Jun 2018 Nutritional Chef Jo Harding from Modern Food Stories sat down for an interview with Wild View Retreat
At 26 I started suffering with back pain, thinking it would go away, but it didn’t. Long story short, after a diagnosis, and then being undiagnosed with Ankylosing spondylitis (an inflammatory autoimmune condition) and visiting many different specialists I was pumped with many immune-suppressant drugs, the side effects were horrendous. Severe bloating, I lost the feeling in my fingertips and experienced hair loss. Yet the pain remained.
4 years later, and still with chronic pain, and now looking like I was at least 4 months pregnant I knew there had to be the link between the pain and the bloating. So, after visiting the different departments to investigate all results came back clear, the answer was ‘you must have IB’ I was sent on my way. I saw many different nutritionists, the pain remained, and the bloating was no better. In 2011, out of nowhere, my Achilles swelled up like golf balls and I couldn’t walk. Then whatever it was started to affect my knee and I couldn’t leave the house, and that got me. I’d gone from a super strong, active women to just not knowing what to do next, housebound.
So, I returned to the hospital, at this point I’d had a total of 10 MRI’s, some coming back showing inflammation, some clear, I was so confused. The problem was that I wasn’t being treated holistically, I was being treated for what was identified as my pain. Only later did I realise it wasn’t the route cause, this time I was lucky to meet a different consultant. He re-diagnosed me with Ankylosing spondylitis. However, back then little was understood about the role of the microbiome, gut health and the link to autoimmune conditions. They hadn’t made the association between gut health and autoimmunity. It was greatly dismissed back then.
Yet I knew there was something not right and I was allergic to traditional NSAIDs and the side effects of other immune-suppressants they had tried to give me were horrendous. So, I started taking a new drug they were trialing, and it was a wonder drug, then came the side effects. I was picking up bugs and colds all the time as my immune system was so low and the bloating was immense. They’d lowered my immune system so much that it felt whatever was in my gut was now having a party and this made the pain worse. So, I stopped taking them. I’d been doing a lot of self-reading about gut health and the link to autoimmunity and how the research was pointing to a bacterium in the gut called Klebsiella which feeds off starch.
And that was my turning point. I changed my diet, I started to learn how to control the symptoms on a low starch diet, without the drugs. I knew I was going against the advice of the doctors, something you didn’t do back then but I knew I could control this through my diet.
The doctors weren’t convinced, yet 5 years on I’m in remission and still manage today through diet and I’ve built my strength and my muscles back up.
As I got better, which took a long time, it took 18 months before I saw a noticeable difference, healing takes time and through a personalised nutrition programme it makes you realise you need to find out what works for you.
I felt alone and confused at times and I promised myself that when I got well I’d be there to help others in some way shape or form regain their health too. My outlook has changed now, I try not to sweat about small things now and want to help others as I passionately believe you don’t have to go without foods. You can still enjoy all your favourites, you just have to get a bit creative. And this doesn’t mean hours slaving away in the kitchen, it’s just about meal prepping and using nature’s most amazing vegetables in different ways.
I love my food. When I began experimenting, this was before the time of cauliflower pizzas becoming more widely known. I was making pizzas with many different vegetables, and I don’t miss out on any of my favourites, there’s just another way of making them.
I originally set up my blog to help others who may be suffering with similar sub par health conditions, to tell them that they’re not alone and that recovery is totally possible, but now it’s so much more than that. My recipes are for anyone who wants to eat well and feel healthier. I’ve found a new love in food photography and now work with many small start ups and health food brands. this creative outlet i truly believe has also helped me to heal. I’ve met some amazing friend in the gut health industry but i probably don’t tell my story enough. It was very hard to but i know i should!
I love creating recipes, no sugar is crucial and dairy, and gluten are a no no – all my recipes on the blog are made without them.
I met “Finn” (Andrew Finlay) while I was healing, he had a different job back then, and together we have supported and inspired each other’s dreams. I went to a lot of retreats during my recovery, was introduced to Meditation, which was new to me and not something which was part of my fast-paced life back then took my health for granted.
The yoga and Pilates came as a way of healing which now pairs together my passionate for Wellness as a whole.
Working with Finn (Andrew), what are you most looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to cooking some recipes with delicious and nutritious food, supporting Andrew, educating people on the importance of gut health, how diet plays an integral part and the new opportunity to complement all the food styling and photography I do now. I’m really proud of what he’s achieved and to support him. The food in Portugal is amazing too.
What are the benefits?
Going on a retreat gets you out of your everyday routine, to reset your system, not just your gut health. Having more space, time to reflect on things and how you are living your life. Plus, it’s a wonderful way to make new friends who share similar interests to you. It’s away from daily distractions, even pollution.
In my journey, although I wasn’t a big party person, my life changed and it’s wonderful meeting people who are in the process of change. Way back then I never understood why life had dealt me such a cruel blow but now I see it as way to direct me to a new path in life. One where cooking nutritious, tasty food for people makes me truly happy.
What would you say to someone who might say I’m too busy for this?
It’s all about priorities. You can’t see how stress effects the body sometimes until it’s too late and your health suffers. The body is so resilient until it’s not!
If you step away you can see new ways to live that complement your life to make you more efficient. If you’re eating right for you, you might get up earlier, get to the gym easier etc.
What will be your role at Wild View Retreat?
The Nutritional Chef, preparing all the food for the retreats, 3 meals a day with snacks, homemade granolas, porridges, salads, all plant-based, gluten free, vegan options and one hot meal a day.
For example, perhaps, a Vegetarian chilli, cashew bread, butternut lasagna and a snack during the day such as energy balls or homemade muffins. I’ll be in the kitchen the whole time basically!
What would you say to those who ask – How easy is it to adapt this to my life?The retreat will be plant based which is super easy and quick to make. Preparation is key, batch cooking; to cook quick daily, it doesn’t take a lot of time, it’s knowing what foods harm, and which can heal.
And using them in a creative way doesn’t need to take time. Avoid sugar and anything processed. If you eat meat and fish, it’s about buying from sustainable and organic sources. When it comes to salads and sides, it’s about dressings and dips that are full of healthy fats, bursting with flavour and super easy to prepare.
What is next in the pipeline for Modern Food Stories?
I’m enjoying the ride right now. I’ve learnt that you can’t ever really plan in life, you just have to appreciate and most importantly enjoy what you have right now. Nothing makes me happier than when i’m in the kitchen cooking, creating new recipes and seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they’ve enjoyed one of my meals.
I’d love to work with new clients who are looking for support with recipe creation, food styling or photography and I do a lot of food videos and visual story telling for social media now too which is always fun! I’d also be keen to support clients on a 1:1 basis because I love personalised nutrition. My Instagram is the main way of following my blog posts as I’m really proud of how my food looks beautiful.
And finally- if you had an ultimate goal what would that be?
It’s been a roller coaster journey back to health, but my passion now is to inspire others to experience great health and wellbeing though good nutrition and fall in love with cooking and eating healthily. It’s really easy once you know how I promise!