Trying to Conceive? Naturopath & Author Belinda Kirkpatrick Shares Her Top Fertility-Friendly Foods and Talks Us Through How Lifestyle Impacts Fertility
Should I stop drinking coffee? How do I balance my hormones? What should my partner be eating? What should he be drinking? How do you get healthy sperm? Help!
When you're trying to conceive, it can often feel like you're back on Google every few minutes with a new question. So, we thought we'd speak to leading naturopath and author of Healthy Hormones Belinda Kirkpatrick and ask them for you. From fertility-boosting foods to the role of lifestyle in fertility, you won't want to miss a word of this interview.
There’s a discussion in the culture about how people wear “busyness,” like a badge of honour — but there’s a certain amount of shame associated with admitting that you’re stressed out and overwhelmed. Why is that?<p>I find this really disappointing because achievement and being busy are often seen as positive attributes but many people still associate being stressed out or overwhelmed with being 'weak' or not being able to cope. What many people might not realise is that the impact of being constantly busy or overachieving and feeling stressed out or overwhelmed result in the same chemical stress response from the body so we really all need to be slowing down and looking after ourselves and each other.</p>
Talk us through the role cortisol and adrenaline play in our lives and how they impact our health and wellbeing? When did stress become such a big part of being human – where have we gone wrong?<p>Our adrenal glands secrete cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones when we are exposed to stress. This release of stress hormones is designed to help us to get out of a dangerous situation, like running away from a lion. After the danger has passed, our bodies stop releasing these stress hormones and is able to get out of the 'fight-or-flight' system and move into 'rest-and-digest', also known as the parasympathetic nervous system. It is in this system that our bodies focus on increasing immunity, digestion, absorbing nutrients, self-repair, procreation and keeping a healthy hormone balance. Sadly, in our modern world, we are often stressed, busy and rushing. Our bodies don't know the difference between this type of stress and running away from the lion so our adrenal glands continue to secrete adrenaline and cortisol and our bodies become stuck in fight-or-flight. This can make many of us feel 'tired but wired' or anxious or unable to sleep which just further triggers our stress response. In some cases, our bodies can become very adrenally depleted and we can crash or experience burn-out.</p>
How, in your opinion, does stress impact fertility?<p>Stress can impact fertility in many ways and research shows that stress is associated with longer time to conception (1). If our body senses we are in danger (when our fight-or-flight response is activated), reproduction is not high on the body's list of priorities and our fertility can be affected. Healthy progesterone production is required for conception and pregnancy maintenance however, cortisol and progesterone are made in the body with many of the same ingredients, but the body will make preferentially produce cortisol to keep us safe (rather than progesterone which keeps us fertile). Stress can also impact fertility by reducing our libido and making us less likely to want to attempt conception.</p><p>Stress before conception can also impact the health of the potential baby. A 2017 study found that perceived maternal preconception stress was associated with an increased risk of offspring atopic eczema at age 12 months (2). In saying this, it is important to not be stressed about being stressed! Just acknowledge it and try to implement some stress management techniques. Remember that babies are conceived and born in all sorts of stressful situations around the world and while that might not be ideal, it is important to remember.</p>
When a woman is about to undergo IVF, can you share some of the things you will advise her to do?<p>1. Avoid all alcohol, coffee and drugs for ideally three months before starting IVF.</p><p>2. Avoid sugar.</p><p>3. Increase veggies and protein with each meal. Aim for 4-5 cups of veggies/salad daily. Following a Mediterranean-style diet has the best outcomes for IVF and fertility.<br>4. Keep your grains/starchy carbs at less than 25% of each meal.<br>5. Avoid intensive exercise like HIIT and running and opt for daily walks on cycle.<br>6. Drink 2-3L of water daily.<br>7. Aim to do a daily mindfulness App before bed every night to help manage stress.<br>8. Take it easy on the weekends and learn to say no – now is not the time to be rushing around.<br>9. Take a good quality folate in addition to a multivitamin, CoQ10 and a probiotic.<br>10. Consult a fertility naturopath for individual diet and supplement advice.</p>
What about men – how should they prepare for IVF?<p>Men are responsible for 50% of the potential baby so it is important that they are also on board. I would recommend following the same exact guidelines as above (but they can continue their regular exercise program). Don't forget that regular ejaculation helps to create healthy sperm so continue to ejaculate at least 2 x weekly.</p>
