Why I Stopped Washing my Hair and Face and Wearing Deodorant a Year Ago and Why You Might Just Want to Too: 100% Natural Beauty Product Alternatives…. (I don’t smell, honest!)

coconut oil ACV The Story:

Around a year ago when I looked in the mirror I was confronted by the face of a very sick girl, I almost didn’t recognise myself at all. Never in my life have I condoned violence of any sort, but on more than one occasion I had to stop myself from punching the glass in utter frustration. I’d suffered on and off with acne ever since puberty and at 26, at the height of my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (which by then I’d been ‘fighting’ for almost a year, I use that word deliberately) my skin had broken out worse than ever before: my cheeks and jawline were completely covered in angry red spots, as if I’d taken a scouring pad to my own face. My eyes had completely lost their glitter and instead looked dead-inside; if the eyes are indeed ‘the window to the soul’ then my soul was not at home. They were, depending on what kind of day I was having either red, blotchy and swollen from all the tears; or drawn, grey and haggard with stubborn dark puffy circles underneath that made it seem like I hadn’t slept properly in weeks (I hadn’t, not for months, despite more or less living in my pyjamas that whole time.) I looked like I’d aged 10 years. My unsightly mousy brown roots were now clearly visible against my (up until then) perfectly highlighted blonde hair, which by now was unkempt and tangled from days on end spent lying in bed. The prospect of ‘getting ready’ to go out – showering, washing and blow-drying my hair, putting on make-up and getting something nice to wear out of my wardrobe just seemed completely pointless as no amount of eye-drops would clear these bloodshot eyes, no amount of make-up would cover the monstrosity that was my skin, and no dress, no matter how pretty, was going to make me feel attractive. I was completely exhausted. I just couldn’t be bothered to fake-it anymore, and I’d been faking it for a long time.

At that moment I decided ‘f*ck it, that’s it, from now on I’m not going to wear make-up, I’m not going to dye my hair anymore, I’m not going to try and make myself look ‘healthy’ when in truth I am anything but that, and I am certainly not going to use a host of expensive, chemical-laden synthetic products to do so.’

All of these things were going on and into my body, and for all I knew the harsh chemicals they contained could have been a contributing factor to my illness. Nope, at that moment I decided that I was done with ALL of it, and I was going to go down the natural route, trusting that, by taking care of what I was putting in and on my body (I had already begun to completely overhaul the ‘in’ by completely turning around my supplements and diet, you can read about this in ‘Can a Steak Really be Healthier for You than a Carrot? The Fat vs. Sugar Debate’) there would come a day when I would look in the mirror, completely au naturel, and I would smile, as I would look healthy, and my eyes would have their sparkle back. I decided that this was the way I would really know that I was getting better as eventually my health, and beauty, would shine from the inside out.

So, I let my roots grow out and I threw away all of my toiletries and cosmetics and stopped conventionally washing my hair, and my face, wearing deodorant, and wearing make-up. I stopped using anything that wasn’t 100% natural on my face or body, my rule being- if I can’t put it in my mouth then I won’t put it on my face, and if I don’t know what an ingredient is, it’s coming nowhere near me. (I do still shower by the way, just so we’re clear.) It was the best decision I could have possibly made.

Before I give you the run down of exactly what I use and how I use it let me first tell you it was not always this way. Noooooooooooo. Far from it in fact.

Emma GI picHigh Maintenance

Up until that day I had to stop myself from punching the mirror my daily beauty routine could be described in two words: high maintenance. Before I got sick, every morning I would get up over 2 hours before work (yeah, this would include having a good breakfast and often a decent session of yoga and meditation- when I was looking after myself, that is) but the main reason for getting up this early was so I could go through all the ritualistic preening and prepping, buffing and blow-drying, and moisturising and make-upping needed to create the ‘mask’ that I felt I required to hide my looks-based insecurities to face the world as a confident, attractive woman. It was a ‘mask’ in more ways than one. One I wore for many years even as a ‘healthy’ person, long before I even got sick. See my article ‘The Story of my Skin: How I Finally Stopped Wearing Make-Up and Cured my Acne after Fifteen Years of Trying (Hint, Look to your Gut not your Face)’ for the full history of this ‘mask’ and how I finally learned to step out from behind it.

Each morning would go like this. I’d jump in the shower, shampoo and condition my hair with products that declared they would furnish my locks with some, or all of the following: Volume, Body, Highlights… that were Cleansing, Smoothing, De-Frizzing, Moisturising, Natural (pah!) I’d lather up with a sweet smelling shower gel- again something supposedly natural: maybe scented with Almond or Coconut.  I’d wash my face with, again, a ‘natural’ (and no doubt expensive) foaming cleanser for Sensitive/Oily/Combination/Normal/ (how many different types can you think of? Insert here) skin that purported it would give me a Clean, Clear, Radiant, Shine-Free, Blemish-Free and Moisture Balanced complexion. I’d get out of the shower and deodorise my under-arms with a scented roll-on anti-perspirant (oh, and of course it would have the word ‘natural’ somewhere in its name) that promised that it would under no circumstances allow me to perspire. In fact it would block my sweat glands completely to keep me smelling fresh for 24hours (ok, so it contained aluminium which is toxic and there was a teensy, ok rather widely known, proven risk of cancer) but it promised no unsightly white marks on my clothing and even if I had a complete stress-induced meltdown at work there was no chance I would break out in even the smallest sweat patch, phew- glad I had my priorities in order! Oh yeah, and I’d moisturise my body with Cocoa Butter infused body moisturiser (again, cocoa butter’s natural, right?) which made me smell super sweet and promised to simultaneously soften and tone, sculpt, and define my limbs whilst making them silky smooth. Once or twice a week I’d exfoliate my face with yet another shop bought product, that claimed to be natural as the exfoliating beads were derived once upon a time from almond kernels, and I’d similarly scrub my body with some kind of fruity perfumed salt or sugar scrub I’d spent a tenner on in the chemist that claimed it would remove dead skin to reveal baby soft skin, oh yeah, and not to mention, completely banish cellulite.

Of course none of this sh*t was ‘natural’ in the slightest. And in no way did all these products end up doing ‘exactly what they said on the tin,’ but of course, I kept mindlessly buying them anyway.

Are we done? No, not yet, in fact that was just Act One. Then I’d blow dry my hair and put serum on the roots and texturing clay though the lengths and ends until it perfectly resembled the ‘laid back, tousled, low maintenance, just got out of bed’ look I was going for.  Only then could the real work begin of moisturising (yes, best to start using expensive anti-aging products in my early twenties) and priming my face before applying a plethora of cosmetics: foundation (to cover the spots), concealer (so that I would look as fresh as a daisy even if I was super tired and powering through) , powder (to hold it all in place), blusher (to give me rosy cheeks and a healthy glow, as if I’d been frolicking in meadows as opposed to working way too hard), bronzer (ditto, but in the sun) eyeliner and mascara (to accentuate my eyes and thus, again, banish any evidence of being over-tired). And if I were getting ready for a night out add to that: highlighter (for perfectly sculpted cheek bones), more bronzer (dramatic effect), eye-shadow (for a sultry and seductive air) and the use of a scary looking metal vice-like contraption that I would hold the flame of a lighter up to for a few seconds before using it to curl my eyelashes, (thank God I didn’t hold it too long and accidentally burn them all off!) And of course I wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without spritzing myself with perfume.

Ok. Ready to go? Yes. Finally.

And then of course there’s coming home again every night and using make-up wipe after make-up wipe to clean all the war-paint off again (that is unless you came home drunk and fell asleep in all your make-up in which case you had to shamefully do it in the morning) finding yourself disgusted by the black, soiled rag that displayed the remnants of all the crap that was just on your face. And that’s not even going into ALL the intermittent shaving, hair colouring (lest anyone see my REAL hair colour) face-masking, eyebrow plucking, and nail trimming maintenance that it takes to maintain the upkeep of the ‘confident, attractive woman’ mask (N.B. as you can see often underneath the ‘confident attractive woman’ exterior lurks a deeply anxious insecure little girl).

Oh my God, I’m completely exhausted even just writing that. Enough already!

In the past year I’ve gone from extremely high maintenance to decidedly low maintenance. 10632626_919682994760816_5915804082943372919_n

Low Maintenance

Now if I’m tired, I look tired. If I’m well rested, I look well rested. I’m done faking it. And I’m still very much in recovery from Chronic Fatigue so I tend to look tired a fair bit, sometimes I look down-right dreadful, but without the mask I notice it, and I take the steps I need to make it better- more rest, less worrying… And I do not claim to be completely secure and perfect in my looks (no, 27 years of vanity cannot be undone in mere months), I am as imperfect and flawed, and vain as everyone else and as such am still often painfully insecure. I won’t deny that occasionally I will put on a little bit of concealer and a flick of mascara if I’m going somewhere and I feel I need a little assistance, however, this is a far cry from the inch by inch military precision with which I used to apply layer after layer of foundation everyday, even if I was just spending the day at home. Although in an ideal world none of us would feel that we had to wear any make-up at all, ever, the fact is that we do live in the world we live in, and it’s undeniable that sometimes, a little bit of make up just makes you look and feel great, and I honestly think there’s nothing wrong with that. A few weeks ago I went to an African music concert with some friends and as I was going out in the evening (not a common occurrence for a CFS sufferer) I decided to put some liquid black eyeliner on my eyes for the first time in over a year- and you know what, I looked in the mirror and I felt really attractive, and I danced barefoot all night long (and that’s the important bit!). But what I’m saying is that although I wish we didn’t feel the need to paint our faces at all, of course we want to feel attractive and we should feel confident and love ourselves when we look in the mirror, and sometimes a bit of playful make-up to ‘dress up’ is wonderful. So don’t throw out that shocking pink lipstick yet, I haven’t, although I have no idea when I will next find myself in the right situation to wear it.

But all in all, these days- I’m in and out of the shower in a heartbeat and ready in under 5 minutes. Phew!

You know what I see when I look back on my high-maintenance beauty routine now? Well for one thing I see

£££££££££££££££££££££££££££££££$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

How much money did I spend on cosmetics, toiletries and make-up over the years? Blindly buying into the consumerist ideal that if I just used this lengthening mascara then I’d flutter my eyes and be a bonafide boy-magnet; if I used this toning cream my distinctly Amazonian thighs would transform into spindle-slender legs; or if I just spritzed myself with this extortionate perfume then I would leave an irresistibly scented pheromone trail in my wake which would cause men to literally fall at my feet. It pains me to think of the money I spent, knowing that next to rent, bills and food, it was probably my most significant expense. I remember joking in airports that that worst thing that could happen if my luggage were lost would be that my make-up bag would be gone. Firstly, how would I go outside? No one ever saw me without make-up. Holiday photos would be out of the question. And also, how could I even begin to replace all those expensive products and perfume on my minimum-wage budget? That little bag could easily have been valued at a couple of hundred pounds. Again, I’m pleased to see I had my priorities in the right place, f*ck’s sake. How many more trips to exciting places across the world could I have made if I added up all the tubes of mascara and all the other unnecessary crap I bought over the years? It doesn’t even bear thinking about. I can tell you this, next time I’m in an airport it’ll be with a camping rucksack and a tent and no make-up bag.

Another thing I see: I see hour after hour of wasted time, when I could have been in bed sleeping, I could have been meditating, I could have been reading, I could have been journalling or writing my novel, I could have been doing yoga, I could have been making a really elaborate breakfast while dancing round the kitchen, I could have been listening to the morning birdsong, I could have been in bed doing more fun things than sleeping with someone I care about, I could have been outside admiring a beautiful sunrise… but instead I was so insecure thought I needed to put in these hours, every day, just to make myself look presentable.  This makes me sad, I wish I’d known.

And finally, and most importantly, there is the issue of ‘natural’ beauty products. Even if these lotions and potions had  the word ‘natural’ in the title, or were derived once upon a time from something in its natural state, they were anything but that. No, there was absolutely nothing ‘natural’ or organic about them. (Did you know that unlike food the use of the terms ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ are not regulated when it comes to body products?) If once upon a time an almond or a coconut was involved in the creation of the product then it can be labelled as natural, even if it has been mutated beyond recognition with a million strong chemicals added so it in no way retains any links to the original fairy story. Every one of these products, without exception was synthetic, artificial and full of unnecessary chemicals, not to mention potentially toxic. And I was using these on my skin (which is a key part of the immune system, and the body’s largest organ of detoxification) so I was absorbing all of these not just into my skin, but also into my bloodstream. There was no question, they had to go. Who can tell me what Sodium Laureth or Lauryl Sulphate, Glycol Distearate, Methylparaben, Propylene Glycol, Cocamidopropyl Betaine or Methylisothiazolinone are? Who can even pronounce them?! I can tell you that many of these ingredients have been shown to disrupt the levels of healthy bacteria in the body, which is essential for a healthy immune system (and clear, healthy skin) and have also been proven to in many cases disrupt the workings of the endocrine system (your hormones), cause immune damage and of course majorly irritate that which it professes to protect: your skin, stripping it of its own self-regulating natural moisture, so that you, as a result, end up buying yet more products in an attempt to restore it! (Capitalism takes unfair advantage of the misinformed consumer yet again.)

What Worked:

So what about the positive stuff in all this? Yes, finally! Well the entire contents of my bathroom cabinet these days are as follows:

A jar of Raw Organic Coconut Oil, a jar of Bicarbonate of Soda, a bottle of Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (try and get one ‘with the Mother’, a tub of Raw, Unpasteurised Honey, a bar of 100% Olive Oil Soap, Natural Moisturiser and Natural Fluoride-free Toothpaste.

These are the essentials and I also have a few other things: a bottle of Almond Oil, a Dry Body Brush, an empty Jam Jar and a Spoon (I’ll explain this later) a Razor (I can’t claim to be fully liberated), and Rose and Lavender Essential Oils.

And that’s it. That’s everything.

And this is what I do with them:

Hair: I follow the ‘No ‘Poo’ method of hair washing. Google it, there’s loads online about it. Sometimes it’s also called ‘Curly Girl.’ I use Bicarbonate of Soda as my shampoo and an Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse as my conditioner. (Can you get more natural than that? Or cheap? Plus I never have to browse all aisle after aisle of unnecessary products ever again.) Oh and I only wash my hair once a week, and I do it at night and sleep on it so never use a hairdryer. And it doesn’t get greasy in the slightest- hurrah! I have long hair so the measurements I give are for that. If you have short hair maybe half it to start with, and do your research, but most of all, just play with it and see what works best for you. It takes a while to get the amounts exactly right for your hair, but it’s worth it when you do.

Here’s what to do: wet your hair in the shower and in an empty jam jar put a tbsp. of Bicarbonate of Soda. Fill the jam jar up most of the way with hot water and give it a good stir, or put the lid on and shake, so that the powder dissolves and you have a salty liquid. Pour it over your roots, you will need to flip your head upside down to get underneath and to each side, then disperse it through the roots and scalp (not on the lengths and ends) until you feel a kind of silky, slippery texture- it will feel a little different, it maybe takes a minute or two of working it through with your fingertips before this shift takes place. Then rinse out really well. Rinse rinse rinse.

To condition: rinse out your jam jar, make sure there is no bicarb left at the bottom and put a tbsp. of Apple Cider Vinegar in it. Again fill the jar almost to the top (no stirring or shaking required this time) and pour is over the lengths and ends of your hair, not the roots. Again, rinse out thoroughly, and just when you think you’ve rinsed enough, rinse one more time. The vinegar scent disappears almost immediately, and although your hair will not have that sweet intoxicating (in more ways than one) freshly washed smell you used to get from shampoo, I can assure you that you will not smell of a chip shop, and your hair when it dries will just smell of…hair.

