Alicia Davenport:
"Food really is medicine"

The next in our Wellness Talks series is a long time customer of The Whole Kitchen who reached out to us when we first launched this series. Now, naturopath Alicia Davenport is more than just a customer, she is a friend, wellness expert, and a trusted adviser on all things Natural. 

Alicia invited us to City Osteopathy and Physiotherapy to see where she helps people who come to her with a wide range of ailments, from fatigue to indigestion, as well as many more. She talked us through her routine, her philosophy, and explained to us exactly what being a naturopath entails.

Good afternoon! Before we get started, could you share with us how you started your day this morning? We love hearing about morning routines!

Sure, I tend to get up quite early, have a shower to wake up, and then my morning is all about preparing for work, so the usual – getting ready, having breakfast, organising the house, and getting out the door early. For me, I place a lot of importance on my evening routine, exercising after work and ensuring I am not awake too late as this then affects my next day waking tired before I begin the day. If I run out of time during the day to get things done, I also find it more productive to get up earlier the next day.

What is your story and how did you get into the work you are doing?

Growing up with a dad suffering from paranoid schizophrenia gave me an interest in health and mental well-being. Watching a loved one slowly getting sicker, I knew there had to be a better answer to our fragmented healthcare system. My passion of natural medicine grew supporting my family’s health and those around me looking for a more holistic approach to their lifestyle. Working as a naturopath was something I knew I would do as a job from an early age.

Tell us more about being a naturopath? 

I have worked in the industry for the last 15 years, it’s gone quite quickly. I’ve always done clinical work but I’ve also worked a lot behind the scenes, if we’re prescribing things like herbs and natural vitamins, how are these actually working, what formula is being used to make them etc. So, I’ve worked on the wholesale side of things as well, and that’s really allowed me to get a bigger picture from a practical sense, and helping me with prescribing as well as there’s such a huge difference between the various things that are on offer. The smallest thing can make a huge difference. Even if it’s the same product, the brand can make all the difference. Sometimes it does pay to spend a bit more money on something. 

I’ve also worked for pharmaceutical companies before as well. I’m just fascinated by health and the body in general. I’m interested in the whole picture which has brought me full circle into private consulting. Prior to moving here I worked for a clinic that predominantly treated children on the spectrum of autism, and neurological disorders.

We focus a lot on preventative medicine, it’s kind of the ultimate public health subject, trying to educate people on how they can prevent illness and disease instead of trying to treat it on the backfoot when you’re already unwell. While it can of course help to treat illnesses, the emphasis is really on prevention. 

Who do you see most?

Since coming to Singapore it’s changed a lot. I see a lot of children actually, I really love working with kids. There's a lot that can be done to set them up for a healthy life. A lot of it isn’t really taught in schools, and I wish that was more accessible. But also, I see a lot of mums, who tend to come for things like fatigue which is tied to hormonal issues, a lot of digestive issues which can be things from bloating, to constipation, reflux – all of the niggling symptoms that people just tend to accept as normal.

What can be done? What are the steps?

If you came in, the first appointment is usually about getting a background of the person, so they will normally come in and present a primary concern about their health, as well as quite a few other minor concerns which give me a lot of clues. With that in mind, we prioritise around their main concern, which is sometimes quite easy to pinpoint a cause. For example, with fatigue, if you dig a bit deeper you may be able to see that it’s more to do with digestion, we’re always looking for that underlying cause. I would always start with nutrition and diet, then I start with nutrient deficiencies, looking back and establishing whether or not that person is anemic or has iron deficiencies, and if they do, then we work with their diet to eliminate those. Our reports get quite specific, but we really put an emphasis on working with the patient, asking them how they're feeling, because that’s what’s important at the end of the day.

How has COVID-19 impacted you personally and professionally?

Although with COVID-19, 2020 has been an isolating and difficult year in many ways, I have been very fortunate in the way I was impacted. Shifting to working from home was quite easy as my focus prior to COVID had been offering telemedicine naturopathic appointments to patients all around the world, so I was ready in this regard.

I started new projects during this time to keep myself motivated and active, this included some studies. It could have been very easy to slip into a black hole of watching Netflix every day and eating junk food to block out the chaos that was unfolding globally. I am, however, looking forward to eventually being reunited with my family in the near future.

From your experience, what do you feel are the biggest health challenges people are facing today?

The biggest health challenges I see people facing today are; chronic fatigue; insulin resistance; auto-immunity; and malnutrition as a result of our modern lifestyles and food industry. Today pesticides are widely used in our food supply. It is becoming increasing harder to avoid exposure to these toxins. A reported 24 million pounds of antibiotics are used every year in the United States alone to prevent infections in livestock but also as a way to fatten poultry and livestock faster. The dairy and milk we consume is that of permanently pregnant cows eating high corn diets, being treated consistently with antibiotics. With our current food system based on increasing profit margins, it is increasingly harder to get all the nutrients we need from food leading to chronic health issues. This is why it is so important to support local companies promoting healthy food options.  

Can you describe your food philosophy? 

Eating real food has the power to change your health. Food really is medicine.

