Grace: Hello. This is Grace from GraceQuantok.com and you’re listening to a Trailblazer Interview. Today I’m talking to Natasha Lipman who’s a London-based chronic illness blogger. She’s living with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and in 2013, she’s diagnosed with Pott’s and Histamine in Tourettes.
She began blogging in 2014 and started a healing journey for nutrition and became a well-known Instagram. Her background is in international relations in youth activism and entrepreneurship. She’s a virgin media pioneer and global change-maker.
I’ve been following her work for some time now. I love her honesty and the intake on her fantastic food pictures. So, Natasha, thank you so much for joining us today.
Natasha: Thank you for having me.
Grace: Fantastic. So, what I really wanted to start with and just dive into a deep topic is, I really liked your blog post where you wrote an over the haul wellness tip and talking about what wellness means and how we pursue it ourselves on social media. Can you talk to me a little bit about that?
Natasha: Sure. So, when I first started my Instagram, I started it as a food diary. When I got so ill and all the meds were making me worse and I didn’t really know what to do so I was looking online for other things that I could try. I went on Instagram, I started following a lot of people, getting inspiration, and started sharing my own, I already like the word “journey” but I don’t what word to use.
So I started sharing my own journey. As I started getting more followers, people will share their opinions with me about what I was doing. While I made a lot of friends, there were also a lot of people who were diagnosing me based on my comments, who were offering me unsubstantiated and unqualified advice. That was a bit frustrating but I try to ignore it as best as I could.
The one thing that I found is that in the last year, also in the UK, the idea of wellness in the sense of focusing and striving towards being as healthy as possible has become very mainstream. So what does that mean? You’ve got the diet and there are a lot of very, whether it be vegan, plum-based paleo. They don’t eat gluten, they don’t eat dairy, they don’t eat sugar. There’s that whole side of it.
And then at the same time, you’ve got the exercise. So it’s only in your head, how much you can exercise. So that, for me, is awful because my shoulder will fall out or my knee will fall out. That’s not in my head.
And I think the normalization of a lot of this, well, quite extreme diet or exercise philosophies has become very normalized and I think it can be quite dangerous for people. And I just got a bit sick of it.
Grace: I’m really glad and I was really, really glad to read what you wrote. I’m really glad to hear this because I think a lot of it is unspoken and I think also maybe in contrast because firstly, how fantastic would it be if we could all find the right diet for us and the right exercise regime? And if we just do it really, really well, we try really, really hard and work really, really good, we never cheat and do it right everyday, we will never be ill again and possible never die.
Natasha: Well I think this is a thing that’s really difficult because I found this because I was really ill. And when I changed my diet, I did improve significantly. And I was shouting from the rooftops, I was so excited. I wanted to share everything with people. And then I had a flare-up, then I had another flare-up, then I had another flare-up.
I was doing everything that X, Y, and Z was doing and they got better and they were fine and happy. And it was working for these people, what was I doing wrong? Why wasn’t it working for me? And I think the problem is, yes, it’s great to have people encouraging healthy lifestyles but you also have to be realistic.
Drinking a green juice or eating a certain way can only do so much when you’ve got structural health problems. It’s not like I can eat a certain diet and my collagen is going to change. I can, at a point, feel well enough to do quite a lot of things but there are times that I can’t.
And also, I think you have to be realistic. I’m not one of those people that can just say, “I need to cut out everything permanently.” I know I do best when I basically on liquids and don’t eat anything that’s an allergen of any kind. And that’s boring as hell and I want to get out.
I’m 26, I want to go and have a burger with my friends. I want to go out and have a pizza. It’s not living when you live a restricted life. And it’s trying to find the balance between the fatty things you hear in the media, realism about what life is really like when you have a chronic illness, and trying to be brain-happy.
Grace: Because I think when we take what I hear from that is that if you’re doing the diet that you’ve seen or the diet that you think is best for you and it’s not curing you or you’re having flare-ups, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. That doesn’t mean you’re not eating well enough.
Maybe it’s that the diet is not a magical cure for everything. But that’s not to say that it isn’t going to have some effect or do some good things to your body. You don’t have to have an [00:06:01] but I think it is important to realize chronic illness can drastically restrict people’s lives.
When diet begins to provide its own limitations, you can now become even more sad and isolated and struggling. And there is a question of: With this diet, the restriction it gives me, does it give me more benefits than it gives me restrictions? And how willing am I to follow this and what do I need?