We all have stress triggers – how do you coach your clients to deal with these triggers – what are some practical tips?<p>Trying to conceive can be a time of excitement and anticipation but also a time of huge stress and anxiety for those who have been trying to conceive without success or have suffered pregnancy loss. The impact of this stress can affect relationships, friendships, finances, sleep quality and so much more. I often suggest these stress management techniques and would recommend them to everyone, don't wait until you are super-stressed to try them.</p><p>• Aim to do a mindfulness app before bed each night (Smiling Mind, Headspace, Calm)<br>• Take 10 x slow deep breaths daily<br>• Ensure enough sleep (7-9 hours is ideal)<br>• Learn to say 'no'<br>• Exercise plus daily walking<br>• Phone/technology free time<br>• See a psychologist for extra help as required</p>
How does stress impact relationships?<p>Stress can impact relationships in many ways and can place additional strain on couples who are experiencing fertility problems or undergoing IVF. Stress can affect our mood and the way we behave or interact with our loved ones and research shows that relationships often suffer when people are under stress (3). For those attempting natural conception, sex can begin to feel very clinical and unromantic or men may develop temporary problems with sexual function from the pressure and lack of positive results. In these situations, I usually recommend that couples make an effort to spend some good quality time together and ensure that they are being intimate at times away from the fertile window to help reduce any pressure associated with trying to conceive. When you have been trying for some time, there can be intense emotional stress when it feels like everyone on social media or all your friends are magically falling pregnant 'so easily'. The stress and impact of subfertility is often not spoken about publically and many of your friends or relatives may not even know of your struggles. Even though you are happy for them, it can be really difficult hearing about other people's successes so please know that you are not alone if you are feeling this way. Sometimes life just isn't fair and that injustice can feel overwhelming. People deal with this in different ways so remember to be kind to yourself, reach out to your support networks and consider seeing a counsellor or psychologist if you need some extra help.</p>
You were widowed 15 years ago, leaving you to finish university, raise two small babies, start your business and complete your Masters on your own – how did you cope? How did you put your health first during this time? What did you learn about stress during this time?<p>I certainly learned a lot about stress that's for sure. After the unexpected death of my fiancé, body was stuck in fight-in-flight for a long time. To be honest, I am not sure how I coped. I was four months pregnant and had an 18-month-old so I just had to take each day at a time because I still needed to look after my daughter and try to nourish my pregnant body at a time when eating was the least of my priorities. I probably didn't really focus on putting my own health first at the time but I was still very committed to creating a healthy and low-tox environment with nourishing wholefoods for my children so the food we ate was always healthy which kept me healthy too. After spending a couple of years on auto-pilot with waves of unrelenting grief, I had a moment where I realized that I had to choose life. I was the only parent that my girls had and I needed to be healthy and there for them and show them how to live life to the fullest which is what their daddy would have wanted me to do. I learnt that tragedy and stress are indiscriminant and a part of everyone's life in some way. Whether it is death, illness, loss, fertility problems, financial problems or mental health issues, stress is sadly unavoidable but it is how we learn and choose to deal with stress that helps us to cope and grow.</p>
We are often told our hormones are out of imbalance – can you talk us through your book Healthy Hormones?<p>Absolutely! 'Healthy Hormones' is a naturopathic and nutritional wealth of information designed for women from 16-45 years who want to take an active interest in optimizing their hormonal health and understand more about themselves and the way that food and nutrition can improve their hormonal health. 'Healthy Hormones' helps women to improve their hormonal health and symptoms by providing nutritional and dietary advice for common symptoms and conditions. This advice is given in an easy to read, user-friendly format with an emphasis on balance, moderation and having fun! It is all about learning how to take control of your hormones and feel your best and focuses on crowding out the bad stuff by increasing the good stuff. Your body naturally wants to heal and move towards good health so be gentle with yourself and allow flexibility! 'Healthy Hormones' is also designed to help women who are planning conception, currently trying to conceive, undergoing IVF or have experienced miscarriage(s) and want to take an active role in improving their outcomes and increasing their fertility.</p>
