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Nourish yourself by Debra Witalik of Nutrition Warrior

Natalie Moore

I love to run – it’s as simple as that. Up until a few years ago, I ran almost every day from the age of 6 – whether it be little athletics, cross country or road running as a teenager and then as an adult and mother. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of running – it’s just you and your running shoes. You determine where you run, how fast you go and for how long. You can run alone or in a group, for pleasure or as a competitor, in wind or rain or in the sunshine. That’s the joy as there are so many options.   The adrenaline, the elation of running in the dark before anyone is awake, doing something just for you. Running helps you through life’s stresses and pressures and gives you your own space. It’s a form of meditation and you either love it or hate it. I happen to love it!

To feel good and run at your best, your body needs proper nourishment and nutrition. As a teenager and up until I became a mother, I ate pretty well but never worried about the twice weekly chocolate bar or the weekly takeaway as I could always run the excess off. During this time, I just ran for pleasure. It wasn’t until my daughter embraced cross country running as a teenager that I started running more competitively – something I hadn’t done since I was a teenager. There were times I would run twice a day – once in the early morning and then in the afternoons when I trained with my daughter. I had never felt more alive. What I put in my mouth affected how I felt, how well I ran and how quickly my body recovered. The healthier I ate, the better I felt and the better I performed. I loved any physical activity and in addition to daily (and sometimes twice daily) running, I worked out with a personal trainer, lifted weights, went to yoga and did boot camp.   I was fit, lean, happy and strong.

 

Then sadly, four years ago at the age of 40, I suffered a debilitating back injury and associated nerve damage to both legs. I couldn’t walk, drive a car, sit or stand for long periods of time, let alone run. This resulted in spinal surgery where two degenerated bulging discs in my back were removed, replaced and my lower lumber spine fused. And guess what? On the advice of my surgeon and to avoid further surgery to remove a third bulging disc – NO more running. For someone who ran almost every day and led a really active life, this news was devastating! It was like having my legs cut off or being told not to breathe. The one thing I truly loved and enjoyed was taken away from me.

The months following surgery were the worst of my life. I had to learn to walk again and most days I was flat out reaching 100m. I was still in immense pain and would remain this way for some time due to the nerve damage I suffered to both legs. While out walking (or shuffling), I would see people running and I would burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably. I lost a lot of weight after my surgery as my body was in overdrive, using whatever little stored fat it had to heal itself. So I ate whatever I wanted just because I could plus I felt sorry for myself – I remember making a chocolate torte for my daughter’s birthday about one month after surgery and sitting down and eating half of it in one go. This was a turning point for me as that day I became a sobbing mess, bordering on the brink of depression. What I was eating wasn’t necessarily helping my body or my state of mind.


After this episode, I was determined not to fall in a heap and wanted to do everything possible to help my body to recover and my damaged nerves heal. Nerves only regenerate and grow a few millimetres a year and there are no medical or scientific tests available to determine how much damage had been caused. Judging by the amount of pain I was in, I guessed that there was a lot of repair and growth required. Plus I did not want further surgery (the recovery was too painful – I’d rather give birth continuously without painkillers!), so I pulled myself together and went back to eating real, organic wholefoods to assist my body to recover and heal. I removed all processed and inflammatory food from my diet as well as chemicals and toxins thus beginning my ‘food is medicine’ journey. The body has an innate ability to heal itself if you fuel and nourish it with the right foods.

As part of this journey, I developed my own organic protein blends for my morning smoothies. I couldn’t stand in the kitchen long enough to cook bacon and eggs for breakfast and I didn’t eat cereal or toast as wheat products are inflammatory and usually full of chemicals and preservatives. So a protein blend made with organically sprouted pea protein combined with superfoods void of hidden toxins, numbers and numerous ingredients was the quick and easy, healthy solution for me. And I thought it would be a healthy solution for others so my business, Nutrition Warrior, was born! I started with my spice blend which contains anti-inflammatory ingredients such as turmeric, cinnamon and ginger – perfect for my injury and recovery process, then moved on to raw cacao (cacao is great for our mood), vanilla (which has always been my favourite flavour, even as a child - plain and simple) and then berry (as I love acai and maqui which are full of antioxidants and great for the skin).

I returned to weight training six months after surgery and have continued to undertake this ever since together with daily walking, stretching and core strength exercises. Throw in weekly Pilates and boxing and my active lifestyle is complete. Whilst I am still wistful when watching others run (I cried when I went to support a friend running in the Gold Coast Airport Marathon earlier this month), I am finally at peace with what has happened to me. I have avoided further spinal surgery (my spinal surgeon calls me his ‘pin up girl’ and urges me to stay fit and healthy), my nerve damage has finally healed and I am healthier (and leaner) than ever before. People are surprised when I tell them what I have gone through!

I am now four years into my ‘food is medicine’ journey and am even more passionate about how I fuel and nourish my body. At the beginning of this year, I completed a science-based nutrition course with Changing Habits Education and am now a Health and Nutrition Educator and Real Food Advocate. I am keen to help others with their health journey using ‘food as medicine’.

So, that’s my story. From experience, I know how beneficial feeding your body with nourishing and real foods is – it aids in muscle repair, cell growth, hormone balance and affects your mood. It saved me from depression and helped heal my body. And for that, I am eternally grateful.

But I would be lying if I said I was not envious of runners – I miss that feeling of adrenaline and elation, of just being on the road. So nourish your body and take care of it as it is the only one you have.

Happy running!

 

Debra Witalik

Owner and Founder of Nutrition Warrior

 

Thank you to Debra for being a guest blogger and sharing her passion for running and living a healthy lifestyle. Nutrition Warrior's protein blends featured in the July Running Fit Box - Raw Cacao and Spice Blend. Check out the website www.nutritionwarrior.com.au 



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