In this episode, Gemma from the Small Steps Membership community talks about her journey with food – from weight loss programs that hurt more than they helped, to leaky gut, to discovering how much stress can impact your digestive system.
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Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:
Lisa: :Welcome to the Small Steps Living Podcast. I’m your host, Lisa Corduff, bringing you inspiring stories to help you transform your life, one small step at a time. Here at Small Steps Living, we’re keeping it real, kick back and enjoy the show.
Hey everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Podcast and I must apologise. I’ve been a little bit snotty, so if I sound a bit nasally today, please forgive me.
I’m sitting here and I’m pretty thrilled to be talking to another small stepper today. Here name is Gemma McPhee and she’s been around the traps for a little while and I think you’re going to really enjoy her story especially if your someone who can get a little uptight and anxious if things aren’t feeling organised or if your someone who got into this whole healthy eating thing through one of the more mainstream weight loss programs, but you’ve learned a lot about food and yourself since then, I think she’s got some really great stuff to share on that.
We’ll also be talking about what it means to your body when you remove some of the things that are making it feel quite unwell and that’s just not your normal processed food junk, its other things as well.
So, I’ve just rambled on here and I haven’t even welcomed you, Gemma. Welcome to the Podcast.
Gemma: Thanks, Lisa. I don’t mind you rambling. That’s fine.
Lisa: : We’ve decided we’re gonna have a rambly chat, so guys, settle in.
Lisa: : First of all, can you just tell us where you’re dialling in from today, Gemma.
Gemma: Okay, so I live near a little place called Valley in WA. It’s about four, four-and-a-half hours southeast of Perth on Route to Esperance.
Lisa: It actually surprises me how many small steppers are from WA and also how many small steppers are from regional areas and I wonder if that’s because you guys, you can’t go and attend the events or do those sorts of things that you might be able to in a city. You’ve got to go online to get access to the information that you need.
Gemma: Definitely, yep. Yeah, that’s right, it is hard. I do try to, when there are events on, I do try to schedule Perth trips around those so I can go to them but definitely when the internet is working, online is great. So yeah, that’s pretty well how I have learnt what I’ve learnt. I research online and yeah.
Lisa: So tell us a little bit about how you grew up because I know so many of us we’re all kind of the same vintage, I guess, but I love hearing about what your food culture or what food was like for you growing up because I think that does inform how we end up when we have kids of our own. So tell us a little bit about it.
Gemma: Yes. Okay, so I grew up on a farm as well, which was a bit closer to Perth. My mom, my dad, and my two sisters and I would say we had a pretty good diet. We had the standard diet. Mom made everything from scratch, like all the slices, all the cakes, making three-veg type casseroles and all that. I do sort of remember, as I got a bit older, more of the convenience foods sneaking in, like little packets of chips and the little multi packs of chocolate and I remember on TV as well, lots of ads. Like I still can remember those songs from those ads and I just think it was a time when the convenience food was becoming a big thing and I don’t really remember. I don’t think those ads are around as much anymore because people are so used to having them they don’t really need to promote it, if that makes sense … but anyway, I’m rambling.
Lisa: That’s interesting. Yeah, no, it has just become part of what food is, whereas back then it was like, “Hey, mums. You’re back at work and the kids are busy, here, just chop up some chicken, throw in this mix, make some rice and you’ve got Chinese.
Gemma: It was exciting, yes, the Chinese.
Lisa: It was exciting.
Gemma: Yes, I remember my mom being excited about that because she loved Chinese. Yeah, I remember those things and we thought it was exciting. It was so exciting to have all these things that we never used to have. So anyway, they crept in.
When I finished primary school, because I lived in a small town as well, I went to boarding school so I didn’t have my parents around me every day to help me make those good food choices and I don’t actually think that they were really well modelled while I was away at school. There was obviously healthy food choices but no one was actually monitoring what you were eating and if you were eating fruit and there was vending machines there so if you had change and you’d walk down to the shops. So bad habits sort of crept in there and they probably stayed with me for a really long time, until I was probably mid-20s.
