I ate and I ate and I ate
“If you eat to gather your required nutrients, you will be overfed in terms of calories,” Katy Bowman, Movement Matters
In November 2015, I arrived in India after 13 months in Sri Lanka (13 plus two and a half in Tanzania, one in Bali) and felt a deep hunger. I ate and ate and ate. Friends attested to my gargantuan appetite (remember, Subha, Yanik?). I felt dizzy, I ate some more. By Christmas Day, I shunned the group invite to lunch so that I could stay close to base and eat alone just to be able to lie down immediately afterwards. After several months of unrequited feeding, I had put on weight but was still deficient in everything I needed: I was eating to try to gather the nutrients I required and in the process I was overfeeding and still not well.
Why wasn’t the food I was eating making me well?
“As we moved away from eating things that had been cultivated and distributed naturally for thousands of years, we began to significantly change what we were eating. We were unstacking our diet. Our diet no longer met our needs.” Katy Bowman, Movement Matters
Friends and family may report that I have talked about my recently-discovered nutritional deficiencies ad nauseum. To them I apologise, as I am now going to write about those deficiencies, or at least my experience of:
- Discovering those deficiencies;
- Addressing them with the guidance of an incredibly insightful alternative therapist, and;
- Reflecting on the experience in the light of the essay ‘Nutrient Dense’ (Katy Bowman, Movement Matters, Propriometrics Press, Nov 2016) which focusses on how we’ve ‘unstacked’* our diets in the wake of modern agricultural methods, food mass production, and the globalisation of food distribution.
The deficiencies I was experiencing were a huge issue for me, which is why I’m going on and on about them (I know, folks, yawn). I was exhausted (yes, again, yawn!) and barely functional; no amount of traditional medical consultations could resolve the issue. I was given IV infusions, antibiotics, antacids, pain killers, and saw no improvement in my health until I stopped beating on the medical establishment’s door and consulted a wellness practitioner.
“Because illness was and often still is explained relative to nutrients, we’ve developed a nutrient-centric perspective regarding food,” Katy Bowman, Movement Matters
I am simultaneously so grateful I had the luck to know this brilliant nutritionalist (AKA ‘wizard’ to his friends), amazed that I could (yet again) let my self-care slip so dramatically, and bemused at world in which it was so hard for me (and presumably for many others) to find the foods I needed to nourish me sufficiently.
Where is the CoEnzyme Q10 tree? Which is the Vitamin B Complex 100 High Potency plant?
“But it’s not natural, all these vitamin pills,” a caring and constantly-skeptical family member.
No, it’s not. This observation – the fact that vitamin pills are not naturally-occurring food stuffs, you can’t go out and harvest them in the wild (or can we?!) – coupled with my own shock at the price of buying good quality supplements (an eye-watering outlay) left me at a complete loss: ‘what would I have done if I hadn’t had this advice?’, ‘what would I have done if I wasn’t able to find or afford these supplements?’, ‘aren’t we supposed to be able to live healthily from our diets alone?’.
No, it’s not natural, and it doesn’t feel right.
“Standing in for elders is science, a mere infant in all things nature”±
“The information we get about diet and nutrition isn’t food wisdom. Our diet information is just a limited collection of facts about the foods currently available in our culture.” Katy Bowman, Movement Matters
We’ve lost our wisdom around food. In Sri Lanka, I had no knowledge of what was good to eat, at least in a European context (especially living as I did on a small, agricultural island) I had a fighting chance of being able to select food grown locally and organically, fresh seasonal vegetables, to source meat from a farmer you trust, – and to go on an amazing foraging tour with local guide Kazz Padidar (Wild Adventures, Jersey – he’s brilliant, we need a Kazz for every 46 square miles on earth!) and learn about the food it is possible to gather from the wild… but experiencing life elsewhere, I simply didn’t have the know-how or facilities to fuel my needs.
Running on empty
“If you decrease your calories consumed to match your low-level of movement and the foods you eat are low in nutrients given the calories they contain, you will end up with fewer nutrients than you require,” Katy Bowman, Movement Matters
I could have done some personal legwork to remedy this. Of course it was possible to eat in some of the freshest and most nutritious of ways in Sri Lanka, as it is anywhere. I also got hooked on pol sambol, which – if you haven’t tried it yet – you will find is utterly essential to life and maybe you will share my wonder that we don’t have it everywhere we can get coconuts, chillies, salt, fish, lime. (Separate, voluminous posts need to be devoted to the riches of Sri Lankan cuisine – suffice it to say, I had encountered its wealth but found good quality food very difficult to access on the road / by myself.)
“Our diet information is just a limited collection of facts about the foods currently used in our culture,” Katy Bowman, Movement Matters
Finding the wizard
Visiting Jersey in late 2016 a friend insisted I consult with wellness practitioner and wizard John Way. I presented with dizziness, lethargy, tingling and numbness in my hands, aches in my muscles – especially those of the upper body – a complete lack of strength and a near absence of the ability to do anything, including think clearly, together with an ear infection that had plagued me for months on end. Everything was achey, low, slow.
