From becoming a naturopath, to developing a friendship with Pete Evans and, more recently, working with Indigenous communities, when Helen Padarin has a dream, the universe conspires to make it happen.
From an early age, Helen had a desire to work in the healing field, and because of her strong affinity with nature, natural-based therapies seemed to tick all the boxes. In Grade 12 she discovered naturopathy, which was a perfect fit and after graduating from high school, she moved from Canberra to Sydney to complete her natural medicine studies. Four years of study and 18 years later, she is a world-class naturopath, medical herbalist and nutritionist.
Interestingly, Helen was inspired to become a natural medicine practitioner after being ill as a child. “Growing up I didn’t have great health and that likely had roots in medical interventions to stop me from being born three months too early. Mum was put on steroids to stop the labour and maintain the pregnancy, which worked and saved my life but also had a fallout. I had asthma and eczema from six months old, I would get hayfever and allergies to animals and dust, eggs and dairy. I had bronchitis every March in my teens, recurrent tonsillitis, pneumonia in Year 9, shingles in Year 11, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) in my early twenties, and in hindsight I realised I very likely had endometriosis,” said Helen.
Naturopathy, herbalism and a paleo lifestyle helped her to heal and live a vibrant life as an adult.
Helen says most people these days don’t even know what it is to feel well.
“The norm is ‘not well’ and it really breaks my heart.
“I am particularly concerned about teenagers. If they don’t feel well, it really affects their mood and passion for life resulting in a lot of mental health issues now with this generation. There’s a disconnect with how many of them feel mentally and emotionally, and what’s going on in their bodies. I just say to them, ‘This is not how you are meant to be feeling. I know your mum has brought you in to see me and you don’t really know why you are here (in clinic) but I know that you don’t even know what it feels like to feel good, and I want to you feel well and good. That’s your birth right’.
“It was the same for me growing up. I didn’t know I didn’t feel well until I started feeling better – then I was a bit dismayed that I had felt so terrible for so long without knowing it!
“I want people to EXPERIENCE what it FEELS like to feel better, rather than living with feeling less than optimal, because it affects every aspect, including your relationships and level of enjoyment, of life.
“Experiencing and feeling something is so much more powerful than being told about it or reading about it. It’s what brings about change for the better.”
Another dream that actualised, was teaming up with a high profile chef.
About seven years ago, Helen was living in New Zealand and she remembers her friends keenly watching cooking shows on TV. At the time Helen said, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a celebrity chef who shares info about healthy food and gets those messages out into the mainstream?” Shortly after, Helen’s sister sent a message telling her about a chef called Pete Evans who was in the media for activating nuts. Helen hadn’t heard of him, but proclaimed, “I don’t know who he is but I like him!” Within nine days of moving back to Australia, she met Pete Evans (they were both speaking at a Mindd Foundation event) and they have worked together and been good friends ever since.
Helen creates change wherever she goes: she has an impact on the celebrity world, she engages her audiences at events, and she inspires her clients to good health by working with them one-on-one. What you may not know, is for about a decade she also held a deep yearning to work with Indigenous cultures.
“I always had a sense it would happen but didn’t know how or why or when.
“I quite ashamedly didn’t have any connections with that world and didn’t know where to begin to create a genuine connection. I also had a sense it would come at the right time and so I trusted that. Then I got a call from Kama Trudgen, the co-founder of Hope for Health in October 2017, and that led to partnering with her in Arnhem Land.” They had a fantastic conversation and connection, and Helen shared Kama’s sense of urgency to assist the Indigenous communities.
“There is so much that we need to learn from them. It’s not about going in to fix things; we are doing it to work together because we have so much we need from one another,” said Helen.
So they created the ‘Together Retreats’, a program that involves a non-Indigenous person sponsoring a Yolngu person so they can go on a journey of wellness, connection and sharing together. The retreats are comprehensive, and include a 2-month online preparation course, dietary education, daily movement activities, massage, osteopathy, medical consultations and ancient Aboriginal treatments. This journey is literally life saving for the oldest living culture on Earth, who are currently battling an epidemic of preventable chronic disease. They are working with two universities – Melbourne and Charles Darwin – to get published data from the retreats, which will hopefully help fund future retreats.
The ‘Together Retreats’ incorporate paleo principles, which closely align with the Indigenous people’s traditional local diet of Elcho Island (they weren’t grain growers). Such a diet would have been made up of tubers, turtles, fish, crocodile, shell fish, goannas, kangaroos and tart, sour berries. Up in Australia’s top end, the major illnesses affecting Indigenous communities include diabetes, cancer, chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease, which are all diseases of lifestyle that have only been prevalent in the area for the last 40 years.
Today, the diet of many in the Indigenous community consists of highly processed and sugared dominant culture food-like substances (white flour products and sugar feature heavily). Up until the 1970s, the Indigenous people were fit, wiry, strong and empowered warriors, fuelled by their traditional Yolngu foods.
The transformation after these retreats can be quite profound: everyone achieves vastly improved (often optimal) blood sugar levels without insulin, improved blood pressure, significant improvements with vision and asthma symptoms, and a reduction of excess weight. “The participants are the ones making the changes, we just hold the space,” said Helen. “Each time I go to Elcho Island, I learn a bit more, including about traditional bush tukka. It’s powerful when people experience feeling better; that’s what the retreats are about rather than just learning intellectually what it may be like.
“One reason I love working from a ‘food as medicine’ perspective, is you start to notice feeling better and you start to tune into your body and how you are feeling. From there, you start looking at the quality of your food and where it comes from and what impact that has on the environment.
“We forget we are all connected and we are all part of nature, and so to achieve and maintain health we need to live in accordance to the laws and rhythms of nature as much as possible.”
Inspired by Paul Chek’s book, The Last 4 Doctors You’ll Ever Need, Helen offers the following as her best ‘back-to-basics’ tips:
1 Doctor Quiet: Quite time can give us more energy. “He who fails to go in, goes without.” Meditation is one thing I love to do to create space and quiet within.
2 Doctor Movement: I go to an ocean pool regularly to move my body and I do training sessions, bush walks and love to climb trees, and most importantly, play!
3 Doctor Diet: For me, using paleo principles as a foundation is the best way I have found to take care of my body’s needs.
4 Doctor Happy: It’s so important to connect with what you love – a common thread with people who get chronic diseases