Today in our inspiring stories series we interview Hanna Sillitoe who cured herself of acne, eczema and psoriasis by switching to an alkaline plant based diet and changing her lifestyle. She has written a book called Radiant to help others along the road to health.
Tell me about your journey into health and wellbeing. What was the catalyst?
This all started twenty years. My skin erupted in what I soon learned was psoriasis when I was just 15 and still at school. It was a stressful time and a combination of teen angst, poor diet and general life uncertainty triggered my first flare. Whenever something is wrong on the inside, it’s always shown up very visibly on the outside for me. I had eczema as a child, spots as a teenager and psoriasis throughout most of my adult life. It was incredibly difficult, even some of the simple things you take for granted such as shopping for party clothes. I’d dread friends summer weddings as I’d be trawling the shops in June looking for long sleeved dresses.
Three years ago my skin flared worse than ever. I’d split with my boyfriend, my diet was poor, I was drinking too much. I’d had enough. I went to my Dr and he suggested we try a medicine called Methotrexate – it’s a chemotherapy drug. I understand the principle. My immune system was over reacting so the theory was to suppress it. The side effects are frightening and it wasn’t a route I wanted to go down. So I began searching for something else.
How long was it before you started noticing the difference and healing of your skin and can you describe the moment when you realised you had cured yourself?
For two weeks my skin got worse. It’s a well known potential side effect of detox, but it was really tough to see. On day 14 something changed. I woke up and somehow my skin wasn’t quite as red, it felt calmer, there was less itching, I wondered if at that point I could actually be on to something. Progress continued from there and by day 30 I went out in short sleeves for the first time in ages. That was such an incredible moment.
The basic principle of the diet is lots of alkaline, plant focused greens. Freshly pressed juices and healthy soups and salads. This is most definitely not about deprivation, it’s about learning a whole new way of cooking and eating.
More exciting than the moment I realised I’d healed myself was the moment I realised this could massively help other people! I’m still astonished by peoples stories and incredible transformation pictures every time they’re sent to me! To see the difference simple lifestyle and diet changes can make is just wonderful.
At what point did you decide to share your story and help others?
Soon after I’d healed I shared my own before and after pics on twitter. Suddenly people began contacting me asking what I’d done! To be able to share everything I’d learned was just brilliant! I always encourage people not to think of this as a diet but as a completely manageable lifestyle change – one that has to work for you. I was in a very desperate place and would have done anything to heal my skin, so drinking green juices and living on salads didn’t seem so bad! Once you’ve given your body that break from digestion and allowed it to begin healing the important thing is to make the lifestyle sustainable longterm. There are so many brilliant people promoting clean eating and plant powered foods that even the supermarkets are catching on. Buying healthy products free from gluten and dairy is so much easier than it used to be, and this way of eating does not have to be expensive. In fact many people message me to say their weekly bills are much less since cutting out (or cutting down on) alcohol, processed foods and prepackaged meals.
There is a little extra planning involved to make sure you have healthy snacks to hand. But lots of the foods I make such as stews and soups can be frozen so it really can become as simple as reaching for a ready meal after a long day – just a much healthier one!
Can you share a couple of examples of someone who has followed your recipes and plant based diet to heal themselves and how their lives have changed?
The before and after pics say it best and I’m always sharing them on my Instagram. I think they’re a fantastic way to inspire others! Warda is a lovely girl from Sweden who got in touch three years ago. She’s one of the first people I was able to help through sharing what I’d done to heal my skin. She had such a positive outlook from the start. She didn’t view changing her diet as miserable or restrictive, she saw it as her way of getting well again. She was excited and positive and saw amazing changes within a month! She’s now completely free of psoriasis. Vicki contacted me two years ago, she was really struggling with psoriasis on her legs. She began changing her diet and following the little plan I put together. Nothing happened for 5 weeks and she started to feel a little downbeat. Week 6 was a game changer for her and instantly her skin began to heal. Two years on she’s never looked back and has even changed her career to run a reiki massage business. We finally met at Blenheim Palace food festival a couple of months ago. It was so lovely to meet someone in person who has so dramatically changed their life.