Speaking of chip shops… when I was going through puberty my Mum used to say to me when my greasy roots were screaming out to be washed ‘you look like you’ve stuck your head in a chip pan’. And I promise you that if you keep up with this routine over the weeks and months, you will never again have a problem with greasy roots as your scalp will gradually rebalance itself and they will be a thing of the past, honestly. But AT FIRST this is not the case. If you are going to go ‘No ‘Poo’ then you have to endure the adjustment period: it’s unavoidable I’m afraid. The first 3 weeks or so are not pretty. Your hair will completely shock you with all the crazily weird textures it can adopt. During the adjustment period I was using the bicarb and ACV a few times a week, maybe once every 2 to 3 days. In my experience it is best to start this way and then gradually reduce the number of washes. I am down to once a week these days, it took me a few months to get there (if it’s particularly hot weather I find that sometimes I need to do it twice a week). But yeah, the adjustment period… there was a point where my hair felt exactly like glue. But of course, your body is adapting to being weaned off a daily diet of artificial crap to re-instating its own, much more reliable, self-care methods. This will not happen overnight. But ride it out. Tie your hair up for a few weeks, wear a headscarf, it’s worth it. It’s a trial and error process and you just have to keep tweaking it as you go along- for example, for a while I was using too much bicarb and not rinsing properly and I ended up with a flaky scalp, there was another period where I was using too much vinegar as I felt my hair was beginning to get a bit greasy. It’s all about working with the amounts to see what works best for you, when you get it right, it’s brilliant! No looking back. Think of all the money you’ll save and how your body will thank you.

How hard or soft your water is can also be a factor, so those in big cities like London might find it a bit more challenging. It’s all trial and error, but ultimately so rewarding. Alternatives I know of that friends use are: Rye flour as opposed to bicarb as shampoo, or Himalayan salt crystals. You can also use Aloe Vera juice as conditioner instead of ACV.

Face: I go into more detail on this in my skin blog ‘The Story of my Skin’ but what I use is Raw, Unpasturised Honey as my facewash. It smells so yummy and feels so lovely and soothing on your skin, and I only do this at night, never in the morning, as overnight your skin has re-balanced all of its own oils. In the morning all you need is a little splash of cool water on your face at most, if anything at all. As someone who has suffered from severe acne for 15 years, this REALLY works for me; NOT washing your face is what works? Who knew! If I need to exfoliatea couple of times a week, I use Bicarbonate of Soda again. I’ll put a little bit, say ½  teaspoon of bicarb in my palm and then use some cold water to turn it into a little paste and use that, very gently, focusing particularly around the nose area.  Once rinsed off, it is essential here to use some form of toner to rebalance the PH of the skin (as bicarb is incredibly alkaline). So, you can make a toner, by using, guess what? Apple Cider Vinegar in water! Yes, just a tiny bit, maybe ½ a teaspoon or so, mixed into a plastic bottle (100ml) and use that to get your skin’s PH back in balance. Then moisturise. I intend to move towards creating my own moisturising facial oil, but right now I am just using a Neal’s Yard natural moisturiser until I can afford to buy all the essential oils to mix up my own potion, which I know will be really fun! When I’ve mastered this I’ll share the recipe. And finally, for those times where I do use a little bit of make up, to take it off I put some almond oil on a cotton wool pad and use that as a make-up remover.

Body: To wash my body I use a 100% olive oil soap. I love Chandrika soap too which is Ayurvedic, super cheap, and smells amazing, you can buy these in any health store. Or if you want to treat yourself, get some of Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap, made from essential oils and 100% natural ingredients. I have the Rose one and it smells absolutely divine.

For deodorant I use my trusty coconut oil and bicarbonate of soda again. First get a small dollop of coconut oil and warm it between your palms and spread it under your arm pits, then pour a little bit (about the size of a 10p coin) of bicarb into your palm and dab it on top. This works an absolute treat. I was completely amazed by how well this works as a deodorant, I don’t smell at all! It will not prevent sweat patches from developing, and do watch out for white marks when you are wearing black, but, as I’m sure you know, the body is designed to sweat and it is potentially very dangerous to prevent this natural process with aluminium filled anti-perspirants.

To exfoliate I dry body brush for 5 minutes before I get in the shower. Here’s a great little article on this by my favourite wellness website Mind Body Green: ‘Why You Should Start Dry Body Brushing Today’ You could also make a body scrub by mixing rough Himalayan salt crystals into honey perhaps.

I moisturise my body with coconut oil, I just keep a tub by the shower. As oil and water don’t mix you can do this while still standing under the shower and it will stay on your skin- perfect for Winter (or Scotland, at any time of the year!)- and you smell like a coconut, mmmmmmm.

And did you know that coconut oil has a naturally in-built SPF of around factor 10 so can be used as sunscreen? Brilliant.

And that’s about it.

Oh, and instead of expensive perfume, these days I dab Lavender and/or Rose Absolute Essential Oils on my neck and pulse points. They smell gorgeous, and give you the relaxing aromatherapeutic benefits as well, and not to mention are far kinder to your wallet. I find that even the most expensive perfumes smell synthetic to me now.

So, this is how I have made my Way Through the Woods away from the cosmetics industry and towards a beauty regime that is much better for my wallet, my body and the environment. And although I am still very much in recovery, there are most definitely days when I look in the mirror and that sparkle is back, in fact, it’s better than ever.

(Update- I wrote this post in June 2015. At that point I had been following ‘No Poo for just over a year and my hair was loving it. Cut to almost 6 months later and my hair is not so much loving it anymore, and so I have decided to stop. I felt that a build up of bicarb and vinegar was developing on my hair and eventually it just was not getting clean enough with my weekly wash. So I have reverted back to Shampoo and Conditioner (the most organic and natural I have been able to find), for now anyway. I might go back to ‘No Poo in the future, but as with everything in our bodies and minds, we need different things at different times, and it is our duty to follow THAT at any given time, not what we know to be healthiest, or most ethical or what someone else has told us. Be your own guide.)

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Scrumptious *Grain Free* *Gluten Free* *Sugar Free* Breads and Muffins, That’s Right, Not a Carbohydrate in Sight!

20150622_093831What is the single hardest thing about going gluten free that every coeliac or gluten/wheat intolerant person can attest to? That’s right GIVING UP BREAD- yummy dietary staple bread. And it’s not just coeliacs that have to do this. What if you are eliminating sugar from your diet? To do this effectively that means removing (or at least severely limiting) grains from your diet, as well as fructose and of course, any form of refined sugar. And we in the U.K. are a nation of sandwich lovers- cheese and Branston pickle and peanut butter and jam used to be my fillings of choice, back in my pre-intolerance days, and before I knew what was good for my body. Throughout my university years an embarrassingly high proportion of my meals were sandwiches, or bowls of cereal, that and countless boring bowls of pasta and pesto (when I did eat that is, I mostly subsisted on a liquid diet whilst smoking cigarettes to keep hunger pangs at bay): no wonder my body built up a resistance to these foods (and substances!) and eventually rejected them altogether. I won’t lie, sometimes I still wish I could eat bread, but I know better, and I have found the grain free holy grail (of bread substitutes) the recipes for which I am more than happy to share.

Stop Press: You can eat a very low carb, or even 0 carb diet and still eat ‘bread’. That’s right- there are many delicious breads to be made from ingredients such as whole or ground flaxseed, ground almonds and coconut flour.

They are a source of fat and not carbohydrate and so unlike all grain derived breads which ultimately turn to sugar in the body (and that also goes for your gluten free buckwheat/rice/quinoa loaf as much as it does for your crusty baguette or seeded wheat/spelt/rye loaf) these do not. These recipes for healthy baking are fully in line with my argument in ‘Can a Steak Really be Healthier for you than a Carrot : The Fat vs. Sugar Debate’ where I delve into this issue in great detail.

The trouble often with gluten free and grain free breads is that they are not as satisfying and delicious as real bread. I have eaten my fair share of cardboard over the years and I can fully attest to the brilliance of these bakes- even my friends who aren’t gluten or sugar free love them, and have chosen to eat them over bog standard bread. Enjoy!

Flaxseed Rolls (the ‘breadiest’ grain free bake I’ve ever come across)

Makes 4 large rolls, 6 medium, or 8 small.

(Sometimes I just make 1/4 of the recipe if I just want one roll for one meal) it takes no time at all to mix the ingredients together, so it’s really straightforward.

Ingredients:

250g Flaxseed (whole or ground- you can use either- whole will make a textured granary bread roll, milled or ground will make a smooth roll, akin to wholemeal)

80g Ground Almonds

4 Eggs

50g Coconut Oil (or you can use butter if you can tolerate dairy)

1 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp salt (good quality- Pink Himalayan or Celtic Sea Salt)

100ml water

(Optional) – 1 tsp oregano, or fennel seeds or caraway seeds, black pepper.

Method:

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees celsius.

Put the coconut oil in a small oven-proof dish and pop it in the oven for 5 mins or so, just so it is almost liquid.

Add all the other ingredients to a food processor (and the coconut oil once it is closer to a liquid state) and blend until smooth.

Once blended leave it for a few minutes, to allow the mixture to thicken, and then blend again.

Grease a baking tray with coconut oil/or butter

Divide up the mixture into well spaced blobs on the tray. 4 for large rolls, 6 for medium, 8 for small.

(N.B. If you are using whole flaxseed and not ground the mixture will be much runnier, don’t worry about this, they will turn out great, but divide the mixture into 4 or 6, and not 8, as the loose consistency means they will be shallower.)

If you are using ground flaxseed the mixture will hold together better and so you can make 8 easily.

Both are good, often I prefer to use the whole flaxseeds, the end result is densely packed with seeds and has a lot of texture. Also the roughage that they provide are quite possibly the best thing if you are experiencing sluggish digestion.

Wet the back of a spoon and smooth out the dollops into roll shapes. They will not really rise so bear this in mind when you are shaping them.

Bake for up to 45 mins, until golden brown on top and springy.

Cool on a wire rack.

Cut in half, like you would a roll. These are very filling. If I make a batch of 4 often I will cut each roll in half and eat a half at a sitting and freeze all the other 1/2 portions individually. They can be popped in the toaster from frozen but they won’t take as long to toast as frozen bread.

flaxseed roll

Enjoy with whatever: scrambled eggs and bacon, wild salmon and sliced avocado, nut butter and apple, grilled chicken, sauerkraut and salad….

Ground Almond and Spinach Loaf

Makes 12 slices (like a cake), I sometimes just make half the recipe. Or make it all and freeze portions.

Ingredients:

300g Ground Almonds

4 Eggs

Bag of Spinach (steamed and drained and chopped)

30g Coconut Oil (melted) or butter if you can tolerate dairy

Pinch of good quality Salt

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar

(optional) a wee sprinkle of nutmeg, ground or freshly grated.

Method:

Heat oven to 180 degrees celsius

Steam spinach and drain of all water, give it a good squeeze to get all the water out, and chop.

Mix all the other ingredients together in a bowl. Mix in the spinach.

Grease a baking tin coconut oil or butter (I use a small round one, a small one of any shape will work). Line with baking paper if you have it, this often gets stuck without baking paper, so I would advise it.

Pour in the mixture and even it out.

Bake for 30 mins until it is starting to go golden brown on top and a knife comes out clean when you do a skewer test.

Loosen the bread from the edges and leave to cool for a bit before turning out onto a cooling rack. Flip back over when cooled and cut into slices as you would a cake. Portions are freezable, or will keep in the fridge for a few days. This is nice hot or cold, and is especially good with soup.

You can play around with this recipe and use other veggies than spinach. What about a courgette and almond loaf? (just substitute the spinach for a medium grated courgette), or beetroot? Or why not make it sweet- instead use a couple of grated carrots or grated apple and add in some chopped walnuts, chopped prunes and cinnamon.

Coconut Flour Lemon and Poppy Seed Muffins

Completely Sugar Free Grain Free Muffins? Yes please!

Makes 8 Muffins

Ingredients:

75g Coconut flour

4 Eggs (separate the whites and the yolks)

Zest of 1 Lemon

3 tbsp Lemon Juice

50g coconut oil (melted)

10 drops liquid Stevia, or 10 sachets of Truvia (1 sachet = 1 tsp) (you might want to make it sweeter, add to your taste).

(optional) 1 tsp sugar free vanilla extract, or the inside of a fresh vanilla pod

1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda

1 tbsp Poppy Seeds

Method:

Heat oven to 180 degrees celsius

Melt coconut oil in oven briefly to soften.

Separate the egg whites from the yolks. Set the yolks aside. In a separate bowl whisk up the egg whites into stiff peaks (you might want to use an electric whisk if you have one to save your poor arm.)The reason for doing this is that coconut flour is VERY dense, this helps to lighten the mixture by bringing some air into it.

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl (include the egg yolks) you can do this in a food processor if you have one.

Fold in the egg whites.

Divide mixture into 8 paper cases in muffin trays.

Bake for 25-30 mins until golden brown and skewer test comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack (if you can be that patient… A grain free, gluten free, sugar free person like me is SO excited about the fact I actually get to eat a muffin that there’s no WAY I can wait for them to cool before diving in!)

Again, play with this recipe. What about raw cacao nibs and walnuts and desiccated coconut instead of lemon and poppy seed? Or if you can tolerate a bit of root veg/fruit why not use the coconut flour base and create carrot cake muffins? (grated carrot, walnut, cinnamon, and drizzle tahini on top for frosting, or a dollop of co yo as frosting?), or grated apple and cinnamon, or grated pear and some blueberries, cherries, desiccated coconut… go crazy.

YUM! Healthy, 100% Sugar and Grain Free and decidedly delectable.

Oh So Healthy *Sugar Free* *Grain Free* *Vegan* Delicious Dessert Recipes

choc cake

Just because we don’t eat sugar doesn’t mean we don’t want dessert, right?! Here are a few of my go to desserts. All of them are completely free from grains and refined sugar and also natural sugar substitutes like honey/agave/maple syrup as these are all just as sugary as each other. They are all gluten free/lactose free/soya free/ and most are vegan. The only sugar in some of these recipes is a little bit of fruit sugar, and for those of you who literally can’t tolerate ANY sugar, even fruits/root veg for health reasons (like me!) there are some 100% sugar free recipes in here and guess what- some of them use CHOCOLATE, yep, that’s right, you CAN be 100% sugar free and still eat chocolate (in the form of raw cacao).

Paleo Pancake

This is grain free, and free of any refined sugar, it does contain eggs and the natural fruit sugar of a banana though, this pancake is a breakfast fit for a King or Queen, or (for Queens only) an unbeatable snack for one of those PMT-y evenings where you need something sweet and filling to make you feel better but don’t want to be unhealthy. This is it.

Ingredients:

2 eggs

1 banana

Yep. That’s all.

Plus a little bit of coconut oil to fry it in.

Method:

In a blender blend the eggs and banana together, can be in a food processor, a smoothie maker, or in bowl with a hand-held blender, either way, does the same job.

In a frying pan (a small-ish one is best if you have one as the mixture will spread to cover its entire surface) melt some coconut oil on a high-ish heat. Once melted and hot, pour in the pancake mix.

I advise AGAINST FLIPPING THIS PANCAKE! It ends in disaster more often than not. Instead, after cooking it on the bottom for a few minutes I then stick the pan under the grill to cook the top. Keep an eye on it, when it is ready it will have lots of little aerated holes on the surface and a little bit of colour.