Natasha: Definitely. I still struggle with the whole “it’s not the diet, it’s the overall picture,” because I’m thinking, “Well I’m having a flare-up so there’s something in my diet that isn’t working.” But actually, I know that the worst flare-up I just had is because it’s been so hot here. I know that sometimes my body just happens and it doesn’t matter what you eat.
And you have to look at it as part of a bigger picture and a diet can help you up to a point. If people get cured from diet, I’m so happy for them. That’s amazing and that’s great but I think these are the stories that you hear in the media and they’re kind of trumpeted with such excitement that when you feel that this doesn’t work for you and you’ve tried so hard and you want it so much to work that when it doesn’t, like you said, you get more depressed.
And I think the other side of this is when people talk about attitude. I’ve had people actively say to me part of the reason I have flare-ups is because I’m not ready to accept that I can be healed.
Grace: Oh my goodness. Seriously?
Natasha: Yeah. I write the way I talk and I’m quite like a bitchy person. So I will call my body stupid but I’m not being like, “Oh I’m so stupid,” and then say spiritually something is coming down and making my body fail. My body fails. There is a difference between being negative and being realistic and I think that’s such a huge thing that people don’t talk about.
Because often when we talk about food and holistic nutrition and all of this, we talk about positive thinking and mindfulness in the same space. And there is such a huge importance on learning ways to deal with the depression that comes with being ill.
And you can temper up to a point but at the same time it’s so important to allow yourself to be sad and allow yourself to grieve and allow yourself to be angry. I thought I was well enough to go back to work in May. I went back and I wasn’t. And that made me really upset and that’s okay.
Grace: And that’s typical because that hurts.
Grace: And as much as many affirmation causes you use and as much as you recite that you’re okay, it doesn’t change the fact that we are humans and the human experience includes things like pain, grief, sadness, illness, anger. And I don’t believe that it’s possible to spiritually evolve to a place at which you are so enlightened that you no longer experience anger.
I think you can know the anger or you can think, “Oh, I shouldn’t be feeling that. I’m going to stuff it to one side,” but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
Natasha: And you have to deal with the event.
Grace: There’s a fantastic poem and I can’t remember how it spelled out but he says, “When anger first arises, it’s easier to deal with. But if we don’t do it now, we have to toil later.” And this is also who suffers from chronic illness and I’ll put this in the blog post when it comes up.
But recently, I deal with a lot with my coaching clients around at the permission to feel the feelings that we feel, to bravery, to speak our truth about it. And also, what you said around only how a flare-up, you think, “Oh, it must be my dread.” And I think it’s because dread is something which, if not healthier, at least possible to often rigidly control.
If illnesses were all environmental, if it was only stuff on the outside, then all any of us would need to do would be to work our optimal conditions and then make those happen everyday. If illness was completely unaffected by anything outside of our bodies and nothing to change it whatsoever, then any flare-up we had, we just have to throw up our hands and say, “Well, there was nothing I can do. Lying down won’t make me feel any better. There’s nothing I can do in the world to make my symptoms any easier. I just have to get through it.” It’s not in between.
Natasha: Yeah, exactly. And I think the other side to that is, you talked about sense of control and I think when I start looking at diet, it was such a shift in focus for me because my whole life I’d been going to see all these doctors and these amazing specialists and I was like, “Give me anything. I would take any drug. I will have any operation. Just make me better.”
And it was “make me better.” It wasn’t “What can I do to be better?” It was like, “I need you to do your job and make me better.” They can’t do that, it doesn’t work like that.
So when I found diet, it was my way of feeling like I could take control over something when you have so little control over anything when you’re ill. And this is the thing that I’m really struggling with at the moment is, I kind of ran out of ideas. This is the worst flare-up I’ve had in a really long time in a really long time and it’s really difficult and it’s really frustrating. And I’m like, “Who can I see that can help me?” or “What can I do?”
There has to be something because I refused to give up trying but at the same time, I’m a master control freak, which I guess is kind of understandable, but I think it’s kind of you want to feel like you can do something but at some point you kind of have to just go with it. Like, yes, I had a little bit of breakdown about it. I was like, “So I guess I just have to wait this out and do what I can.”
And it’s frustrating because you are, up to a point, left the whim of your body. I can drink green juice for a week, it’s not going to fix it.
Grace: I think it’s a lot to admit that and a lot to say. Wow, because going from wanting the doctors to fix and then having the opportunity to actually take some action which made a difference in your life, but then to realize that that also can’t fix us and that that too has limitations.
