Diet and Digestion: A personal journey. An extended transcript from an interview with Ali Goodman October 2021

A: So, Helen, I know you run a health and wellbeing centre here in Dorking and that we have met up to explore a little bit around ‘diet’ and the role food can play in being healthy but can you let us know a bit about yourself and what you are going to talk about today?

H: Hi Ali, ok so I am one of the founder Physiotherapist’s here at SHP with my husband Mass who is also a Physio and a researcher in the medical world. I am also a mum of 3 and a Pilates instructor. Today I’m going to share a little bit of my experience of being both a healthcare professional in the health & fitness industry, and being on the other side as a ‘patient’. I was someone who through their teens and twenties had a whole host of digestive and autoimmune problems and had to try and figure out how to self-manage and find a way back to feeling healthy.

….I think, it’s actually helpful if I start by telling you what I’m not!-I’m not a nutritionist or a dietician, and sharing my story here- it is obviously a personal journey, an individual experience. If it can inspire anyone to delve a little deeper into an understanding of their own issues and self-management, then that is great-however, it is by no means prescriptive. I’m not going to talk about gluten-free or dairy-free being the ideal -these are individual choices and sometimes allergies or in the case of coeliac -non-negotiable things to avoid. 

I do rather wish to talk about 3 things:

  • What a healthy relationship with food looks like to me 
  • Where I found medical management to be very helpful
  • A few tips about my diet and the things that matter most to me in terms of self-management

I suppose my story can be a good example of our vision at SHP Health-just as our business does, I have had a journey of trying to unite and use medical management alongside my own active self-management. 

Ali: So, you said you have been a ‘patient’ and had digestive problems-that is interesting to me as I have just been diagnosed as a coeliac recently and have begun my own journey of recovery-getting used to a gluten free diet etc, can you tell us what your diagnosis was?

Ok so I was diagnosed with coeliac disease and osteopenia after many, many years of autoimmune symptoms really starting with puberty around 14. As a teenager I had psoriasis, rashes and tummy pain, and big hormonal ups and downs. In my twenties, around starting a family, I had more hormonal ups and downs that culminated in me feeling very nauseous for the whole day and this was ongoing for years. I had inflammatory rashes and felt exhausted all the time. I finally got a diagnosis of coeliac in my late twenties.  The diagnosis was actually very helpful, as I had a scope and a Dexa scan -objective measures that could be repeated, and it liberated me at that stage, to be able to cut out just gluten and focus on relaxing other areas of my diet. -By this time, I had had such a long history of being unwell and trying lots of different diet changes to help, that coupled with trying to run a house and hold down a job, I realised that just thinking about my diet constantly had become inhibitory to my recovery. The diagnosis at this stage gave me some clear boundaries. 

It also influenced my work as a Physiotherapist and a Pilates teacher, as I suddenly felt the need to focus on strengthening my bones. I found huge benefit from incorporating more functional strengthening into my classes and I felt my body start to respond better in my Pilates classes.

Then, just 3 or 4 years ago, I was diagnosed with Chron’s disease, and again it was very clear on a colonoscopy and blood tests, that inflammatory levels were high and causing problems and damage inside.

Ali:  Helen, you must have found that quite hard really?…you were obviously paying attention to your diet and felt like you were managing well?

H: At this point, it was a definite psychological blow. I had felt good about my diet and self-management -the Dexa scan and gastroscope had previously shown good improvement and I felt a sense of failure at a new set back. However, I really tried to embrace the opportunity to see if some tweaks could really make a difference-

I began to meditate, I began to use relaxation at the end of my classes more and more and I began to address things in my past that were troubling me, ways of thinking and feeling that I felt were helpful to move beyond. I found books such as ‘You can Heal your life’ by Louise Hay, were a revelation to me-and really helped me to challenge my own established thought patterns.

I finally understood what I hadn’t truly before, that diet was just a piece of a much bigger puzzle when it came to true health & wellbeing.

Ali: So, if you were going to sum up what things were helpful to you in getting fully well-what would they be?

H: Well in physio we refer to the Biopsychosocial Model- physical/emotional/social/spiritual. That has and is still key for me-realising that ultimately real health is about balance and not looking at things unilaterally.

In terms of medical intervention: objective markers were helpful in establishing things that needed sorting…but I think not checking in with progress every day or month was very helpful.

Ali: Ok, so I completely get what you’re saying, and I think people will relate to that sense of looking at things ‘holistically’, however, what about any tips on diet itself?

H: So, I think it’s also helpful to look at research here-it can be a bit like the FTSE 100 index-where over time you get an idea of where things are really heading. 

I think most people would agree that a healthy diet looks like this:

More fruit and veg/plants

Better quality meat and less of it

Less processed foods

Less sugar 

On top of that, from my reading and my own interest I would add:

Ayurvedic principles are fantastic- basically it is all about balance-and in its simplest form it echoes old wisdom that we sometimes forget. For example if it’s hot- you can lean towards things that are liquid and cooling, if you have a cold- maybe soups and stews etc- from the basic course I did on Ayurveda, something that struck me was the importance of the role of digestion itself… you can have the worst diet but great digestion and still extract goodness from your food and the other way around. 

Finally, variety! I’m a really creative cook and I strongly believe it helps to really love food and enjoy preparing and eating food and experimenting with different styles of cooking and different ingredients. I am the first one to enjoy chocolate and homemade cakes-and cheese-it is truly important to have variety and to find balance.

Pancake Day..ry free

Hi! I’m Helen, Physiotherapist at SHP and total foodie! Diagnosed with Coeliac and Chron’s disease many years ago, I went on a journey to improve

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