Eat with the healthy toppings of your choice: sprinkle with berries and seeds and cinnamon/flaxseed/tahini… if you are carnivorous maybe eat with a few slices crispy bacon on top, yum (sorry Veggies/Vegans)

Chia Seed Carrot Cake Bowl:

This tastes like a big bowl of the healthiest carrot cake you have ever tasted. It’s everything free- gluten free/grain free, dairy free, soya free, sugar free, but not JOY free, it is yummy. Chia Seeds are an exceptional source of protein, fibre and are packed with omega 3s. You can use them as a grain substitute, and eating a bowl of Chia in this way will give you the same amount of energy as if you were to eat a bowl of porridge. I like to eat a big bowl of this for a lazy Sunday morning breakfast. (N.B. The chia seeds are best if soaked in the almond milk overnight so you want to do this the night before for eating the next day, they swell up like frogspawn- the tastiest frogspawn you’ve ever tasted! BUT even 15 minutes soaking will make them swell up pretty well, so you can do it quickly too if need be) The only ‘sugar’ in this is the carrot. Most people can easily tolerate the sugar in a carrot, but if you are like poor me, and temporarily can’t tolerate even the teensiest but of sugar in a carrot, then try my alternative: I substitute the carrot for finely chopped celery- still pretty tasty! Sometimes I don’t have the chia seed part but just have a bowl of the rest- carrot or celery topped with tasty things, a really quick, easy, and oh so healthy sugar free dessert.

Ingredients for one portion:

3 heaped tbsp Chia Seeds

250 ml of almond milk (unsweetened) – or cow’s milk if you can tolerate it, always go for full fat, and raw unpasturised if you can.

1 carrot (grated)

Sprinkle of some of or all of: Pumpkin seeds/Ground Almonds/Ground Flaxseed/Walnuts broken up into a few pieces/toasted sunflower seeds/cinnamon and nutmeg.

(if you want you could also add something like a couple of chopped dried prunes, these are much lower in sugar than raisins or dates and are very good for digestion)

1 heaped tbsp tahini drizzled over the top.

Method:

If eating for breakfast the next day: the night before put the 3 tbsp Chia Seeds into an empty jam jar, add the almond milk, if you think it needs a bit more liquid add a little more milk or water. Put on the lid and give it a good shake. Put in the fridge for the seeds to swell overnight.

N.B. Even if you soak the Chia Seeds for 30 mins they will still swell, so you can do this and eat it quicker, but the longer they have to soak, the better.

Once your Chia Seeds are like tasty frogspawn, mix and empty into a bowl.

If you want to eat it hot (hot Chia porridge is nice on a cold day) then warm in a pan or pop in the microwave.

Grate your carrot or chop your celery and pop it on top.

Then put all your yummy additions on the top: pumpkin seeds/broken walnuts/ground almonds/sunflower seeds/flaxseed/a good dusting of cinnamon and nutmeg, and finally drizzle with a big dollop of tahini, yum, enjoy!

Other options with Chia Seed Porridge:

Eat with some berries and dessicated coconut on top. Grate a green apple on top and sprinkle with seeds, cinnamon and tahini. Stir in a heaped tsp of raw cacao powder (like co co pops, but for adults, and insanely healthy).

Baked Spiced Apple with Yogurt and Nut and Seed Grain Free Granola:

Again, there is a small amount of natural fruit sugar here in the apple, but the greener the apple you use, the better. I would say that if you can use a Bramley cooking apple, then that’s the best, they have the least sugar of all apples. The next best would be a Granny Smith. The Nut and Seed Mix you can make a batch of in a food processor and it will keep for a week or two and you can use it as you would a granola (it is absolutely delicious and completely grain free!)

Ingredients for one portion:

1 Bramley or Granny Smith Apple

Cinnamon and Nutmeg

A big dollop of Co Yo coconut yogurt if you are dairy free. Or if you can tolerate lactose then full fat live yogurt, or even double cream. Full fat dairy is miles better than low fat, raw and unpasturised even better, it’s the sugar you need to worry about, not the fat, so cut the carbs and enjoy full fat dairy!

A few chopped dried prunes if you want some extra sweetness. I prefer these to raisins, raisins are just little sugar bombs.

For the Nut and Seed Granola, make a lot and you can store in an airtight container and use for a couple of weeks:

A few handfuls of different nuts and seeds, whatever you can get your hands on e.g. almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, ground flaxseed, dessicated coconut and cinnamon.

Method:

Heat oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Core the apple and cut off the top, before putting the lid of the apple back on stuff the chopped prunes into it (if using), and dust liberally with cinnamon and a little bit of nutmeg.

Bake for 25-30 mins, until soft and unctuous.

Make the Nut and Seed Mix by putting all the ingredients in a food processor and blending. Use any ratio of nuts and seeds you like, I think the additions of desiccated coconut and the cinnamon are really important though for ultimate tastiness, I would make sure I have those. You should have a fine-ish powdery like granola. Store what you are not using in an airtight container.

Get the apple out the oven, whack it in a bowl, dollop on your yogurt or cream, sprinkle over a couple of heaped tbsps of your Nut and Seed Granola and dust with a bit more cinnamon and nutmeg. Delicious.

Use your Nut and Seed Granola for more yummy desserts like this, instead of an apple maybe try a baked pear, or peach if you can tolerate that sugar. Or for breakfasts chop up an apple and add the mix, yogurt (or almond milk, or even full fat coconut milk- sometimes I empty a can of coconut milk – the kind you use for curries etc- into a plastic container and put in the fridge, 24 hours later it will have thickened to the consistency of cream, so I would then use in like the yogurt in this dessert recipe). Berries such as raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blueberries (berries are the lowest sugar fruits).

100% Sugar Free  Grain Free Chocolate Cake (Dairy Free but not Vegan, contains eggs)

Ingredients:

50g raw cacao powder (you can buy the Raw Chocolate Company’r raw cacao powder in most healthshops)

125ml boiling water

2 tsp vanilla extract (make sure it’s sugar free, or use vanilla bean paste or a fresh vanilla pod)- or leave it out.

150g ground almonds

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

pinch of good quality salt (e.g. pink himalayan or celtic sea salt)

3 organic free range eggs

Stevia- this acts as the sugar substitute. I do not advocate any other sugar substitute than stevia. The amount to add is not the easiest to work out. If you are using the sachets of ‘Truvia’ maybe add 8 (each is a tsp) and then taste. If you feel it needs to be sweeter, add more, but keep it as minimal as you can, Stevia has a very strong taste. If using liquid stevia, add a tbsp, taste, and add more if you have to.

150 ml olive oil (+ extra for greasing)

Method:

Preheat oven to 170 degrees celcius

Grease a round cake tin (23cm) with olive oil and line with baking paper

Put the raw cacao in a heat proof bowl and whisk in the boiling water until the mixture is smooth, raw cacao takes a while to mix into water, just keep stirring, it will eventually.

Add the vanilla (extract, bean paste, inside of a fresh pod, if using)

In another bowl mix the dry ingredients- the ground almonds, salt and bicarbonate of soda.

Leave the cacao/water bowl to cool for a few minutes (you do not want scrambled eggs!) then add the olive oil, eggs and stevia to the ‘wet ingredients’ bowl and whisk well.

Then slowly stir in the ‘dry ingredients’ bowl- the ground almonds/salt and bicarb.

Once all mixed well (it will be a liquidy consistency) pour into the cake tin and bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Leave to cool for at least 10 minutes (if you can, so it holds together) before demolishing.

100 % Sugar Free Dairy Free Absolutely To Die For Hot Chocolate

This hot chocolate is so thick and creamy it is more like chocolate soup. You can have it as a dessert or as the best pick me up possible on a cold, rainy, windy, snowy, hormonal, weepy, whatever afternoon or evening. Again, this takes some advance preparation as the cashews need to be soaked overnight. So make sure to plan your hot chocolate in advance, you won’t regret it!

Ingredients:

This makes enough for a few people. It will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days. You can always half the recipe. It is in ‘US Speak’ so uses cups. When I see this I just usually use the smallest cup I have and just go by that, I know that isn’t technically correct, but I am very slapdash in the kitchen and not a natural baker (as some of you know!) so do as I do, or measure your ‘cups’ accurately. Up to you.

1 cup cashews (soaked overnight)

3 cups water

1/4 cup of raw cacao powder

Stevia to sweeten (a sachet (tsp) or two, or a couple of drops if using liquid, adjust to taste)

Method:

The night before, or in the morning for the evening. Soak the cashews in water, why not just use 3 cups water here too, keep it consistent.

At least 8 hours later, drain the water from the cashews and rinse well.

Put the nuts in a blender with 3 cups fresh water and raw cacao. If you want to be fancy you could add a little pinch of pink Himalayan  salt here, or the inside of a fresh vanilla pod, or a dash of sugar free vanilla essence.

Blend until smooth. Really blend. Blend for ages to get the best consistency.

Transfer to a pot and heat on the hob until it is hot enough for you (just transfer the amount you want to drink right now, keep the rest in an airtight container in the fridge, but you can reheat it again even if you heat it all and have leftovers.)

Enjoy, mmm hot chocolately SUGAR FREE goodness! I want some now….

And finally, for now, my quickest go to dessert of all desserts that requires absolutely no preparation and is 100% sugar free and 110% mouth-wateringly delicious:

Co Yo yogurt with a tsp of raw cacao powder mixed in. To me, as someone who can’t eat any sugar at all, and so would think you can’t eat sweet creamy luxurious things, this is heaven.

Confessions of a Hedonist: Dissecting a Decade of Drink, Drugs and Debauchery on the One Year Anniversary of the Day I Finally Gave Up Alcohol, for Good

Friends who’ve known me for only a few years (since I started working in contemporary art and I started constantly harping on about the benefits of yoga, meditation and healthy eating) often don’t believe that I had a ‘party past;’ those who’ve known me longer, know better. This is written for anyone who, like me, has struggled— or maybe continues to struggle— in our society where substance indulgence (and more often than not, abuse) is accepted, and you might even say, sanctioned. This is for anyone who, like me, might call themselves a Hedonist: (O.E.D.: ‘A person who believes that the pursuit of pleasure is the most important thing in life; a pleasure seeker.’) This is written for someone who sometimes takes it that wee bit too far, and perhaps is at a loss as to how to stop themselves. I think this is an issue we tend to laugh off, but it needs to be grappled with.  I’ve chosen to use the word ‘Hedonist’ but I probably could have picked one of the scarier ‘A’ words: ‘Addict’ or ‘Alcoholic.’

This is split into two parts: the first ‘Part One: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – The Epic Hangover to End All Hangovers?’ is about how suffering from this illness has really opened my eyes to how I used to actually inflict many of the symptoms upon myself. ‘Part Two: A Decade of Drink, Drugs and Debauchery’ is an unflinching and sobering (if you’ll forgive the pun) account of my own experience. I write about this not to be sensationalist (though at points it undoubtedly is); I am far from proud of it, but importantly, neither am I deeply ashamed of it anymore, as I was for years. Neither do I share my own shame stories towards the end to play a game of ‘shocking drunken misdemeanour anecdote’ Top Trumps. Far from it — and I’m sure many of you could beat me hands down, and I actively encourage you to replace my own trolleyed tales with your own— I honestly think it serves a purpose to share these, otherwise I would keep them securely locked away in the dark recesses of my memory. In many ways that is where they firmly belong.

This is not about getting a little but tipsy. No, this is a story of extremes. This is about getting out of it – pissed – wasted – shit-faced – gubbed- swallied – blazing – steaming – annihilated – nutted – utter guttered – swedgered – or into a total state.

This is not about a few quiet drinks down the pub or a nice bottle of wine over dinner. (Or it might be, if your nightly medicinal glass of wine is pure escapism from your reality). But on the whole, No, this is about nights of some of (or all of) the following: wine with dinner followed by pre-drinks in the flat, and the 9.45pm dash to the offy before it closes. Then more pre-drinks in a bar (perhaps dropping your first pill in the toilets) – drinks, double-dunting and constant tiny sips of water in the club, complete with the hourly dancing break in the smoking section (we all knew the best banter was out in the smoking area, right?) And after the post-club ‘find a party’ mission was complete, and we’d made a middle of the night pilgrimage for fags and mixer, lollipops and chewing gum: more drinking, smoking, snorting, dabbing, bombing, maybe even parties with rave rooms and k-holes. It’s about the 10am pilgrimage back to the off-license to re-stock and keep going (Glasgow dwellers- remember the one that is actually inside a CAGE?) Shudder. It is about all of these things; and it is about the infamous ‘walk of shame’- we’ve all been there.

booze

Part One: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – The Epic Hangover to End All Hangovers?

Exactly a year ago today I had my last drink. My last alcoholic drink, ever. The date doesn’t really hold any special significance. I remember the date clearly though as my friends and I had put on an artists’ film screening event at the local arts centre and we had a few drinks afterwards. It was a big success; it was so full that people were sitting in the aisles. But I was completely exhausted and was suffering from crippling anxiety (not that anyone would have guessed, I even read aloud in front of the audience) and I tried to mask it by drinking. I couldn’t face talking to anyone apart from my closest friends. I’d been suffering, without a firm diagnosis, from Chronic Fatigue for 6 months at that point; I should not have been drinking at all. The next day I couldn’t get out of bed, that continued for the weekend, the next week, the week after that… At that point I decided to leave my job.

Let me explain.

Imagine your worst ever hangover. This is what a really bad day with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome feels like. Not the nausea (at least not for me anyway). But you wake up (at some point in the morning, or the afternoon) and you have a blinding headache. There is a hollowness behind your eyes. You are dehydrated but you can’t face getting up for a glass of water so you just hope that licking your lips will do the trick. You have ‘the fear’ big time. You seem to have lost the inability to think, speak, and you swear, you once had this thing called a ‘memory’, but you draw an absolute blank when you try to remember what happened last night (extend that to yesterday/ the last week/ the last month, even months for CFS sufferers, depending on the severity of your illness). You can’t bring yourself to text any of your friends, you can barely make out the screen at all your vision is so hazy. Reading a book is out of the question. Even watching a film in bed turns out to be too sore on your head. Listening to the radio is no good either, they may as well be speaking a foreign language and it is too loud even at its lowest volume, and your ears won’t stop ringing. So you just lie there with your eyes closed. You don’t go back to sleep, you just lie still, trying your best not to move. If anyone came in to check on you they’d only know you were alive by the occasional groaning, or ever-so-slight shifting of position. You hope that that urge to pee doesn’t escalate any time soon. After a few hours like this you contemplate getting up to make food. You wish someone would bring food and water, even better, juice, to you in bed, mmmmmmm, juice, but there is no one else in. You can’t call for a pizza or a Chinese delivery as you’ve developed intolerances to so many foods that you have no choice but to prepare everything from scratch and for it all to be healthy. You can’t even drink juice anymore as it is pure sugar. Your choices are water or… water.

The fear

The similarities between the worst hangovers of my life and my CFS led me to concoct the following explanation for my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – I sometimes joke with family and friends that to redress my karma for all my years of devout hedonism I am being forced to re-live EVERY SINGLE hangover I’ve ever had and that once I’ve relived them all I will be miraculously cured – Hallelujah! I calculated that with roughly 3 nights (often heavy) drinking every week over the course of the last, say, 10 years (that’s 3 x 52 x 10) = 1,560 days. So, altogether, that would be roughly 4 years and 3 months. It sounds weird, I know, but I feel like it would make some kind of sense if this were the case as living with Chronic Fatigue is very much is like the ‘luck of the draw’ you get with hangovers. Some days are fine. I’ll be out and about doing shopping, laughing with friends, eating properly, only with that undercurrent of tiredness and that ‘hollow-eyed’ feeling; otherwise I’d feel more or less human. Other days were like those I mention above: utterly catatonic. Days where you can’t call yourself a human; you’re more like a human shell. Days where all you can do is pray that it will pass, that it will soon be over and that the next one will be better. Food is out of the question unless someone makes it for you— the sound of a knife on the chopping board is head-splitting. Even the rustle of opening a bag of celery is too excruciating to bear (yes, the turn of phrase would usually call for ‘bag of crisps’ there, but with all the food intolerances, the last time you ate crisps was YEARS ago). I remember when I was younger my worst food nightmare when hungover was the idea of a cherry tomato bursting in my mouth (the very thought alone was enough to make me wretch, eugh). Now, with CFS, I can’t even eat tomatoes any more, and these days it’s the thought of the food preparation that scares me more. The idea that I might need to stand to stir a pot on the hob, or God forbid pull open the heavy door of the fridge. I wish I was exaggerating, I really do, but that’s what it’s like on the absolute worst CFS ‘hangover’ days.