If you book a live blood analysis with John Way, you will watch your blood cells tell the story of your experience. You can see the floppy haemoglobin-deficient red blood cells confirming you are as anaemic as you look and feel. You will come across those cells that have been attacked by a virus: frayed and in complete disarray. He will show you the build-up of toxins in a cell indicating a sluggish lymph (get back to that dry brushing, swimming, moving!). You may marvel together at those cells drilled together in clean military lines, signalling an overly acidic system (a state of play where my body would have been scoring calcium from its bones to balance PH. Yikes!). John couples his analysis with an incisive personal insight; he listens, he sees, he knows – the ‘wizard’ indeed.
I have followed John’s prescription religiously since we met in September this year and am starting to feel human again (nearly three months later). I take daily doses of ‘easy’ Iron, High Potency Vitamin B Complex, CoEnzyme Q10 (which John describes as “a fuse for the body”), Magnesium Citrate, friendly bacteria for a much-maligned digestive tract, and alkalanising tablets for that highly acidic system.§
Buying all of this together feels like a rather hefty outlay, but considered on a daily basis is actually less than a regular coffee out (even here in Mwanza) and is overwhelmingly better-value than doctor consultation after doctor consultation that does no more than fill you with increasingly-unusual varieties of antibiotic (NB – if you attend a doctor’s consultation in Indonesia, go to a ‘regular’ clinic, not a ’24 hour’ or ’emergency’ clinic – one taxi I called found the ’emergency’ doctor for me whose fees set me back the equivalent of a few nights’ food and board and more than it would have cost to attend a live blood analysis appointment with the alternative therapists based in Canggu).
So, nearly three months on, I feel almost like myself again. My energy levels have returned, mostly, my system is ticking over in harmony, my creativity is bouncing back, as is my joie de vivre, the brain cells are firing up again – and I’m starting to be able to capitalise of a physicality that has always been drawn to movement, strength, stamina, and flow. I was missing this part of life so deeply.
Which ‘nutrients’ are still missing that we don’t yet know exist?
I had to do this with supplementation. Diet wasn’t doing it for me, and yet I wonder what I’m still missing that I should be getting from the natural environment:
“There’s an implication that the foodstuffs surrounding vitamins and minerals are superfluous.” Katy Bowman, Movement Matters
How can they be?
This experience has emphasised the importance of self care to me, yet again – kind of like ‘fit your own mask first before helping others’. In future, I will take the time to understand more about the food choices available to me locally, and seasonally, and from the wild, in any given place I may spend time.
In light of Katy Bowman’s essay, it’s clear that our individual, family, community food choices significantly impact the future availability of nutrients. I wonder to what extent we as a culture will find ourselves able to revisit the way we think about and approach our food:
“We haven’t used our new understanding that the foods we eat as a culture don’t meet our needs to change how we go about feeding ourselves, we’ve just turned that knowledge toward creating a necessary medicine for the way we continue to live,” Katy Bowman, Movement Matters
I continue to wonder what I would have done had I not been able to access the kind of wizardly advice John Way was able to dispense? What would I have done in a context of relative food-ignorance to address the needs my body was expressing but that I didn’t know how to answer? What do others, in a similar situation, and without such privileged access, do?
“We don’t yet see how or where we source our individual diets as a part of what makes (or breaks) the nourishment available to our species, collectively,” Katy Bowman, Movement Matters
Aside from a few observations, I am left with many more questions than when I began:
- Consulting with a practitioner who could make sense out of my experience in terms of the nutritional deficiencies I was experiencing was vital.
- I could not adequately address the deficiencies I was experiencing through diet alone.
- The medical community could not help me achieve wellbeing; in fairness, that was never their goal, only the elimination of symptoms (ear infection, acid reflux, etc.) – which wasn’t achieved either.
- What knowledge do we lack about how to nourish ourselves, how to look after ourselves, how to survive, in any given place on this planet?
- How will we preserve the seeds of ancient wisdom about diet and nutrition, and how will we preserve the ‘seeds’ of those foods that are not the ones that are easiest to mass produce?
- If we lose types of foods as a result of mass production and globalisation, what medicines are we losing as well?
- Is it possible today, in any given context, for an individual to source and eat a diet that will adequately meet their nutritional needs outside of globalised agriculture and mass production?
- What do we need to do as a collective to ensure that our food choices are positively impacting each other now and each other in the future?
- What food practices do we need to be embracing now to ensure the availability of nutrients in the future?
Your thoughts, my friends, are very welcome. And go read Katy Bowman’s whole book of essays. They may just change your life!
*’stacked’ / ‘unstacked’ – a key Katy B concept AKA “stack your life” – find activities which answer your movement / community / work needs simultaneously – this neatly relates to the permaculture design principle of ‘stacking’ – the efficient use of time, space, resources.
± Yes, you guessed it, Katy Bowman again.
§ NB: this is a prescription specific to my precise needs and shouldn’t be extrapolated.