What does real food mean to you?

I always find it quite interesting these days as most of the time we don’t really know where our food comes from. I remember the first time I saw a picture of real, grown, nutmeg, and I’d never even known what it looked like. Real food I would say is the food that has been interfered with the least, it’s fresh, seasonal, and also trying to use local food as much as possible. 

What does gluten free mean to you?

I have been eating gluten free for 17 years now, gluten free is a way of life for me. I used to experience sinus congestion which led to recurring headaches – I was a second-year naturopathic student at the time so  I decided to try removing gluten from my diet. As a naturopath who treats chronically sick patients, I find that gluten often is a major cause of digestive, autoimmune, weight, mood and neurologic problems. Although going gluten free doesn’t guarantee a healthy diet, it is a great place to start. And it does take approximately 3 months to rid gluten from the body and for some people to start noticing effects.

Have you ever looked back on being GF?

Not at all, gluten free is actually my foundation. Honestly, I never had coeliac testing, but I have tested my genes, and I know I have the coeliac gene. Even prior to that though, just listening to your body from a clinical point of view, it gives you so many clues, you don’t always have to spend hundreds of dollars on a test. Often it will depend on the personality of the person, do they really feel they need that concrete evidence? When I went gluten free, genetic testing wasn’t really a thing then, that’s only exploded in the last 5 years or so. 

How do you start people on GF?

I normally start simply by bridging them. I have to remind myself that I’ve been eating gluten free for so long now, it’s become such a habit that I don’t even think twice. I can tell now just looking at the outside of a restaurant if they’re going to have gluten free options. Everyone will get to that stage eventually, but you start off by working out what foods you’re eating now, and just switching it to the gluten free version, especially with children who can often feel overwhelmed by the shift. From there, it’s a slow process of refinement and development. I always try to go at their pace. Some people will go all out and do everything at once, but for the majority it’s a slower process. We start with the staples and give them the room to get more adventurous over time. Everyone feels overwhelmed at the start but it does get easier. 

It’s why I really love your products, they’re so easily accessible and they make me feel connected to my home in Queensland. Being able to go to a proper shopping centre and buy food for myself is amazing. People take that for granted.

You’ve seen this work with non-coeliacs too?

Definitely. A lot of people focus on IgE (Immunoglobulin E), food allergies. But there’s lots of people that have sensitivities and intolerances, I see it all the time. There are a few main common triggers, dairy, eggs, gluten, seafood, soy, and nuts – these aren’t the only triggers of course but I see these a lot. 

A lot of people say that you shouldn’t go gluten free if you’re not coeliac, what’s your take on that?

You know, I hear that all the time, and I don’t flinch any more. I’m always open minded when it comes to any health related, looking at both sides. From my clinical experience I can only base my advice around what I see. Children in particular are very honest, so what they think is very important. The main symptom with a lot of coeliacs is fatigue. A lot of people worry that if they take a food out that they’ll never be able to bring it back in, but I would say that there are so many chemicals sprayed on gluten, it’s not just the protein in it, but it’s also the way it’s processed and manufactured, as well as the quality of it. 

What is your typical day on a plate? Do you have any go-to, family-favourite recipes (snacks or meals)?

Usually I will have a smoothie for breakfast, change this daily, could be coconut water based with celery, dragon fruit, some lime etc. Or I will have a savoury breakfast, possibly egg, scrambled tofu on GF toast, vegetable soup, vada with coconut chutney. 

I often fast between breakfast and lunch and have a smaller meal at afternoon tea – sometimes sushi, coconut yogurt, seaweed snack if eating out. Dinner is usually a fish curry, dairy free nachos, san choy bow, pho, roasted vegetables with salmon. And our favourite family recipe is curried scrambled eggs for breakfast.

What are your top three tips for healthy living? 

  1. Try eating a gluten free, dairy and low refined carb diet
  2. Sleep helps everything
  3. Be aware of your energy – Every cell in your body is constantly responding to your energy. Energy that promotes vitality is feeling calm, confident, love and joy.

For someone wanting to learn more about wellness/nutrition, what resources would you recommend?

The Australasian College of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine (ACNEM) is a great resource for anyone interested in learning more about Nutritional and Environmental Medicine.

There are many great books these days:

–   Gut by Giulia Enders

–  Any books by Dr Mark Hyman

- Netflix – The Milk System

 Do you have any affirmations, quotes, or mantras that you turn to regularly?

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” ~ Dr. Seuss

How can our readers connect with you further?

If you want to get in touch you can just drop me an email at alicia@cityosteophysio.com. I’m always happy to help.

And finally, just a bit of fun, some sentence starters (just say the first thing that pops into your head!)

a. Three things I always have stocked in my fridge are...
1. Dragon fruit
2. Broccoli
3. Well it’s in the freezer but your GF Wholemeal bread
 
b. To relax I.. I enjoy jogging, hot yoga or reading
c. I’m most grateful for… the beautiful people I have in my life
d. If I could eat only one thing for the rest of my life it would be… That is a hard question…. I would have to say Pho



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