I was overweight and things didn’t really change for me until I got engaged to my husband, Kurt, and I thought, “Oh, I need to lose weight, nothing like a proposal to motivate you. And I remember always wanting to eat healthy but I just could never do it. I don’t know why I couldn’t. I didn’t have the motivation or the willpower, whatever it was. I remember thinking I want to be healthy but I hadn’t formed those good habits to really know what being healthy could do for me.
So anyway, when I got engaged, I signed up to one of those weight loss programs that they provide all the food for you and it really does make me cringe now because just what is in some of those things is not ideal. They’re very processed and just not great but it did do for me was it did teach me how to eat properly in that it taught me how to eat a balanced diet. So you eat breakfast, you eat lunch or you have snacks and you add salad to your meals and this and that. So it did teach me that and I lost weight and I started feeling really good because I was eating more often and I was eating like including fresher foods into my diet, I was eating fruit, I was eating more veggies . That’s probably the first time I really made the connexion of how eating healthy can make you fell better even though I didn’t really think I felt bad to begin with.
Lisa: Yes, that’s always interesting, that moment when you’re like, “What? What have I been putting up with? Hang on a minute. This is a whole new world.”
Gemma: So it’s amazing. You don’t think you feel bad until you go on that little journey, I guess, and then you’re sort of like, “Oh, I actually feel really good. I haven’t felt like this before,” or “I haven’t felt like this in a long time.” So, yeah, I finally made that link and yeah, although like I said, I don’t really like … now I’m getting stuck for my words but those companies are great in that they help people but it kinda goes against my grain now. It’s not fresh food. You know what I mean?
Gemma: But it helped me in a period in my life and I still got something from it, it taught me something.
Lisa: Well, I can’t tell you how many people that I speak to and how many small steppers there have been over the years who started off by doing something that was either one of those weight loss programs that sort of woke them up to the connection between food and lots of other things that are going on, but then, because of what they started to learn and uncover, they’re like, “Well, I don’t want to be having the fat-free version of the … or hang on, this doesn’t make sense to me anymore,” or they put the weight back on and then they’re like, “Well, hang on. This just isn’t sustainable, but I’ve had a taste of what it feels like to be good or to be at a healthy weight,” or there’s been a lot of people who skipped that and went to the kind of clean eating or paleo or something like that and then thought that that was great but found it hard to maintain again and also couldn’t introduce it to all of their family, so they’re looking for something a bit more balanced.
So, yeah, we all need a point at which our eyes open up and I think whatever that is, it’s fine and then you just keep on finding your way. You just keep moving forward.
Gemma: Yes, yep, absolutely. Like I said, it helped me at a point in time in my life and it started my journey really. I would never, if I wanted to lose weight now, I would never go down that track but, yeah, it was good for me at the time and it helped me to make that link.
Lisa: Yeah, I think that’s awesome. So compared to what you were eating then in the glory days when your mind, we just got no idea and then to where you are now. Where would you say some big shifts have happened for you?
Gemma: I just stopped buying because when I was doing the weight loss programs, you couldn’t really buy packets of chips or chocolates. I was on a bit of a strict diet. So doing that, it stopped me from buying those things that I would bring home often and before that I was bringing home those pre-made jars of things, whatever, but it was gradual, but I would say after I did that weight loss programs, I really started making things from scratch and probably as well, which is like a lot of people that follow your pages, I’ve noticed when you have your first trial and all of sudden realising they’re watching you and you’re like, “I can’t eat that cause I don’t want them to eat that.”
Obviously where I live we have long distances to travel so even after my weight loss journey I’d still occasionally buy things like lollies or whatever, you know, just to get you through. And then my little boy being at the point where he could have food and him wanting it and it just gave me that realisation and I was like, “I don’t want him to have this so he can’t see me having it. So I can’t buy these things anymore,” and I just stopped buying it over time and it became normal.