But I know, just like you said at the beginning, it was something which you would shout out from the rooftop because it had such a dramatic effect and that it’s often seen and it does happen especially on people beginning a change. You really see the effect.
But for the people listening, do you have any ideas of how they can have an awareness around preventing falling into the orthorexia and the magical thinking which happens around a few wellness in the online world?
Natasha: I think the first thing to do would be to explain orthorexia really quickly. Orthorexia is an unhealthy obsession with eating what you deem to be the right food. So it’s only eating what you deem to be the healthiest food. When I first changed my diet, I got to a point where I couldn’t digest food and I was allergic to everything, as my friend, Lucy, likes to recall.
Oh, it was great, though, because I spent my whole life not being able to exercise so I was a bit chubby. And then I got really skinny so that was my silver lining because now I realize I’ll never look like that because I was literally starving, not by choice.
When I first changed my diet I started eating only organic. It was just juices and some smoothies and some green soups. And then I started building things up really slowly and I became so dogmatic and like, “Can’t eat this because it’s not organic.” I became vegan, I became gluten-free.
I actually actively try to indoctrinate myself into being a vegan because I love meat and I love cheese and it was really difficult for me. And for some people, yeah, you feel great so it’s really easy but it was a difficult transition and I did everything. I was vegan, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, mainly liquid, rotation, soy-free, no processed food at all.
I didn’t eat anything out of a packet. I changed all my set to natural beauty. And it was like, I did all of this in the space of a few weeks so it was really difficult. And when I started seeing it working and my body started to kind of repair itself a bit better and I can digest food now, it wasn’t having as many reactions and I started being able to get out of bed and function and meet people and do things again, I was so excited but I was obsessed.
I was judging what everyone else is eating. I’d be like, “Gluten is the devil.” All of this stuff, I was like, “Why would you eat that?” And I was so scared, I was talking to myself. I was so scared of eating these other things because they were impure. And I think one of the really interesting things when you got chronic illness is if you’re thinking the diet is the cure-all, the other flipside of that is misdiet, the cause.
And I know for me, the structure of my body was the cause. I was born with it but especially if you’re diagnosed or you only get ill later in life and you had not the best diet, then you can start blaming yourself for the way you feel because you weren’t eating in this very pure way.
I think the way that the media represents all of this is based on these fads, like gluten-free. Really, unless you actually have a problem with gluten, which you can test yourself by doing, you know, you can see how you feel when you eat gluten over a period of time and when you don’t eat it. And when you feel better when you don’t eat it, don’t eat it.
But just the blank statement that gluten makes you fat and gluten is evil is absolute bullshit. And some people feel great when they eat dairy, some people don’t. I didn’t eat meat for a really long time because I thought it would make me feel better. At the time when I cut it out, I couldn’t digest it.
I reintroduced meat, I feel so much better to eat meat. It’s given me so much more energy. Well, more than zero energy but…
Grace: Maybe we’re looking at shades different here. Maybe we’re not looking at [00:16:40] at running marathons. Maybe we’re looking at little shifts, and maybe that’s all that you’re going to see right now and that’s okay. You can see a difference, it doesn’t have to mean actually you’re going to climb Everest tomorrow.
Natasha: Yeah, exactly. I have been in the Himalayas though, so that was fun but [00:17:00] right now.
Grace: Not today, perhaps.
Grace: I do have to share but [00:17:06]. I am an ethical vegan. So I’ve been vegan for 15 years and that happened before anybody have thought vegan as in being healthy. It was purely an ethical decision because I was brought up vegetarian and then went vegan when I was 15. So, nearly 15 years. I’m 28 now.
And I eat gluten-free because I can’t tolerate gluten and it makes my joints swell as well as some bowel pain and lots of other things. And my husband can tolerate gluten, lucky man.
Natasha: So lucky.
Grace: I know. But it was something which I actually, for years, thought I didn’t have a problem with gluten because I have so many other symptoms. Every time I ate it, it just kind of added to the symptom that I already had. And then when I cut it out, I realized that a lot of the joint pain and digestive issues I was having went away and then when I add it, it came back again.
And so I thought, “Oh my goodness. I’ve been putting all those things down to the other illnesses I’ve been diagnosed with.” So I think it can be a little useful to check in the balances.
Grace: But not just assuming that just because something works for somebody else that it will work for you.
Natasha: Exactly. Easing people with the same condition have entirely different experiences.