So you can probably see that now that as I have experienced feeling like this, day after day, often with no sign of it letting up, I never ever, ever, again want to do anything to induce these lows by my own volition. Luckily I have no choice whatsoever now, even if I wanted to drink alcohol I physically couldn’t. My body literally can’t break down sugar anymore, to the point that even if I were to eat a grape I’d immediately get so dizzy I’d likely lose my balance, my eyes would glaze over and the rest of the day would be spent with a crippling migraine. If I drank wine—fermented grapes— I would be in bed for a week, in something akin to a shallow coma. One glass of wine = one week in bed. Is it worth it? I don’t think I need to even answer that. Can you please pass the celery?

Part Two: A Decade of Drink, Drugs and Debauchery

In honesty this issue is much bigger than my illness. It extends WAY beyond my issues with Chronic Fatigue. It was about time that this decision was made for me; the decision to stop drinking alcohol altogether, and for me to stick to it this time.

Alcohol and I never really got on. Well, that’s a lie, we got on GREAT, when I was drunk and having an awesome time. For a good few years my body coped with the weekly abuse fine. Sure, I had dreadful hangovers, but what was losing one day? (Or 120 odd a year?) I was young. In truth, on a psychological level, my mind was never able to handle alcohol— The regrets of things you’d said the next day, the drunken revelation of secrets you wish you’d kept, the promises you’d made that in the cold light of day you had no intention of keeping, the mortification of having sent that text, or made that middle of the night phone-call, or worse, of having showed up on that doorstep— Who was that person? It certainly wasn’t the person I associated with the word ‘me’. How many times have you sent an ‘I’m so sorry for what I said/did/for what happened last night’ text? I’ve lost count.

I couldn’t hack it, not when I was 15, not when I was 25. I had been trying, and failing miserably to stop drinking, knowing that, as much as everyone else might not be as adversely affected by our drinking culture: I was. We all were. We all are. But I never did manage to stay on that wagon. Despite my best efforts to stay sober, our society geared me up to fail.

From about the age of 15 I did what every ‘normal’ teenager did. On the weekends my friends and I would go up to the local village where a friend (one that looked 18 and got ‘served’) would buy us quarter or half bottles of vodka, or whisky (we’d been able to get sold fags since we were 13, so we could get our own) We’d go to someone’s house, preferably whose parents happened to be away for the weekend. If that option wasn’t available to us then we’d go down to the Old Railway Station (the immaculately preserved end of the line from Victorian times) smoke resin filled joints (remember that awful crumbling smell?) and spin around on the platforms, drinking 3 litre bottles of ‘Frosty Jacks’ cider. Or we’d go and hang around up to the ‘Eagle Stone’ (A Neolithic standing stone which is legendary for being the subject of a prophecy of the infamous Brahan Seer, who said that if the stone fell three times, the village— which is situated in a deep valley— would be flooded to the point that you could attach a sailing ship to the church steeple. It had fallen twice and the village had experienced dreadful flooding each time. Now it is cemented into the ground, there’s not a chance of it moving an inch!) Strangely quaint places for teenage drinking sessions you might say? Yes, it was on the whole quite a ‘well-to-do’ village, many of my friends lived in big fancy mansions, not me though; I lived in a tiny cottage nearby the village, so needless to say there were never any parties there. My mum told me recently that sometimes I’d come home so drunk that she’d sleep on the floor beside my bed just to make sure I didn’t choke on my own vomit or something in the night. I had no idea. I never did though— in fact, for years, I prided myself on never being sick no matter how much I drank— I had a liver of steel, I proclaimed, I’d inherited it from my alcoholic grandmother.

I was at university from the age of 17 to 21. I can only speak from my own experience so I don’t know if my university drinking days would be classed as ‘normal.’ I gravitated from a drink and a smoke to an array of substances, and I took them as regularly as I take my vitamins now. I had a timetable at university of course, I can’t remember it. I’ll tell you the timetable I do remember though, for my first couple of years there, once I had my I.D. it was:

Monday — Hungover/come down from Optimo (eclectic club night at Sub Club). Night in.

Tuesday — Not hungover. Killer Kitsch (Electro night at the Buff Club).

Wednesday — Hungover/come down. Night in.

Thursday — Not hungover. Record Playerz (Electro night at the Art School). Parties until the morning. Biggest night out of the week.

Friday — Hungover/comedown. Night in. Once a month: Pressure (city’s biggest Techno night at the Arches). Usually too tired to party after.

Saturday — Not hungover (or hungover if Pressure was last night. Mandatory massive comedown, but always lessened by amount of toxins sweated out by all the furious dancing). Once a month: Death Disco (city’s biggest Electro night at the Arches). Parties well into the next day. If not Death Disco, maybe another club, ABC, maybe Buff Club, just for somewhere to go out.

Sunday — Hungover. (If Death Disco was last night- massive inescapable come down.) If energy, Optimo. If not, Night in.

Monday — Start again.

See the pattern? I was either drunk or hungover, or coming down pretty much every day.

How I managed to leave university with a First I have absolutely no idea. Well actually I do. At the end of my second year, after a good year and a half of not missing a ‘class’ (of the above ‘timetable’ of course, not my classes at university, oh no.) I entered my English Literature exam only to sit down in front of my exam paper and be hit with the sobering reality that I couldn’t possibly sit this exam as I hadn’t studied any of the texts. Did I even go to class? I had spent the last year at house parties, in clubs, with eyes as wide as saucers ‘chewing my face off’; Either that or at home with my head in my hands, or ‘kipper flipping’ in bed— sometimes alone, often not.

I had a panic attack and walked out of the exam.

Luckily the university let me resit my exams at the end of summer without being penalised. Thankfully I got my act together and found a kind, reliable boyfriend who was a good influence on me for the next year or two and as a result I went out less for the remainder of my undergrad. (By less I maybe mean twice a week instead of almost every night. I calmed down completely on the drugs front and I would tend to come home when the clubs closed, that is instead of going from after-party to after-party until the next day.) ‘A’ for good behaviour.

This lasted right up until my final exams were over. Then I was free.  Free to start abusing my body again, woohoo! I almost didn’t make it to my graduation as I thought it would be a great idea to take acid 2 days beforehand (you would never know by looking at the photos). I calmed down after a few weeks as I found that no matter how much I tried I just couldn’t party like I used to. But then the stable boyfriend and I ended up on the rocks and I stopped coming home after the clubs closed and before I knew it I was staying out all night again, with the help of many stimulants. We broke up and so I went at it full-pelt. The endless rounds of parties and club-nights continued until just after my 23rd birthday, and by this time I was working in a bar so that just made it all the easier to drink all the time. A couple of days after New Year I was in a very dark place and thankfully realised that it was time to Stop. This. Right Now.

I was tee-total for just over a year and a half. In that time I took up daily yoga and meditation, I went on retreats to learn Tai Chi and Shiatsu. I cycled everywhere. I juiced. I was happily single. I was really enjoying my close friendships, and my own company.  I took up ‘Biodanza’: the hippy-dippy dance class this guy told me I would LOVE when we were tripping together (that time 2 days before my graduation) — I totally loved it; I hope to teach it one day. I had a lovely trip to Paris. I had a great time at Glastonbury with my Dad. I got really into hill-waking. I would come home to the countryside for a weekend a month. I had good relationships with both parents, and siblings. I started running. I danced naked on hillsides with a group of inspirational women. I performed with another group of inspirational women where we channelled our inner wild woman and howled like wolves. I was the happiest I had been since I was a carefree kid. I knew who I was, what made me happy and where I wanted to go in life. I was comfortable. I smiled when I woke up in the morning. I started getting promotions at the art gallery I worked for, and even thought about applying for a masters degree, if I could get a scholarship. I did. (I was becoming a workaholic, but that’s another story for another time…). Quite different from the drunk/hungover pattern though, no? I’d also finally had enough of the ‘I’m soooooooooooo hungover’ banter, (where people wear their hangover like a badge of honour). Or ‘I was sooooooooooooo wasted last night, I can’t remember a SINGLE THING’; like it was something to be proud of— It’s not. It’s boring chat. It doesn’t serve me or you to hear about your self-inflicted woes, let’s talk about something else (of course, who was I to say this? I had uttered those words countless times over the years myself.)

Then I met someone. We started dating. I was really into him. And what do you do when you go on a date? That’s right- you go for drinks (you’re nervous, you think you need some Dutch courage, right?) Then next time you maybe go for dinner and drinks. The time after that maybe he cooks dinner and you bring round a bottle of wine, and you decide to go out after getting a bit tipsy and you end up in a club taking shots (ok, so maybe you shot coffee flavoured Café Patron these days as opposed to cheap Sambuca, but a shot is still a shot). Then my memory starts to get a little hazy… I stopped doing yoga and meditating, I didn’t go home to the country so often and my relationships weren’t as fulfilling, including even the romantic one—especially the romantic one; it was a car crash and this just made me escape further into the bottom of a wineglass…or bottle— When I started drinking again after my first extended period of being a tee-totaller I was just your average binge-drinker: no drugs, just a few glasses of wine after a long, stressful day at work or in the university library; a bottle over dinner; a big Saturday night out dancing once in a while, especially if you’d had a tough week, a ten deck of Camel blues for a night out. Often I’d stop drinking by 1am and finish the night with water. Sometimes I’d even leave the club before closing time. A semi-sober walk or taxi ride home, maybe some left over risotto before bed. ‘A+’ for good behaviour!

I thought: ‘Hey, everyone else does it, why can’t I?’ But I was a mess. The hangovers kept getting worse. The weeks and months rolled by in a burning-the-candle-at-both-ends blur. I couldn’t even function as this level, of ‘normal’ drinking. I just couldn’t hack it. I became one of the ‘I’m soooooooo hungover’ people again. Yeah, there were lots of things besides the booze, but it really was not helping. Something I learned one time that has always stuck with me: you can always find someone to drink with. You can always find someone to drink with. The facebook status update I posted on the day I handed in my masters dissertation read: ‘Did that actually just happen? Just handed in my masters dissertation! Time for relaxing, sleep, but most importantly, GIN!’ You can see where my priorities lay… is it any wonder I developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? The illness for people who live life at such a fast pace that they live on stimulants, tend to go without sleep and have completely forgotten how to relax?!

But it’s so fuuuuuuunnnnnn, I hear you say. And I agree, I LOVED drinking and going out, I really did. I loved DANCING to good music. I loved losing my inhibitions enough to dance all night long; and often well into the next day. I loved the EUPHORIA. I loved all the different people I met, all the deep conversations I had, all of the exciting new and situations I ended up in. And I loved all the attractive boys I kissed (and then some). I especially loved the late night sing-a-longs, of every song we could think of off the top of our heads. What would have happened if I’d been sober that whole time? Would I have still got to sing all those songs at top of my lungs? (I’d probably have carried a tune much better if I wasn’t half-cut). Would I have kissed all those boys (probably not, probably not even half, did I even find them that attractive? did we even have anything in common?); would I still have had the amazing conversations (yes, probably more so in fact. I bet it would be hilarious to be able to re-listen to some of the conversations I considered to be ‘profound’ at 5.30am, sitting chain smoking around some random’s kitchen table, all of us on a different concoction of class As.) Would I still have gone to new and exciting places and met lots of new people? (as much as it kills me to say this I know that if I could get back all the money I spent on booze, fags, drugs and nights out over the years then I would be able to go on a round the world trip—maybe even more than once.)

Me at Death Disco

Of course, I would be lying to you if I said to you that some of my best memories were not under the influence of drugs and alcohol…. Many of them were:

-Remember that time we played invisible tennis on the Kelvingrove courts at 7am, dressed in our finest clubbing regalia complete with beehives and leopard print coats? We launched our dancing shoes across the deserted courts, doing our best  grunting impressions of Monica Seles and shouting ‘Tally Ho!’ as if we were playing ‘Throw the Welly Boot’ at a Highland Games?

-What about that time we wandered round the backstreets of Florence, tipsy on the best cocktails I’d ever tasted, made with gin brewed by Benedictine monks. Do you remember: the barmaid in our favourite bar on the piazza accidentally gave me 50 Euros change too much? More drinks!

-What about that time I had that impromptu party in my flat and we were running around dressed in the pink, white and black feathered angel wings I’d somehow acquired?

-What about that time when it got to about 6am and our legs were so tired from all the dancing that we lay down in the middle of the aircraft hanger, our scarves underneath us. We held hands and we closed our eyes for a rest while the pounding techno next door reverberated through the floor beneath our prone bodies. Hundreds of people milled by but gave us our space. People started taking photos and someone came and called us ‘Sonar Angels’ because we were both in white dresses?

-What about that time we sat up just the two us and talked into the wee small hours while listening to Bob Dylan and Neil Young records and my very soul was stirred not only by the music but by our profound conversations?

-What about the time I told you I’d secretly fancied you for four years. You invited me to come and meet you for drinks in the city you lived in and said that you were going skiing with your friends the next day and did I want to join you?

-What about the time we sat round my kitchen table, smoked a joint and sang along to Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ in its entirety?

-What about that time that you took me by surprise and kissed me out on the cobbled stones as we left the party, the shock of which made me go weak at the knees?

-What about that time I said ‘Yes’?

Drunken memories, and good ones at that. But wait…. Wait. You didn’t let me finish:

-After we’d tired ourselves out with all the invisible tennis we went back to mine to crash. I was so drunk I wet the bed.

-We ended that night in Florence, the last night of my coming to see you, fighting in the middle of the street. When we finally made it back to the apartment I passed out in all my clothes and spent the entire flight back to Glasgow the next day thinking I was going to vomit. It completely spoiled what had been up until that point a really romantic break.

-You asked everyone to leave around 10am the next morning; I was totally out of it. You convinced them to go, telling them I had a flat viewing at midday. I didn’t have a flat viewing but I did have to move out in 2 days’ time. It was only after everyone had left and I had regained consciousness that I surveyed the damage: the white tiled bathroom floor was completely black with muddy footprints, there was broken glass everywhere, the bedroom door was off its hinges, and someone had stolen my grandmother’s aquamarine ring. I went out to another party, came home to change, and went back out to Pressure that night. I still miss that ring; it was my most treasured possession.

-We left the club at 7am to get the subway back to our digs. We spotted the police with sniffer dogs in the station too late to turn back. We prayed as we walked through the gate; we were lucky. We were so high we were dancing to the sound of ambulance sirens. We got back to the hostel and managed a few hours of sleep, well, kipper flipping, until the manageress wanted us to get out so she could clean the dorm. We refused, we’d barely slept. I sat on the steps outside, dressed in my pants and a vest, last night’s glittery make-up and crusty mascara smudged all over my face and feet caked black with streaks of dirt all up my legs from my overzealous outdoor barefoot dancing to Dave Clarke. I was sitting there trying, and failing, to read Milan Kundera through blurry eyes. I could hear you fighting with her in Spanish. She called us prostitutes and wanted us out by the end of the day.

-In the morning I couldn’t remember a single word of our conversations, partly due to the booze, partly due to the fact that I was (unbeknownst to me at that point) already very unwell; I wasn’t ‘me’ at all; and I hadn’t been for quite some time I now realise in hindsight. The albums I can go back to, but all those beautiful words had disappeared forever into the drunken ether, never to be recalled.

