EATING well

Seven years ago Lee Holmes de­te­ri­o­rated to the point she couldn’t get out of bed. Then she cre­ated a toxin-free, good­bac­te­ria-friendly diet, and her health re­turned. By Amy Bryant. Pho­to­graphs by Cath Mus­cat and Steve Brown

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - FOOD & DRINK -

Ive just taught a yoga class and am about to have a bowl of safron and white-bean soup for din­ner,’ Lee Holmes tells me over the phone from her home in Syd­ney. ‘Be­fore bed I’ll whip up my anti-in­fam­ma­tory toddy with home­made cashew milk, turmeric and black pep­per.’

It’s 8.30pm where she is, but Holmes sounds full of beans, ex­cited about the im­mi­nent UK pub­li­ca­tion of her book Heal Your Gut, a pro­gramme de­signed to im­prove the di­ges­tive sys­tem – and with it, all-round well-be­ing. The yoga is part of this heal­ing process, yet seven years ago Holmes would have been lucky to stand up with­out feel­ing acute pain, let alone drop into a down­ward-fac­ing dog.

‘I woke up one day and sim­ply couldn’t get out of bed,’ she re­mem­bers. ‘I had no en­ergy and was over­come with chronic fa­tigue.’ It seems to her now as if the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in her health was ‘re­ally quick’, yet this wasn’t an iso­lated symp­tom. Hives ‘cov­ered [her] body’; her hair was com­ing out in clumps. But she was a sin­gle mother and worked full-time as a chil­dren’s mu­sic man­ager at the Aus­tralian tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion com­pany ABC, so con­tin­ued to strug­gle into the ofce.

‘Two days a week I still do my pro­gramme, drink­ing a smoothie and one of my teas in the morn­ing, soup for lunch, and some­thing slow-cooked and mushy for din­ner’

Be­cause her body re­jected much else, she ate liq­uid foods – broths, teas and soups – for a month, which gave her di­ges­tive sys­tem a chance to im­prove, and she felt less pain

She was even­tu­ally di­ag­nosed with a non-specifc au­toim­mune dis­ease, which afected sev­eral or­gans; and fbromyal­gia, the causes of which are not clear, but as for the symp­toms, Holmes had a full house: fa­tigue, mus­cle pain, brain fog (ie, im­paired mem­ory and con­cen­tra­tion), bruises all over her body and arthri­tis. ‘I’d get up out of a chair and feel like I had the body of a 90-year-old woman,’ she re­calls, with a wry laugh. Holmes was 41.

To­day the food writer (who was born in Canterbury but whose fam­ily em­i­grated to Aus­tralia when she was eight) fnds it ‘scary’ to think back on her con­di­tion. But at the time, she says, ‘I felt quite numb.’ She was put on an­tibi­otics, steroids, im­muno­sup­pres­sants, anti-in­flam­ma­to­ries and anti-cancer drugs. ‘I was tak­ing 20 pills a day, and couldn’t dis­tin­guish be­tween the side efects and my orig­i­nal symp­toms.’ She spent six months in and out of hos­pi­tal, and had to give up her job as a re­sult.

It was while ly­ing in her hos­pi­tal bed that Holmes’s thoughts turned to diet. She had stud­ied food and nu­tri­tion be­fore univer­sity, and won­dered whether poor di­ges­tion could be con­nected to her con­di­tion – even if, on the face of it, there wasn’t an aw­ful lot wrong with her diet. She had been eating lean meals, and plump­ing for low-fat op­tions when re­ly­ing on con­ve­nience foods dur­ing busy work days. De­spite lit­tle en­cour­age­ment from her doc­tors, Holmes be­gan to re­move dairy prod­ucts, gluten, wheat and sugar from her diet. Be­cause her body re­jected much else, she ate liq­uid foods – broths, teas and soups – for a month, which gave her ‘di­ges­tive sys­tem a chance to im­prove’, and she felt less pain in her bones and mus­cles. She grad­u­ally weaned her­self of the drugs, build­ing up her diet with pro­bi­otic-rich then nu­tri­ent-rich foods. She started to work again while re­cov­er­ing at home.

Holmes’s jour­ney – from bedrid­den suferer of a life-al­ter­ing health con­di­tion to nu­tri­tion­ally driven spokesper­son for bet­ter health – is not unique; her self-pre­scribed diet im­prove­ments are sim­i­lar to those un­der­taken by many of to­day’s most pop­u­lar food writ­ers and blog­gers. Yet six or seven years ago, there was very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion avail­able to her about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween gut health, the im­mune sys­tem and the brain. Blog­ging, even, was a rel­a­tively novel pas­time. ‘I watched Julie & Ju­lia,’ Holmes re­mem­bers, re­fer­ring to the 2009 film

star­ring Meryl Streep, ‘and thought, I must start a blog!’ Be­fore her ill­ness she had never put her food train­ing to much use; now she was cre­at­ing recipes (beef broth; veg­eta­bles with pro­tein-rich sar­dines, mashed up to en­able her weak­ened body to di­gest it more eas­ily). ‘I posted my recipes and was sur­prised to fnd peo­ple were in­spired by my story,’ she says.

Holmes went on to cre­ate a meal plan to pro­mote a healthy bal­ance of gut fora and en­cour­age an in­crease in the ‘friendly bac­te­ria’ that help to re­duce tox­ins, ab­sorb nu­tri­ents from food and train the im­mune sys­tem. Sugar, car­bo­hy­drates, preser­va­tives and ad­di­tives were out; anti-in­fam­ma­tory healthy fats (faxseed and avo­cado), fbre-rich foods (nuts and seeds) and fresh veg were in. Gar­lic, an an­ti­sep­tic, was one of her ‘strong­est al­lies’.

Holmes has now com­pletely re­cov­ered. She is happy to be of pre­scrip­tion drugs but cau­tions that for se­ri­ous health con­di­tions, medicine should al­ways be the frst op­tion. ‘Two days a week I still do my pro­gramme,’ she says, ‘drink­ing a home­made smoothie and one of my teas in the morn­ing, soup for lunch, and some­thing slow-cooked and mushy for din­ner.’ In the Heal Your Gut pro­to­col, this is phase one, un­der­taken for four weeks to ‘give the lin­ing of the gut a rest ’. To fur­ther cleanse the body, phase two in­volves oil pulling (the an­cient Ayurvedic tech­nique of swill­ing co­conut oil around the mouth to kill bad bac­te­ria) and dry body brush­ing. Proper meals are rein­tro­duced in phase three, re­pop­u­lat­ing good bac­te­ria with pre­bi­otic ( gar­lic) and pro­bi­otic foods (fer­mented veg­eta­bles, kefr, kom­bucha). In the fnal phase, Holmes says, it’s ‘time to detox your life. What is it that’s caus­ing me stress?’ Sort­ing this out, she ad­vises, will bol­ster all you good work in the kitchen.

More cook­books are on the way this year, in­clud­ing one that rec­om­mends difer­ent dishes for difer­ent body types. In the mean­time, though, Holmes’s short-term goal is to trans­form the gar­den at the house she has just moved into. ‘Only yes­ter­day I con­structed a ver­ti­cal herb wall, with chives and basil, and I want to set up a veg­gie patch as soon as I can,’ she says. Armed sim­ply with pure in­gre­di­ents and de­li­cious recipes, she has turned her life around. To or­der your copy of Heal Your Gut by Lee Holmes (Mur­doch Books, £14.99) for £12.99 plus £1.99 p&p, call 0844-871 1514 or see books.tele­graph.co.uk

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