Grace: Exactly, because they’re different people with different bodies and what you said about people, maybe in later life being diagnosed will feel like it’s their fault from what they’ve eaten. I think it’s very difficult, there’s a lot of people out there who might want to blame for that.
My frequent thought about this is, years and years ago, I went to a raw food gathering, like a party and it was tons of flights of stairs and the host has been carrying me up all these stairs and then left me in the room and carried my wheelchair up. So I was on the sofa and the wheelchair was in a different room, and so people were talking and they’re talking about basically how clever they were to be raw.
Grace: And then they weren’t going to get ill because they’re raw. Then somebody found out that I couldn’t walk and they said, “Oh my goodness!” And one woman actually put her head at my skirt to see if I had legs, which was just…
Grace: But then what happened was interesting, because individually, one by one, people at the party came and sat next to me. And each came and sat to make an acceptance at “Hi,” hi. “So, you’re ill,” yeah. “Do you eat raw?” Yep. “And vegan?” Yep. “Do you eat gluten?” Nope. “Do you eat sugar?” Nope. “Do you eat seaweed?” Yep. “How much seaweed?” So and so, “Ah, that’s your problem. Not enough seaweed.”
Grace: And they went off and the next one came down. “Do you eat superfoods?” Yes. “Ah, too many superfoods,” and then they went off. And I was like the ghost of the feast because I was the proof that however good you are and however hard you try, the diet alone is not necessarily going to save you from humanity, illness, death, and all of the other struggles that should come with this life.
And I think people are trying, really trying incredibly hard, to find what I was doing wrong because then it would be my fault and then their belief system wouldn’t be overturned.
Natasha: This is one of the biggest problems I have with the wellness industry. It’s that I know a lot of people come at this from a genuine place and I really believe that they do come at it from a really genuine place but when they say “You’re ill because you’re not doing what works for me,” it’s so frustrating.
There are times when I can bring myself to be on a really restricted diet. It just makes me really miserable. No matter how much I tell myself that I don’t love bread, I love bread and it makes me happy to eat bread. And there were points in my life where I’ve drawn to be a little bit brain-happy rather than getting very bloated.
And for me, I can’t do that all the time. Someone then says to me, “Well I’ve been seeing what you’ve been eating recently so no wonder you’re feeling really awful.” And again, it’s blaming me for how I feel and it’s like, we’re human beings. That’s still partly in my head because I’m still every day. And I’ve been, what I say, “so super good” for the last six days and my bloating has gone down a bit because I pretty much gone to everything-free again.
But it’s not for me, it’s not a really super sustainable thing. And I think one thing that’s really interesting, when I stopped, I had no problem with ethical vegans.
Grace: Super pure.
Natasha: In fairness, if you’re an ethical vegan because you want to be an ethical vegan, that’s fine. They have to accept that I’m not an ethical vegan, that’s it. And I got abuse when I stopped being vegan and I said on Instagram and it took me a really long time to actually change because I was scared what people were going to say.
Grace: That’s terrible.
Natasha: It’s terrible because it’s got nothing to do with… I’m very unwell person so I’m trying to find things that help me. And eating meat gives me so much more energy than eating anything else does.
Grace: And this is your life, these are your choices, these are your ethical decisions. And if somebody wants to be vegan, then that’s their job to be vegan. It’s not their job to comment on your veganism or un-veganism.
Natasha: Exactly. And I think it’s a very interesting thing and it comes to all of these diets, like grains are evil or make sure you’re having this every day. It’s all very click bait headlines and it’s very easy to fall into that. And I mean, especially when we spend so much time online and where do we get our information from.
And I remember trying a raw challenge and it was when my digestive system was entirely messed up. Like, the food was stuck everywhere, it was very unpleasant. And I posted on Instagram a few days later saying I can’t keep it up, I’m listening to my body. It just makes me feel so much worse.
Then someone said to me, “This is what happens when you come from a background with an eating disorder.” I was like, “You know nothing about me. I’ve never had an eating disorder my entire life.” And I think it’s that thing where we’ve normalized restrictive behaviors and we’ve normalized excessive behaviors and we’ve normalized things that aren’t actually that normally.
And I think we all need to take a little bit of a step back and bring some common sense into things. Like I said myself, I know I need to be, at the moment, be very careful with what I eat. But at the same time, I can’t do it all the time. So if once a week, I want to go out and use my energy to go out and see a friend and have a really great time and have a pizza, I’m going to do that and it’s not going to kill me.
