Why I Decided to Live a Sustainable Lifestyle

I grew up with nothing.

So when I started to make a little bit of money, I became obsessed with assimilating to an American lifestyle and that meant being a reckless consumer. Over the years, I’d accumulated baskets of body lotions, hair products, makeup, and clothes. I was also eating the cheapest supermarket products (which was often highly processed and full of additives) so I can afford my hoarder lifestyle.

I never once thought of the effects that consuming and applying all these chemical laden products might have had on my body.

In fact, I’d never really even thought much about what was in them!

It wasn’t until my twenties that my health started deteriorating with gut issues and the autoimmune condition Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, that I started to dig a little deeper into the effects that toxins may have been having on my body.

It was then that I learnt about the triggers of my autoimmune condition and the negative effects that chemicals in our environment can have on us.

That the toxins we ingest (like preservatives & pesticides), breathe (like chemical air fresheners & fumes) and absorb through our skin (like cosmetics & cleaning products) – all eventually end up circulating our bodies.

And yes, the body is an amazing machine, so it’s generally really good at eliminating small amounts of toxins. But with most of our human-made chemicals only being around in the last century, our bodies aren’t well equipped to deal with continuous exposure to them.

So when the body is burdened with large doses of toxins on a daily basis, its detoxification ability can become impaired. This increased toxin load makes the body work harder in many ways  – which decreases our energy and immune function.

 

Increased toxin load = decreased detoxification ability

 (and therefore increased risk of weakened immune system & disease)

 

So although I’m not saying that my toxin exposure caused my autoimmune conditions, it’s an environmental exposure that certainly wasn’t doing my body any favors.

I needed to support my body, not hinder its ability further.

 

Perhaps it started off as a child.

I believe and from working with many different specialists, my health conditions were triggered as a child.

If you think about it this way, a growing child’s organ systems are less capable of fending off chemicals from the air, foods and through personal products. It’s also a worry that these environmental exposures in childhood may be a potential  trigger for disease later in life. Teens are also particularly sensitive to hormone-disrupting chemicals right around the age that they are often experimenting with a large number of cosmetic and body care products.

This is not to say that kids need to stop using body products (or that they shouldn’t experiment with cosmetics in their teens) it’s just that there are simple natural product switches that can reducing toxin exposure.

 

I think the quick take away message is  that – although you can’t totally avoid toxins (this is impossible, they quite literally are everywhere) –  there are ways you can reduce your exposure!

 

I made the decision a few years ago to reduce my exposure as best I can.

I heavily reduced our toxin use as a means of healing my autoimmune condition. I replaced all of my cosmetics and our body products, found natural cleaning products and cookware, and started purchasing food items without additives (that is without preservatives, artificial colors and artificial flavors.) But I am no evangelists – I have a balanced real world approach. So while I can buy preservative free food for home, I don’t stress too much when I am eating out.

 

 How can I minimize my exposure?

 

Personal Products

Everything you put on your skin either gets eliminated or assimilated.

The Environmental Working Group state that women on average use 12 personal products a day (amounting to 168 different chemical ingredients) and men use an average of 6 products (amounting to approximately 85 chemical ingredients.)

Cosmetics are also poorly regulated and  are often made using untested chemicals.

Many commercial personal products also contain hormone disrupting chemicals which can cause problems with your own hormones and overall health! This can be taxing on our body as it works hard to try to eliminate the toxins. And while we can’t say why the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is much more common in women, perhaps the use of hormone disrupting chemicals could play a part?

Nowadays there is actually a huge range of natural cosmetics and natural personal products available. So it’s much easier to slowly make the switch as your old ones run out. You don’t have to make the change all at once – one step at a time – reduce the overwhelm!

I get a lot of my natural deodorant, body wash, face and body oils from Grove Collaborative. They sell pure and natural products that don’t contain herbicides, pesticides, weeds or fillers… just pure Mother Nature goodness. If you want to check them out, please check them out here .

 

Cleaning & Air-Freshener Products

Have you ever picked up a cleaning product and noticed there’s no list of ingredients?!

That’s because these products don’t actually have to label their ingredients before they go on the shelves and many have never even undergone testing!

Many cleaning products and air-fresheners contain hundreds of chemicals with some being known to trigger allergic or asthmatic reactions in some people. Some can also cause burns and irritation, and have even been linked with infertility and hormone disruption.

To reduce your chemical exposure, you can switch to natural cleaning products or make your own using baking soda and white vinegar (don’t worry the vinegar smell doesn’t last long – so your house won’t smell like a fish n’ chip shop!) I also use essential oils such as tea tree, lavender and lemon that have antiseptic properties and are great to use on countertops, toilets and floors.

I personally find that there are also a number of air fresheners containing ‘fragrance’ (a label given to  the aromatic chemical concoctions in products) that give me a headache. The only way I can stop this headache is to remove myself from the room or remove the product! And I’m not alone… this chemical sensitivity is not unusual (particularly in those with autoimmune conditions!)

100% pure essential oils can be a great alternative for effective natural cleaning products and air fresheners without all the chemicals.

Food 
Food should be good for you – but some foods certainly aren’t!

Unfortunately many of the toxins we are exposed through our foods can have a real negative effect on our gut. With more than 10,000 additives being allowed into our foods – some knowingly linked to health problems – it does raise concern as to what it is doing to our (and our children’s) health.

Reducing additives and shopping organic where possible, can help reduce the toxic load and improve the gut health for you and your family.

So we want to be consuming real, whole foods that are full of vitamins and nutrients. If the food you are eating takes more nutrients to eliminate them – than the food itself is giving you – then it’s not doing your body any favors!

Many of us get so used to buying the same brand every shop (perhaps the brand we were brought up with) but often – sitting just beside them – is a brand without additives.

This can be an easy switch, however it does initially take a bit more effort in the ‘fine art of reading labels.’ See if you can find products without additives in them (Clue: if it contains numbers or ingredients you aren’t familiar with, it’s probably a red flag.) I know it takes time and patience to start reading labels (especially when you have a nagging little toddler sitting in your trolley.) But slowly you’ll get to know the brands which are best for you, and you won’t have to do it every shop!

Reduce the overwhelm by just slowly swapping out one to two of your regular products to additive free ones each week.

We’re also selective in the containers we use when reheating foods. Phthalates and BPA (found in some plastics) are reported to be hormone disrupters. When heated, it is thought these toxins may migrate into our food, so we always choose to reheat foods in a glass or ceramic container.

 

 

How can I become more informed and find out more about my current products?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a great place to search for what’s in your current products, and how the chemicals within them may affect your health (there’s a free app too.)

Each product you enter will give you an overall score for its toxicity and the ingredients it contains. I aim to choose products with a 1-2 rating (being the lowest in toxicity).

Skin Deep Site for Cosmetics & Personal Products

www.ewg.org/skindeep/

Safe Cleaning Guide

www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners

Safe Food Guide

www.ewg.org/foodscores

 

Know that this post is in no way meant to overwhelm or cause guilt – but to spread awareness and support!

That there are small changes we can make to what we put on our skin, in the air and on our plate that can have a positive effect on our overall wellbeing!

Remember that small, gradual steps are the best way to go when making any lifestyle changes. Ones which are realistic and manageable for you & your loved ones – are the ones that are more likely to stick.

LIFESTYLEAlice Chen