How do you stay motivated and keep off the culprit foods?
I was so super strict at first. As soon as my skin was clear I became paranoid about my psoriasis and eczema returning. I used to have regular nightmares about it and wake up obsessively checking my skin! I had to learn to relax and these days I follow an 80 / 20 principle. So 80% of the time I’m super strict and eat lots of green, alkaline foods. 20% I allow myself to ‘cheat’ – for want of a better word! There are certain things I never went back to. Alcohol for example. I used to love heavy red wines or ice cold G&Ts in summer. I quit three and a half years ago and never really felt any incentive to go back. I loved my drinking and definitely did not want that to get out of control again.
What do you eat for breakfast?
It varies. I think it’s really important to keep mixing it up. Right now I have an obsession with homemade cinnamon granola and coconut yoghurt. It’s too delicious! I love starting my day with a green juice because I believe it’s the best way to flood the body with lots of energy boosting, liquid vitamins. I also love mashed avocado on sourdough bread – perfect with a pinch of pink salt and squeeze of lime – and if I have a little more time at weekends, sweet potato rostis are always a favourite.
How much of an impact does the food we put in our bodies have on our health?
I believe it has an impact on every single part of our being. The old adage of ‘you are what you eat’ is absolutely true. Showing the transformation in my skin and the massive difference diet has made for others is such a brilliant, visible barometer. But there’s no doubt about it … if that’s what’s going on on the outside, there will be some pretty dramatic internal changes too!
What would you say to all the skeptics out there in the medical profession who prescribe drugs and medication to patients with similar ailments?
I’d actually love to work more closely with health and medical professionals. Qualified Doctors such as Dr Chattergee (Doctor in the House BBC 1) are bridging the gap between nutrition and medicine. I believe treating patients by firstly taking the time to consider their diet and lifestyle could alleviate so many chronic health conditions. Food as medicine is always seen as the quirky alternative, but I’d love that to be the first prescription, before then considering strong drugs if lifestyle change and a revised diet is really making no difference.
Who has inspired you in your industry and who do you really admire?
So many people inspire me each day. I’m actually most inspired by those who make such huge commitments to change their diet, lifestyle and ultimately their health. People who message me with no idea how or where to begin … who I hear from two or three months down the line with incredible before and after photographs! There’s no denying juicing giants such as Jason Vale and Joe Cross have massively highlighted the amazing benefits of juicing fresh fruit and veg. And Ella Mills has had an incredible impact on the health and wellness movement by sharing what she’s learnt through her Deliciously Ella brand. I think anyone who is able to show that diet change needn’t be boring or restrictive is making this transition to plant powered diets so much easier for people and that’s what I really admire.
Tell me more about your Radiant retreats?
The retreats were I dream I had three years ago, very soon after my healing began. It was like having this amazing secret to getting healthy and well and wanting to help anyone and everyone do the same. It can seem very overwhelming for people to begin with. Bearing in mind some are coming from a place of high stress, heavy work load, extremely poor diet and takeaway foods. Asking someone to meditate, practice yoga and switch their breakfast drive thru bacon muffin to a chia seed pudding or avocado sourdough is such an dramatic concept. Helping someone to do that in a peaceful, quiet space, away from everyday stresses where I can literally show them step by step how incredibly delicious and varied plant focused foods can be – it’s just life changing.
What’s next for you?
I always have a million different projects on the go! I’m speaking at lots of book and food festivals this year to share my story and of course my book Radiant. So I’ll be doing much more of that. I’m trying to find the time to host at least one retreat a month as I believe that’s where I can make a real difference. As the UK weather gets colder we’ll be looking at some warmer destinations for autumn and winter, so watch this space!
Get in touch via Hanna via email, follow on Instagram for her latest recipes, and find out more about her on her website. Soul Seed Travel are offering a special discount on her upcoming retreat in Greece.