Renowned clinical nutritionist Natalia Rose, author of The Raw Food Detox Diet, was plagued with anorexia and bulimia during her teenage years, and with related challenges during her early twenties. I interviewed her last year and in part one of that interview she talks about the wisdom she has picked up on her journey of physical and spiritual healing.
“I was raised not to share this kind of stuff,” Natalia Rose tells me at the start of the interview during which she has agreed to talk, publicly and in detail, for the first time, about her struggles with disordered eating. But she is ready to tell this very personal story now, to offer hope to the many who are going through similar challenges.
She tells me that she remembers wondering, at the tender age of 15 – by which time she was already in the grips of anorexia – “‘What’s so great about life? It feels like it’s all about food and restriction.’ I was going to an amazing school and I had an amazing future ahead of me but all I could think of and see ahead was a future of having to restrict myself.”
And six years later, having left the more dangerous forms of disordered eating behind, but still waging a daily battle with her weight, her prevailing thoughts were, “If it’s this bad at 21, what will it be like at 35? After I’ve had kids I will feel matronly and so unattractive. What’s the point when it’s only going to get worse from here?”
Well, Rose is 36 now, and she has two children – 11-year-old Thandi and 9-year-old Tommy. She has the figure you see in the photo above, and depriving herself of anything she wants to eat is but a distant memory. It’s just that, with a clean body, she now desires only clean foods.
“We’re bombarded with the spoken and unspoken message, ‘Have this slim, sexy body’ but also ‘Eat this [processed] food,’” she observes. “You can’t do both.” And on the subject of life, she now has this to say, “It’s so liberating to have the path lit up. I feel like every day is a chance to make sense of more; to log more miles on this path of discovery. Life is just really, really fun.”
Her stunning transformation was thanks not only to adopting a cleansing diet and lifestyle, but also to a parallel voyage of spiritual discovery. “Yes, I changed my diet, but there was a huge leap between there and coming to consciousness. I was trying to make the life I was living work. That life doesn’t work.
“So yes, change your diet from mainstream to natural foods. But while you’re doing that, see if you can spot all the other things that need to be changed from dysfunctional to functional. This is not just about the food – this is about bringing us back to our humanity. In my case, ultimately it was a shift, on every level, from a life-deteriorating paradigm to a life-generating one that transformed me”.
Rose was raised in the affluent Los Angeles district of Encino. Her father, Ben Barrett, began his career as a heavyweight champion and then found even greater success as a recording studio contractor who worked with many of the music industry’s greats during the 60s, 70s and 80s. He was 64 when he met Rose’s mother – many years his junior – and 69 by the time his daughter was born. “I attribute the fact I have to put a lot of effort to get the health I would like to the fact I was born to an older father,” comments Rose. “This wasn’t the springy DNA of a twentysomething.”
Nonetheless, food at home was at least healthy (relatively speaking) and Rose remembers frequent trips to “70s-style, old-world health food stores – the kind that smell of B12!” adding that she, “had exposure to consciousness about food from my mother.”
Rose suffered from digestive problems as a child, and recalls stopping on street corners clutching her mid-section, doubled over with the pain. “My mother at least knew to give me acidophilus rather than go to pharmaceutical drugs, and my girlfriends came to know me for my unusual pharmacopoeia of vitamins and other remedies.”
Rose recalls that she and her mother would spend every Saturday shopping on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. “I had beautiful clothes and a willowy figure and it was a constant fashion show. It was nice but I never took it that seriously.” It was when she went to boarding school at 13 to escape LA – a world that was by then starting to confuse her – that food first became an issue.
Back home, the only treats in the pantry were raisins and, occasionally, corn chips. But at school, much of the fare was processed, laden with sugar and salt, and pastry-encrusted. “I had fun, but after four months it was time to go home for Christmas break and I couldn’t get my jeans on,” she remembers. “School was a safe environment to be plump, but home wasn’t. I was going back to fashion central. That’s when I lost my innocence about food.
“When I got off the plane, my mother didn’t have to say anything. She wasn’t even reproachful. There was just this look of, ‘What have they done to you?’ My brother and father also gave me disapproval without meaning to. My brother was very ‘cool’ and handsome, with lots of gorgeous girls around and I felt like a pile of lard next to them. So that Christmas break I decided I don’t want this body – I want that body.”
Rose went back to what she then knew about the best way to lose weight. It was 1989, and fibre was the big thing. “There was a cereal called Common Sense Oat Bran. It was really good.” She remembers. “I got everyone in school on it. The amount of gas in that girls’ cafeteria! I focused a lot on cereal and cottage cheese, and I dropped enough weight that I could go home next break and not feel like a beached whale.”