Now my fridge and my pantry pretty much consists of whole foods and any packaged foods I buy, I try to buy the best I can. So if I’m buying something in a tin like coconut cream or whatever, I buy the one that doesn’t have things added to it. It is more expensive but I feel better knowing that it is just coconut cream in there. Yeah, so when I’m buying packaged foods, I try to buy the best quality that there is.
I still do buy things that aren’t that great for me but I think my relationship with food now is a bit better now that I can not binge on it. So I’ll buy chocolate but I don’t have to eat the whole block. I have a better relationship with food now. And following your pages as well, Lisa, I think before I came across you, I did use to beat myself up a bit, like I would be trying to, “I’m not right. I’m gonna eat healthy,” and then I’d do something and then I’d eat a chocolate or do something and I thought, “Oh, I can’t do this. I’m starting again tomorrow.”
Or I’d be like, “Im starting again on Monday,” and it would only be Tuesday but I’d wipe out the whole week because I’d be like, “I have to start on a Monday,” but now I just sort of realise that I’m not perfect and I do the best that I can do and if I want to have a treat while I’m out or if I feel like buying the chocolate to have with a cup of tea then that’s okay because life is for living.
Yeah, I just realised that placing too many restrictions on myself wasn’t really healthy. It made me put myself down, I guess, if I hadn’t followed it strictly.
Lisa: This is one of my biggest things. I am so, so … yeah, people come into Small Steps and we can talk about food till the cows come home and we do but if we’re not also talking about how to be kind to ourselves and how to sort of “sh” down that voice and how to accept imperfection and how guilt should really play no part in a healthy life, then we’re getting somewhere because … I just see so many women and what we know about stress now as well and what it does to the body, we just can’t keep ourselves anxious about something that is meant to be nourishing, which is food.
Gemma: With the guilt thing, this lady that I see. She does energy healing type of stuff and she said to me, and I just remember all the time now and she’s like, “Gemma, guilt is a useless feeling.” She’s like, “You can feel anything else, do not feel guilty.” “Feel happy, feel sad, but don’t feel guilty because it’s damaging and it does last. The feeling of guilt lasts so much longer than those other feelings.” I was like, “Oh.” So I always try to remember that now especially when it comes to food. I’m like, “Don’t feel bad about it. Just get back on track and do the best that you can do.”
Lisa: Yep, I love that. I love that idea that … I think mother guilt and food guilt are the two biggies for so many woman who are on this path of wanting to improve the food that they’re eating and also have kids and guilt can be everywhere. I loved that cause I think I remember sharing it in Small Steps to Whole Foods, you don’t have to wait until the next day or the next week or the next month or the new year in order to make a change because what your body probably really wants is just a great meal next. If you do that, then awesome, then you’re actually … and you know the whole back on track or falling off the wagon.
Gemma: You feel better.
Lisa: Yeah, you feel immediately better. I wanted you to talk a little bit about what has made a difference in terms of … I guess the guilt is one thing but also overwhelm that a lot of people can feel when it comes to trying to remove the packets which, you know, easy and convenient and if it’s what we know, it’s a big change to move over. What has helped you in terms of managing that anxiety or the overwhelm around food?
Gemma: Just like whole mantra really, like keeping it simple. I used to try and … I got all these recipes book and I tried to make it more complicated than it had to be. There so many beautiful cookbooks out there but so many of the recipes in there are so complex and I think I would get overwhelmed trying to eat healthy but really all I had to do was put some veggies on the plate with some protein or something.
Gemma: You know what I mean. It’s just for so long I don’t know why I tried to do that. You’d see the fantastic pictures and you’d be like, “I have to eat this,” all the different ingredients but you don’t have to really. Just, yeah, like keep it simple and just try to eat veggies and buy good meat, yeah, that’s all I can really say about that.
