Achieving Good Health from the Inside OutNov 21, 2021
Anoushka suffered a terrible illness whilst living with an indigenous family in the Amazon, but was left with chronic fatigue, anxiety, brain fog and other debilitating symptoms that made her take matters into her own hands. With first-hand experience and understanding the direct connection between the gut and the brain, she now helps people around the world to transform their health through natural means.
I have always been interested in natural health; it goes back to when I was little when I used to spend all my time in the garden making mud pies. I grew up in North London and was fortunate to have a wonderful garden. When my mum wasn't looking, I would go to her cherished flowerbeds, take the best mud and make elaborate mud pies. I had a treehouse where I would conduct experiments in my mud kitchen, including ‘medicinal’ mud soups and mud quiches. My family also frequently went on trips to the countryside and abroad, so I was very immersed in nature and had lots of nice nature experiences when I was young. Looking back along my journey, I know that I was always interested in nature and cookery and that from an early age, I was already connecting with what I wanted to do.
A journey into illness
Before starting university, I went away to South America for a year. I was on a volunteer project for three months and then travelling for the rest of the time. My initial experience was amazing, but then I got really sick. During the second month, I was working with an indigenous family in the Amazon. As we were the first group to set up there, it wasn't discovered that we didn't have a proper water filtration system set up, so we had to drink boiled Amazon river water. I picked up something from the water and became really sick, losing tons of weight, constantly vomiting, and all in 45-degree heat in the middle of the jungle sweating under a mosquito net.
We were far away from any medical help and so they got the local shaman out to try and do a ceremony which didn’t improve things. Eventually, the worst of the illness passed and I managed to finish the project and carried on with my travels. However, I was left with a messed up gut and debilitating fatigue.
Struggling with years of pain and the effects on my life
The worst I felt was while I was at university. I had chronic fatigue but pushed myself through it. I'd go on nights out and would take caffeine tablets just to keep myself awake. I did lots of destructive things and I cringe to think what I was doing to my body back then. I also had really crippling anxiety which impacted not only my learning, but also parts of my personality (I see this with clients all the time now, so it was useful to have a direct experience of how gut issues can affect mental health). My first degree was in English literature and theatre studies; I used to love acting. I didn't want to become an actor but I just wanted that part of my degree because I found it really interesting. The degree involved lots of classes of improvisation and being in productions. Before I was sick, I used to love all of that - I loved being on stage, I loved improv - I loved all of it. However, because I was really poorly, it just wasn't an option for me anymore. The anxiety eventually got so bad that I went to my tutor and told him I had to drop out. He didn't want me to go and so eventually convinced me to stay by adapting the course for me and switching all of my acting and improv modules to theory-based classes. This meant I could finish the course, but I was just totally exhausted; I couldn't think properly due to brain fog and I had constant stomach pains. I was bloated all the time and looked like I was nine months pregnant. My gut would react to everything and eating became such a fear because I never knew how my stomach would respond.
Searching for answers
After I finished university, I went back and forth to the doctors and had every test under the sun, including colonoscopies, endoscopies and blood tests, but they couldn't find anything. I was left with no treatment and no options to help with my health struggles. I decided to take matters into my own hands as I wasn't getting anywhere with the medical approach.
I started to see a nutritional therapist and also learned how to cook properly. I was actually pretty horrible at cooking and made some pretty odd meals at university! I found that healthy cookery classes weren't as readily available as they are today, but I went to the library and I got loads of books and started reading. I went to classes, I started learning how to meditate and I noticed that my gut was better when my nervous system was calmer. I also noticed that when I ate better, my mental health was better so I really started to form connections and understanding of how everything is linked. My nutritional therapist put me on a plan and we did some functional tests to find out what was going on inside. This was an absolute game-changer. It was hard work but incrementally I started to feel better and better.
At the time of my breakthrough, I was in TV production, which I did for about three years after I left university. After experiencing the power of nutrition firsthand, I decided to re-train. I started training at the College of Naturopathic Medicine to become a nutritional therapist. I was trying to juggle my job in TV production whilst studying and I started to feel a bit burnt out with my weekends taken up by studying and then a full-on schedule at work. With my newfound passion, I decided to leave my job and found a place called Triyoga, a lovely yoga and wellness studio in London. They had a really great team of receptionists and so I decided to take a job there, even though it meant taking a huge pay cut. It turns out that it was one of the best decisions I had ever made for my own health journey because I got discounted yoga classes, free taster treatments, and I was able to make friends with talented practitioners. I now have a great network of lots of different yoga teachers, Pilates instructors, acupuncturists - all sorts. I immersed myself and became really embedded in this new world of wellbeing.
