The importance of real, whole food, movement and mindset in the quest for optimal health was the theme of The Wellness Summit this year and it did not disappoint. I'm still buzzing from the inspiring speakers, who helped me find clarity in my own journey and purpose, and filled my mind with the knowledge and energy to make change happen. Here are my notes and highlights.
Dr Lawrence Tham, Chiropractor and mindset specialist opened the conference with a checklist for 'Climbing the summit' and a challenge for all of us - knowledge is only useful if you do something with it, so take action. He outlined the path as follows:
1. Pack accordingly - you only need the information that's relevant to you and the changes you want to make to your life. Don't try to take on everything.
2. Get in the ring - Have an active mind rather than an open mind. Filter what's for you. There are going to be challenges on your path - are you mentally prepared?
3. Own the control - Who you are today is made up of all the decisions you've made up until this point. Who you will become is based on all the decisions you choose to make in the future. Even inaction is a decision.
4. Find local guidance - For your health, family, self, who is your sherpa? You don't have to know it all, just who to call. Don't try to change anyone else, be congruent with yourself and be that change. There are SO many choices we have in front of us, so many options. Don't waste it.
5. All in - your health is your duty, your obligation. No one elses. The body is designed for health and strives for health every day. This was the life you were given to do something amazing. Don't be mediocre. The world needs you, you just don't know it yet.
Kim Morrison, World Record Holder, owner of Twenty8 Essential Oils was next and demonstrated her warmth and sheer determination with her story of physical and mental perseverance as she found herself in a 24 hour running event, which she went on to win and set a new world record. Her inspiration was 'Cliffy' a man in his late 60s who was a veteran of the event and talked her back onto the track when her mental commitment waned. He taught her that endurance is 90% mental and only 10% physical. Her path in sport and business wasn't clearly defined - she illustrated that sometimes we just need to trust that the path will show up before us.
The business of Twenty8 and the power of aromatherapy weaved in and out of her story as an athlete and the passion she has for ethical, chemical-free personal care was so great to see. I knew perfume couldn't be good for me, but I didn't know it has 600 chemicals per spray! She emphasised that no-one knows the biocumulative effect and there are 62,000 side effects unknown from personal care and cosmetics products - it's a largely unregulated industry. For future reference, when you see "fragrance" in the ingredients list, it means 'pthalates' - avoid it!
Dr Brett Hill, Chiropractor, explained that our current lifestyle has our body in a state of constant stress response and emphasised the importance of movement, mindset and the food we eat for managing stress. The average office worker sits for 16 hours a day - the sedentary nature of our lifestyle is affecting our health. We need to recreate the hunter-gatherer lifestyle as much as practical in modern life to develop and maintain functional strength, which positively affects our entire health. Short, high intensity interval activity like 'Tabatas' are great.
Brett emphasised that there is something clearly wrong with our Western lifestyles, when in some traditional societies, tribe members must be 100 before they can govern the group. There is a difference between what is 'common' and what is 'normal' ageing. Common ageing is accelerated ageing. Most of the benefits of exercise are neurological and metabolical. Standing up on stage in bare feet, Brett explained that we should go barefoot as regularly as is practical, because it changes our entire posture and allows us to walk naturally. The way we walk on gravel is how we're meant to walk. 'Minimalist' shoes like barefoot runners are a great alternative.
On implementing exercise into daily life, Brett said that the key is do a little bit more today than yesterday - don't set yourself unrealistic goals, tackle your goal of optimal health 'One bite at a time'. He noted that you can't exercise your way out of a bad diet and people underestimate the impact of food - it's 80% food, 20% exercise, and of course, mindset. Nutrition, movement and mindset must be in alignment for optimal health. His recommendation is to make it so easy on yourself you couldn't possibly fail!
Cyndi O'Meara, Nutritionist, spoke passionately about the problem with our diets today compared to forty years ago as a result of the business-driven nature of the food industry, convenience, and toxins in our environment. We are so far removed from the production of food - we're no longer taught by culture and tradition, but by science and technology, which is wreaking havoc on our health, evidenced by the obesity epidemic and the huge rise in Autoimmune conditions and childhood cases of autism and ADHD. She also spoke of the 'wilful blindness' of the consumer and the advances in science that is not translating through to medical care (ie. cholesterol, butter). The key to our health is ensuring our gut function is healthy, as the gut is the home of the immune system. Key steps for healing the gut are:
1. Consume bone broths
2. Have natural probiotics and fermented foods
3. Proper hydration (salt and water)
4. Natural foods (non-inflammatory)
5. Avoid antibiotics
6. Avoid preservatives in food
7. Avoid wheat and gluten products
It's also important to look to how we eat from an evolutionary perspective - it's not natural to have all fruits and vegetables all throughout the year, or eat comfort foods all through winter. Eat for the seasons.
Carren Smith, Bali Bombing survivor and mindset specialist talked about the importance of a healthy attitude and working with the body to achieve wellness, and the impact of emotional eating and food addiction. How we do one thing in our life shows up everywhere in some shape or form, and 'what we resist, persists'. We need to end the war within and dive into the uncomfortable feelings and reverse the thinking. For example, instead of thinking 'I hate my thighs', change your perspective to 'I love my legs, I can do squats with them'. Focus on the opportunities before you, not the limitations.
Carren explained that the reward centres of the brain crave certain foods and the food industry knows this, with 90% of the Western world considered emotional eaters. The concept of foods as 'treats' has been handed down from parents, and reinforces the emotional eating.