If someone experienced a miscarriage, how would you treat them?<p>Researchers reveal that one in five pregnancies result in miscarriage while in many more cases it goes undetected. These are really sad statistics and everyone would know someone who has been affected by miscarriage. Some causes of miscarriage include:</p><ul><li>Thyroid problems</li><li>Progesterone insufficiency</li><li>Genetic and chromosomal problems</li><li>Inflammation</li><li>Auto-immunity and antibody production</li></ul><p>I create an individualised preconception health care plans for each client to help reduce the risk of miscarriage. These plans include diet and lifestyle advice in addition to herbal medicines and nutritional supplements as required. In cases where single or multiple losses have been suffered, I use the latest medical testing to investigate the cause of the miscarriage so that it can be treated and the chance of it happening again reduced. These tests may include genetic testing, antibody testing, hormonal analysis and more.</p>
What foods do you encourage your clients to eat if they’re trying to fall pregnant?<p>I always recommend an unprocessed wholefoods diet and encourage my clients to ensure they have a source of 'protein, good fats and something fresh (ideally veggies)' with each meal and most snacks. What is not part of these essentials are the carbohydrate foods (such as rice, bread, pasta, cereal, crackers). It is not that you can't have these foods but they should be the accompaniment to a meal, not the basis of it. Alcohol and coffee should be avoided and sugar only consumed infrequently as a treat (maybe once a week). Always check the ingredient list of any packaged foods and avoid added sugar.</p><p>My top fertility-friendly foods to include:<br>1. Eggs<br>2. Salmon<br>3. Asparagus<br>4. Avocado<br>5. Brazil nuts<br>6. Chia seeds<br>7. Pepitas<br>8. Beetroot<br>9. Broccoli<br></p><p>10. Leafy greens</p>
Belinda's Bio:<p>Belinda Kirkpatrick is an expert nutritionist and naturopath with over 15 years clinical experience. Besides running a busy clinic, Belinda lectures in nutrition and naturopathy and is a regular television and media presenter on health and dietary topics. Last year, Belinda published her first book <em>Healthy Hormones</em> with Ainsley Johnstone, which features expert naturopathic advice, 50 recipes plus tips on lifestyle and nutrition. Belinda also manages a private Facebook group called '<a href="https://www.facebook.com/groups/438834833295825/" target="_blank">Healthy Hormones with Belinda Kirkpatrick</a>' which all women are welcome to join. <a href="https://www.amazon.com.au/Healthy-Hormones-practical-balancing-hormones-ebook/dp/B077MBZVMZ/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=healthy+hormones&qid=1564538526&s=gateway&sr=8-1" target="_blank">'Healthy Hormones'</a> is available for purchase at all good bookstores.</p>
Since the 80's we've been told to avoid fat. Fat has taken the blame for most chronic health disorders from heart disease to cancer. Though fat from dairy products may not be all that bad when it comes to female fertility. The link between a high intake of low-fat dairy products and anovulatory (absence of ovulation) infertility has been well established.1 While a normal intake (1-2 serves daily) of whole of full-fat dairy products may actually be protective and benefit female fertility.2 Woman who are planning to conceive may benefit from swapping low fat or skim dairy, usually devoid of not only fat but also essential nutrients to organic, grass-fed full-fat dairy...
A lot of pregnant women report craving dairy products, usually ice cream, and it seems there is a good reason why. Full fat organic grass-fed dairy products can offer many nutritional benefits when preparing for and during pregnancy. While dairy products don't always agree with everyone, they can offer nutritional benefits including a complete source of protein, omega 3 fatty acids, CLA, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K2.
In the weeks that followed the birth of my son, Isaac, a little over three years ago, it pains me to admit that I was that mother who (seemingly) had it all together. Isaac fed and slept like clockwork every four hours, so I busied my days doing what all sane new mothers do – not catching up on sleep, but channelling my inner Nigella Lawson...
I baked bread from scratch (yep, including the sourdough starter), made roast chicken for a casual Wednesday dinner, and had a fresh tray of something baked every second day until my husband imposed a ban. Upon reflection, I too want to step back and slap myself. Not only for my naïve self-indulgent ways, but for failing to recognise that it was all about to change. And did it ever. At about four weeks old, Isaac woke up, and never really went back to sleep.
