Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Time to practice what I preach

“Mum, what’s irony?” my son asked recently. I thought for a bit, searching for an easy way to explain to a 12-year old a concept denoting “an outcome of events contrary to what might have been expected, and the incongruity of this” (

I plumped for the first best example that popped into my head: “Imagine your mother is writing a cancer-prevention cookbook. She tests and eats anti-cancer dishes every day. And just as she finishes the book, she is diagnosed with cancer.”

My example was probably a little close to home; I have, in fact, spent the past two years writing a cancer-prevention cookbook, and I did overcome early-stage cervical cancer 10 years ago. To avoid alarming my son, I quickly reassured him that this was not a real-life scenario and that I am in excellent health. But our conversation gave rise to a niggling question in my mind: am I really doing everything I can to be healthy?

One thing is sure: I eat a healthy diet. Especially since researching and writing the book, I consume more green leafy vegetables, multicolored fruits, omega-3-rich fish, raw cocoa and green tea than most people can imagine. But while focusing so intently on the health-giving powers of food, I have, during the past two years, neglected two other important lifestyle factors that are vital in boosting my body's defences: exercise and rest.

I have three children, aged 7, 7 and 12, and a husband who is out of town many weekdays. As school is a ½-hour drive away, I spend a lot of time in an unpaid taxi-driver role. I am also a nutritionist, cooking instructor and health writer. I deal with sick pets, car and home repairs and anything else that might crop up. And because I want to feed my family healthily, I prepare our meals from scratch daily. No wonder I struggle to make time for exercise.

Or for sleep, for that matter! To service my overcharged agenda, I soldier on like the Duracell Bunny, some nights as late as 1 or 2 a.m. With the alarm set for 6.20 a.m. on weekday mornings, I often get no more than five or six hours of sleep – just enough to get by on but pushing my mental and physical limits.

Research has shown that regular physical activity and sleep boost immunity and reduce cancer risk. If I carry on at this rate it’s possible that no amount of green tea or beetroot soup will save me from myself.

So recently, I got thinking: “If I am still struggling with exercise and stress-management, how can I advise clients and readers to adopt an anti-cancer lifestyle? Am I capable of following my own advice?” And thus was born the idea of the Anti-Cancer Challenge.

I have decided to spend the next 365 days adhering to a correct and complete anti-cancer lifestyle revolving around three principal elements – optimum nutrition, regular exercise and adequate rest – and to blog on my experience. The blog has its own dedicated site here and a selection of posts will appear on my 'Psychology Today' blog, Nourish.

The aim of thisproject is not to “prove that I didn’t get cancer” after my year of anti-cancer living, but to really understand what it’s like to practice what I preach: holistic disease-prevention through an all-round healthy lifestyle. I want to show that it is possible – and even enjoyable! – for an ordinary person with a job and a family to live healthily without spending a fortune on personal trainers or nutritional supplements.

Swapping old habits for new ones is never easy; I feel more than a little nervous at the thought of making these changes. I am counting on your support and hope that others will join the Anti-Cancer Challenge too, making it a place where we can support and encourage each other on our journey to a fuller life and optimum health.


  1. Changes in family responsibilities have taken the oomph out of taking care of myself. This will be a tough challenge but thanks for encouraging me. Sign me up!

  2. Birthday just passed and resolutions to get on my Nordic Trak at least three times a week and to get more sleep are firmly in place - now I just need to stick to it so I need all the moral support I can get. I'll be checking your blog to compare notes!

  3. I too try to eat well and exercise regularly with reasonable success, but it is a challenge for me to get enough sleep and rest and to be relaxed. Sign me up too!

  4. Hello Conner, I have never blogged before so hope I don't mess this up.
    I started treatment yesterday for skin cancer which I take 100% responsibility for as an Australian who abused the sun in her teenage years.
    I am now 43 and living in South East France , half of my time is spent at our home on the mediterranean , half in the frenc alps .
    I have already started my own challenge and was soo happy to find yours through the Australian cancer council.
    How lovely it is to live here in France and have acess to wonderful foods and a great lifestyle, but this is often forgotten as we get caught up in day to day stresses.
    Like yourself I find I constantly running out of time as a mother of two children, an 11 year old boy and 1 year old girl , and also nursing at a local english medical centre.
    But my wish is to live a long healthy life and watch my wonderful children grow old so I will embrace your challenge , and although I only use the computer once a week I will try to follow your wonderful site as best as possible.
    With Best wishes Natalie