Jo Whitton, author of Quirky Cooking, shared her inspirational journey as a homeschooling mum of four who decided to set up a blog after more and more friends asked about her 'quirky' recipes, which has culminated in a sellout cookbook and 160,000 Facebook followers. Jo grew up in the kitchen, helping her mother with preserving and cooking real food, but when tired and busy, found herself losing touch with what she knew, and her family's health suffered. She went off wheat and dairy to learn what made her feel good. She had some great tips for healthy family food habits:
- Avoid the instant food mentality to encourage mindful eating and sitting down to eat (I find this a challenge with a toddler who wants to eat constantly!)
- Get kids in the kitchen helping out as early as you can, and teach them to prepare their own food, with a list of things on the fridge that they know how to make themselves
- Eat meals together as much as possible
- Help kids tune into how food makes them feel and empower their choices (I thought this was a great one, as I believe the sooner they can own their own choices rather than having food rules imposed on them, the more likely they are to carry good habits into teenagehood and beyond)
- On creating healthy changes: do what you can, where you are, with what you've got. "It doesn't have to be perfect, but it does need to be purposeful".
Dr Damian Kristof, Chiropractor and Naturopath began with a fascinating explanation of the role of the nervous system in our health, and how a spinal adjustment instructs the cerebellum in the brain to switch off the stress response. Picking up on the latest social media backlash against Pete Evans, Damian said that nutrition has almost become a religion. Choosing to follow a vegan/paleo/McDonalds etc diet is based on values - you either value health or you don't value it, and rely on someone else to fix it later. He explained that we live in a society dominated by the dogma of conventional Medicine which says that doctor knows all (It was this point in his talk that I realised i've been unwittingly living within the constraints of that dogma - mindblown!).
There were so many fantastic soundbites and lots of information to ponder from his talk so i'm just going to list some of the key ones:
- There is pain in change, and that the journey of wellness takes patience.
- Resist the temptation to become an evangelist.
- Often the most dangerous place in your house is your pantry. If you have those 'treats' there, you're rewarding yourself with bad foods in moments of weakness. If there's something that's poisonous to your philosophy, remove that temptation.
- Advocates the blood type diet, but not dogmatic about any one approach
- Research doesn't show that all grains are bad. Quinoa, amaranth, rice, buckwheat and millet are all good options to try
- Research does say that gluten is very, very tough on every human body and there is some suggestion that it's responsible for triggering 200 autoimmune conditions
- 20 years ago soy was considered a health food, 10 years ago research said otherwise, but there's still conflicting views, noting that the pro-soy research is industry-based (as is the idea that if you avoid gluten grains 'you could die' (Dietitians' Association of Australia))
- 25 years of research has been telling us the importance of a water filter
- Microbiome: there are more cells in your gut than your whole body. They're not our bacteria, we're their human.
- Where you want to be, 10 year from now, you can decide right now.
On climbing the summit, Lawrence had some more sage words:
"The death zone isn't about being at 8,000 metres. It's sitting on the couch doing nothing and thinking you'll live forever"
"When we get pushed, we autocorrect to our safe comfort zone. Remember that the human blueprint is to play safe and be comfortable".
Pete Evans, chef, author and health coach was hotly anticipated at the event after being an eleventh-hour addition to the lineup. His heart, honesty and integrity had us all at hello! (and okay, his particularly pleasing aesthetic helped as well). Where was a man who had been the target of so much media and public vitriol to begin?! He explained that he has done an enormous amount of work on himself through therapists and healers, letting go of self-limiting beliefs and peeling off layers so that he is immune from the attacks on his character. "I'm proud to be weak and to find people to help me" he said. To the Dietitians' Association and naysayers in the media: "I'll choose a cave any day over a hospital"
Pete sees his 'strange' celebrity as an opportunity to do something meaningful and create change, which is why he continues to do My Kitchen Rules as it's good for his profile (plus agreeing to do it again helped convince Channel 7 to screen his new series The Paleo Way). The energy in the room rose as Pete spoke of the 'health revolution' that is underway, and that we're all at the forefront of that change with what we're doing in our families and communities. Pete sees the move away from the conventional dietary pyramid and preference for real, unprocessed food as a grassroots, community driven movement . The guidelines won't change in the next six years, but he hopes to have a better representation of true health in the dietary guidelines by 2020. He spoke with such passion that at one point he said, "I'm doing this for free, no one can get me off the stage"; the audience was in no hurry, we were hanging on every word.
He called bullshit on the 'everything in moderation' theory: "Everything is fine in moderation until it isn't. This theory is not working - over our lifetime this theory accumulates to over 90,000 meals"
And on alcohol, he said "If we don't let our kids have it, and we don't let pregnant women have it, then why is it okay for us to drink?" (most of the speakers drink very little, or not at all).
So...what changes am I making?
A common theme coming through from all the speakers was this "The truth is that what we eat is a dialogue about who we believe we are to ourselves and to the world...more than often this dialogue reflects emotional issues - fears and insecurities we do not know how to deal with or overcome" (Pete Evans)
Many of the changes i've made to how I eat over the past five years have been driven by my values of ethical, sustainable production and consumption, not simply nutrition. What I learned over the two days has given me the impetus to make further changes to my diet and lifestyle for optimum health. I've cut out gluten and refined sugar completely, I'm committed to 15 minutes yoga practice every morning (often with my son climbing all over me - you do what you can!) to get my body moving and set my intentions for the day, and I have plans to further my education in health and nutrition in 2015. I'm excited!
If you went to the Wellness Summit, what were the key takeouts that you're applying in your own life? If you didn't go, as you can see I highly recommend you pencil it in for next year!
*I had to leave early on day 1 so I missed the Careers Unplugged guys, however i've ordered the DVD of the event so i'll catch up on what they had to say soon!