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improve health

How to improve your gut health

A key focus of mine as a Functional Medicine Health Coach is to support my clients to improve their gut health. We know that 70-80% of our immune system resides in the gut, and I work primarily with clients who are living with autoimmune diseases. It’s an area that fascinates me, so  I was delighted to catch up (in a socially distanced way) with Emma Cronin aka Wild Pickle to talk about all things related to gut health. Emma’s been running her fermenting business since 2015. She’s literally a walking-talking advert for fermenting because she herself looks so healthy!

The first time that you speak to Emma you are immediately struck by both her deep passion for fermenting, and her incredibly wide knowledge. Unlike some people who have spent years immersing themselves in a subject and live deep in the weeds of the technical details, Emma makes it easy for a first-time fermenter to understand the process. I attended two Wild Pickle workshops in 2019 and came away armed with huge amounts of knowledge, and perhaps more importantly the confidence that I wasn’t going to food poison myself!

What led you to first become interested in fermented foods?

My daughter was suffering from gluten and dairy intolerances from her early years. While I was fatigued and suffering from low mood and digestive problems. I started to look at our diet and lifestyle overall to improve our health and I was introduced to sauerkraut, milk kefir and kombucha. I started to work on cooking everything from scratch and eating the kind of food our great grandma ate  (no processed foods). Then I attended a sauerkraut making workshop. When you make everything from scratch, being able to make a fermented tomato ketchup that tasted amazing and lasted 2-3 months for a little one was like hitting the jackpot for me!

Foraged food ready to be fermented
Foraged from the hedgerow, ready to be fermented. Photo: Wild Pickle

What differences have you noticed in your own health since becoming a committed fermenter?

There’s been so many positive changes: social anxiety lessened; mental health improved; skin condition and colour improved; my hair stopped falling out as much as it was; stronger nails; digestive health recovered; hardly any colds in the winter; enhanced immunity and overall better gut health and I really appreciated feeling an increased vitality in everyday life.

What’s your favourite food/drink to make and why?

Kimchi has to be one of my favourite ferments to make. I enjoy the making process of chopping the vegetables, brining them and making the paste. It is therapeutic and I take my time. I love the Korean phrase “Son Mat” meaning the taste of one’s hands, in my case this translates as made by hand with love and awareness. It slows me down. Kimchi ferments in such a short time of 1-3 days. I then leave it for a couple of months in the cold and when it is brought out the depths of the flavours… are totally different from the beginning. They are complex and superb and I love that all the alchemy of the bacteria is working in kimchi to create the pungency and umami flavours that we love. Giving time and patience is worth it.

Fermented foods. Photo: Wild Pickle

If someone is completely new to fermented foods, where do you suggest they start?

I would recommend that with fermented foods you start with something you enjoy, whether it is gherkins, kimchi, sauerkraut or kombucha. In all cases I would recommend trying small amounts and paying attention to how your body reacts. I would then recommend trying a wide variety of live, unpasteurised fermented foods.

I think that the easiest introduction to making fermented foods is sauerkraut. It is simple and does not need much in the form of ingredients or utensils to get going. It’s great as you can control how tangy it gets and what ingredients go into it. It is a powerhouse of goodness for not very much outlay and effort.

That said, sauerkraut is not always everyone’s cup of tea. So sometimes Kombucha, a sweetened fermented tea is a good gateway into fermented foods and maybe try that first. I think that Kombucha was the first fermented food that we tried. Again, we had to get used to drinking it and had it in small quantities to begin with but we loved it!

What plans do you have for the future of Wild Pickle?

Wild Pickle is moving to online workshops. It’s exciting to be able to reach out and share the fermenting fun with many more people than I could reach locally. The workshops are teaching sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, milk kefir, condiments, salsas and looking at incorporating more wild foraged foods.

I’m starting with smaller workshops (less than 10 people) in order to give all attendees focused attention. In addition to the workshops I also teach groups of friends who are keen to host a kombucha/sauerkraut making virtual party. Plus, I’m also offering bespoke and tailored one to one sessions which will really explore the flavours that you particularly enjoy.

