I feel I owe a huge debt to nature because it has saved me. For the longest time I’ve felt tired. Really, really tired. The kind of tired that feels like something has knocked you down and you’re just attempting to make it back onto your feet again, head dizzy and vision blurry. A bit like a hangover I guess, which is ironic because I’ve never been a big drinker. I’ve woken up in this state pretty much every day for as long as I can remember and it’s only been in the last year (I’m 28 now) that I’ve begun to feel, what I assume, is distinctly human: alive, energetic and blissfully happy. My health journey began aged 17 with an operation to remove a cyst the size of a grapefruit that was happily growing on my left ovary. Then, four years later, a second operation to remove an infected fallopian tube rendered me infertile when I awoke to discover that they’d taken out both, not just one. I’m not going to dwell on the emotional impact of life as a woman changing irrevocably at the tender age of 22, mainly because it’s hard for me to do so, but also because it has very little to do with my life now, as I know it.
These days I’m a nutritional therapist and podcast host, but I’d say that what I mainly tend to practice is lifestyle medicine. I might help a patient through a gut health battle or a hormonal imbalance, but at the same time ask them to go outdoors more to regulate their circadian rhythm, or give them breathwork exercises to do daily.
In my own life, lifestyle medicine has played a huge part in the good health that I now, finally, maintain, and it comes down to one thing in particular: nature. Over the last five years I’ve gone from bacterial overgrowth and terrible gut health to chronic eczema and allergies, to a face so swollen that I permanently looked like a cyclops for almost a year (my left eye kept swelling shut), and fatigue and low mood that impacted every corner of my life. It’s safe to say that my health to date has been one hell of a journey but one thing has been constant: the curative and healing effect of being outdoors.
I am so passionate about our planet because of what it has given me, and I’m particularly fond of cold water swimming, preferably in the ocean, but normally in the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond on Hampstead Health. When you plunge yourself into sub 10 degree water you feel instantly alive and awake, which for someone that’s spent most of their life feeling tired and sluggish, is immensely addictive. I also find there is no better way to connect with nature than to literally get in it! Our bodies are approximately 70% water – it’s no wonder we have such an affinity for it as humans.
I started immersing myself in nature as much as I could, spending every spare second I had outdoors or in the water and bit by bit, my mental health that was so badly affected from years of being unwell pieced itself back together. We all have so much to be grateful to Mother Nature for, and this is where my journey with sustainability started.
I’m grateful to my parents for hating food waste. I was brought up to always finish whatever was on my plate (not a problem), and to use every part of the vegetable. Cooking is a passion of mine and I source the finest quality ingredients whenever I can. I passionately believe in regenerative agriculture and organic farming, not only as a way of supporting the biodiversity of our planet and our all important topsoil, but as a means of creating a more sustainable relationship between consumption and provenance. I recently interviewed Alison Mountford, founder of Ends + Stems for my podcast, and we spent a shocking 50 minutes discussing the impact of food waste on the climate crisis. It baffles me that my local council still will not give me a food waste bin, despite my pestering.
A desire to create less waste in the kitchen swiftly led me onto my plastic problem. Here was a really tangible, effective way by which I could make an impact on my surroundings and create less waste. This year I went plastic-free for Jaunary, (yes apparently I was supposed to do this in July, who knew), and made the New Year’s resolution to buy no new clothes until 2020. The January challenge was amazing – I made handkerchiefs out of an old pair of ripped pyjama bottoms (probably the fanciest handkerchiefs ever), discovered Eco Balls for doing my laundry, ate far less hummus and wandered around with keep cup, cutlery, napkin, water bottle and food containers wherever I went.
However, I think the best changes are always the gradual ones. After finishing January completely single-use plastic-free I was quick to “treat” myself to some radicchio at the supermarket, or other similarly excessively packaged vegetables because I’d been ‘so good’ for so long. But the planet is not judging my efforts, only I am, and that kind of attitude is perhaps unhelpful. I continue to live under mountains of Who gives A Craploo roll and homemade handkerchiefs, but I’m certainly not as good as I was. I think many of us have forgotten the etymology of the word sustainability: it comes from the verb ‘to sustain,’ simply meaning to repeatedly do something.
This concept of sustainability is one that I examine in depth on my podcast – in obvious terms with the likes of Ian Rowlands, founder of Incredible Oceans charity, and in more nuanced ways with the likes of Dr Adam Gill, an ethnographer who works in the field of behaviour change. I was particularly interested to ask Adam what he thought it would take to get the person that you see littering on the street to change their attitude about the environment around them. His answer? Community. We all need to feel like we’re part of something in order to fully respect it and I think that’s where a lot of modern societies go wrong; we lack a strong sense of community, of belonging and therefore, caring.
On STATE OF MIND we examine what it means to have a sustainable relationship, how to exercise sustainably, I talk to a sustainable interior designer, and incredible people like The Happy Pear who are passionate about giving our youngsters the tools they need to live in a more conscious way. But it does always come back to nature, to environment and to community – and I guess that’s why I recently founded NUDGE, a London-based community that meets every Wednesday on Parliament Hill before the city is awake to watch the sunrise together and then have an icy swim. Connection to nature and to those around us is, I think, the best chance we have of creating sustainable change.