Eat Fit Food<p>Our Eat Fit Food delivery serendipitously arrived on our doorstep the day after I delivered Charlie. While I was in hospital and did have the appealing option of steamed chicken and broccoli for every meal, my kind husband brought in the perfectly delivered package each day for me to enjoy in my hospital bed, much to the envy of my midwives. I received a 10-meal pack, which arrived over a three-day period, so always tasted fresh and, quite simply, delicious. My pick of the bunch (and not just because I was a ravenous new mother with her milk coming in), Eat Fit Food really know how to make an incredible meal. We're talking vegetarian nasi goreng that took me straight back to my Ubud honeymoon, beef nachos that I had to hide from my toddler, and cleansing juices that felt like they cleared my system of the various induction drugs I'd been pumped with days prior. I'll be taking any excuse to order up from Eat Fit Food again – they've certainly taken the place in my heart previously only held for my local Crust. <em>Best </em>for: Foodies. These meals are healthy, but you never feel deprived as they are tasty, innovative and would be perfectly at home on a Bondi café menu. <em>Find out more at <a href="http://www.eatfitfood.com.au/" target="_blank">www.eatfitfood.com.au</a></em></p>
Gourmet Dinner Service<p>When (very good, generous, hard-to-come-by) friends ask what's on your baby registry, skip the swaddles and point them straight to Gourmet Dinner Service's New Parents Hamper. This sweetly packaged hamper comes with 5 nights' worth of meals for two, and provides all sorts of comfort after a day of the feeding-washing-another-cold-cup-of-tea routine. The meals are hearty, lovingly made, and are reminiscent of a nostalgic home cooked meal from childhood (that is, if my mother had been Indian, with the amazing Kashmiri lamb curry). Arabian beef, chicken and leek pie (my husband's favourite), sides of honeyed carrots and dessert of lemon tarts provide the big warm hug of a meal when we new mamas need it the most. I'll certainly be ordering more, and already have my eye on the Back to School Rescue Pack, because if there's one thing I know, it's that my boys love nothing more than a burger or a good pasta. (Not the baby – he's still very much enjoying the milk machine.) <em>Best for: </em>Feeding the family. The meals are large, completely man-friendly, and feel nourishing and hearty without being heavy. <em>Find out more at <a href="http://www.gourmetdinnerservice.com.au/" target="_blank">www.gourmetdinnerservice.com.au</a></em> <em>Amy Malpass Hahn lives in Sydney with her three loves – husband Scott, and sons Isaac (3) and Charlie (brand new!). She is also the co-founder of <a href="https://www.thetenactive.com.au/" target="_blank">The Ten Active maternity activewear </a>and is currently on maternity leave as marketing director at Barre Body</em></p>
Thr1ve<p>Those who are lucky enough to work or live near a Thr1ve restaurant will be all-too-familiar with their super healthy, nourishing bowls of deliciousness. I'll admit that throughout my pregnancy, I didn't make it to Thr1ve quite as often as I'd have liked, as my cravings led me in much more of a carbohydrate direction than Thr1ve's paleo creations would allow. However, even with the hunger pangs of new motherhood (is there anything that inspires ravenous hunger in the way breastfeeding does?), there is nothing about Thr1ve's at-home meals that resemble deprivation. Their website alone is enough to make the mouth water, with such a huge selection of yummy meals that I needed to step away for a while to avoid becoming too overwhelmed with choice. The meals feature a great selection of healthy versions of takeaway favourites, like butter chicken with broccoli and cauliflower rice, and spinach dahl with brown rice and quinoa. They are the perfect serving size for satisfying deep set hunger, but never left me feeling bloated. Having a few of these in the fridge for lunch times when vegemite toast is the only option is a must. <em>Best for: </em>Feeling healthy, light and nourished properly. I found the meals perfect for lunches enjoyed while nursing. <em>Find out more at<a href="https://thr1ve.me/" target="_blank"> www.thr1ve.me</a></em></p><p>While I thought that three weeks' worth of meals might be sufficient, I think the luxury may be worth getting used to … After all, who knows when Charlie will wake up?! <em>Amy Malpass Hahn lives in Sydney with her three loves – husband Scott, and sons Isaac (3) and Charlie (brand new!). She is also the co-founder of <a href="https://www.thetenactive.com.au/" target="_blank">The Ten Active maternity activewear </a>and is currently on maternity leave as Marketing Director at <a href="https://barrebody.com.au/" target="_blank">Barre Body.</a></em></p>
My eldest son starts Year 1 this week, and as much as I'm very happy (read: SCHOOL HOLIDAYS HAVE NEARLY KILLED ME PLEASE SEND HELP) for him to be returning to school, I'm not so excited about the thought of re-entering the phase of lunchbox packing.
It seems that there is so much at stake. Packing the right nutritional content. Ensuring it's easy enough to eat with one hand while the other throws a handball. Ensuring no plastic or packaging. Not delivering salmonella in the form of leftovers.