Grace: And actually, to be honest, and this is something I’ve written in my blog based wellness book which I was… This is just how I see things but I’m surprised to know that very few in average are saying that they were glad to hear it but quite surprised because I honestly believe that if you are eating the kale salad and feeling really terrible and hating it and wishing you could eat to toast, I honestly believe that if you eat that toast, it’s going to be so much better for you because you’re so much happier that you’re eating it. You’re enjoying it and you’re feeling fulfilled and you’re feeling content and you’re doing something which you’re actually happy about.
Natasha: Yes, so much. My friend, I remember we went out for a burger, he says to me, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen your face as happy.” And it’s like it’s that thing where you will circle this language around guilty treats and guilty pleasures and it’s like I’m having a piece of toast, I feel so guilty. I said, “No, you shouldn’t feel guilty about eating anything. You shouldn’t make yourself feel bad about eating anything.”
Ultimately, we have to take responsibility for what we choose to eat but you shouldn’t feel guilty about eating something. It’s not like everything’s free because we’re all human and it is very- I cannot deny that bread is my favorite thing in the entire world and I know that after I eat a whole wheat bread I literally can…
I think the way that I do it is I don’t keep things in the house that I know that I react to so that I’m not tempted. I go and stay with my parents quite a bit because I need looking after. And when I’m there, I always eat something I shouldn’t because it’s there and it makes me feel better in the long run.
But it’s more of a self-sabotage because I know and I think that’s the other side of it. It’s the self-sabotage. I know that when I feel really unwell and I don’t understand why I feel unwell, I can make myself feel more unwell with food but I understand why I feel unwell.
My mother said to me, she’s like, “That’s a really weird way of looking at it.” I was like, “Yeah, I know.” But actually, that’s again you trying to get control over your body, just in a different way. It’s like fixing your body with diet. It’s like, well, I don’t understand why my body is unravelling so I’m going to make it worse but I know why.
Grace: Because then you will say, “Oh, it’s only because I ate the bread.”
Grace: So if tomorrow I don’t eat the bread, I won’t feel like this.
Grace: Of course, you would feel the bread symptoms but you’ll feel the other symptoms that were there the whole time.
Grace: So I’m just losing a time because I think we could carry on talking about this but wanted to honor your time and the energy of our listeners as well. So if you could ask the people listening to one thing now, can you tell me what that would be?
Natasha: I think it would be, be honest with yourself and with the people around you about how you’re feeling. I know we’ve kind of touched out on this but we touched upon the desire to work and the desire to live as normal life as possible and I really found that being honest with myself about what I can and can’t do, and then passing that onto other people has been absolutely life-changing.
People are so much more kind of obliging and while they might not necessarily be able to understand, they’re willing to take things into consideration that they wouldn’t, they recognize when I’m trying really hard and they recognize there’s a lot of things that are out in my control and I think that honesty also has to be applied to the way you’d have caught yourself.
Are you doing something because someone else is telling you to and you don’t really believe it’s going to work? Are you doing things for the sake of it? Are you pushing yourself too much? Are you not trying hard enough? Because I admit that sometimes I just can’t bring myself to do anything just because I can’t be asked.
And it’s nice, sometimes I do need to kick up the bum. Sometimes people need to say to me, “Natasha, you know what you’re capable of doing and even when you feel like crap because you felt worse.” And while it’s a mean thing to say, I have to say it to myself because I need to challenge myself and I think even when you feel awful, and I wrote a blog post about this today, you can challenge yourself to one thing a week, even if it’s getting up and walking around your flat, even if it’s making a cup of tea.
Grace: Totally. This is [00:28:35]
Natasha: …with what you can ask yourself to do and what other people ask you to do.
Grace: That’s a fantastic tip. Thank you. And if people are listening, wanting to see more of your work, where should they go to follow you and read more?
Natasha: You can visit my website: NutriciouslyNatasha.com. I am going to be changing my name so depending on when you’re listening to it but it will redirect you otherwise. Or, you can visit me on Instagram: NutritiouslyNatasha. On Facebook at Nutritiously Natasha. And on Twitter: @NatashaLipman. And I rant a lot, so if you enjoy ranting…
Grace: Fantastic. I can feel fingers clicking their keyboards and heading towards you as I speak. Thank you everybody for listening. Thank you, Natasha, for joining us.
Natasha: Thank you for having me.
Grace: Thank you, and check back again soon for more Trailblazer interviews. Thank you, Trailblazers. Bye-bye.