I qualified as a nutritional therapist in 2015 and have continually added to my skills since then with lots of CPD and extra training. I will forever be a student - it’s a fascinating field and new research emerges all the time. I now focus on gut health and women's health. I do work with men as well, but predominantly women as that's whom I feel I'm here to serve. I’m particularly interested in the nervous system because that was really relevant for me, so now I incorporate things like breathwork techniques, restorative yoga and meditation practices. Sometimes I feel like the title "nutritional therapist" doesn't quite do it justice and that's why I also call myself a health coach as I talk about much more than food with my clients.
More than just about diet
When I work with someone, I want to know what really feeds them, not just what they eat. We cover so many different aspects as health is affected by a multitude of different factors. I talk a lot about joy with my clients. It's an interesting one, actually, because when it comes to health, sometimes people can get very serious. People can get into a kind of aggressive "achievement mindset" which is about having to ‘fix’ themselves and move on to other priorities. It becomes all about conquering their health, and it can have quite an anxious or serious energy to it. What they're really missing out on is bringing joy into their health journey.
Joy is not just frivolous or just about feeling good. Joy is so crucial for good health. And it doesn't matter if you eat a perfect diet, and if you exercise, and you take loads of great supplements.
If joy is not a part of your strategy then you're really, really missing a trick.
So I tend to talk a lot about joy and about purpose. I talk about relationships, your home, your lifestyle, your sleep habits, spirituality - all sorts of different things. I really love watching people transform and feel better, and it's a gift I like to give to other people because a nutritional therapist gave that to me when I was feeling at my worst and it really transformed my life.
Complementary modalities for an integrative approach
I am a massive fan of craniosacral therapy - it's gentle and yet so profound. I often find that clients with digestive issues, not always but often, there is a trauma component. This could be physical trauma, like a car accident, something that happens during the birth process, or emotional trauma. Craniosacral therapy is such a beautiful, gentle and non-invasive way of helping that to all unravel. So I'm a huge fan of that and I also really like, on the trauma side of things, something called TRE, which stands for Trauma Release Exercise. It's a really simple set of techniques that you do to help release stored trauma from the body. I really like acupuncture, especially when I'm working with women who need to rebalance their hormones. I'm also a huge fan of yoga, specifically restorative yoga, and of course, massage is really great as a lot of us are quite touched deprived.
Meditation is very powerful and the places you can get to with meditation is truly amazing. It's not just about reaching a bliss state and trying to chase a particular experience or feeling. The purpose of meditation is to be able to be completely present with whatever is there, and that might take you to some really difficult places because things might come up for processing. I certainly find that when I meditate, life is different.
What to expect on your road to recovery
When I work with my clients, it's kind of an organic process and I don't have a set structure about what we talk about - it always just goes where it needs to. But I always have an initial call with people just because I want to check that it would be the right fit because it's very important to connect with your practitioner first before diving in. If I think we'd be a good fit, then we start with an initial consultation which is a really thorough appointment where we talk about everything including diet, health history, lifestyle, current symptoms etc and anything else that is relevant to the person’s health journey. I want to get as much information as possible to come up with a written plan that includes dietary and lifestyle advice, a supplement plan if I think it's needed, and testing recommendations. I often do tests with clients to get more information in terms of what's going on behind the scenes, such as stool tests, blood tests and urine tests. And then we meet again after about four weeks for a follow-up appointment where we go through the test results and review progress. We continue in this way until they are feeling better and are happy to continue on their own with a maintenance strategy in place. Often, good results can be obtained in about six months with contact points every 4-6 weeks.
If you have better health, you have a better quality of life.
It's as simple as that.
I feel what many people miss out on when trying to work on their health, is developing a healthy relationship with themselves and their bodies. Information is great in terms of how to be healthy, but if your relationship with yourself is poor, and you have low self-worth, then any instructions are kind of irrelevant because one of the core foundations of health (loving yourself) is absent. I know self-love is talked about so much and sometimes it can be a bit cheesy, but if you actively try to cultivate self-love and develop effective self-care strategies, then it makes following through with instructions so much easier. Sadly, self-hatred, self-disgust and even self-loathing are really common, especially for women, and so a lot of the work that I do with people is to find the things they love about themselves again. When you reconnect with that, the journey to great health flows a lot more easily.
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