Lisa: Yeah, I think that that’s totally perfect but I’m guessing also if you live quite remotely you wouldn’t be able to pop down to the shops every day so organising your food, I would say, would be a big thing as well?
Gemma: Yes, yep, definitely. I have to, when I’m being good as such, I’m really proud of myself when I do a menu plan but it doesn’t always happen so I do get a local veggie order every week from our shop which is really good. I just put down what I want to order and they do their best to get it for me. When I go away I do, cause our shop doesn’t have everything, when I go away, I try to stock up on the pantry items. So I try to plan in advance for that and just things that I know I’m gonna use all the time like chickpeas or coconut cream or tin tomatoes and things like that.
Lisa: Yep, I think that you’ll be looking forward to the kitchen reset that’s coming in the membership. It’s gonna be perfect for you.
Gemma: Yeah, that will be really good.
Lisa: Yeah, I’m just saying. Okay, can we just talk quickly about what you discovered about six months ago, how shithouse you were feeling and how you ended up getting through that. I think that this is really cool for people to hear.
Gemma: Okay, so yeah, about six months ago I would say, I was just feeling really, really awful. I felt nauseous all the time. I was having trouble swallowing, which was concerning me. I was like, “What is going on?” I actually felt like my food was getting stuck, so when I swallowed, I felt like I had to swallow again but it didn’t actually help and I went and saw my naturopath and had some blood tests and everything done and came back that I had severely low iron and they tested me for celiac disease and that came back negative, thank goodness because that just really freaked me out cause you know with celiac you have to be so careful. Anyway, I had the gene but I don’t have celiac disease, thankfully.
Lisa: All right.
Gemma: So I had some testing, I think they call it hemaview testing and I was told that I had leaky gut and had a gluten intolerance and I also learnt that when you develop something like leaky gut that’s when these issues can happen and with the gluten I also didn’t realise that having an intolerance could also cause you to not absorb things like iron and other nutrients in your food. I had … that’s right, I’m just remembering back to my doctor’s appointment now. My nails had ridges on them like these horizontal, not all of them, just some of them and the GP that works out of the same place is the naturopath and she was like, “That can be caused from nutrient deficiency.” So I was actually not getting the … I was eating all the right foods, I thought, but I wasn’t absorbing any of the nutrients from them because I had this gluten intolerance. My body was just reacting to everything.
I’d had a really stressful year. My mom had passed away earlier last year and I really do believe in that mind/body connection, that the stress and emotions and how it can affect your gut health and general health issues. So I had a really stressful year and all this stuff sort of came about. My body was under stress.
Anyway, so I went off gluten. I tried to do that before when I thought I was feeling fine. You know, when all the paleo stuff came out, I’m like, “I can do this,” and I never really could quite stick to it but when you feel so horrible and the doctor and the naturopath actually say, “You have a gluten intolerance,” I stuck to it. It took me a month or two to start feeling better and for that feeling in my throat to go away and I just kept feeling better and better. At times, I would try, I would just be like, “I’m not intolerant,” and I’d just try a sliver of something and I would just react really badly with tummy pains, but over time I think my gut has healed and it probably still needs some ongoing work but I can now have a little bit without feeling too bad but I know that if I push it too far, it’s not great because straight away that reflux thing comes back with my throat.
I just think it’s amazing how just by altering my diet and cutting out those triggers, I was able to feel better and that’s without no medication at all. I know that taking medication doesn’t sit well with me and I know that there are occasions where people need that, but for me, I didn’t feel like I was … I don’t know, maybe I was bad enough to need reflux medication but I was happy to give it a go just through diet and I’m glad I did because yeah, I just feel so much better. You know, you can think that you’re eating something that’s good for you but it was not really helping me at all.