We’re about to embark on lunchbox season. In your opinion, what makes for a good, well-balanced lunchbox?<p>I try and achieve a balanced lunchbox by packing a variety of energy-sustaining foods. I opt for low added sugar and salt options and try to get a good serve of protein and carbohydrates in the lunchbox too.</p><p>I also try and balance food that is familiar to my kids with one small serve of a food that my kids are still learning to enjoy so that I am exposing them to new foods often but in a way that's not confronting to them.</p>
Do you have any favourite physical lunchboxes? Do you favour bento boxes or something similar?<p>I love bento lunchboxes for kids (and adults too for that matter) for three main reasons: </p><ul><li>Bento lunchboxes enable nude food. You can save money and the environment as you do not need to use plastic wrap or packaging.</li><li>The bento box design means you can offer a variety of foods all separated perfectly by the lunchbox compartments. Often bento lunchboxes will also be leak-proof so you can serve wet foods alongside dry foods. </li><li>Good quality bento lunchboxes are more durable so you should not need to replace the lunchbox as frequently.</li></ul><p>I have a <em><a href="https://www.goodiegoodielunchbox.com.au/best-bento-lunchbox-for-kids/" target="_blank">few favourite brands</a></em> that we alternate between but it really needs to suit your child's appetite, what they like to eat (i.e. would they need a larger sandwich compartment for bread rolls or full-sized sandwiches) and their ability to open and close the lunchbox.</p><p>Another thing to consider is how the lunchbox will be stored at school. Is there a fridge? If not a good quality insulated lunch bag will keep food at a safe temperature and also protect your lunchbox from bumps and scrapes.</p>
What elements should we be thinking of when we’re packing our kids’ lunchboxes - for recess, lunch and crunch n sip?<p>I like to pack one 'main' item, like sandwiches or wraps, one or two savoury snack options like cheese and crackers or pizza scrolls and one sweet snack option such as a homemade cookie or bliss ball. I also pack two vegetable options in the lunchbox and two fruit options.</p><p>It is also helpful to think about how your school has requested food be packed for these different breaks as some schools require these all packed separately. They also may request certain foods be packed for different breaks.</p><p>Another consideration is the size of the food you are packing. Our kids have such a short time to eat and they will often be in a rush to go and play so cut the food into manageable pieces for them.</p>
What are some of your go-to items to pack?<p>We love wraps and sandwiches and these are always eaten! For this reason, I generally fill my wraps and sandwiches with a serve of veggies like lettuce and grated carrot along with a protein – generally cream cheese for us.</p><p>I also always have a stash of pizza scrolls in the freezer for school lunches and my kids love nut-free bliss balls and cheese and crackers.</p>
Looking outside of the sandwich square - what are some other great options for lunches that will get eaten?<p>Sushi is always a great option for school lunches. Also pizza scrolls, pasta salads, savoury muffins or frittatas are perfect to pack in the lunchbox. My kids love leftovers – especially pasta – and if you get an insulated food jar you can pack these warm too.</p>
How do you encourage parents to embrace no waste/no plastic/packaging in lunchboxes?<p>As mentioned, bento lunchboxes are a great enabler of nude food in school lunchboxes but there are other ways you can achieve this.</p><p>Baking and making a lot of your lunchbox snacks will help reduce plastic waste. I tend to bulk bake in school holidays for school lunches and freeze for the term which saves me time. I routinely bake cookies, muffins and crackers and we will also make bliss balls for school lunches and freeze for later.</p><p>If you want to send things like potato chips buy the family serve bag and portion yourself in reusable snack bags or in the bento as needed rather than buying the individually portioned and packaged options. This is not only cheaper but also a way to reduce the overall waste in packaged snacks.</p><p>From a food waste perspective if there is food left in the lunchbox reoffer this for afternoon tea or even with dinner. I will often chop up cherry tomatoes or cucumbers that have been for a visit to school and back with our evening salad.</p>
Do you meal prep for lunchboxes? If so, what are some good things to make in advance to have ready?<p>I sure do! Most of my meal prep involves baking which I freeze for school lunches. Most baking will last for two-three months in the freezer so getting in the habit of bulk baking and freezing for later will save time, money and mean you will have a variety of options for when you need them!</p><p>I also like to prep ahead things like veggies or boil eggs on a Sunday so I can quickly grab these for school lunches. I have lots more tips on this topic <a href="https://www.goodiegoodielunchbox.com.au/easy-school-lunch-ideas/" target="_blank">here</a>.</p>
Other than the obvious (nuts!), what do you avoid packing in lunchboxes?<p>It's a great idea to check with the school if they have any other foods that are excluded due to anaphylaxis risk.</p><p>I also avoid packing sweets and lollies or any drink other than water for my kids.</p>
Can you share a few of your favourite recipes for snacks and lunchboxes?<p>Some of my favourite recipes are these <a href="https://www.goodiegoodielunchbox.com.au/pizza-scrolls/" target="_blank">Make Ahead Pizza Scrolls</a>. The kids adore them and they freeze really well.</p><p>We also love these <a href="https://www.goodiegoodielunchbox.com.au/apple-pie-bliss-bites/" target="_blank">Apple Pie Bliss Balls</a> – packed with flavour they are a great nut and dairy free addition to the school lunchbox.</p><p>If your kids love cookies then these <a href="https://www.goodiegoodielunchbox.com.au/carrot-cake-cookies/" target="_blank">Carrot Cake Cookies</a> are perfect for school lunches. Low in added sugar with some hidden veggies they are an absolute hit!</p>
Do you engage your children in the packing of their lunchboxes? If so, how?<p>Not in the physical packing of lunchboxes but that's mainly because I share photos these as inspiration on <a href="https://instagram.com/goodiegoodielunchbox" target="_blank">Instagram</a> otherwise this would be something I would do more of! We do discuss what they'd like in their lunchboxes and they help me back and make food for their lunchboxes.</p>
Do you have any tips to make packing lunchboxes as painless as possible or to streamline the process?<p>One of my top tips is to pack your lunchboxes at night. There are somethings you don't pack directly next to each other ie cheese and crackers. But for the most part school lunches will stay super fresh with the right lunchbox. Also this will help with defrosting those frozen goodies that you have made ahead of time!</p><p>To take this to the next level, you can even prep more than one lunchbox at a time. One of my favourite hacks is to pack lunches on Sunday for Monday and Tuesday then again Tuesday night for Wednesday and Thursday and then again on Thursday night for Friday. Now, I realised that this is not possible if you only have one lunchbox but if you do, then this is the hack for you!</p>
For a yoga teacher raised in a Kombi van, the story of how Tahnee McCrossin met her now business partner and fiancée is very on-brand. That brand being SuperFeast, purveyors of tonic herbs and medicinal mushrooms, based in the NSW Northern Rivers...