-I was going through a heavy-drinking phase. I drank the best part of two bottles of wine, you barely touched any. At 4am we left to make the journey north to go skiing. I was still drunk, and your friends decided they wanted to go snowboarding instead. The funicular railway dropped us off at the very top of the mountain due to poor conditions. It was sheet ice and there was little to no visibility. I had never been on a snowboard. Within 15 minutes I had broken my elbow. I walked down the mountain with my snowboard under my arm (the one that was still intact.) That was some hangover. I never told you how bad it was. We haven’t really spoken since anyway. My elbow still twinges sometimes.

-Our kitchen table singing that night was just brilliant. Can we do that again? I am still impressed that you know that album word for word. I will never tire of belting out ‘The Chain’ and I have the fondest memories of hoards of us singing this at the top of our lungs at countless parties that summer… I do feel for the neighbours though, there was a lot of stomping.

-I was completely taken aback by your kiss as we were just friends, and you had just been on the couch at the party, kissing another guy. I turned on my heel to run for the taxi, my friends were waiting. My heel got stuck in the cobbles and I completely decked it. So hard. I heard the gristly sound of my face smash against the stone paving. I tried to get up, saw stars, and fell again, this time my face smashing right into the cobbles. I should have gone to A&E but instead I went to the party, took another pill and put a bag of frozen peas on my face. I now have an ‘x’ marks the spot on my tooth to remind me. Thankfully that was all, it could have been so much worse.

-I really meant ‘No.’

I could go on, but I won’t. I’ll leave it there. I think I’ve made my point.

But I’ll go back to the same question I asked before: What would have happened if I’d been sober that whole time? Well, for one thing I probably would have been able to control my bladder. In Florence, our holiday probably wouldn’t have been spoiled. If those talks had been sober ones — and if we both hadn’t been so busy and co-dependent on alcohol; If I hadn’t been so stressed/heartbroken from my last train-wreck of a relationship/disconnected from myself/getting ill… and if I hadn’t been leaving—who knows, maybe it would have turned into something— (I’m aware that’s a lot of ‘ifs’). This I know for certain: I wouldn’t have broken my elbow (honestly, I probably would have never agreed to snow-sports of any kind in the first place) and I definitely wouldn’t have smashed my face into the asphalt, TWICE. I can tell you that much. And I would have firmly said ‘No’ when I meant ‘No’.

I am glad that the decision to stop drinking was made for me. I am glad that, as painful as it is, my head is now clear enough that I can see my years of self-destruction clearly, and the structures that our society keep in place to keep us thinking it is just ‘completely normal’ to abuse our bodies and minds in this way. I know I won’t fall back into it even when a fermented grape will no longer force me to spend the rest of the day in bed, and I know that I have learned my lesson; those days are over for me. I just want to take good care of myself, my body and my mind. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever drink again, even in strict moderation.

I can only speak from my own experience. Of course, many people can enjoy alcohol in moderation, or even in copious amounts, and still be happy, and relatively healthy.

I never have been, and never will be, one of those people.

For me, quitting drinking is the biggest sign that I don’t want to escape myself anymore. I don’t need to get out of my head, or out of my body— I’m happy in it (even if sometimes I still have to endure the odd bad hangover CFS day. If my ‘calculations’ are correct, I might have another couple of years to go before I am miraculously healed. I sincerely hope my theory is complete bullshit). But I know I don’t need to get smashed – trashed – obliterated – rat-arsed – hammered – rubbered – off my face – paralytic – pure steamboats –fucked— anymore to enjoy myself.

BUT. That doesn’t change the fact that I’m always going to be a hedonist.

And don’t get me wrong:

I still want the dates (but without the need for the Dutch courage). I still want the dancing to great music (but not in seedy clubs, and not when I’m the only sober person amongst throngs of drunken revellers). I still want the euphoria (but I want to get my highs from Kundalini yoga, Vipassana meditation and from the music, and not pills and coke— it’s freakily similar btw, try it!). I still want the sing-a-longs and the sharing of amazing music (but I want to be sober enough to sing in tune and I want to be compos mentis enough to listen properly). I still want the deep and meaningful conversations (but I want to be fully present so I can say what I really want to say and remember every word of them). I still want the silly escapades (but without the need for stimulants to get there, I want to be silly sober). And of course I still want the knee-weakening kisses (but I want to be 100% sure that I definitely want to be with the person I’m kissing).

And I don’t want the next generation of kids growing up to have to go through all this in order to come to the realisations I have. ‘It’s just a normal part of growing up.’ Is it? IS IT?

[Just before I finish— A wee ‘smoking break’ aside: I could write a whole other article about smoking, but I don’t think I want to. I smoked for 10 years (if I had a glass of wine in one hand I tended to have a cigarette in the other). I finally stopped for good when I got sick and when I tried to smoke I literally couldn’t breathe (my adrenals were so weak that my breathing was already impaired and smoking became impossible).

I think it’s pretty simple really: If you ask me why we smoke it’s because we don’t want to face our real problems. Yeah yeah, I hear you: ‘I enjoy it,’ ‘I like the taste’, ‘it calms me down, ‘I can stop when I want to.’ I’ve said all those things. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are spending an exorbitant amount of money to inhale little chemical sticks into our bodies that pollute our own lungs and those of the people around us, and are proven not only to shorten our lives but to quadruple our chances of cancer, not to mention a whole host of other suffering while we’re still alive. We don’t want that, right? Of course we don’t. (It’s also a bonus to never have to wake up with furry carpet/ashtray mouth ever again). I think that we really smoke so that we convince ourselves that smoking is our problem. Just like we do with drinking. We use it as an escape route from our real problems. ‘I really need to quit’, ‘I don’t know why I keep doing this to myself,’ ‘I just can’t seem to stop.’ But you know this already. For as long as smoking is our ‘big problem’ it means that we don’t ever have to look underneath, at our real problems. If we stopped smoking, maybe we’d have to face that we hate our job/we’re unhappy in our relationship/the city we live in; or that maybe it’s time to heal that family rift/face that childhood trauma. Even if we did quit smoking we’d probably go through the same cycle with a few other addictions first (sugar/exercise/sex/work perhaps? Alcohol of course) before we actually began to address the real problems… But it’s all the same in the end. That’s some tough shit right there. No, I’ll just keep smoking instead ‘Man, I really need to quit smoking…’ Ok. Rant over. I told you the deep conversations always happened in the smoking section!]

I’ll finish with this: the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung believed that alcoholism was a sacred disease. In his book Further Along the Road Less Travelled M. Scott Peck writes about how it occurred to Jung ‘that it was perhaps no accident that we traditionally referred to alcoholic drinks as ‘spirits’, and that perhaps alcoholics were people who had a greater thirst for the spirit than others, that perhaps alcoholism was a spiritual disorder or better yet, a spiritual condition.’

Maybe we ARE looking for something at the bottom of a bottle? Maybe those of us that have problems with addictions to drugs, alcohol and cigarettes are, underneath it all, among the most sensitive and spiritually aware people of all? Maybe we are just looking in the wrong place?

I’ll leave you to chew on that. (Perhaps just don’t drink it down or put it in your pipe and smoke it!)

Can a Steak Really be Healthier for You Than a Carrot? : The Fat vs. Sugar Debate

steak

I am going to break this down to the simplest form I can and try to render it as succinctly as possible:

Eating FAT will not make you fat. Eating SUGAR will.

But this is a very complex issue (a complex carbohydrate if you will). It’s a bit of a brain-pickler to say the least. I’ll do my best to share what I know (and I’ve done a lot of research on this in the last year), but I encourage you to look into it yourself and I will provide some good links at the end of the article. I want to state that although I have a qualification in Nutrition I am not a doctor or nutritionist.

I want to say at the beginning too that I don’t intend for this to be exclusively about weight loss. Yes- although it sounds counter intuitive it does boil down to the fact that fat does not make you fat, and that sugar does, and so if you cut out sugar and eat fat instead you will lose weight, maybe even a lot of weight (N.B. If you eat them BOTH together the exact opposite will happen!) But I am much more interested in optimal health than I am in optimal weight. Importantly, what I want to flag is that Eating fat will not make you ILL. Eating sugar can and perhaps WILL. You do not need to be even 1 lb overweight for this to be the case. And this article seeks to look at the key question: where exactly IS sugar in our diets? And the truth is that it is in so many more places than we realise.

(Before I get stuck in: Just a wee note to my veggie/vegan friends:  In my heart I am one of you; for a long time I was mostly vegan and ate a few eggs and the odd bit of fish here and there. I used to go to the Buddhist Centre and say to my fellow meditators ‘I know it’s only a matter of time until I go vegan, I keep telling myself “fish have feelings too”’. But, for health reasons, I HAD to start eating animal protein to help my body to recover from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ongoing) and to go vegan right now (which I intended to for both for ethical and environmental reasons) would be the worst nutritional health decision I could possibly make. Although eating meat has been a very hard thing for me to justify to myself, it is eased somewhat by knowing that even the Dalai Lama has to eat meat for health reasons. So I ask you to maybe read on, even though there is quite a bit of meaty content here, but it might just become relevant to you at somepoint, even if it seems anything but right now, as your current diet is so different. I will be writing something on the ‘Omnivore’s Dilemma’: the wider meat eating/vegetarianism debate soon; it is a topic of great concern to me— and I try to be as conscious a meat-eater as I can: I might sometimes even thank the fields of cows and sheep when I walk past them for helping me to get stronger by eating their brothers and sisters!)

So, the Fat vs. Sugar debate is big mainstream news these days. Perhaps you watched the recent BBC documentaries about it? I did. Although they are undoubtedly  informative, I have a lot of issues with these programmes as they really only skim the surface of the nutritional health concerns that need to be raised to do with the impact eating fat vs. sugar has on our bodies. Yeah yeah, we all know that eating crisps, sweets, cakes, pastries, pies, pizzas, microwave meals, convenience foods, fry-ups and takeaways are bad for us. We don’t need to be told that. What annoys me is that these documentaries don’t even really break the top layer; they don’t chomp down enough to get through the skin to the meat, let alone down to the bones of the topic. So I want to share what I have come to know.

In order not to get caught ‘skimming the surface’ I’m going to make some (quite big) assumptions about your diet so that we can get to the juicy stuff quicker. The ‘assumptions’ I’m going to make for the sake of getting to the morsels we will want really chew over are to do with we all know is unhealthy and we don’t need anyone to tell us otherwise. So I’m going to assume that you do not eat any processed foods that we all know are filled with fat and sugar in a bad way: e.g. cakes, sweets, pastries, pies, takeaways laden with calories/salt/MSG/sugar, microwave meals, fried foods in vegetable/sunflower oil, biscuits, tomato ketchup and other sugar filled condiments, fizzy drinks, alcohol (pure sugar)….etc.

carrots

I’m actually going to go much further and assume that you eat a 100% wholefoods diet (that is, everything exactly as nature intended), so that means you eat no refined sugar and what you do eat is natural— e.g. an orange instead of orange juice, butter instead of margarine, homemade soups instead of tins of Heinz tomato soup, porridge oats instead of sugary breakfast cereal, natural yogurt instead of sugar filled Muller fruit corners (God, how I used to love them), fresh fish fillets instead of fish fingers, homemade baked sweet potato fries instead of packaged oven chips, honey or agave instead of sugar to sweeten your tea etc. And I’m going to assume that you get your 5 fruit and veg a day (at least) and I’m also going to assume that maybe you even try to buy organic when you can. A lot of assumptions I know (and maybe this might not match your current diet at all) but there’s a big reason why I am setting the baseline much higher: it means that we can properly tuck in to what the Fat vs. Sugar debate is really all about. Oh yeah- I’m also going to assume that you drink at least 2 litres of water every day and are sensible about caffeine in tea and coffee! So, all in all, I’m going to assume that by all intents and purposes you ‘eat really healthily.’

But surely if I eat a wholefoods diet, filled with lots of fresh fruit and veg (organic when I can) then I don’t even need to pay any attention to the Fat vs. Sugar debate at all as it is not relevant to me?

This is what I used to think. Then I got really sick with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and I had to start re-learning everything I ever knew about what I thought a healthy diet was; and this is coming from someone who has a qualification in Nutrition! My main learning was as a patient at the UK’s only NHS Homeopathic Hospital, taking part in the Wel Programme. I was shocked beyond belief at what I found out. It quite literally blew my tiny mind.

As a nation, as a species, we are getting sicker and sicker. In 2011 the United Nations declared that, for the first time in human history, chronic non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes (and we can also add obesity, depression, chronic pain, chronic fatigue to this list) pose a greater health burden worldwide than infectious diseases do. There is no ‘vaccine’ or ‘cure’ for these illnesses. In the Western world illness is now a whole new form of ‘dis-ease’ that incorporates both mind and body and demands what we take a holistic healing approach to maintain, or regain our health: looking to stress levels, lifestyle, exercise and diet, as well as going down the traditional medical route. The kinds of illnesses we suffer from today require a complete overhaul of how we live our lives, and instead of pills and procedures one of our main sources of medicine; both as prevention and cure is FOOD.

And the biggest nutritional cause of these illnesses is— you guessed it— SUGAR. Not fat, not red meat, not salt, but sugar. And as we all know, sugar is perhaps the most highly addictive substance on the planet: much more so than cigarettes, alcohol or drugs (the withdrawals are so bad to begin with, coming off it is akin to coming off crack- not that I know what that actually feels like; but ride it out!), and our consumerist culture is constantly marketing sugar filled products to us at every turn. Why is this so? Our consumption of sugar has changed radically since the advent of agriculture, industrialisation, and Capitalism. In 1700 the average annual sugar intake per person in the UK was just 1.8kg (4 lbs), by 2007 the average was 68 kg (150lbs) – that is a fair bit more than my own entire body weight. Excessive consumption of sugar drastically impacts upon our metabolism (the way in which we break down food) and causes dangerous spikes in insulin in our bodies. These changes in metabolism due to insulin spikes over time accumulate and cause inflammation in the body, and this inflammation is widely scientifically proven to be the primary cause of most illness: diabetes, cancer, heart disease and attack, hypertension, obesity and chronic illness. How can we help ourselves and prevent these chronic conditions in our own lives? We need to take action to reduce our insulin. How to we do this? By reducing sugar in our diets. But, importantly, research has shown that is it not just sucrose (refined white sugar) that is the culprit here, but it is specifically the increase in our intake of other sugars- such as the sugar present in grains and fructose (the natural sugars found in fruits and root vegetables) that are proving so detrimental to our health. (For scientific evidence please examine the research for yourself, I’ve based my own research on the teachings at the NHS Homeopathic Hospital.) And we have been completely taken for a ride when it comes to the benefits of eating a high fat diet. It was not unknown that sugar was so deadly in the 1970s- in fact John Yudkin published the book ‘Pure White and Deadly‘ on the topic in the 70s (it has recently been widely re-published)- advocating a high fat as opposed to a high sugar diet, but it was swept under the carpet, and by the medical establishment no less. This is a massive generalisation (forgive me, but I’m writing a blog not a medical journal) but basically in the 80s a group of ‘healthcare professionals’ with a capitalist agenda sat in a room and created the brand concept of ‘low fat’ and the correlation was made between the fat we eat (in full-fat dairy, oils, meats, fatty fish, nuts and seeds) and the fat in our bodies– adipose tissue and internal body fat. So, to be ‘healthy’ the population started eating a diet high in carbohydrates (such as grains like rice, pasta and breads) and low in fatty meats/fish/oils and full-fat dairy. ‘Fat free yogurt’ and ‘skimmed milk’ etc. became leaders in the diet industry, and when ‘fat’ was removed, what was put in its place? Sugar and sweeteners. Throw into the mix the rise in convenience food (which is packed with sugar, excessive amounts of processed, refined salt and all sorts of other additives, preservatives and other hidden nasties) and we have the recipe for a nation-wide health crisis right there. If these two words had not been the same (the fat we eat and the fat that is the excess weight we carry in and on our bodies) then perhaps this epidemic crisis could have been averted. But for decades we have believed that if we eat fat, we get fat. But what if I told you that just wasn’t the case? What if I said: you eat fat you get thin? (Provided that is, you STOP eating sugar. As I said— if you start eating more far whilst continuing to eat sugar you are just going to get really fat, and more importantly develop a whole host of other health problems to boot.)

