I first met Phoebe a couple of years ago and couldn’t believe my ears when I was told her story. It was at this time that I was beginning to discover how powerful food can be in aiding the body to perform as it should, heal and repair. This is the kind of story you tell to any nay sayers out there, the kind that some would call a miracle…
WHEN AND WHY DID YOU START YOUR JOURNEY TO A HEALTHIER WAY OF LIFE?
I was involved in a head on collision with a truck in 2011 on the Pacific Coast Highway where I lived in California whilst studying Biochemistry at UCLA. Prior to this I was literally the poster-child for train wrecks fuelled entirely on mac and cheese. I partied and drank and had literally no concept of what constituted a healthy body/lifestyle or why it might be beneficial. It was normal for me to feel exhausted all day, have mood swings, skin problems and blemishes, as well as a spare tire.
The accident left me unable to walk. I was in ICU for weeks, hospital for months, and in and out of surgery for the next year, without much promising result.
My path to health started with a green smoothie; my boyfriend at the time brought me the closest thing he could find at a local juice bar to a milkshake, and added Spirulina - a blue-green algae which someone had recommended as a nutritional supplement to help with tissue quality and healing. After much protest I found that actually it was delicious… Super weird, but delicious nonetheless. This made me think about why someone would want me to consume something so random, planting the seed that what I was eating affected my body to more than a moderate extent.
At this pointtime I was suffering with a non-union, meaning bone breaks and tissue damage that wouldn’t heal in my right leg. I used the knowledge of close friends in the nutrition and wellness industries, as well as California’s wealth of nutritionally-driven healthy lifestyle facilities, and my background in science to piece together what I needed to embark on an intensive holistic nutritional healing program.
The results undeniable: it was within the first month, following numerous failed medical procedures and a resounding ‘find a way to be content with what you’ve got’ from my doctors and mentors, that the nutritional changes made visible impact on my healing rate, and I haven’t looked back since.
Learning about nutrition and its intrinsic relationship with the body, its processes, and its ability to heal and thrive, along with some painstaking physical therapy and consistently active lifestyle ever since, I’ve not only been able to regain basic functions and the ability to walk, but am enjoying activities like biking, rock climbing, boxing, and jiu jitsu in my daily life, working as a trainer, and opening my first venue MBox in Forest Gate, East London this Autumn.
WHAT WAS YOUR DIET/LIFESTYLE LIKE BEFORE YOUR ACCIDENT AND HOW DID IT MAKE YOU FEEL?
Pretty horrendous! Living off a diet of packaged food, processed meats, cakes and cookies, lots of alcohol and very little sleep, punctuated by inconsistent stints of calorie restriction and chicken salads, I felt bloated, tired, moody and sluggish. There was this once-annually occurrence when I drove to the gym to walk up the treadmill. It's embarrassing really seeing as I lived in LA, the mecca of healthy-living, and studied science - really I should have known better, but the problem was that I really, truly, didn’t!
It is always hard to relate to something intangible: processes that you can’t see… particularly when they are so simple in action (shovelling food in your mouth) yet so intricately complex beneath the surface (metabolic processes and pathways, hormones that govern your every action and thought)…. I consider myself very lucky that I had the opportunity to witness such a stark contrast between healthy and unhealthy through such dramatic events - it's easy to look at the difference between walking and not walking, and a pretty obvious means of motivation too - but the difference that has really struck me is that between how I lived before the accident ever happened, and the way I live now. Living an unhealthy lifestyle is like wading through mud when you could be running on dry land - completely unnecessary and six times the effort. Everything you do is harder when your body and mind are weighed down by excess fat, misfiring hormones and toxic sludge. You don’t know how good you could feel until you feel it! And many of us, like me, haven’t felt good for so long that you don’t know how bad you actually feel until you don’t.
YOU WERE TOLD THAT YOU'D NEVER WALK AGAIN. WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHERS THAT HAVE HAD A 'FINAL' DIAGNOSIS?
Don’t listen! Nothing is impossible, as far as I’m concerned. I was lucky to have people around me who wouldn’t let me give up. The day I was told I wouldn’t walk again my boyfriend put up rails along the hallway and tore up his house to turn it into a gym. Knowledge, consistency and hard work can change a lot of things. There is no particular place you should be at any given time - and this goes for any level of recovery and fitness - work tirelessly and surround yourself with positive people who believe in you. When I began healing I didn’t know where I’d end up, if it would mean I could walk or not was irrelevant, what meant something was that things were changing and I was getting better and better each day. Take on every challenge with vigour and acknowledge every step you overcome as a victory, no matter how big or small! You never know where you’ll end up, but you wont go anywhere unless you keep moving! (No pun intended).
