Guest Blogger CATHY BENSON

Cathy shared her philosophy on her families health and wellbeing choices this week at our Toowoomba Gaps and Changing Habits Community Health Meeting. Please enjoy!

Developing a 'Wellness Philosophy'

I remember when my mindset first shifted.  It was April 2007 at a close friends 50th birthday party with my daughter Freyja who was 23 months old.  Our family ate whatever we wanted, with no connection between what we ate and how we felt.  My personal focus was low fat so that's how our family ate.  We were also on a very tight budget so didn't have any extra money for treats.

At the party I gave Freyja a Twistie.  She'd never had one before.  That night, she was asleep for about 10 minutes before she woke and screamed for 10 minutes.  When she finally went back to sleep, it was another 10 minutes before she woke up and screamed again.  This went on all night.  Freyja had slept through from about 8 weeks old so for me this raised a red flag.  It was clear that she had reacted to something she hadn't eaten before.  I'd heard or read something about colours so checked out Twisties and they had a colour in them that can cause behavioural issues in children.  So we decided that we would no longer eat anything containing artificial colours in it.

This was our first step in a long journey of discovery.  Each year since, there has been a significant change in our family's health and wellness.  Over the years we have developed a 'Wellness Philosophy' to steer us in our decision making process for the food we eat, how we make health decisions and even what products we use in our house.  This philosophy helps us confront marketing hype and conflicting 'latest research'.

A 'Wellness Philosophy' is a core belief or platform that one can use everyday for decision making in regards to choices in food and medical advice.  This belief or platform is a combination of how you were raised, religious or spiritual beliefs, life experiences, perhaps some health challenges or tragedy, etc.  For example, growing up every child thinks they and their family are normal, eat normal food, live in a normal house.  But over time they discover that their normal could be very different to their classmates' normal and discover the variety of life.  Salad every night could be normal, or takeaway 3-4 times a week could be normal.  Going to the chiropractor could be normal or it could be strange.  Maybe there was a religious influence on food in relation to meat or alcohol.  All these things can form part of a 'Wellness Philosophy'.

Each day my family makes food and health choices.  Advertising and marketing present us with latest research and new products that can be very confusing.  After our Twistie experience I started reading lots of health magazines, online articles and books.  I often felt like a fish out of water, constantly confused by the conflicting advice and ideas I was reading, seeing or hearing. For example, breakfast cereal is a great way to start the day, margarine will lower cholesterol, salt is bad and low fat is good.  The rules change each day and new research seems to contradict last week's new research.

To assist in dealing with this confusion, it helps to understand how companies launch new products.  A two second google shows these steps and by understanding this process, I can unpack the marketing and apply my 'Wellness Philosophy' to determine whether a new product, idea or research fits my family's needs.

Marketing Step One - Present a customer with a problem they didn't realise they had

Marketing Step Two - Show current solution and the problem with this current solution

Marketing Step Three - Demonstrate a new product solution and how it overcomes problems with current solution

We've all been in a situation where suddenly there is a new product available that we're made to believe we must have even though yesterday we didn't know it existed!

An example would be waiting for a plane at an airport and experiencing a headache.  I walk into the airport shop and am confronted with the current solution of boxes of tablets, each including 24 tablets.  I don't need 24, I need 2.  I also need water to wash it down.  I don't want a 500ml bottle of water as I can only take 100ml onto the plane.  What a problem!!!  Suddenly I see a new product that contains 2 tablets and a small clear 100ml bottle of water.  Solution!!!

Can you see how this marketing works?

Or what about an interesting historical advertisement featuring a mother and her baby.  Have a guess what popular product it was advertising.

For a better start in life, start PRODUCT X earlier.  How soon is too soon? Not soon enough. Laboratory tests over the last few years have proven that babies who start PRODUCT X during that early formative period have a much higher chance of gaining acceptance and fitting in during those awkward preteen years.  So do yourself a favour.  Do your child a favour.  Start them on a strict regimen of PRODUCT X right now, for a lifetime of guaranteed happiness. 

What do you think it was advertising?  This is an old Cola advertisement and was published by The Soda Pop Board of America.  Talk about a conflict of interest.

Can you see how a 'Wellness Philosophy' can help me navigate the marketing and assist in making decisions regarding food and medical options?

So how do you develop a Wellness 'Philosophy'.  It evolves over time.  You might be passionate about animal rights which might determine whether you eat meat, or where you source your eggs.  Maybe you have religious beliefs which influence what you eat.  Maybe you are passionate about supporting local farmers and businesses, and you’re willing to pay a bit more for local products.

Knowing what your core beliefs are enables you to cut through the media hype.