"I went to a weekend Ayahuasca ceremony", Tahnee recalls, "and after coming home, I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a guy who was presenting to a room full of people in Melbourne who looked rad. He turned out to be Mason, founder of SuperFeast, and my now-fiance and baby daddy."
Despite being enrolled in a herbal studies course at the time, Tahnee was something of a skeptic – but starting on a regime of reishi and he shou wu sparked such a dramatic shift for her that she's now been taking the herbs for six years, and is the General Manager of SuperFeast. Making health accessible is at the heart of what they do. "So much of what makes the foundation of health is free", she tells us. "Air, water, earth, movement. We want to make health accessible and get away from this daft exclusivity that has pervaded the wellness scene for so long."
Can you tell us a little bit about your own childhood?<p>My parents lived with me in a Kombi until I was three. We have lots of cute pics of me having a bath in the tiny sink and lounging in my baby chub in amazing landscapes across WA and the Outback. They worked on a movie (The Light Horseman) and spent some time around Adelaide and Melbourne until they settled in Cairns. I loved Cairns, we had a great childhood there until I was 10 – very free, wild and exciting. It got more free and wild when we moved to Bingil Bay, near Mission Beach, onto a property and my parents built their own home. It took them 10 years, or more, really. It was the four of us, plus chickens, ducks, three cats, guinea pigs, a St Bernard, a horse and the wild cassowaries in a 30-ft caravan in the bush for about four years. A lot of those pets did not handle the transition to living in a rainforest, sadly. I have some stories from that time!</p><p>But I am very grateful for my childhood. I was given a lot of freedom. I started working when I was 14 and 9 months. I would ride my bike and walk everywhere, and friends had boats, so we went to the islands and the reef and went snorkelling and wakeboarding. My Dad is a white water river guide, so that was a big part of my life growing up. Now I am stoked I was raised that way, though if I am honest I was a bit embarrassed about my crazy parents when I was a teenager. </p>
How and when were you first exposed to tonic herbs and medicinal mushrooms?<p>I owned a Yoga studio in Newcastle, NSW, and I decided it would be a good time to offer workshops and ways for people to deepen their knowledge of wellness and health. I had signed up for a herbal studies course, so that was an area I was super interested in. I went to a weekend Ayahuasca ceremony and after coming home, I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a guy who was presenting to a room full of people in Melbourne who looked rad. He turned out to be Mason, founder of SuperFeast, and my now-fiancee and baby daddy. When he came to talk at my studio we became friends. I was really suspect of the things he was saying at the beginning, and I kept challenging him. He'd really graciously reply, I'd research what he said, it'd be right, and so on it went. I'd been raised with natural medicine, had been seeing naturopaths since I was 16, and was really accepting that herbs were allies, but the whole tonic thing seemed a bit wild. I was so used to the Western model of using herbs to treat illness, and the modern Traditional Chinese Medicine model of being prescribed a baggie of weird bits and pieces but having no real idea of what I was taking. I hadn't come across this herbal path. I'd been interested in and studying TCM for a few years at that stage, through my Yoga studies, but tonic herbs were really the final piece of the puzzle for me. Once Mason went back to Sydney, I started taking reishi and he shou wu and literally my whole life changed. It's been about 6 years now, and I feel like I've been studying since that first meeting, and I have learned so much. </p>
Can you tell us about SuperFeast and the ethos behind the brand?<p>I am really proud of SuperFeast. Mason wants to end degenerative health; I want to help people remember that their body holds all the wisdom they will ever need. I feel like we are both on a mission, even though sometimes running a business feels really daunting and horrible and overwhelming – even when it's a rad business! I am the General Manager of SuperFeast, and one of the things I am most proud of is the culture we have created. It's been a lot of trial and error, for sure, but it's amazing to feel like we are creating something that is meaningful, supportive to the community and the people involved – from our herb farmers to our warehouse staff to our customers – that is taking it seriously that we have to reduce our impact on our planet. We ask ourselves a lot of hard questions and we seek to find the answers, and we have a sustainability officer who is a wild inspiration, and that might one day be a model for other businesses in our industry. I am really inspired by companies like Patagonia and I want to see our business lead and excel in everything we do. Our team seem to really, genuinely love working with us, and our customers write us love letters. Both those things make me so happy.</p>
