The final workshop to take place in The Canberra Centre’s health and wellness destination Eden was a nutrition workshop lead by the founder and director of The Brown Paper Bag, nutritionist Jacqueline Alwill. As well as running a thriving nutrition business, Jacqueline is also a whole foods cook with a new book out entitled ‘Seasons to Share’. What was billed as a discussion of the four pillars of health (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual) turned out to be so much more.
‘The four pillars are always evolving and growing, we can’t put any clear line between them and that’s the beauty of a journey in health,’ explained Jacqueline. ‘If we think about health as a holistic journey we can understand more of the things that come together to make us healthy and how they interact.’ Health and wellness are definitely having a moment and Jacqueline’s business is booming, however, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for this entrepreneur.
‘Four years ago I started The Brown Paper Bag. At the time I had broken off my engagement with my partner and became a single mum. It was a volatile time of life. Even though I felt I was doing well with my food, all the emotional and mental stress was impacting my gut and my health.’ There is a strong relationship between our gut and our brain such that when a client of Jacqueline’s presents gut problems, she doesn’t just look at the gut, she will look at the clients’ mental and emotional health as well.
‘Too many people are going around feeling flat and accepting it as the norm. “Busy” has become a status symbol, when you are busy you are in demand. Busy has become a common response when people ask how you are. By taking on too much, by making ourselves so busy, we are getting stressed which can impact our health. Stress has become a chronic condition,’ explains Jacqueline.
There are two systems within the body that play a role in how we react to stress, you have probably heard of them. The parasympathetic nervous system deals with ‘rest and digest’ while the sympathetic nervous system looks after ‘fight or flight’. Jacqueline elaborates: ‘These days people are sitting in the sympathetic zone all the time, they are sympathetic dominant. When you are in flight and fight all the time you aren’t letting the digestive system do what it needs to do. We aren’t mindfully eating our food and absorbing our nutrients.’
‘Cortisol and adrenaline are our two major stress hormones. They can affect weight gain and loss, skin health, and fertility. We don’t think of the impact of our huge to do list on our health, we take it as it is.’ Jacqueline knows this first hand, having let saying ’yes’ too much and the resulting stress take its toll on her. ‘After my relationship breakdown and becoming a single mum, as well as starting my business and saying yes to a lot, I was wrecked. My hormones were out, my skin wasn’t great, I couldn’t sleep properly. That’s when I recognised I had to change something.’
‘This year of “yes” was a very confronting experience. It affected my health and it’s hard as a health professional to be suffering what you are trying to help your clients avoid. I learnt if it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no. And by saying no, your to-do list gets shorter and your stress reduces. I felt like I wasn’t keeping up. It’s that fear of missing out. We are so in tune with what everyone is doing though social media that we worry we aren’t enough. But we are. When we slow down we give ourselves a chance to reconnect with who we are. And things can grow organically from there.’
‘If there is anything I can give you, it is to be mindful of the holistic pillars of health and to take small steps on your health journey. If we are kinder on ourselves, we are better at building new habits. Work week by week, you can’t change over night. There will be ups and downs but when you break it down into manageable steps you can make lasting change.’
These wise words from such an inspirational woman certainly left me feeling empowered to begin my health journey.