"The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now." (Old Chinese proverb.) The same applies to healthy eating: it's never too late to start.
It's time I told you a little about myself and why I'm interested in anti-cancer nutrition. Like many complementary therapists, I began my career as a patient, not a practitioner. As nutritional changes put an end to decades of ill-health, I vowed to pass on the insights I had gained to as many people as possible. So here I am.
As a child I was plagued by severe eczema and over the years, additional immune-related health problems - hay fever, sinus infections and food allergies - made my life miserable. Throughout my first 30-odd years, I cannot remember ever feeling truly healthy. I resigned myself to a life of scratching and sniffling and symptom-suppression through nose sprays, cortisone ointments and antibiotics.
The wake-up call came 10 years ago when I was diagnosed with early-stage cervical cancer. Fortunately it hadn't spread and the malignant cells were surgically removed. But I will never forget the emotional upheaval and sense of helplessness I felt upon discovering - at age 33 and mother of a young child - that I, too, was not immune to cancer!
In previous years I had taken health for granted; I ate a sugary fast-food diet, rarely exercised and skimped on sleep. I lived in polluted central London and worked in a stressful job as a financial journalist. So I felt strangely grateful to cancer for offering me a pretext to prioritize my health.
With the help of a nutritionist I replaced convenience foods with home-cooked meals, increased vegetables, fruits, nuts and oily fish, cut back on sugar and white flour and replaced cow's milk with goat's and ewe's dairy products. Eventually I decided to leave my job and train as a nutritionist.
Giving up life-long eating habits wasn't easy. Occasionally - at restaurants, on vacation, when I was tired, or as an act of frustrated rebellion - I would eat foods I knew were bad for me. Retribution usually came a few hours later, a stuffy nose or bloated abdomen reminding me to take better care of myself.
I decided to take it slow, gradually adding healthier foods to my diet before taking away the old, less-beneficial ones to prevent the deep sense of deprivation often caused by drastic dietary change. It took me many months to effect the necessary changes; defensive-eating-strategies have helped me stay on the strait and narrow.
For example, a ready supply of fruits, nuts and seeds at home and in my handbag helps me resist junk-food snack-attacks. I eat regular meals to prevent getting so hungry that I'll eat just anything and regret it later. I shop with a list to avoid being tempted into buying unhealthy food on a whim. And when I eat a healthy snack before going to the movies, I can ignore the pop-corn stall.
Best of all, I have learned to cook. Because I love to eat, I decided some years ago that if I wanted to eat healthy food that was also tasty, I would have to learn how to prepare it myself. This evolved in fits and starts, but I soon discovered how easy it is to cook delicious and nutritious meals without spending hours in the kitchen, and that ‘healthy food' doesn't mean tasteless steamed vegetables and low-fat blandness.
In 2000, my husband and I moved our family from London to a small village near Toulouse, France. Top-quality, locally grown food available year-round at farmers' markets and small specialist shops has further fuelled my passion for cooking; with raw materials like that, who wouldn't want to throw on their apron?
As my diet has improved, so has my health. Sinus infections, skin and digestive complaints have gone and my cervical pap smears are clear. Despite now having three young children, I enjoy levels of energy and resilience that I couldn't have imagined 10 years ago.
It was not just my own brush with cancer that got me interested in anti-cancer nutrition. I worry about the epidemic proportions of the disease, not just among the elderly, but increasingly among children and young adults too. Too many people I know and love have been - or still are - afflicted by cancer, and I want to support them in my capacity as nutritionist, friend, daughter and niece.
Cooking and eating healthily has become an integral part of my life and I can no longer imagine it any other way. It has also empowered me to play an active part in keeping myself healthy. I now want to share the joy of preparing and enjoying simple, fresh food through my cooking classes in Toulouse and my writing here and elsewhere. Join me on this delicious and life-affirming journey to optimal health through optimum nutrition.