What impact did you see the herbs have when you first started taking them?<p>I'd had hormonal issues (no period for two years) and had acne for the first time, in my late twenties, after coming off the Pill. I was a bit of an emotional mess if I am honest. I was exhausted and struggling. I honestly can't describe how powerful reishi and he shou wu were for me at that time. I had spent thousands of dollars on supplements and practitioners and was so over it all. I've been taking tonic herbs for about 6 years now – Mason has been taking them for about 11 – and we both notice ourselves growing, adapting and shifting constantly. I consider them the piece that was missing for me – I had Yoga, meditation, therapy, writing, nature, and then the herbs. It all started to come together for me. </p>
There are a lot of preconceptions about adaptogens. What do you hear most from people?<p>Adaptogen has become such a buzz-word. We honestly don't love it, but people know the term and get really confused when we say tonic herbs, so we try to walk the middle path and explain what both are and help people find what they need based on their current state of health. Adaptogens were first identified in military research and were used to help soldiers 'push through' – think pilots on crazy overnight flying missions and that kind of thing. Situations where you cannot afford to tap out or you will literally die. Tonics have a totally different intention. They were used by the Taoist shamans to enhance their spiritual practices and strengthen the body. With tonic herbs, we are tonifying organ systems and aspects of the body, physically and energetically, and we really try and emphasise that one's lifestyle has to shift – you can't just take the herbs and keep pushing through. Eventually, you'll pay the price.</p><p>One of the misconceptions people have is that by taking adaptogens you can keep living a crazy Yang lifestyle and be healthy. No! I think of these herbs as having different personalities and intentions, and we work with them that way. Adaptogens can help us adapt to crazy stress when we need to, they can help mitigate the negative effects of stress, but we need to still take the time to rest, to restore, to allow our bodies and minds space to breathe. This is where the spiritual aspect of the herbs comes in, as they tonify our 'treasures': Jing, Qi and Shen, which loosely correlate to our foundational energy (think your inherited constitution, from your genetic line), your life force, and your spirit/higher mind. In Taoist theory, to become a whole person, we need strong and balanced Jing, Qi and Shen. The term adaptogen doesn't address this aspect of herbalism, so for me it's too reductionist and mechanistic to have much meaning, though I appreciate its clinical use. </p>
What would you tell the non-believers?<p>That maybe these herbs are not for them. I don't try and sell them to people, I believe we find what we need when we are ready to receive it. </p>
We are existing in a very strange, stressful world. How can tonic herbs and medicinal mushrooms help?<p>For me, I work with herbs that ground me, that tonify Shen and the Liver (I get stressy and rigid when overwhelmed) and the Kidneys (to help with fear). I love to take them in the morning in a warm tonic, and that ritual alone is very nourishing and gentle and grounding. At night I work with herbs that assist the body to transition to sleep.</p><p>My number one in these weird and wonderful times is reishi mushroom. She's the Queen of the tradition, the master Shen tonic, the mushroom of immortality in the lore and also helps the body handle stress.</p>
Did your experience with tonic herbs and medicinal mushrooms change at all when you became a mother?<p>Yes, totally. I actually found myself a lot more sensitive to the herbs (we call mushrooms herbs, just to confuse everyone, as in Taoist tradition lots of weird things like minerals and animals were considered herbs). I also required different types of nourishment, and that took me a while to adjust to. I work with an acupuncturist to track where I am at and to make sure I am taking what is required to maintain health, and I also work a lot with my intuition. I needed a lot more Spleen herbs postpartum. Spleen is about the Earth element and mothering, isn't that interesting? And I needed blood-building herbs after years of being a vegetarian. We actually came up with a postpartum blend after I had Aiya, as we didn't really have anything in the range that was perfect for postpartum mamas. I also had so much less capacity after my daughter was born – that was a big adjustment for me, as I've been able to push through my whole life. I realised I needed to nourish myself like I was nourishing this tiny child and that really shifted me into a more receptive space. I feel like the capacity to have these insights is from the herbs – reishi! – and my meditation practice. The two have been so powerful for me.</p>
How do you use them in your everyday life?<p>I take them daily in tonic elixirs or in my Earl Grey tea (such an old lady!) and put them in our food so our daughter gets some of the medicine. She mostly takes Mason's Mushrooms. I will also sneak them into treats for friends or homemade chocolate. </p>
