Denise Carter, Cairns Eye wrote the below article for the Cairns Post.
LEEANDRA Norman has dramatically changed her life and the life of her family by changing the way her family eats.
From Brisbane originally, Leeandra, who now lives in Herberton, says she was overweight all her life and had been losing and putting on even more weight for many years.
“I tried to have a baby 14 years ago, and I had secondary infertility,” Leeandra says.
Looking back, she now believes her infertility problems may have been at least in part due to her diet.
“I was super morbidly obese,” Leeandra says. “I ate the standard Australian diet (SAD).”
Leeandra really couldn’t understand why she was so overweight.
She says she watched her fats, drank skimmed milk, was a major fan of Pepsi Max, and ate plenty of fruit and vegetables.
But she ate too much and also ate too much of what she believes is the wrong stuff, like carbonated drinks and aspartame (artificial sweetener), as well as refined and processed food.
On her wedding day, she weighed in at a whopping 187kg.
“For IVF, I lost 40kg — I was absolutely killing myself in the gym,” she says.
After Leeandra gave birth to her son Gareth, she seemed to be forever losing weight and putting it back on, with a little more each time.
But it was really because of her son Gareth, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of three, that she began to investigate the power of food for good and for bad.
“By five, he got really out of hand and was having about six meltdowns a day,” Leeandra explains.
“I would have to wrap him in a towel to restrain him and pull the doona over our heads to block out the stimuli.”
It was at this point that Leeandra’s paediatrician mentioned a link between diet and behaviour.
It rang a bell because, as a teacher, Leeandra had seen the connection between diet and behaviour in her students, and so she decided to investigate further.
Initially she found it all quite overwhelming; the amount of diets and therapies around for children with autism.
“We were really shell-shocked,” she says. “We didn’t know where to turn.”
But she did find out about the way food affects the brain and behaviour “mind-blowing” and she started off by basing her son’s diet on the GAPS protocol (gut and psychology syndrome) that connects what we eat to psychological behavioural issues, and continued her journey from there.
Leeandra, who now weighs in at 63kg, says her family eats nothing that is processed.
She also has a chemical-free house, meaning everything in the family home from cleaning products to shampoo and soap is organic.
Leeandra learned that Gareth, now 10, becomes totally charged if he eats any processed food and she tells an acute tale of how out of control he became after eating some chocolate eggs.
He now only drinks water or milk, and no foods with sugar.
Now Gareth is a bright and friendly boy, who can happily sit quietly and play on his computer, and he is sociable and interacts well with others.
Leeandra is now teaching Gareth, who is high functioning, with a gifted IQ score of 144, to self regulate, so that he can continue his life in control of his behaviour.
But her family diet is not so super strict that there is no room to manoeuvre.
She follows an 80/20 rule: “80 per cent of the time you are on track, and the other 20 per cent takes care of itself”.
Now Leeandra is taking what she has learned even further by giving workshops and talks to empower others. “I am really passionate about it,” she says.
Not only has the new clean diet coupled by the chemical-free environment at home helped Leeandra’s son but, after years of what she describes as killing herself at the gym, she says her weight simply dropped off without much effort at all.
“It just happened,” she says.
And with it the feeling of not being well she didn’t even realise she had.
“You don’t realise how bad you felt until you don’t feel that way any more,” she says.
“I felt lethargic all the time.”
Leeandra says she could climb a mountain and, yes, her eyes are bright, she is fully engaged and enthusiastic and simply brimming with energy.
Having returned to what she describes as real food, Leeandra eats a diet that is high in fat (think butter and cream) and low in carbohydrates.
Dinners might sound pretty normal with shepherd’s pie, spaghetti bolognese and even chicken nuggets on the menu, but the trick is Leeandra makes the dishes from scratch with fresh ingredients.
Living in Herberton is a great opportunity for her to find fresh local organic produce and she says visiting local farms, where she knows the farmers and knows they don’t use chemicals, has even more benefits than you might envisage.
“It’s also the sense of community and socialising, even exercising while walking around local markets, and being out in the natural sunlight,” Leeandra says.
Leeandra has given up teaching full time and focuses on her new business Love-Lee Cooking; a grocery store and catering company with organic food that has a health focus, and which caters to specific dietary requirements: gluten free, vegan, dairy free, egg free, wheat free — Leeandra makes it all by hand.
She also teaches people how to cook in her workshops and retreats and she enjoys educating people on the value of eating good food and on how to supplement former family staples, like tomato sauce, with good alternatives.
Also on her list is how to read food labels to see exactly what you are consuming, and why you also shouldn’t believe everything you read.
Leeandra brings her life-learned expertise to the Bloom Health and Wellbeing Expo that inspires wellbeing through prevention, being held today at Cairns Colonial Club Resort.
“The buzzword is real food, whole food,” she says. “KISS: keep it simple but scrumptious. It’s not about falling over but about getting back up, it’s about mastering it and moving on.”
Leeandra still believes she is not yet there but is content to learn more and blossom as she travels on her road with her family to optimum health and wellbeing.
“There are so many people, not just me on this journey,” she says.
“I’m part of a revolution.”