But sugar isn’t just in the granulated white stuff, chocolate and sweeties. Oh no. The biggest lesson I learned was to realise that sugar is also in all the ‘natural’ sugar substitutes (honey, maple syrup, agave nectar) too. Stevia is the only truly ‘sugar free sugar substitute’ available. And sugar is in ALL grains (rice, pasta, breads, in fact anything made from flour- cakes, biscuits, pastries- yes, even gluten free pastas and breads, this doesn’t make a difference. Switching from white to wholemeal [white pasta to wholemeal pasta/white bread to granary or rye] only means slightly less sugar, it still breaks down as sugar in the body in the end). And, the biggest shocker, it is ALL fruit and also root vegetables: carrots, turnips, parsnips, sweet potatoes, beetroot or squash. Yes, fructose (the sugar in fruit) is different from dextrose is different from sucrose is different from saccharin is different from high-fructose corn syrup, but they all are metabolised by our body as sugar. The system used to identify the level at which foods are metabolised by the body as sugar is the Glycaemic Index (GI). Every carbohydrate is measured on this scale.

They all look so different on the outside (a cake looks really different from a carrot, right?) but once we have chewed and swallowed them and they are digested in our gut, they all enter the bloodstream in exactly the same way: as SUGAR. Yes, they all produce varying amounts of sugar in the body, often drastically so, as you will see if you look into the GI of different carbohydrates– Of course between a carrot and a cake, there is no question that a carrot is miles better for you. But a carrot turns into sugar in the body, whereas a steak, which has 0 sugar, does not. A steak has no sugar whatsoever. To give you another example: an apple produces less than half the amount of sugar in the body as a bowl of white rice would. But did you know that eating a bowl of white rice equates to eating the same amount of refined white sugar to the level of 97%?! You could switch to brown rice? Yes, but this is still about 60% sugar when it is broken down in your body. When I first found this out about rice on the Wel programme, I almost cried, how could I live without rice?! I ate rice, in different forms, every single day!- rice porridge, rice cakes, brown and white rice, rice noodles, rice flour in gluten-free breads (I was a rice-aholic as I was gluten intolerant) What about sushi? How could I live without sushi?! But I gave rice and ALL GRAINS up entirely a year ago and I haven’t looked back since. Have you ever heard of cauliflower or broccoli rice? (Where you put the raw cauliflower or broccoli in a food processor until it looks like rice, then you fry it in a little water and coconut oil for a few minutes, and voila: a completely sugar free rice substitute) And no more bloating! (Oh, and you can use cauliflower rice to make sushi too).

Brain pickled yet? As I said, it’s pretty damn complex, hey?!

BUT– meat contains NO sugar, fish (and the best are the fattiest fish, rich in Omega 3 fatty acids- salmon, sardines, mackerel), eggs and seafood contain No sugar. Nuts and seeds contain No sugar. Good-quality nut and seed butters and nut flours and milks contain No sugar. (You can make amazing grain-free breads from nut flours and seeds like flaxseed FYI, see the Helmsley sister’s recipes in the link at the end). Full-fat dairy- milk, cream, cheeses (if you can tolerate them) contain No sugar. Butter and lard and goosefat (all of which can be used to cook safely at very high temperatures) have No sugar. Healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil (unheated) and coconut oil (which can be safely heated to very high temperatures) contain No sugar. Yummy coconut (in milk, oil, creams, yogurts, even ice creams, flours and desiccated and whole- try Co Yo products) contain No sugar. Raw cacao powder and cacao nibs (pure chocolate- try the Raw Chocolate Company) contain No sugar. And ALL the green veggies you can possibly gnaw away at- kale, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, spring greens, spinach, lettuce, asparagus, chard, sprouts etc. and all the anti-bacterial fighting veggies like onions, leeks and garlic you can eat have absolutely No sugar and next to no calories (you could eat 10 entire broccoli heads and still not be close to the number of calories in a Mars bar). All the tasty herbs and fragrant spices contain No sugar. Legumes contain very little sugar also (but there are issues around how well nutrients are absorbed by the gut when we eat legumes, which you can look into if interested, I’m afraid I don’t have space to go into it here.)

One thing I discovered when I began this journey in earnest: begin a vegetarian was no longer an option for me.

These days I eat a ‘Paleo’ diet. Paleo is short for ‘Palaeolithic’ which advocates going back to the diet of our pre-industrial ancestors, before agriculture. So the diet is mainly made up of good quality grass-fed meats (Paleo eaters do not eat meat where the animals have been fed grains/they have also often been pumped full of a whole load of growth hormones/soya/and other potentially toxic substances), organ meats like liver are favoured highly as these are the most nutritionally dense; wild fish (no farmed fish that has been fed soya pellets- farmed salmon and trout are the biggest culprits- soya messes with oestrogen levels and is a big issue, for women especially) and seafood, free-range eggs, nuts, seeds, vegetables and some fruits. Basically, anything our ancestral fellows could have hunted or foraged for or grown, and nothing else. It is grain free, and sugar free, it also tends to be legume free. (Paleo as a diet is also dairy free but Weston A. Price advocates adding full-fat dairy to this, and I would, if I could tolerate it. But I can’t as I am lactose intolerant.)

Weston A. Price is the daddy of this way of eating. I learned all about Weston A. Price on the Wel programme. In the 1930s Weston A. Price, a dentist, travelled the world in order to research tooth decay among different indigenous populations. He studied 13 tribes (from the Maasi to the Aborigines, tribes in the Peruvian jungle, Maoris in New Zealand and White settlers also in New Zealand, to traditional crofting communities on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland).  In 1938 he published his findings in the study ‘Nutrition and Physical Degradation.’ He compared tribes who ate either a traditional ‘Paleo’ hunter-gatherers diet (based on meat, fish, eggs, vegetables and fruits, notably WITH full-fat dairy, often raw and unpasturised) to tribes all over the world (indigenous populations and settlers) who had adopted the ‘White Man’s White Diet’ of refined grains and sugars. As well as finding enormous discrepancies in the dental health of his subjects (as you can see from the images those on a traditional diet have impeccable dental health- tooth decay was virtually unheard of- compared to those on the refined/sugar diet where tooth decay is highly prevalent, as well as growth

Weston

abnormalities). He also discovered that alongside the deterioration in dental health, adopting the ‘White Man’s White Diet’ resulted in the explosion of the diseases of industrialisation among the population- cancer, severe infections and degenerative illnesses. Cut to 2015, this list includes today’s epidemics: cancer, diabetes, heart disease, chronic illness, chronic pain, obesity and depression. The research more than speaks for itself.

But how do we begin to think about making changes in our own diets? Especially when the consumerist nature of the food industry wants us to do anything but that?

Perhaps by examining my own diet as a case study to finish I might be able to point to some of the changes that can help immensely.

A few years ago I thought I was ‘really healthy’ and a good day’s eating would have looked something like this (bear in mind that I was already gluten/lactose/soya/deadly nightshade [potato/tomato/aubergine/bell pepper] and caffeine intolerant).

Breakfast: homemade green juice made in my juicer (2 apples, a handful of spinach, kale, lettuce, celery, cucumber, fresh ginger, lemon juice, parsley and some honey) and rice porridge with a chopped pear on top, a few blueberries stirred in, some flaxseed and cinnamon on top. Maybe even a swirl of agave nectar if I was feeling particularly luxurious.

Mid-morning snack: some dried apricots and 7 almonds (yes I used to count them out and my boyfriend at the time would rip it out of me)

Lunch: Humous with 2 rice-cakes, carrot and celery sticks and an apple.

Afternoon snack: a banana

Dinner: boiled white rice with a fillet of baked salmon, steamed broccoli and spinach, lemon juice and parsley on top (no oil, no salt)

Dessert: A couple of squares of dark chocolate with a decaf tea with rice milk and a spoon of honey.

Sounds pretty damn healthy, right?

Well, let’s compare. These days a ‘healthy’ days eating for me is as follows:

Breakfast: 2 egg omelette with onion and courgette and garlic cooked in coconut oil served with rocket salad and sauerkraut. All sprinkled with pink Himalayan salt and pepper.

Lunch: A big bowl of steamed broccoli topped with a tin of mackerel (in olive oil), green olives, capers, parsley, pumpkin seeds with lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and Himalayan salt and pepper.

Snack: a small handful of toasted sunflower seeds.

Dinner: Pan fried sirloin steak with a big green salad (lettuce/avocado/cucumber/spring onions) generously seasoned with salt and pepper and a salad dressing made from extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar.

Dessert: A Co yo yogurt- a rich creamy, indulgent dairy free yogurt made from 100% full fat coconut milk, with a spoonful of raw cacao powder stirred in (my God I’m salivating even writing this) and a chai tea made with almond milk.

Which sounds healthier to you? If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have said hands down the first one. And I was completely shocked to find out how WRONG I was!

It is not an exaggeration to say that in the first day’s menu I am a SUGAR ADDICT. But how can that be? It’s all healthy stuff? There’s none of the granulated white stuff in there?

To see why more clearly, let’s break down the two days meals into the categories of FAT and SUGAR.

Diet a couple of years ago:

The apples and honey in the juice, the rice porridge, the pear, the blueberries and the agave at breakfast; the apricots, the rice-cakes, the carrots, and the apple at lunch; the banana, the white rice, the chocolate, the honey and rice milk in the tea: ALL = SUGAR

Compare that to my diet today:

0 = SUGAR. That’s right, absolutely none. Even the coconut yogurt and the raw cacao powder are 100% sugar free (and they taste amazing)

What about FAT?

Diet a couple of years ago:

Very little: The salmon, flaxseed = FAT

There is also a little bit of fat in the humous too (as it contains tahini- pulped sesame seeds, which are fat), but that’s all. That’s all the fat for the whole day.

And what about my diet NOW?

The coconut oil, the eggs, the mackerel, the olives, the pumpkin seeds, the extra virgin olive oil, the sunflower seeds, the steak, the avocado, the salad dressing, the coconut yogurt, the almond milk in the chai: ALL = FAT

So the BEFORE diet is high in carbohydrates, and low in protein and very low in fat. The AFTER diet is high in fat, high in protein and 0 carb.

(Now- 0 Carb is extreme, I am by no means advocating anyone reading immediately switch to a 0 carb diet,as I said I strongly encourage you to do your own research and make any dietary changes very slowly and cautiously: most people would function best on a LOW CARB diet, as opposed to a 0 carb diet (e.g. you would still get some carbohydrate from root vegetables and the odd bit of fruit), but the ratio of fat and protein to carbohydrate would still be drastically switched and you would derive most of your energy from fat intake.

I am listing my own person nutritional needs only as an example here, and they are extreme due to my numerous food intolerances and my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Candida (where yeast in the gut feeds on sugar so the only way to cure it is to starve the bacteria of ALL sugars- which means temporarily even cutting out things like carrots and beetroot, squash, sweet potatoes and all other root vegetables, oh and ALL fruits. Oh God, how I miss carrots, they were my equivalent of a slice of cake for so long, no joke!)

So yeah, I am on the extreme end, but the knowledge I can share by using my own eating patterns as a case study to highlight the difference between a diet high in fat or high in sugar impacts across the board— You might think of my diet as going the ‘whole hog’- although perhaps going the whole hog is more like the American guy in a recent  BBC documentary who ate a ‘raw Paleo’ diet where, far from eating raw veggies, he slaughtered and butchered his own animals (very humanely) and ate the animal nose to tail, RAW. Bloody hell! He was in recovery from Chronic Fatigue too. I am NOT going to do that. And he had a bowl cut and was wearing these Hicksville-like dungarees which made him look even creepier as the camera-man filmed him sat at the table, ready to chow down on his plate of raw lamb’s liver. Eeeeeeek!)

Ok, just before I wrap it up there are a couple of other interesting sugar related nutritional differences between the two diets I’d like to flag up while I’m at it:

There is a lot of FRUIT in the BEFORE diet, there is 0 FRUIT in the AFTER diet. Fruit = carbohydrate = sugar. My doctor at the Homeopathic Hospital, who founded it in 1990 and is one of the leading medical consultants in the country said to me once ‘people with weight problems often have to watch their fruit intake.’ Wow- who knew?

(Note- some fruit is much more sugary than others. The fruits with the least amount of sugar are as follows: lemons and limes have 0, berries (raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, strawberries) have very little. Green apples such as granny smith have very little, as do kiwis. Prunes are really good too; and great for digestion also: if you suffer from sluggish digestion try incorporating some flaxseed and prunes into your diet, it should help massively. Then the amount of sugar begins to creep up, up to bananas and your dried fruits like dates, raisins and apricots, which are really quite high in sugar. I look forward to the day that I can eat the odd apple/handful of berries again, fingers crossed by the time blackberry season comes around!)

Also, the BEFORE diet has very little protein: the salmon and the humous are really the only sources, the rest is carbohydrate (a.k.a. sugar) in the form of all the grains and fruits.

The AFTER diet is high in protein: the eggs, the mackerel, the steak are all great sources (not to mention the eggs and mackerel are high in Omega 3 essential fatty acids and the steak is rich in iron). Protein is widely acknowledged to keep you fuller for longer and to release a slow, steady amount of energy into the bloodstream, whereas carbohydrates (sugar) provide a quick release of energy which induces a ‘spike’ of energy, but this falls back down very quickly (often plummets into a trough) and then we get those cravings where we get shaky and irritable and feel we need to eat something sugary to ‘boost’ us back up RIGHT NOW before we SHOUT AT SOMEONE!!!… And then we have that chocolate bar/slice of toast/bowl of pasta and AHhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, that’s better. Until it dips again a couple of hours later and we need to satisfy the craving again; It is a vicious cycle.

In fact, if I find myself having a wobbly— ‘I need to eat something right now before I faint/cry/shout/hit someone’— moment these days I don’t reach for a banana or a biscuit, I often eat a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, or hemp oil, or another fat source- a handful of nuts or seeds, a spoon of tahini or nut butter. It really works. And you don’t get the dreaded energy dip shortly afterwards.)

A couple of other wee things: the BEFORE diet has NO SALT, the meals in the AFTER diet are seasoned with good quality pink Himalayan salt and black pepper, the body needs good quality salt to function optimally: note: GOOD quality natural salt, such as this or Celtic Sea Salt— not processed, refined table salt. Also, the BEFORE diet has no oil or salad dressings (trying to eliminate the fat), the AFTER diet is generous with oils and dressings– and they are made from extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, and NOT balsamic vinegar (which is pure sugar.)

So- after breaking that all down, can we really still say that the BEFORE diet is the most healthy when we now know how much sugar it contains?

No. No we cannot.

Brain sufficiently pickled now? Thought so. It’s a fatty sugary MINEFIELD out there, that’s for sure.

And can we still say that a carrot is healthier than a steak?

In my opinion, and following Paleo, Weston A. Price and the message from the Wel Programme at the Homeopathic Hospital, no, we cannot. And good: I love steak (and I will keep on thanking those fields of cows!)

Ok. That’s it. I hope you have found some of this illuminating. As I said, amassing this knowledge over the past year quite literally blew my tiny mind. I encourage you to take your time with it.