As an example, here is my 'Wellness Philosophy'

1.  I believe in nature.

2.  Normal is not the same as common. 

3.  I don’t want my children to be part of an experiment. 

4.  Everyone is perfectly imperfect the way they are.  We can, however, assist them to maximise their potential.

Let’s break this down.

1.  I believe in nature.

How does this help me decide whether to embrace a new article I’ve read?  Here’s a couple of examples. 

An egg is perfect. So how can an egg white be healthy but the egg yolk be high in cholesterol and shouldn’t be eaten? 

Milk is perfect.  If I choose to consume milk I will consume it in its whole form,  not trimmed, skimmed, had the lactose removed or with added calcium. 

Coffee beans are perfect and contain caffeine.  If I choose to consume coffee I will choose whole coffee beans ground.  What process or chemicals are used to remove the caffeine? 

These are just examples of how I process the marketing.  I don’t have the scientific answers but my simple belief in nature doesn't require the scientific answers.

2.  Normal is not the same as common.

Over the last few years I’ve learnt to listen to my body.  I believe that the body whispers to us in pain, discomfort, headaches, constipation, reflux, indigestion and lots of other very 'common' ailments that a chemist has a solution for.  If we don’t listen to the whispers, they get louder and louder.  If we don’t pay attention we pay with pain.  What have I learnt? 

A few years ago my then 6 year old daughter was suffering very bad constipation.  This is very common, but not normal.  We could have put her on daily laxatives, or given her prunes everyday as I had done for years, following in the footsteps of my mother before me.  I could have accepted this as normal.  However, I remembered that about a year before I removed all dairy from my diet, and ever since then … well you get the idea.  What I thought was my 'normal' was actually just common and I had put up with it and managed it for 30 odd years.  For my daughter and I, dairy is not a good food choice.  By listening to our bodies we have resolved a problem and avoided a lifelong challenge.

3.  I don’t want my children to be part of an experiment. 

My children are my inspiration for how I look after my family.  Nobody knows what happens to children who receive the number of vaccinations and antibiotics that are handed out these days.  Nobody knows what mandatory fluoride and artificial folate will do to their little bodies, and what impact it will have on their lives, or their ability to have a family.  Nobody knows what a lifetime of standard Australian food will do to their future health.  Nobody knows what all the artificial colours, flavours and preservatives will do to their future health. 

So as much as possible I avoid the experiment.  I practice what I call 'The Nana Rule'.  When making food choices I think of my Nana in New Zealand who is 93.  I ask myself would she have eaten this as a child?  Would her mother have eaten this as a child?  I eat food that was grown ON a plant or ATE a plant not food that was made IN a plant.  I imagine back to a time when experts, doctors and government didn't tell us what was healthy but we intuitively knew what to eat.  Fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, dairy, seeds and nuts have been eaten for thousands of years.  Breakfast cereal, canned baked beans and fortified bread?  Hasn't been proven.

4.  Everyone is perfectly imperfect the way they are.  We can, however, assist them to maximise their potential.

This part of my 'Wellness Philosophy' relates to health decisions that go beyond food.  I started this story with Freyja and the Twistie.  Freyja is now 10 years old but the size of a 6 year old.  Freyja has a level of intellectual impairment, and global development delay.  She is on the Autism Spectrum.  She learnt to walk at 26 months old, and started running and jumping in the last 18 months.  For a long time my goal was to find the problem and fix it.  And in the early years as milestones were eventually met, I thought that maybe we had 'fixed' her and that it was behind us.  However I’ve realised that she is perfectly imperfect the way she is and doesn’t need fixing.  My job as a parent is to make choices to assist her in maximising her potential.

How does that fit into my 'Wellness Philosophy'?  It means that, yes, we had growth hormone testing to see if she was producing enough growth hormone to maintain normal growth, which she is.  However for some reason that we don’t understand she is not growing at the 'normal' rate.  Freyja qualifies for growth hormone therapy.  Using our 'Wellness Philosophy' that we don’t want our children to be part of an experiment and that she is perfectly imperfect, we decided that daily injections for a few years with unpredictable results and possible side-effects including joint problems was not the right choice for us.  Growth hormone therapy has only been in place for around 30 years, so the effects through generations are not yet known.  Freyja combines numbers 1, 3 and 4 of my 'Wellness 'Philosophy'.

My 'Wellness Philosophy' is not something I set out to formally create.  It has evolved over years and will continue to evolve as our family's needs change and we learn more.  I hold my philosophy gently, allowing it to grow and evolve but it has elements which are non-negotiable.  Because of this philosophy, I have traction, stability and peace in an everchanging landscape of 'latest research' and marketing.