We have a small commercial test kitchen based on a farm in the heart of Staffordshire countryside. We’re also busy creating a workshop there which will provide additional teaching space, but given the current environment that will be ready in 2021.

Fermentation is an increasingly important part of supporting our gut health and immunity. But let’s not forget the other roles that it fills. It’s a tool to help in minimising waste, it focuses our attention to use what we have available, it helps us to get away from the use of plastic, it preserves seasonal food at its best, and makes it easier to store food without the relying on refrigeration.

Fermentation of food creates such complex and amazing flavours that cannot be achieved by other means. What’s incredible is that you can easily make this at home with no fancy equipment. It’s too exciting and too delicious not to share!

How can people get in touch with you?

I’m on both Facebook https://www.facebook.com/WildPickle/ and Instagram https://www.instagram.com/wild.pickle/ or you can email me at info@wildpickle.co.uk

What is Health Coaching?

Let’s be clear, when I was growing up in the 70s Health Coaching didn’t exist. Little kids did not say that they wanted to be a Health Coach when they grew up. For the record I had aspirations to be a spy… But I found myself drawn to the world of health and wellness as a result of managing chronic health conditions both for myself and my children. The regular GP route with referral to individual specialists didn’t work for us. We were all still ill.

I saw a Functional Medicine practitioner in the UK, Dr Sarah Davies, https://www.drsarahdavies.co.uk/ which ignited my interest in this area of lifestyle medicine. Perhaps more importantly we started to get better. This was all of the evidence that I needed. But I wasn’t about to retrain as a doctor… After working with a Functional Medicine Health Coach in the US I was really keen to help bring that level of care and service to the UK.

I joined the second cohort of the ADAPT program at the Kresser Institute as my research showed that it was the best health coach course available. I was looking for academic rigour without the wishy-washy woo woo component. (That’s not a technical description…).

In a nutshell I support my clients to make critical lifestyle and behavior changes to enable them to reach their health goals. For example, we all know what a healthy lifestyle looks like:

  • Eating unprocessed whole foods
  • Adequate exercise
  • Enough sleep
  • Not smoking
  • Limiting alcohol

So if we all already know this, how come we’re not all the absolute healthiest that we can be? We all have that same information. Simply put, information alone cannot create change. A coach will help you to understand and prioritise which health goal is most important for you at this particular time in your life.

As a coach my role is to empower you to uncover your own knowledge and strengths, support you without judging, help you to devise your own solutions to issues and hold you accountable to your goals. By making micro changes we’re able to tiptoe past your amygdala bypassing the freeze, fight or flight response.

How is coaching different to having a chat with a friend over coffee? For a start while your friend obviously likes spending time with you they are not at all invested in helping you to find your inner knowledge and innate strengths.

So you might tell your friend that you ended up having three glasses of Pinot on Friday, when you only meant to have one small glass… She will likely respond with a similar story of when she had too much wine as well. There will be no conversation around how you felt when you poured that second glass or what you were thinking about by the time the third glass came around.

Coaching creates the space to have that conversation and understand the motivations regarding why you chose not to stick to your original plan. It will explore how you felt afterwards, and provide some options for the next time that this situation comes up which gives you opportunities to respond differently.

Those of us that aren’t key workers have likely found that we have more time on our hands due to events being cancelled and the complete reduction of commute times as work and study have both moved into the home. What are you going to do with this time? What have you always put off because you didn’t have enough ‘time’. What’s perhaps more interesting is what’s stopping you now, if you still haven’t kicked off that project?

One of the things that I’ve done is rewatch a film that I saw once back in 1991. I was actually afraid because I loved it so much! I was worried that I wouldn’t like it as much as I remembered. As all of my usual excuses vanished I sat down with my teenage daughter and we watched it together. It was a completely different experience, I saw different nuances to the storyline, but thankfully still loved it.

What’s on your to-do list? How do you want to spend your time during this unique stretch of history? What kind of person do you want to be as you come out of the other side? How could your health be improved? As a functional medicine health coach I can support you to answer these and other questions that you haven’t even thought to ask yet.