Lots of love for finding out everything you can to eat a diet that will help you maintain or regain optimal health x

Here are some resources that I recommend if you want to start doing some of your own research.

Books:

– ‘Pure White and Deadly‘ by John Yudkin

– ‘Fat Chance: The Hidden Truth About Sugar, Obesity and Disease‘ by Robert Lustig

‘Grain Brain’ by David Perlmutter

– ‘The Paleo Cure‘ by Chris Kresser (I like to think of him as the King of gut health!)

– ‘The Art of Eating Well’ by the Hemsley Sisters (great mostly paleo/grain free cookbook- uses some ‘pseudo-grains’ such as quinoa and buckwheat)

And excellent online resources:

– http://chriskresser.com/ (this guy really is the best when it comes to your gut)

– http://www.westonaprice.org/

http://thepaleodiet.com/

– http://nomnompaleo.com/ (loads of great paleo recipes)

http://m.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/mar/20/sugar-deadly-obesity-epidemic

And here you can access ALL the resources to enable you to do the Wel Programme that I participated in at the Homeopathic Hospital by yourself at home: http://www.thewel.org/theWEL/Home.html

Crystals & Angel Cards: More than just Exceptionally Pretty Rocks and Pictures of People with Wings?

Before I get into this topic I’m going to say— you might just want to keep your tongue pretty firmly in your cheek for this one as it’s going to get pretty hippy dippy, airy-fairy, and perhaps teeter on the edge between fascinating/a wee bit mental. This is the tale of how I first came into contact with Crystals and Angel Cards (yes, those two words make me cringe too) and how they are now a regular presence in my day-to-day existence. There is also a ‘how to guide’ element about this too. Just so you know- up until a year ago I too harboured a healthy scepticism towards many of these things, some I still do, some are inexcusably laughable. Take it with a pinch of salt, how little or how much is completely up to you. Though I hope you’ll bear with me, be open-minded, and let me show you where I’m going with this. I’m sharing a lot here. crystals So last Spring I was very unwell, at the height of my illness. I’d tried to ‘get back to normal’ after returning from New York. I’d been really physically sick for a few months, but I managed to crawl back enough to get a nice job, and had been trying to re-establish some sense of normality. I even managed to do what ‘normal’ people supposedly do and got myself a boyfriend-of-sorts. I managed to keep this charade of wellness up for a couple of months, but who was I kidding, I was far too sick for this, I couldn’t cope. I gave up my job, ended the relationship (as lovely as he was we just weren’t exactly the best suited for one another anyway and I think we’d both now admit that the two of us had simultaneously suffered from a classic case of rose-tinted spectacl-itis when we first met). So I gave it all up started surrendering to the fact that I was really unwell.

Around this time my flatmate’s alternative New Age Spiritualist Eastern European mother had sent her a pack of Angel Cards. This was the first time either of us had come into contact with them, we were beyond dubious. They were in Polish, and utterly ridiculous and we had a good giggle playing oracle and doing readings for ourselves and friends. As they were in Polish, my flatmate took on the role of mystic, and she did it very well in fact, shuffling the cards and delivering the messages from above with a straight face and a remarkably convincing tone, as if she were looking into a crystal ball. We did not take them seriously at all. The cards had a ‘What’s Your Life’s Purpose’ theme, and so this was what we were asking for when we did the readings. I remember one of the first readings we did we were to pick three cards, to represent our past, present and future. That day my ‘past’ card turned out to be the card we affectionately named ‘Computer Guy’. His picture was our absolute favourite and would send us into fits of giggles. Here he is, check out the wings on him; he kind of reminds me of Newman from Seinfeld. WP_20150409_001Anyway, although the picture really cannot be excused, he stands for computer based work and travel. This actually very fitting to have been selected as my ‘past’ as the year previous, when I had been studying for my masters, I had spent the majority of the year buried in books and behind my computer screen and had secretly hated it, all of it that is apart from my amazing research trip to Anna Halprin’s outdoor dance deck in San Francisco, that was, hands down, the best 10 days of my life so far. I was lucky to have been on numerous research trips throughout my masters and immediately after: Berlin, London, San Francisco and New York, and as fun as these were (San Francisco especially) but I was completely exhausted and I knew that my ideal job would not be like this. I was not a natural academic, I felt it in my gut. I honestly think I’m meant to teach yoga, outdoors.  Neither did I want to see in the inside of an airport unless I was going somewhere to do nothing but relax, in fact I set the intention to stay at home for the entire next year, and my illness ended up pretty much enforcing that anyway. I can’t remember exactly what my ‘present’ was, I think it might have been called ‘Protection’, I know it was telling me to relax, that I didn’t need to do anything, and that I would be taken care of; something I really needed to hear at the time. How does a workaholic admit that they just can’t keep going anymore? That they can’t go to work and pay the rent, and get their own food shopping, and they need to (gulp) ask for help… This was an alien concept to me. Looking to the future, the card that came up, funnily enough, was ‘Music’, and a picture of an angel playing a violin. Delightful as I’m sure you’ll agree. WP_20150409_002At the time this didn’t seem to hold any meaning for me, but a few months later I decided to take up singing again. I’d been classically trained in my youth and hadn’t sung for over ten years, and I’d massively neglected it. I decided it was time to start again so I used the last remaining money in my bank account and bought a guitar. I named her Vashti. I started singing again in my kitchen, and now, up in the Highlands, I am singing not only on my own but with a couple of groups, including one where we sit around in a circle by candlelight in a yurt singing the mantras of Kundalini Yoga in Sanskrit, I love it (you might want to move your tongue to the other side of your cheek!) I confess I haven’t really managed to get anywhere with Vashti yet due to headaches and complete in-aptitude; I might need to get some lessons. But, I have also just picked up the fiddle again after a 12 year gap, and although it sounds like I’m strangling a bag of cats right now, I am hoping I’ll remember how to play it again if I practice hard enough. Just like riding a bike? So in some ways I have fulfilled the prophecy, but whether music will be my ‘path’ remains to be seen. I was always hoping the cards would turn up ‘Yoga’ for me. Maybe I’ll end up recording an album of Sanskrit mantras for people to listen to while doing my yoga classes— who knows!

We laughed when my flatmate pulled out ‘Research’ for her future— which had a picture of an angel (again with big comedy wings of course), sitting at a writing desk, deep in thought with a scroll, pen and ink in front of her – and this was pretty damn accurate. She was currently in the middle of her PhD and was well on the way to becoming an academic, so this was a given. Around that time she had been really stressed at work, to the point of taking some time out, she had become very unwell; what a pair we were! She was questioning her career path: maybe she just wasn’t supposed to go down this route? But, as I said ‘Now my dear, you must listen to the angels, they agree that being an academic is your calling!’ And she really is; she is a  natural academic. We had a few weeks together at home, ill, exhausted and trying to take care of ourselves and each other. My energy levels could just about manage (when I wasn’t in bed feeling awful) the short walk to the park to lie down on the grass in the Spring sunshine. In fact I remember one morning where the sun was out and glorious so we put on our shorts and headed to the park. But we were like a pair of 90 year olds we were both so weak, hobbling across the street arm in arm, only narrowly missing getting run over. But we really were too sick to move any faster! This was about all I could manage, or if energy levels were exceptionally good then a meander along the street to buy food or by the river and up to the local hippy-dippy shop not too far from our flat.

It was here that we would go and buy our first crystals, feeling momentarily at peace in the little shop full of gems and oils, incense, candles and wind-chimes and all that New Age-y stuff. I knew absolutely nothing about crystals, all I knew is that they looked pretty and the felt nice and comforting to hold in your hand, and were renowned for their capacity to heal. I was willing to try anything that gave me a few moments comfort. They come in lots of different colours, shapes and sizes, and various degrees of rough to smooth, and apparently the key to picking out crystals is to trust your intuition. First of all, what are you attracted to colour wise? Each crystal type comes with a little label which states its connections to the Starsigns, Chakras (the 7 energy centres in the body running from the base of the spine up to the top of the head) and the different qualities it is said to help cultivate. I was suffering from these major migraines (one of the most debilitating ongoing symptoms of my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and so I was looking for stones that would help to stimulate and clear my Crown Chakra, situated at the top of my head.  I chose that day a couple of little stones (which cost less than a pound each) which related to the crown chakra that I also liked the look and feel of: A ‘Rutilated Quatrz’ which was said to help promote ‘clarity, concentration and energy’, and a ‘Laborodite’ which was, according to the label: powerful, protective, transformative. What the hell, it’s worth a try, I thought. So I’d sit at home, playing with them in my palm. I didn’t really feel anything, maybe at best the kind of stress-relief that you get when you have something in your hand to play with with (something I know most other ex-smokers will relate to!)

But I was intrigued, I’d been having these headaches since I was in the States, and it was then that I’d been gifted my very first crystal by the wonderful alternative therapist who gave me Accupressure there: a Selenite Quartz that I had placed on the table beside my bed. When I first got it I had to move it away in the night sometimes I felt such strong vibrations on the top of my head. At times these vibrations would travel right down to the base of my feet when it was too close to me. It felt nice, but I was freaked out by it! I wasn’t sure if it was the crystal, or just me.

A few months later, at the end of the Summer, shortly before I moved out to return to the Highlands to recover, I was not much better, and we did an Angel Card reading and I’d asked the cards ‘What do I need in my life to help me to heal’ and the cards turned up ‘Crystals.’ I felt that this was freakily accurate. The day before we did the reading I’d ordered a Crystal Bible and a book of Crystal Prescriptions by the ‘Mother’ of the Crystal world, Judy Hall, and had them sent up to my mother’s cottage so that when I arrived home I could begin my research into these tiny energetic powerhouses properly. By this point I’d amassed a good few of the little crystals, (that I still felt were little more than fondling material), but I’d also bought what is still my favourite crystal: a rough-hewn Rose Quartz. I had gone to buy one (it cost £2.50) after I’d spent my week at the Homeopathic hospital. In the room where I would do my yoga every morning there was an enormous pink crystal, a rough-hewn rose quartz bigger than my head. I was curious about it so one morning I walked up to it and placed my hands on it. A wave of complete relaxation enveloped my entire body and I felt completely soothed, calm and refreshed. ‘I have got to get myself one of those’, I thought. So the day after I returned home, I meandered up to the hippy-dippy shop and picked out a rose quartz, much smaller, about the size of my palm. I held a couple and I knew which one was ‘right’ for me as I felt the same feeling, the wave of pure relaxation, that coursed through my veins just by holding the stone in my hand.

Crystals can be used in a multitude of different ways. You can wear it in jewellery- in a ring, or a necklace, certain stones work best when are worn on the body at all times. A small one can just be held in the palm of your hand, or applied to the area of the body that needs healing, maybe resting with it there for 30 mins or so. You can also make crystal remedies by following instructions to soak the crystal in water and/or alcohol. Crystal Prescriptions has all the advice on this you need, it cannot be done with all crystals, if you are trying this please do follow a recipe.

If you are going to start with any crystal, I would highly recommend a Rose Quartz. Here’s a short section of a much longer entry on what the Crystal Bible has to say about them:

‘Rose Quartz is the stone of unconditional love and infinite peace. It is the most important crystal for the heart and the heart chakra, teaching the true essence of love. It purifies and opens the heart at all levels, and brings deep inner healing and self-love. It is calming, reassuring, and excellent for use in trauma and crisis. If you want to attract love, look no further than romantic Rose Quartz.’ Judy Hall, ‘The Crystal Bible’.

We could all do with some of that, right?

The Encyclopedia of Crystals lists some other things Rose Quartz is beneficial for: ‘Inducing love, reducing tension, overcoming trauma, sexual imbalances, grief, addiction, heart and circulatory system, chest, lungs, kidneys, adrenals, vertigo, fertility, burns, blistering, Alzheimers, Parkinson’s, senile dementia.’ After doing my research I realised that maybe it wasn’t just the fact that my heart needed to soothed after my fair share of tumultuous relationships that had attracted me to the Rose Quartz. Maybe my weakened Adrenal Glands (the main contributive factor to my fatigue based illness) were drawn to them too? Anyway, I had to admit, this was really powerful.

So I keep my trusty Rose Quartz, beside my bed, pointed towards me, bringing in the love. And I usually carry one around with me, although I keep finding myself giving them away. One I gave away on the spur of the moment to a close friend as we were listening to Charles Eisenstein give a talk (my favourite Spiritual Ecologist, who I will no doubt write more about in future posts) and he had pulled a pebble out of his pocket and was challenging us to consider that perhaps this rock was just as ‘alive’ as the rest of us. The friend I was with had said previously that she was never able to feel any energy from crystals. When he was talking about the stone I had an urge to test this out so I quickly grabbed the rose quartz out of my bag and stuffed it into my friend’s hand, and waited to see if she felt anything. She said she did feel a little something. Another one I gave on the spur-of-the-moment to my five-year old niece when she has been admiring a rose quartz necklace I was wearing. I’d remembered I had a heart-shaped one in my bag, so I gave it to her. I told her that this was her very own stone and that she should keep it somewhere safe and hold it when she was upset and wanted to feel a bit better. I didn’t think it through properly and I said to her that it was important that she was the only person who touched it, and if someone else touched it then she should wash it under cold water to cleanse it. (This is the case, crystals attune to the energy of the person using them, and if you are using them on someone else they need to be cleansed before and after so that the energies don’t get mixed up). A  natural water source is preferable, I clean mine in  the stream in the garden every now and again. But under the tap is fine too. stream Immediately I realised this was not a good thing to tell a five-year old girl with a two-year old brother, as this could lead to so many potential upsets: ‘This is MINE, You’re not allowed to touch it! EWWWW, you touched it, now I’m going to have to clean it of all your dirty fingerprints!’ Admittedly, not the best Auntie advice on my part… oops. I do think that it is a good sign that I keep giving these rose quartzes away though, somehow like there is more than enough love to go around? (Oh my, I can be so cheesy, well you might want to stop reading now if you can’t handle any more as it is just about to get even more so…)

Although my crystal collection was only just beginning I’ve been collecting stones and shells since I was a kid. I think it began with a handful of bright pink shells my Dad brought back for me and my sister from the ‘beach of pink sand’ somewhere on the West Coast that he promised he’d take us to one day. I still treasure them, they have survived several house moves. (Dad, if you’re reading this, we’re still waiting…) My absolute favourite stone is small and in the shape of heart. I remember giving it to my first love, as a sign of commitment, with the proviso that he would have to give it back to me if we ever broke up (not that I ever thought we would, ah, first love, so naive!) But as you might have guessed, we grew up a bit, and as such apart, and we broke up a few years later. He dutifully returned my stone to me, still intact, but my real heart, and his, were definitely left with a few cracks. Ever the quick witted wordsmith, he returned my stone to me and delivered the equally hilarious and cutting remark in jest ‘You can take back your heart of stone!’, no doubt alluding not only to my treasured little rock, but to the one beating in my chest, although perhaps in his eyes at that point it appeared frozen. Ouch! He always did have absolutely impeccable comic timing, the best jokes always have a dark undercurrent don’t they? I then forgot about the stone for the best part of a decade, but I re-discovered it last Summer. Now it sits perched on top of my Rose Quartz, inviting love into my life. And although I know this sounds ridiculous, I feel it’s sitting there waiting for the man that I am supposed to be with. And whoever he may well be, he will have to completely get the significance of this little stone for me. I like to think of it as the male equivalent of an engagement ring. ‘Heart of stone?’ pah! Far from it, I’m a hopeless romantic, my heart is more like honeycomb!