Rose remembers an extended trip to France the following year as, “the first foray into the extremes of my personality. I told myself, ‘You are going to come back super skinny.’ That was the goal. Not to learn French or to find romance. My priority on that trip was not what I was doing but what I was eating, and when I set my mind on something, I go for it.”
This was when anorexia started to exert its insidious grip on her. “It was almost a high, realising that I had the power to push beyond limitations others couldn’t,” she recalls. “Even though that’s because they’re balanced and don’t need to, in the warped mind of an anorexic it seems like a strength.”
Before long, she was existing on an egg for breakfast and a few bites of chicken and vegetables for dinner. Her weight duly plummeted – at 5’6 she soon weighed just over six stone. “The body contracts the most the first time you do something like this,” she says. “Especially a young body that is strong and able to throw off a lot of weight. I was really proud of it and I got so much praise and validation when I returned home to LA.”
Back at boarding school, Rose started to eat again and gained some weight back. Then the following spring, her father passed away. “A few nights after my Dad died I threw up for the first time,” she recalls. “It was International Night at school and I was so sad and frustrated with everything, I was mindlessly consuming all the food I could.
“I got extremely good at purging. Like anorexia, to the person ill with bulimia it can feel like this strange power that nobody else has. What it was really doing was processing my pain in a really perverse way. I was numbing myself with the food, then purging it out in a really big expression that I needed to make, but didn’t know how else to.”
During summer break, the habit spiralled further out of control, going from once or twice a day to five times a day. “I was in the house on my own so I’d eat and throw up. Then I’d feel acidic, and food would calm that, so I’d repeat the cycle. But something happened in my senior year. I was in a good space and I got over it. It just goes to show that happy, whole people don’t need to do that.”
The following summer, Rose left for the East Coast to begin her studies at New York University. Knowing no one in the city and feeling extremely isolated, the twin demons of anorexia and bulimia again became her coping mechanism. But it was a brief relapse, and she soon banished them once and for all. “I was 19 and I accepted I would have to walk through life a little plumper than I would like,” she says. And of those who have suffered with both anorexia and bulimia, Rose was certainly one of the luckier ones – she has no fertility, digestive nor dental issues.
At 19 she was already dating her future husband, Lawrence – 15 years her senior. His was a world of private jets, lavish parties, and the most expensive clothes on the most gorgeous bodies. “I knew I wouldn’t look lean, but I tried to find things that didn’t draw attention to all my wobbly bits,” she says. “I had a smaller upper body and heavy legs. I tried to find black pants that wouldn’t draw attention to the girth in my hip and thigh area. Life became about making sure I looked the part to be his girlfriend.”
So once again, food and body image consumed her every waking hour. “If I wasn’t thinking about what I’d eat for lunch and dinner I was working out on the Stairmaster,” she says. “If I threw caution to the wind and didn’t even eat excessively – just ate what those around me ate – I would be so heavy. I was also sick all the time: bronchitis, pimples, cystic acne and chronic bladder infections. Inside was painful, and outside didn’t look good.”
She adds, “I was living a life of suffering that is familiar to so many – at the mercy of when they’re going to get the next migraine or bout of IBS. I had graduated from NYU, I was engaged to a man many girls would kill to be with, and I had a great bunch of friends. Relative to what we are conditioned to want, I pretty much ‘had it all’. But I’d reached another point of thinking, ‘Life really sucks. I feel like I’m in prison being tortured.’”
It was soon after this that the concept of the raw diet and lifestyle came onto Rose’s radar. One day, while browsing in the health section of a bookstore, she picked up Paul Nison’s The Raw Life and started reading the interview with [the colon therapist] Gil Jacobs. “This particular interview spun my head around, just like destiny,” she remembers. “I put the book down, picked it up and read the interview through again. Then I decided I just had to meet this person.”
She called to schedule an appointment at Jacobs’ Manhattan clinic Chakra 17 but he was booked up well in advance so she settled for an appointment with another therapist. “In that hour I watched vast quantities of waste matter leaving my body and I thought, ‘I get it. I think we’re onto something here’.”
With every treatment, Rose felt her body shift, and her whole way of being along with it. Five months down the line she was regarding her appearance in the mirror with amazement, wondering, ‘Is that really me?’”
She began having all her colonics with Jacobs – whom she now refers to as her mentor – so she could pick his brains. She also jumped enthusiastically into the raw diet and lifestyle. “I was having a green juice in the morning, something like date and nut balls with salad for lunch, and dinner was pretty raw, too; I’d have just a few cooked meals in the week.”