Lisa: First of all, I’m so sorry about your mum. I can’t imagine losing my mum so I’m really sorry for you for that. Yeah, we’re gonna have these moments in our lives where things are just stressful. No matter all the deep breathing or the things we can do, there’s gonna be moments that are kind of amped up and that would definitely be one and I’m really sorry you lost her, but I also think that it’s just totally amazing that you did take the route of healing through food because I think we’re in a culture that just really does want the quick fix or we’re used to medicating because we’re still not connected to that idea that our bodies want to be healthy well. They want to be in balance all the time.
If we’re not and if there’s something going wrong than we can fix it by putting a bandaid on it or we can do a little digging and find out what’s really going on. I think that, for me, this is a constant work in progress.
Sometimes you just don’t know who to believe or what to believe but I do remember quirky Joe saying once that she thought our health journeys were a bit like peeling the layers of an onion. You start with the crappy outside bit, real crusty and you can take that off and that’s easy to remove and then you might just think, “Hang on. What’s underneath here?” Then you take off another and then you just keep going and you can’t know what’s underneath that other layer until you literally go and take it off. I love that analogy because it also makes it okay if you do just want to stay an onion with the crusty layer on, that’s okay. Some people do want to take and peel off the layers and some people don’t but I feel like every time I do, every time I do a little bit of digging, I find out something that actually empowers me and makes that path to …
For example, with this cold that just quite suddenly came on, I would have told myself that that was going to be sinus. So my brain is already then going, “Okay, we’ve got sinus,” and I do believe there is part of us that’s always like our bodies are listening to what our mind says. Then I probably would have been going down to take the sinus medication and taking the stuff to help me sleep at night and then help me throughout the day to just get through it, but instead I’m like, “Well my body is just gonna feel this,” and I supported myself through taking some vitamins that I know help me and rubbing oils all over, magnesium.
Gemma: You know its interesting as well how you said about the sinus type thing. That is one thing that I noticed over time. When I went off gluten, I could breathe again and it was just really weird. I remember reading that, yeah, in other people’s posts or something on Facebook and then it wasn’t until it happened to me, I was like, “Yes, I always felt like I had a stuffy nose,” and I have noticed when because lately I sort of thought, “Oh, yeah, I’ve healed my gut. I can some more gluten.” Straight away it’s … so it might not always … and with gluten intolerance. I guess there is a bit of a trend out there at the moment so there’s a lot of people that don’t take it seriously, it doesn’t always come about as tummy aches and tummy cramps or whatever, your body can react in ways like that as well.
Lisa: I can remember interviewing Jules Galloway, the naturopath, on intolerances and how they can show up especially in kids and adults of course and the way that she explained it, she’s like, “If your kids always snotty, if they’re just constantly got runny noses, it’s because clearing that nasal passageway is not an essential function to live. It’s just not. But if you are constantly eating something that is putting your body on high alert and your body thinks that there is something in there that’s a danger to it and it’s trying to fight it off with an immune response, it’s gonna let go some of the things that just aren’t necessary in that moment and it can often be a sign if you’re constantly congested.” She was talking about with kids having constantly runny noses, that maybe your body doesn’t actually think that it’s really important to do that while it’s off fighting this invader, which could be something like gluten or whatever it is. I thought that that was a really interesting way. I’d never heard it explained that way. I loved it.
It’s exactly what we were saying before with you reflux. It’s like, “What is my body trying to tell me here?” Now I can feel the difference between, “Okay, I just gotta let my body do its thing, give it a chance to fight.” What it really wants to do here is rest so it can just do what it needs to do, whereas the old Lisa would have just taken drugs to keep powering through.
Gemma: Yeah, and what you were saying just before with the food, once you actually … five years ago, I would not have even noticed many of the symptoms that I experience now but once you starting healthy and your body sort of recovers a bit and your gut heals. I only have to have maybe a day of not making the best choices and I can already feel that it’s not ideal for my body, like I just crave the whole foods. So when you make the switch and you start including healthier foods into your diet, you crave it more. Like I said earlier, I always wanted to be healthy and I couldn’t quite get there but once you’re actually are in it and you’re feeling the effects of it, it’s hard, well, for me, I could never really go back to that way cause I just know that I feel so much better with what I’m feeding my body now.