How do you suggest we start implementing them into our lives, if we never have before? And what would you start with?<p>I would suggest feeling into what you need or what you are most intuitively drawn to when you flick through a book, or a website, or pick up the jars in a store. I find, for most people, any medicinal mushroom is a great place to start as they are generally OK-tasting (some herbs are not!) and generally benefit the immunity, which is a pretty great idea in times like these. We don't add anything to our herbs. They are simply extracted, dried and packaged, so we used them in food or drinks, but other companies have capsules if you can't deal with the idea of loose powder. Look for mushrooms that are grown on wood and are tested for heavy metals and pesticides and that kind of thing. Unfortunately, there's a lot of crap out there, as mushrooms are trending, so do your research.</p><p>The other option is a blend like JING, which is full of herbs to help nourish the adrenals and support the body against stress, which again, is a super common complaint. So many people, especially mums, have so much going on – work, kids, partners that travel a lot, or they're doing it alone, it's more than a person can bear. Those situations are where tonic herbs/adaptogens really shine because you can't avoid the stress of tiny kids and mum-life, but you can manage it, and the herbs will help you adapt while you need to. </p>
How long does it take to notice a difference?<p>It does depend on the person – I felt shifts almost immediately, within a day or two. Better sleep, more stable energy, and later, healthy periods, finally! But from talking to SuperFeast customers over the last five years, it's more likely anywhere from a week to three weeks. Our Operations Manager talks about how she didn't even notice anything until she realised she'd made it through her first-ever flu season without getting sick, despite flying and travelling. Some people are so sensitive they notice within a few minutes of ingesting the herbs. </p>
What benefits can we expect to see?<p>It really varies. If you're already pretty well, it might be more stable energy and mindset, more consistent moods, better overall vitality. If you're unwell, it might be a massive transformation, though we recommend people who are unwell to work with a practitioner as it's important to make sure you have support while you heal. We find lots of acupuncturists, naturopaths and herbalists are using tonic herbs clinically now, which is awesome. </p>
Are there any side effects?<p>There can be! We only work with tonics because they are so safe, but everything is bad for somebody. Typically the worst that people feel is nausea or a GI tract upset; we either adjust the dose or work with that person to find a more suitable herb for their constitution. Sometimes a healing reaction occurs – especially if a person has candida or bacterial overgrowth, that can lead to die-off and unpleasant symptoms like brain fog, but that generally passes. For generally healthy people it's incredibly rare. I recommend really small doses to start, 1/4 teaspoon, as for many people this dose is enough.</p>
Are they safe to combine?<p>Generally, yes. Again, one of the benefits of working with tonics is they play well together. That said, we have created blends at SuperFeast, so people don't have to buy and mix heaps of herbs without any knowledge as to how to do this. But if you're a curious little alchemist, of course, you can experiment. I recommend starting with one or two herbs at first, just so you get a sense of what your body is responding to, and how. If you take too much too soon it's hard to know what's going on. </p>
What else are you doing at the moment to support your physical and mental health?<p>I wake at 5 am, practice 20-45 mins of asana, 20-30 mins of pranayama and 20-30 mins of meditation, and I am trying to be really strict with when I do and don't work. We are home with our three year old and I want to enjoy as much time as I can with her. We are really lucky to have a huge backyard, and live 800m from the beach, so I try and get there daily and let mama nature bring me back to myself. Also, voice messages with my buddies, Zoom calls with my family, and lots of reading, tea, baths, crosswords, and gardening. And sleep. I try and be in bed by 9 or 10. </p>
What’s next for you?<p>We are desperate to one day bring forth the indigenous herbs from this continent because I know that there would be some serious healing and integration if that were to happen. There are a lot of hoops to jump through and red tape in the way, but we are holding that vision and we trust that if it's meant to, it will happen.</p><p>Personally, I am a yoga teacher first and foremost. Yoga is my deepest passion, and I am going to be bringing more of the yogic lifestyle and practices into SuperFeast. We both believe in embodied health, and health sovereignty, and Mason has created a course around that that will launch soon. It's pay-what-you-can because we know many people are suffering right now, and we hope that people will be delighted by these offerings. So much of what makes the foundation of health is free – air, water, earth, movement. We want to make health accessible and get away from this daft exclusivity that has pervaded the wellness scene for so long.</p>
The Grace Tales is a global lifestyle platform for mothers searching for style, substance, and solidarity. Driven by creating content, community and connection, we celebrate the paradox of modern motherhood; the struggle and the beauty, the joy and the relentlessness.