As nutritionist Clare Backhouse ends her series, she reflects on the messages we receive about our bodies, and encourages us to take care of ourselves well
As we come to the close of the calendar year, we’re also drawing this health series to its conclusion. I hope you’ve enjoyed it; it’s certainly been an honour to write. An honour, because I believe women’s health is of particular priority to God.
After all, a woman’s body was the first place God ever visited in the flesh – as we are told in the Christmas story.
Across every age, every culture and every continent, the push-back against women’s innate value is evident. There’s nowhere exempt from misogyny. But God places such value on women, that he lived within one for nine months: a frail, utterly dependent guest.
I like to think of how Jesus hid himself humbly among the cells, tissues and organs of a woman. Mary’s metabolic waste would have coursed past him. He heard her beating heart. Every single thing that impacted Mary, he felt too.
The aim is to treat the person, not a disease.
God has witnessed, from the inside, what a woman’s body is, and what a woman’s health means. And, after his birth, a single, elderly woman named Anna was one of two people to signpost and confirm Jesus’ identity for all generations.
If a starting position determines the trajectory of a journey, let’s remember that God Almighty started his earthly life from a place of ineffable trust in women.
As a nutritionist, I want to follow the Spirit of God in his healing love for women. In a way, this should be easy, because healing has been built into every corner of our universe.
Healing occurs in divine and sudden transformations, and also in slow, gentle treatments. It happens when we connect with other people, when we enjoy nature and when we eat. We self-heal when we sleep, when limbs knit back together after surgery and when we forgive. But it’s not always easy to access healing.
Quite apart from the matter of access to primary care, medical knowledge is only ever ‘the best we’ve managed so far’. It’s always developing. Although randomised controlled trials are the gold standard of science, we sometimes discover later that their findings were compromised by ignorance, financial incentive or culturally limited thinking.
In terms of women’s health, it’s only shockingly recently that we’ve seen media coverage that celebrates (rather than suppresses) women’s menstrual cycles, and investigates (rather than ignores) the transition of the menopause.
The more women have entered the medical field, it seems, the more positive scientific research has emerged. These more affirmative angles have encouraged us both to recognise our bodily experiences as real and valuable, and to understand how to care for our bodies more effectively.
In nutritional terms, for example, it’s become more widely understood that there’s value in varying diet and exercise to suit each phase of the menstrual cycle, and that there’s an extra-negative impact of sugars and alcohol during the perimenopause.
Sadly, there is a mass of conflicting information in the news and on the internet. I expect you’ve experienced this. One website tells you to take a certain supplement, while another warns you strongly against it. One study declares we must all be vegan; another that the Mediterranean diet is best.
The answer to this problem is also a core value of ‘functional medicine’, the model of healthcare I’ve trained in: each person is unique, which means that there’s no blanket approach that suits everyone.
You simply can’t say “everyone should take X” or “everyone should eat Y”. For example, even taking vitamin C wouldn’t be appropriate for a person who has kidney stones. (Hence why I’ve avoided specific recommendations in this column.) The aim is to treat the person, not a disease.
This is why I do what I do: take the best research available and tailor doable health plans to suit each client’s individual biological needs, lifestyle and tastes.
My dream is to see this kind of personalised, root-cause medical care available to everyone, so that ‘complementary’ health, such as nutritional therapy, can truly support and enhance the benefits of mainstream medicine.
Each person is unique, which means that there’s no blanket approach that suits everyone
An excellent example of this is in the case of hypothyroidism, which causes symptoms like tiredness, constipation, hair loss, weight gain and depression. Hypothyroidism affects between two and ten per cent of the population, and it’s ten times more common in women than in men. I myself was diagnosed with it years ago.
Before I became a nutritionist, I made two common mistakes: firstly, I avoided the doctor in an attempt to avoid taking ‘lifelong medication’, and secondly, once taking medication, I relied only on that to feel better.
I now see that both kinds of support are needed – both mainstream and complementary. Over 90 per cent of hypothyroidism is caused by autoimmunity, and because autoimmunity may be modifiable with nutrition and lifestyle changes, my hypothyroid clients often report feeling better after adopting them.
To your health, with love
Whatever health means to you, dear reader, and whatever the ways you access the many modes of God’s healing, I hope that you’ll always be assured of the value of your particular being: your body, soul and spirit.
I hope that you’ll be inspired to discover more about the wonderful body you have, how it works and how to nurture it. I hope that you’ll see the difference in your relationships, ministry and work as you love yourself and those around you with wisdom and gentleness.
And as the year draws to a close, I hope that you will remember the value that God places on our bodies, as females, and that you will know, now and always, the transformation of health…with love.