"Did you know onions are super cleansing?" I asked.
"Oh!" she said. "That makes so much sense!"
Our other friend then told us how she'd read in the book Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck about a study done with orphans in the 1920s and '30s where Dr. Clara Davis provided 33 different 100% whole foods (no recipes, just raw veggies or fruits, cooked meats or grains, etc, for the purposes of the experiment) and let every child choose what to eat with absolutely no prompting.
Planck describes not only how healthy the children became, faring well on diets that often seemed completely imbalanced (like the boy who ate two pounds of oranges a day for a while), but how the children even cured themselves of ill health by what they chose: "A nine-month-old boy with rickets drank cod liver oil until his rickets was cured, then ignored it."
According to an article, "Clara M. Davis and the Wisdom of Letting Children Choose Their Own Diets," in the Canadian Medical Association Journal,
Davis devised the experiment to let children do for themselves because she suspected that children's bodies instinctively “knew best” what the individual child should eat. Her intellectual model, a view that would later be called “the wisdom of the body,” likened a child's instinctive appetite to the way various autonomic body systems effortlessly adjust themselves to compensate for external challenges — think of sweating on a hot day, and breathing faster when you start to run.(The "trick," as Davis and Planck and others point out, is that they must be whole foods. Sugar, MSG, alcohol, and other processed foods confuse the body's wisdom.)
Another important point from Davis's enormous experiment is the customization aspect. None of the children ate the same things as the other children or stuck to the same foods over long periods. Like the boy with rickets, they seemed to eat according to what their body needed at the time.
I bring all this up because I think we've come to distrust ourselves when it comes to eating healthy. For example, many people force themselves to eat a green salad every day whether or not they are completely sick of green salads — because they have been told or somehow have come to believe that it's what they should do.
I argue that if — most importantly — your diet is free of sugar, RTNCs and processed foods, then you need to listen to what your body craves and doesn't. If you want onions in everything for a while, eat onions! It could be that your body has a particular use for them right now and needs to get a lot until the purpose has been resolved.
And I think that the same wisdom applies beyond foods, as well.
For two months now, I've been putting clove oil on the bottoms of my feet every night. For the past few weeks, I've also added grapefruit oil to my stomach. I've tried to pay attention to my body's reactions as I've done this. At first on the clove oil I had some major symptoms of detoxing that weren't so pleasant, but any time I thought about quitting, my gut reaction was no. I continue to listen for that gut reaction, ready to stop when my body is done with clove, but so far it would seem that I still need it.
As further evidence, I still love the smell. Going to sleep each night with the scents of clove and citrus is absolutely heavenly to me! And I believe our bodies react to taste and smell according to our needs (again, with the caveat that we absolutely cannot trust sugar and processed food cravings!).
What fascinates me even further is when intuition goes beyond tastes and smells. Steph and I compare experiences all the time where we've just had a certain recurring thought — intuition — about trying a certain herb or supplement or oil we weren't even familiar with yet, and then once our intuition pushed us to learn about that type of natural medicine it turned out to be a perfect match for some ailment we were facing.
For me, the most recent example has been black walnut hull. It was among the supplements recommended to me after a massage therapist muscle tested me for yeast and parasites over a year ago, but at the time I had no clue how to even avoid sugar, let alone accept the relevance of muscle testing or the efficacy of herbs. But that one item from his list stuck in my head. I continued to wonder about it, wondering if maybe there was truth to muscle testing, wondering if it did indeed mean my body wanted black walnut hull. I tried four or five other yeast treatments in the mean time, too distrustful of black walnut hull because some people said it was too strong to take while breastfeeding.
Since I'm 5'7" and weigh only 100 pounds, though, I couldn't shake the feeling that maybe I need something that strong to counteract the imbalances of my body.
As I've prayed for inspiration lately (for me, this is a key element in deciphering intuition and how to customize my health care), I felt like I shouldn't do any yeast treatments at first while on the clove. I continued to wait for the feeling that it was time to add herb capsules to the clove regimen, and finally one day two weeks ago I woke up ready to make the capsules again. As I pulled the usual powdered ingredients from my herb cabinet (pau d'arco, oregano, olive leaf, myrrh, chaparral), the black walnut hull powder caught my eye.
Yes, my gut said. Let's add that.
Being a cautious person, though, I decided to at least Google it before swallowing. I really had no clue what black walnut hull is even for.
The frustrating and wonderful thing about herbs is that they never do just one thing. They are complex natural antidotes for all kinds of ills. Each website that I visited listed numerous benefits from black walnut hull, and each list was slightly different while also warning that black walnut hull hasn't been well studied scientifically, so we are still relying on the tradition of it.
While I am a fan of science and love to know the ins and outs of how everything works, my gut feeling still felt good as I read. If I had felt uneasy about the lack of scientific info, I would have accepted that as a sign I wasn't ready for this herb.
On the third site I visited, I found this among the list of black walnut hull's benefits:
(Coincidentally, I also learned that black walnut hull pairs really well with clove oil. Interesting, isn't it?)
How long will it take to work? I don't know. So far the scale isn't showing a difference. But it's not like a doctor's prescription. Our bodies tell us what we need or don't need now, but they don't provide time frames. Sometimes it could be months or years. We have to listen to our instincts to know when it's enough.
My same friend with the onion cravings was into green smoothies back in the fall, as I was, and once the weather got cold, both of us simply stopped wanting them. That's how you know.
Lately I crave citrus like crazy. My favorite fresh-squeezed juice recipe right now is one orange, one pink grapefruit, and a handful of cranberries. It's way too tart for everyone else in my family, but I love it. For whatever reason, I think my body needs the tartness of the grapefruit and cranberries right now. When I stop wanting it, I'll make some other kind of juice.
And this is what makes natural health so fantastic. It's not about depriving yourself or rigidly adhering to one particular diet. As the CMAJ article notes,
It is actually beyond easy to imagine how Davis's orphans could have eaten themselves sick with healthy foods. Had one or more chosen only meat, fish and eggs, within short order they would likely have come down with scurvy. Had another been a fanatical vegan and eaten only fruits and vegetables, there is a good likelihood that he or she would have experienced a vitamin B12 deficiency and megaloblastic anemia.But none of them did choose to be that rigid. While their day-to-day diets might have seemed imbalanced, they evened out over the long-run. All the orphans had fantastic health on the choose-your-own-whole-foods diet.
As Davis's orphan study proves and our own experience can confirm, if we listen to our intuition and customize our own health plans according to what our bodies need, good health is the assured result.