Lisa: I’m exactly the same as you. Why am I so grumpy? Why is my brain so foggy? Oh, oops, might have been that Easter egg or … I notice it definitely when my sugar intake goes up or if I’m having too much gluten, for sure and dairy just tires me out. So we just include really small amounts and yeah, but this is the thing. It’s cool to be on the journey but it’s also important to remember that our bodies do have also have brilliant ways at helping us either know something is wrong or filter the stuff through the, you know what? It’s sometimes just gonna be eaten, well it is at least in my world. So yeah, just being able to relax. I’m going to remember what your energy healer said about guilt as well.
To finish up, I would love for you to share, if you have, I always ask every guest, if they have any small steps that they would offer to people listening to this Podcast to just help them along on their journey. What would you recommend?
Gemma: I would probably just try to just make better choices. When you’re at the supermarket and you are reaching for a packet, I’d just try to really quickly scan over them and just try to get ones without any additives or preservatives. There’s a good app called Chemical Maze, which a lot of people are aware of now but if you’re not sure of something you can put it in there and it tells you whether this is good or bad or whatever.
For me, I try, I really try not to buy much from those isles anymore. I still have to living where I live because I can’t always get an abundance of fresh food but I’d say, yeah, just choose foods with no additives or preservatives and like I was saying before, if you don’t make a great choice one day just focus on making a better choice next time you go to eat something and yeah, don’t beat yourself up over things cause I used to do that a lot and now I just don’t really care in some ways. I’m kinda of like, “Oh, well, I did that, wasn’t the best choice but it’s the choice I made at the time and I need to let that go now.”
Lisa: I love it. I just love them. It’s not as though I’m not going to have my brother-in-laws at Easter.
Lisa: I’m just going to say yes to that. Just a caveat that I am not a naturopath or a nutritionist or a dietician or anything like that, so don’t take my word for it. I just love sharing real life stories about people who want to do, who are really looking to improve.
Also when I read about your story, it was also that you just made this connection between not necessarily the right food for weight loss but the right food for feeling good, feeling healthy. I think when you make that switch in your head and when you just align with the why that is immediate, we immediately feel better if we have a beautiful big, huge salad for lunch with something yummy, some delicious chicken left over from the night before or something, as compared to vegemite on toast. We will feel the effects immediately and instead of thinking, “Well, well done. That was that many calories and that would have been that many calories and great. I guess that I’ve gotta check that I’ve lost the weight today or tomorrow. Well I didn’t. Well, see, what’s the point in eating healthy?” It’s just that horrible cycle whereas if you’re like, “Well that just made me feel great. I had energy all afternoon,” then there’s your why. I think you’ve connected with that quite deeply and it makes it easier to make the good decisions.
Gemma: Yeah, it definitely started out as a weight loss thing for me but it’s a health thing for me now, like I’ve crossed. It would be nice to ship some weight away but I actually, especially with health issues in my family, it’s more about giving my body what it needs and using food as medicine to prevent issues in the future, I guess. It’s more about, yeah, health for me now as opposed to … it was a long journey but I got there and I found my way.
Lisa: Oh, I love it. I love it. I really do. I think that it’s a really great message and it’s important to share that you can get there. I think for some people who are still at the other end of the spectrum that that kind of is almost like utopia for all the people. So I really loved and appreciated you sharing your story today, Gemma, and I can’t wait to get it out there.
Gemma: Yeah, I’m a bit of a rambler so I hope it comes across okay.
Lisa: Well, I mean, I think you know me by now that I’m a big fan of the ramble.
Gemma: Thank you. Thank you so much. It was nice chatting to you.
Lisa: Yeah, thank you. All right, we’ll get back to our families.
Lisa: Have a great day and thanks so much, Gemma.