HOW HAS YOUR ACCIDENT AND CHANGE TO A HEALTHIER WAY OF LIFE AFFECTED YOU TODAY?
It has changed every aspect of my life. It was the natural progression for me having spent so much time focusing on my physical wellbeing to maintain an active lifestyle and begin working in the fitness industry, but outside of this my quality of life has improved tenfold. When your body feels good and is working as it ought to you can focus all your free energy and attention, of which you have copious amounts more, on everything you’ve wanted to do. I retain information better, study more, enjoy books and movies in so much more depth, have more energy to engage with my friends and family and have closer bonds with them as a result, all from something so simple as putting a different substance into my mouth, and taking an hour a day to get sweaty.
DO YOU FIND EATING HEALTHILY DIFFICULT IN A WORLD OVERCROWDED WITH NOT SO HEALTHY OPTIONS?
Yes and no! Its as difficult and as complicated as we make it. Many of us have very emotional relationships with food, and this is what gets me! Having moved back to London I regularly enjoy my Grandma’s cakes and cooking, and find comfort on my own accord from the cold and seemingly endless winters in hot chocolates and other comfort foods. I try to balance this out by making healthy treats, sugar-free baking and home-cooked warming, savoury comfort foods reminiscent of my childhood favourites, but sometimes, particularly if you’re out, social, or frequently a guest at someone else home, you have to accept that you can’t always be perfect, and that’s okay. Something to remember is that guilt and stress over dieting preference, extremism in any way, is not healthy! Not only mentally, but physically as well, these hormones have a detrimental affect on our bodies. If you maintain a predominantly healthy lifestyle and educate yourself so as you are in control and understand your daily choices for a strong baseline, then a meal or two astray is like a drop in the ocean; in diet and nutrition balance and sustainability is the key to longterm success.
EXERCISE IS A BIG PART OF YOUR LIFE. HOW DO YOU INCORPORATE IT INTO YOUR EVERYDAY ROUTINE?
Again in this sense I am lucky because as a trainer I am active with clients all day long, and when MBox opens in the next couple of months, I’ll have an even easier time with access to the boxing classes and performance training classes we’re running from there. But even so, I’m always looking for ways to make my daily routine more enjoyable, which for me means more active! I bike to work at Paragon Gym in Shoreditch and back each day, whether from Surrey with my Grandparents or one East London location to another, aiming to take mostly parks, rivers and canals so I get light, air and exercise. London is also incredibly small, and I will always opt leave early to walk over taking a germ-filled over-crowded bus. Other obvious choices include taking stairs, taking lunch breaks in the park, stretching and finding activities! There are so many great fitness orientated classes in London. I like to do things that are mentally engaging and develop a skill, so find myself partaking in hobbies like boxing, rock climbing, yoga, gymnastics, and most recently flailing around on the mats at one of the classes at Fightzone London, an amazing gym with a huge range of martial arts classes on Pritchard Street in Hackney, attempting to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. And at the end of the month when any of these become respectively slightly less affordable I prowl MeetUp for free group activities instead.
WHAT ARE YOUR TOP 3 'RULES TO LIVE BY'?
- Be balanced
- Be honest with yourself
- Be persistent - we all are different and even when we figure out our own specific peculiarities, we change! If something doesn’t work or stops working for you, in any aspect of life, move on and try it from a different angle, but don’t give up ;)
WHERE ARE YOUR FAVOURITE HEALTHY LONDON HANGOUTS?
For fitness you can find me at Fightzone London in Hackney, Paragon Gym in Shoreditch, BoomCycle in Shoreditch and Holborn, and in the not so distant future you’ll always find me at MBox London in Forest Gate!
Food-wise, there are loads of healthy eating joints in London but I find myself snacking on the gluten free options perched next to the brownies at Paper and Cup, an amazing not-for-profit cafe in Shoreditch, and Coffee7 who have some great pickings currently and are soon expanding their menu. I also love the Wild Food Cafe in Covent Garden, and the juice bars along Broadway Market in Hackney too, but honestly you can find healthy options almost anywhere! Most days for lunch I’m either at either Franco’s on Rivington Street drinking green tea and eating huge, delicious salads or at Billies Cafe off Hackney Road who are more than happy to sub out egg whites on any omelettefor no extra charge.