Author of The SimplyRaw Kitchen, Natasha Kyssa presents Let Food Be Thy Medicine at TEDxOttawa (Transcript)
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Natasha Kyssa – Author and health educator
25 years, exactly half my life ago, I looked a very different world. It had its exciting moments: jet-setting around the world; globetrotting between Tokyo and New York City, London, Munich and so on; working on location in exotic, faraway lands, and getting paid ridiculous amounts of money to look good and wear the latest fashion; and, of course, the socializing, hobnobbing with artists, musicians, actors, eccentric barons and other beautiful people; living the glamorous life. It’s every girl and her mother’s dream, right?
But modeling came with a price, a personal price. Did you know that the average model weighs 23% less than the average woman? Or that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses? The pressures to look thin, young, and beautiful, having to lie about our age and weight at auditions, “cattle calls” we called them. Fresh stock lining up in front of middle-aged clients, mostly men. Our portfolios scrutinized, our bodies ripped apart with criticism as if our feelings didn’t count. As if – and of course, being told to lose those 10 pounds, day after day after day.
Living — on black coffee, sugarless gum, strong cigarettes, uppers, and other stimulants, including the occasional line of cocaine in the dressing room, desperate to squeeze into that model sample size — that’s a size 0, ladies. And before I knew what hit, I was catapulted into a less glamorous place, one filled with loneliness, depression and shame, anorexia and bulimia, as if one eating disorder wasn’t complex enough. Oscillating between starving myself for months at a time, hmm, until I hit 85 pounds and then, of course, the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction, bingeing completely and utterly out of control.
And if it wasn’t for the handfuls of laxatives and the use for my middle finger thrust down my throat to purge the copious amounts of food, the anger — hmm — and humiliation I had stuffed down, I would have been obese. But I was too vain for that.
And for 7 years I struggled with the vicious cycle of bingeing, purging and starving myself, landing in and out of hospitals and treatment centers, doctors, therapists, shrinks, all stupefied with my condition, unable to help me with my core issues. Instead, the solution was to prescribe the latest drug out on the market. And there were a lot of them.
My collection of pills grew, as I spiraled downward through a drug-induced haze and hitting my rock bottom. Waking up one morning to the smell of my own vomit, barely able to recognize myself in the bathroom mirror, I realized just how synthetic my life had become. Looking down at the diet soda bottles, the chocolate Ex-Lax wrappers, candy wrappers, antidepressant, Valium, I decided right then and there to remove all the chemicals from my life, starting with the more lethal ones, pharmaceuticals that my doctors, my drug-pushers had prescribed me.
I followed my mother and the wholesome diet that I’d been raised on. My Austrian mom made everything from scratch, always using natural ingredients. We didn’t have junk food at home, we didn’t own a microwave, and we were the only family on the block that didn’t eat sliced white bread. Instead we had dark rye with our meals, and dessert wasn’t apple pie and ice cream, but fresh fruit. When we were sick, we were given natural remedies, chamomile tea for stomach aches, ginger and garlic for colds and flus, and buckwheat honey for sore throats.
Thinking about my childhood at that moment, something in me shifted. I finally recognized that it was up to me, and only me, to take responsibility of my health. So, I went on a cleaning rampage, clearing out all the low-cal this, no-fat that, so-called food items I had been existing on, and replacing them with whole, fresh, unprocessed foods. It wasn’t easy, believe me, there was an ongoing battle. Addictions are hard to break, especially five at once. It was pure hell at times, but I pushed through it, never giving up.
Without realizing it, I became a raw foodist, nourishing my body, not depriving it, with nutrient-dense plant foods. Fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. I’d done a lot of damage to my body those 7 years, but one thing was for certain, the closer I ate to nature, the better I felt. It was that simple. I had more energy, my depression diminished naturally, my weight stabilized, and so did my eating patterns. I even began to like myself, and accepted my body. I became passionate about life and about life-giving foods. I felt better on every level.