Woman smiling


Athens, Greece

I’ve just turned 57, and I’m feeling possibly the healthiest and fittest I’ve ever been. I’m originally from New Zealand and grew up with the typical meat-heavy Kiwi diet. Lots of dairy, probably ate meat most nights, very sporty, never had a problem with my weight, all very normal for those times. I headed overseas for the big “OE” (overseas experience for the non-Antipodeans), met my future husband, and moved to Greece (for a year!) and here I am to this day.

So when do things change…? At 37, following the birth of my three children, I’m diagnosed with a large atrial septal defect. Open heart surgery followed. All was well until, at age 50, I was diagnosed with a frontal lobe meningioma. Again, surgery followed; all was well for a few months, then I was diagnosed with a parathyroid tumour. This was treated conservatively initially, as I was still recovering from brain surgery. Finally, due to worsening bone density scans and increasing hyperparathyroidism, I underwent surgery. I was coping fairly well considering that I’m a tough Kiwi! But our family situation was extremely stressful due to financial concerns, and by this stage, I was working all hours of the day to keep the family going.

Shortly after my parathyroid surgery, I was diagnosed with silent reflux. Surprise, surprise, and it was at this time that I thought if I didn’t make some drastic changes, the stress was going to kill me. Or at least keep me busy running to constant doctor’s appointments with new problems. I didn’t want to take the medication recommended for my reflux, so instead I started on this incredible journey towards a whole-food plant-based diet and an interest in lifestyle medicine.

Initially, I researched an anti-inflammatory diet recommended for GERD sufferers. I stopped eating at night. Slept more upright and stopped eating animal protein, including dairy, caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. (Which I had given up anyway as it didn’t agree with me for some reason after my brain surgery.) It sounded and felt really drastic, and initially I was a little depressed to be honest, but I had a mind-set change, focusing on all the wonderful foods and flavours I could enjoy instead of focusing on the deprivation side of things. I also took up yoga and learned more and more about breath work, mindfulness, etc.

My dietary journey led me to learn about gut health, the microbiome, and how vital it is as the basis for good general health. After about 6 weeks of eating what I then (incorrectly) referred to as an anti-inflammatory diet, I felt more energised. I was sleeping better, and my reflux symptoms were virtually non existent. I still don’t eat red meat, but I do every now and then eat chicken, fish, or seafood. I live in Greece, and it’s hard to resist the seafood!

I’m lucky that the local diet is filled with delicious pulses, grains, etc., and wonderful, tasty seasonal fruit and vegetables. I still avoid alcohol, coffee, and sugar in my home cooking, plus dairy except for a little feta occasionally. I’m way too preachy about gut health and the benefits of a predominantly plant-based diet, but the proof is in the pudding!! I look and feel strong, healthy and better than I expected to be at close to 60!
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