She adds: “The first few months to a year, I really got into the food preparation – the juicing, spiralising and dehydrating. I was going to Indian stores in the East Village to buy spices I’d never used before. It was very entertaining, it captured my imagination, it was fun, it was flavourful, and it was almost a full-time pursuit! I was getting excited about all I could do. There was very, very little on the market to buy at the time – temple balls and flaxseed crackers and very dry banana walnut cookies, which I’d have with salad.
“What I was eating before this was ‘correct’ according to the mainstream health magazines I used to read. Now I was eating many more calories and foods we’re told we’re meant to stay away from, like nuts, avocados, bananas and dried fruit. But it was having such a beneficial effect – I was feeling and looking so much better.”
As she devoured book after book on the topic, she soon started connecting dots. “Now, looking back at how I used to struggle with my many ailments, I realised it wasn’t just me – everyone was feeling like this, and everyone was desperately attempting to stop the decaying, premature aging and all that goes with modern life. I started seeing beyond the superficial cultural concept of ‘detox’ to the sheer depth of accumulation of waste matter. That’s when the doors of perception opened. The depth of that waste is not something you get rid of in a month, nor even a year.
But Rose’s journey was about transforming her mind a well as her body, and she cautions that the raw diet and lifestyle can only take you so far on this path. “I spent 10 years getting to the bottom not just of physical stuff but of spiritual stuff as well,” she says.
“It was almost a full-time job. I was reading 10 books at a time – everything from Sufism to Shamanism, plus all of Rudolf Steiner’s books and eventually the Derrick Jensen and Daniel Quinn books, which really transformed my consciousness and which I highly recommend. All these things have been a step along the way. I don’t think everyone needs to experience all I have, but I was as hungry to make sense of life on the planet and why we’re here as to figure out the human body.”
Rose shares that her husband and her mother often used to accuse her of being ‘negative’, and still do at times. “I’m always saying: ‘Look how wrong that is,’ pointing out our society’s life-destroying norms,’” she says. “But that whole notion of, ‘Let’s be positive and look on the bright side of life’ is just another of our cultural distractions. No, let’s look at what is and do something about it. When you start to see the world in these terms, it’s a breakthrough, and you wonder why everyone doesn’t see it.”
Rose says that the journey has been a lonely one at times; that she was “often ridiculed, condescended to and made to feel I was naïve,” and that it, “took until about six or seven years ago to really nail it. The last six years I’ve been using what I know to go even further.”
So what advice does she have for gracefully dealing with those in our life who openly disapprove of our choices? “Meet it with a sense of humour,” she says, without missing a beat. “Family and close friends know how to push your buttons and many of my clients have issues in this area – but only because they’re choosing to engage with it. People get incredibly sensitive about other people’s diet choices! But no conscious or aware person would defend eating in a way that damages their body or the planet, so if you’re challenged by someone who does, be clear that you’re just not going to collude in diet drama.”
She adds: “And once you’ve found your way, however you did it, remember that that’s just something that worked for you. Be grateful and share your journey with genuinely interested people, but don’t try to convince those who aren’t, and don’t assume that your way is the only way. Humility goes hand in hand with real enlightenment.”
Rose’s husband, Lawrence, does not share her passion for the cleansing lifestyle, nor for esoteric spiritual pursuits. Many on a similar path to Rose will routinely discount any prospective partner on those grounds, but she cautions against viewing people in such ‘black-or-white’ terms. “Lawrence has a really big heart and a love for people and animals so he naturally has this sense of interconnectedness. A lot of things I’ve personally had to raise a red flag about and put a lot of effort into learning he’s had with him all along. I go at this stuff from almost an analytical or scientific perspective; he from his heart.”
And on the subject of choosing friends, Rose has this to say, “So many of the people I like to spend time with don’t eat the way I do. If I’m going out on a Saturday night I want my friend Richard to be there. He doesn’t care what he puts in his body and could probably do with a series of 500 consecutive colonics, but he makes me laugh. You only need one or two friends that can really speak your language. If you have even one you’re insanely lucky.”
She adds that when you’re physically and spiritually healthy, “you really fall in love with people and appreciate human beings and personalities, even quirky ones. You just love people so much more and you love engaging with them.”
How else do people know they’re on the right track, I ask her. “If you’re not feeing gratitude and humility, you haven’t found a working blueprint yet. If you are still trying to impose your ideas on others, you are not whole yet and are not ready to help others – in fact you may do them more harm than good. When you find you’d rather dance than teach; that you’d rather lay under the sun and enjoy the life pulsating around and within you than talk about diet; that you’d rather enjoy people than criticise people, then you’re on the right track.”