth. We hold ourselves back and we might even convince ourselves that we’re happy where we are, when underneath it all, we actually want more. Take a look at the labels you have defined for yourself or that have been defined for you, and assess if they support you, or if they’re negatively influencing your life. Don’t hold yourself back.

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Insta posts: Compliments

C O M P L I M E N T S
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Do you accept compliments or praise given to you by others? Or do you retaliate with reasons why you don’t deserve the credit? Do you belittle yourself and your abilities as you feel you cannot accept the compliment? Why is it that we can’t say ‘do you know what, I am looking well’ or ‘you’re dead right, I did a great job’, and fully accept the compliment that was given?
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Self-acceptance is the first step to get closer to self-love. You need to accept and appreciate yourself and all the hard work you do. You need to get comfortable with praise and even offer it to yourself by blowing your own trumpet. By doing so, you reduce the need to seek external praise and validation for everything you do. .
I was on a night out recently and a girl randomly said to me ‘you look very confident, you must actually love yourself’. My initial reaction was the typical Irish response ‘ah stop that, I don’t at all’, but for once I said do you know what, I actually do. I’m done with not supporting myself and I’m so done with depending on others to determine my happiness and my worth. .
40% of your happiness is determined by you. Stop hating your body. Stop belittling your abilities. Start owning who you are.

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Insta post: Photographs

Do you ever find that when you try to capture a photo of a stunning view and it simply doesn’t do it justice? You might try and adjust the colours or apply a filter, but it still doesn’t capture the beauty that you saw with your own eyes.
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Have you ever thought about applying this logic to pictures taken of yourself? We take a picture, decide it’s not ‘good’ enough and we take it again. We may even come to the conclusion that after many more attempts, WE are not ‘good’ enough. .
You wouldn’t conclude that the scenery isn’t pretty enough, so why would you decide that about yourself? Angles, lighting and your own perception (often based on your mood) can cause you to jump to conclusions about yourself that simply are not true. Remember, the picture doesn’t tell the full story x

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Insta post: Change

Are you someone that resists change? Or do you welcome it with open arms? Recently I have been going through big changes in a few areas of my life and I have never felt better. Initially, I felt like a few ‘bad’ things were happening to me at once. I quickly reminded myself that life doesn’t happen TO us, it happens FOR us. A little work in changing my perspective and re-inforcing that growth mindset and here I am.

We can have visions in our minds of how things are going to work out. When it seems to go tits up, we may think this is a bad thing. If we are fixed in our ways, we won’t adopt the change, we resist what’s happening and won’t get to reap the benefits of the lesson that comes from it.

Using positive affirmations like ‘It is what it is’, can help bring you peace to heal from whatever it is you’re going through. ‘It’s not the strongest species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change’.

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Chicken Satay #Fakeaway

Satay sauce is one of my fave sauces, but the traditional recipe can be very high in calories due to the coconut milk. This recipe is a simple marinade that can be added to meat, making it so quick, easy and no fuss. I enjoy accompanying the chicken with Spicebag veg (recipe here).

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Ingredients:

  • Peanut butter*
  • Soya sauce
  • Chilli powder
  • Pink Salt
  • Milk**

*Powdered Peanut butter can also be used to make a lower cal option.

**Any milk can be used, but I opt for Almond milk as it’s low in calories.

Method:

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  1. Mix up the peanut butter, seasoning & soya sauce.
  2. Add a dash of almond milk & continue to mix. Add more until desired consistency is reached (I like mine to be nice and chunky).
  3. Spread marinade onto chicken breast & grill or roast

Note: This can also be made into a sauce by adding more milk & soya sauce. Instead of using it as a marinade, add the sauce and the pre-cooked chicken to a pan on a medium heat.

 

Pizza wrap

Thin based pizzas are my ultimate fave, so I immediately jumped on the band wagon when the trend for pizza wraps or ‘Fizzas’ began. By swapping the traditional, calorie-heavy base, for a lower calorie wrap, you can enjoy pizza any time without viewing it as a ‘treat’. You can add whatever toppings you like and use a wholegrain base to increase the fibre content. Your choice of toppings can increase the calorie content, so try not get too carried away! Remember, no foods should be ‘off limits’ or make you feel guilty, any meal can be re-created in a more healthful and calorie friendly way.

Ingredients:

  1. Any kind of wrap for the base, looking at the fibre content to make it a more healthful meal
  2. Tomato Passata – Tesco’s Italian style is ideal
  3. Sundried Tomato Pesto – I enjoy The Happy Pear’s version
  4. Mozzarella cheese – can be anything from buffalo, to grated, to low fat, whatever you fancy
  5. Seasoning – Pink Salt & oregano are a must for me, but you can add anything else like paprika, chilli etc.
  6. Toppings of choice

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Directions:

  1. Mix 1 teaspoon of pesto with some passata in a ramekin dish
  2. Place the wrap onto a plate and spread the passata mix onto the wrap
  3. Add your toppings of choice*
  4. Add cheese
  5. Add seasoning
  6. Cook in the oven @ 180 °C for 10 minutes
  7. Enjoy!

*Note: Cooking the toppings before adding to the wrap is preferential for veg, but essential for meat.

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