On another occasion I realised just how attached I was getting to my crystals when I went to meet my two best friends from university for a coffee, a big thing for me to do at that time I was so tired all the time, and somehow I started talking about crystals and I happened to have an ‘Atlantasite’ and a ‘Turquoise’ in the pockets of my dungarees, I think to support me as I was ‘out in the big bad world’ that day, and I brought them out of my pockets to show them. And they both, quite naturally, stuck their hands out to touch them ‘oooooooh, pretttttyyyyyyy’, and I went ‘Nooooooooooooo! You can’t touch them!’ and I snapped my hands as then they would have no longer have been attuned to my energy. I so was embarrassed, as that just sounds mental, but as I said If you want to use them for yourself they have to be attuned to your energy, and you have to cleanse them each time someone new touches them and I’d been building up some pretty good vibes with these wee guys and didn’t want to disrupt that. Yup, I was getting majorly into crystals.

So, these days I’m a bonafide crystal convert. The more you use them, the more sensitised you become to them. (The ones I used to feel nothing from while I played with them in my hand, I now have to keep in a sealed box under a desk, otherwise I can’t sleep due to the vibrations that come off them). My most used crystals are my ‘Chakra set‘ where you place a crystal on each of the corresponding seven chakras, these are amazing, well worth it. They work to completely re-balance you, whatever is going on, and you can buy a set for under a tenner; I use them on an almost daily basis. I even always have a Rose Quartz and an Amethyst in my water filter jug (I’m a tee-totaler these days so it’s not relevant to me but FYI- Amethyst derives from the Greek for ‘to be intoxicated’ and was worn to prevent drunkeness, so you might want to get hold of one for your next big night out…).

And I must admit I’m partial to the odd Angel Card reading these days too. On my very last night in the city, before I moved home to the Highlands, my flatmate made me a lovely dinner (the last of our two-years worth of ‘flat-date-nights’.) When dinner was over I said ‘We have to do one last angel card reading’. She was taking our teacups into the kitchen and I shouted after her: ‘You know, I’m going to need to get a pack of my own Angel Cards, and in English this time, so that I get to play oracle!’ and literally just as I was finishing my sentence she walked back into the room carrying a leaving gift for me. I opened it up and sure enough, it was a pack of Angel Cards. And not only that, a small clear Amethyst. She’d bought the little stone just as an added extra, but when we opened the cards to look at the instructions, what did we find? That to ‘cleanse’ the cards between readings you had to place a clear crystal on top of the deck for a minute or two. And, that is exactly what I use it for now!

So, there we go. Thanks for reading to the end of this post, it is, admittedly, quite a fair bit ‘out there’. I know that not everyone is inclined to be as big of a crystal fondler as I am. But best of luck if you do decide to dip your toe in the crystally water, or try and make contact with the Angels. It can be pretty revelatory (but yep, despite everything I’ve just written it still makes me cringe a little).

The Story of My Skin. How I Finally Stopped Wearing Make-Up and Healed my Acne after 15 Years of Trying (Hint – Look to your Gut, not your Face)

In my early twenties an ex-boyfriend once said this to me: ‘if you had clear skin there’s no way you’d be interested in me, you’d be way out of my league.’ He did not mean to hurt me with this comment, he is one of the kindest men I have the pleasure of knowing, but unfortunately this was one of the most painful back-handed compliments I have ever received and it still haunts me when I am having a ‘bad skin day’. My bad skin has been the bane of my life. I plan to talk about my own insecurities here, but just as a quick aside, it upset me that he thought I would be that shallow. Yes, I’m vain, (sorry, let me correct that, my EGO is vain). My Ego wants everyone to think I’m pretty, I can’t deny that. And he was a pure stunner (my Ego is also shallow enough to appreciate a very handsome man, though we all do, don’t we?) But even if I had the most perfect alabaster complexion I would have still wanted to be with him. It made me sad too that he thought I was ‘settling’ for him, No, I couldn’t believe my luck, in many ways I think the comment says more about his insecurities that it does mine. wow, we all have them, don’t we? But the real thing I want talk about here is my fifteen year battle with my skin, and how I have come to realise the long, hard way that no matter how bad our skin is, there are solutions, and NATURAL ones at that, and some of them really do work! So hopefully if you’re reading this and are suffering as I have, something here might just help.  

The Story of my skin: First I’m going to tell you all the things that didn’t work over the years and later on in the article, exactly what did.

I saw numerous doctors and dermatologists over the years and have tried everything- Benzoyl Peroxide (turns your pillow orange), Adapalene Cream (no orange pillow but you still have to go to bed with a slimy face every night), taking contraceptive pills that apparently clear your skin (Dianette made me come out in a rash from head to toe after taking it for 3 days, Yasmin turned me into a suicidal-verging monster on the days running up to my period). I’ve popped so many other pills: Doxycline, Lymecline, Tetracycline (These are dangerous. Yes, they clear your skin after taking them for a few months but literally decimate all your gut bacteria, removing the bad, but also ALL the good bacteria that is integral to your overall health. The gut is now recognised as the body’s second brain. I ran repeat prescriptions on these for about 4 years as no doctor ever called me up on it. It more or less cleared my skin and kept it that way, so I was happy. But I had no idea of the damage it was doing below the surface until I stopped taking them when I came down with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and they turned out to be a big part of the cause. I am still recovering from the damage done by these pills and I have a gut so full of candida that I can’t tolerate any sugar whatsoever. Right now I’m so intolerant to sugar as a result that I can’t even eat so much as a carrot, let alone a piece of fruit, or god forbid some chocolate, or a teaspoon of honey to sweeten my herbal tea. Can’t eat A CARROT, it seems too ludicrous to be true, I wish it was. It’s temporary, I hope. The few years of clear-ish skin were really not worth this. I didn’t go so far as trying Roaccutane, but if you’ve considered that then you may have read reports that it can allegedly cause depression and can irrecovably damage the kidneys.

So I tried of course all this, and not to even start in all the different cleansers, toners and moisturisers- from bargain bin Clearisil to top of the range Chanel, Clinique, Clarins, even completely natural organic products. For sensitive skin, for oily skin, for combination skin, for easily irritated skin, for blemished skin. I could go on. NONE of it really worked. Some of them worked temporarily, and then the problems would re-appear a few weeks later.

I have suffered with pretty severe acne and rosacea since I was 11 years old. In my teens I had spots mostly on my chin, nose and forehead. In my twenties it tended to be spread across my jawline, cheeks and often on my chin too.

I can remember in primary 7 the very first stick of Boots’ ‘Collection 2000’ concealer I had (which of course was not even slightly the same colour as my skin) that I used to cover up the spots on my chin. As I moved into high-school concealer turned to tinted moisturiser, turned to foundation, turned to concealer, foundation and powder, turned into… let’s just say that when I looked in the mirror I wouldn’t recognised ‘me’ until I had applied a caseload of different cosmetics. Between the ages of 13 and 15 my eyebrows were also non-existent, I had plucked them to within an inch of their life, they looked like this ~ (not a keyboard character of a lie, photos from that time make me cringe).

My using make-up as armour began as early as this, and I can even remember receiving a mean-spirited email from a ‘friend’s’ nasty big sister which was a cruel, finger-pointing article entitled ‘You wear too much make up’. At the time I was devastated, I am pretty sure I was too embarrassed to tell a soul, but despite the cruel method of delivery, she was right!  But nothing could convince me that I would look better without make up. Throughout my teens and twenties I was painfully aware of my skin at all times, whether I was having a ‘good skin day’ or a ‘bad skin day’.  A good day meant I might only need one pump of foundation, concealer, powder, mascara, and then I could leave the house brimming with confidence. On a bad skin day in order to leave the house I would literally have to trowel it on, in a thick impasto, and only then would I allow myself to see people, only then I could walk down the street and if I noticed people looking at me thought they must be doing so because they found me attractive, and not because they were judging me because of the spots on my face, thinking ‘look at her, she’s be attractive if it wasn’t for her dreadful skin.’ Yep, that comment from my ex haunted me big time. I’ll admit, some days I couldn’t even leave the house, I would put on make-up even if I was going to spend the whole day IN the house, just so as my flatmate didn’t have to see me without make-up, and I wouldn’t cry upon encountering a mirror.  I’m aware this all sounds really dramatic, but I know if you’ve had acne problems like me, you might have done the same, or similar, I sincerely hope I was on the extreme end.

I remember reading articles in magazines talking about girls whose boyfriends NEVER saw them without make-up, how they would sneak out of bed an hour early in the morning to ‘put on their face’ before their beloved awoke so that there wasn’t the slightest chance they would say what they really looked like. I remember thinking how sad this was at the time, but I realise now I was pretty much right there with them, I hated when my boyfriends would so much as look at me in the morning as I was so full of skin-based insecurity, and God forgive you if you so much as tried to tell me that you didn’t notice my bad skin, or give me a compliment, you would be swiftly rebuffed, savaged even. However if I was fully made-up, I accepted compliments readily. Over the years several boyfriends, friends and my parents said to me time and time again ‘maybe your skin would get better if you just didn’t wear make-up, if you just left it, let it breathe’. Did I ever listen, NO. No, I kept scrubbing, popping pills, layering the make-up on. Were they right? Yes.

But I haven’t worn a scrap of make-up since June of last year, so coming up to almost a year now, and for the first time in my life I am happy looking in the mirror at my make-up free face and don’t think twice about leaving the house without a scrap of make-up on, I don’t even wear mascara now. Yes, I do live the life of a chronically ill hermit these days so I don’t have to get dressed up much. I even get a kick out of casually just going to splash some water on my face, in the middle of the day, just cos I can. For years this was an alien concept to me as this would mean making my mascara and eyeliner run and would mess up my impasto of foundation, concealer and powder. No make up selfie So- what really DID work? Food worked. 

So many doctors told me that there was no real connection between what we eat and the state of our skin. I have learned through the experience that this is just completely false, what we put in our body has absolutely everything to do with how we look on the inside, as well as on the inside.

I clocked during my teens that whenever I drank milk my spots got worse. So I cut out milk when I was about 14. Over a number of years I realised the same applied to all lactose — cheese, yogurt, cream — so I cut out all of these- out with the dairy milk sadly, (not easy for someone who was addicted to their daily Twirl every night during the final stressful year of university.) It is very common for acne to be a result of lactose intolerance. And of course, I did what any normal person does when they cut out lactose, I switched to soya milk. It was only years of dreadful skin later (almost 10 years later in fact) I realised that soya is often even worse for acne prone skin than lactose. Spots in women are most commonly caused by hormonal imbalances and soya really messes with your oestrogen levels. You may not be intolerant to soya, however, in my experience it is definitely worth looking into if you are trying everything to solve your acne problems and nothing seems to be working. I discovered that If I so much as have even so much as a tiny bit of soya lecithin in something I will be greeted with huge big pustules on my cheeks a couple of days later, nice. This also extends to eating intensively farmed fish like salmon that have been fed soya.  So lactose and soya products were out. Just a few months ago I ate a rainbow trout I thought was wild but turned out to be farmed. I didn’t leave the house for a week my skin was so abysmal, and I was thrown back into that pit of insecurity.

But I still was suffering, things were improving, but nowhere near to the point I would dare go out barefaced: maybe 1 pump of foundation instead of 2. When I came down with my Chronic Fatigue in September 2013 My skin was the worst it has been in my entire life. There was just no covering it up. Even the harsh antibiotics had stopped working. Now, I am now pretty sure my CFS was caused by Adrenal Fatigue/HPA Axis Dysregulation, brought on by living my life at 100 mph for too long; that and by the Candida which grew in my gut, caused by far too many years on the Contraceptive Pill and the antibiotics for my skin, such as Tetracycline). Despite this I continued to layer the make up on for roughly the next year. I wouldn’t admit how sick I was, I would do my very best to cover it up. I did my best to cover it up in my entire life, not just on my face.

The crunch point finally came in June of last year when I said- ‘That’s it, for today I am no longer wearing any make up, I am no longer going to put any cosmetics, or anything that is not 100% natural on my face or in my body and when I am well on the inside it will finally show on the outside.’ This turned out to be the best skin-related decision I ever made.

The Story of what FINALLY worked: What did I start doing differently? I read up on the oil cleansing method, tried with jojoba oil and within days I had more spots than I had to begin with, so I decided I couldn’t be patient to wait and see if that was just ‘purging’ or if oil cleansing was just going to give me more spots. Instead I opted to use raw, unpasteurised honey to wash my face in the evenings (it feels so lovely and soothing, smells great and you do just want to lick your own face!). I only wash my face at night, not in the morning, as your skins oils naturally balance themselves overnight, at most all you need is a wee splash of water. I still use a moisturiser- an all natural and organic Frankincense cream from Neal’s Yard but intend to change this to a homemade oil blend when I have done enough reading on aromatherapy. So that’s literally ALL I use on the skin on my face- honey to wash in the evening, just a bit in your palm, use it like a facewash and then rinse off with warm water. And infrequently I might use a tiny bit of bicarbonate of soda mixed with water to make a paste to really gently exfoliate. Also, as a treat every now and then I slather 20+ manuka honey on my face as a facemask and leave for a couple of hours before washing off (this is incredibly comforting and it highly anti-bacterial, so great for helping to soothe the skin). On the couple of occasions I have put on a tiny bit of powder and mascara I use a bit of jojoba oil on a cotton wool pad to wipe the make-up off before cleansing with honey. And as for what I put IN my body.

Changing to a Paleo orientated way of eating has been revolutionary for my skin. The daily diet of brown rice and spinach, humous with carrot sticks and apple and ricecakes that I thought was so healthy for me and my skin… really wasn’t. Of course, it is best to eat as many vegetables as you can, organic if possible, some fruits if you can tolerate them, and drink lots and lots of water.

But I now know that the superfoods for my skin are not being completely vegan, but rather, and this was a HUGE shock for me: the best foods for getting clear skin are: Liver (grass fed), eggs (especially the yolks) and fermented foods such as sauerkraut (and kefir, if you can tolerate lactose). As I can’t tolerate lactose, like many acne sufferers, I eat a lot of Co Yo products, probiotic yogurts made from coconut milk that are dairy free and sugar free, and good for your gut, therefore good for your skin, and taste amazing. Admittedly, liver does not taste as amazing, but it is quite literally the most nutrient-dense food on the planet and it is the extremely high levels of Vitamin A which acts as a skin clearer (Roaccutane is basically a really high dose of Vitamin A). Eating liver once a week has cleared my skin. Fact. And by eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, I have helped through my diet to encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut, and healthy gut bacteria is absolutely essential for clearer skin. As I said, I am still in the process of building up the good bacteria in my gut after the years of Tetracyline had wiped out all the good bacteria as well as the bad.

Also, Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for skin health- you can find these in oily fish such as sardines, mackerel and wild salmon, and if you are veggie in flaxseed and hemp oil. These good fats are very beneficial for the skin, as are eating avocadoes, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil, (which is especially good for Acne as it has anti-fungal properties).

I strengthen this by taking a high-quality daily probiotic supplement, my herbalist recommended Solgar’s ‘Advanced Multi-Billion Dophilus’ and I took this daily for a few months, and the difference in my skin was immense. At my Homeopathic doctor’s advice I switched to Dr Mercola’s ‘Complete Probiotics’, which is a top product too. So my skin is almost completely clear. And they key was to look to my gut, and not my face at all.

These are the things that have finally helped me see the way through the woods when it comes to my skin.I wish I’d known many of these things fifteen years ago, it would have saved me a lot of hassle. An indispensable guide on all of these dietary changes and natural cleansing methods can be found in Liz Wolfe’s ‘Skintervention Guide’, a PDF on purely paleo skincare. I have found this in-depth guide completely invaluable this last year and would highly recommend it if you are looking to clear up your skin for good, and the natural way. I am covering many of the basics here, but if you want to read much more in depth, I’d highly recommend this. You can buy it online here http://purelyprimalskincare.com/  Ok, I am off to go splash some cold water on my face!