The Real Matters || with Dr. Emma Kirke Ostm

At the start of this series, I had so many people who I am genuinely inspired by one a daily basis. One of these wonderful individuals actually agreed to share her story and lessons that she has learned throughout her life so far. Without further ado it is an honour to introduce  Dr. Emma Kirke Ostm.

Emma is a doctor of Osteomyology & Clinical Nutrition, which is just one of her many elements to her career. She is involved in a wide variety of industries and is excelling in all of them with her passion and dedication to working towards helping others. She created‘Medical Kitchen’to promote everyday health and a nourishing lifestyle that can be maintained.

I personally came across Emma initially through Twitter, following the positive attitudes and knowledge that she shares. We connected over shared experiences of having suffered from severe mental health issues, and how we both hope to bring awareness and create important changes for the future. Though what I was yet to discover is just how unbelievable Emma’s story is, and that she will become one of the most remarkable people I know.

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Could you start off by briefly describing your journey to this moment in time and what led to making a career as a doctor and clinical nutritionist?

This could be a long essay but I will try to keep it brief.
Growing up I loved science and helping people and animals. I was forever rescuing injured and stray birds and animals. My Dad was diagnosed with MS when I was 13. He was a fighter and never gave up trying. He never had a day off work. Such an inspiration to me. He was my hero. Always trying to create a better life for us. We had no money but experiences and opportunities were plentiful.
After my A levels, chose I had no idea what I wanted to do. I took a job as a travel agent in Thomas Cooks. During that time my Dad had a bad patch and my brother decided he wanted to play professional rugby. I decide to choose a career which would facilitate both. Hence my journey to becoming a Doctor of Physical Medicine and Osteomyology.

During my studies, I was involved in a road traffic accident with a lorry. After being cut out of my car I spent months trying to rehabilitate and restore my spine and lower limb function.

I have permanent spine and nerve damage. I struggle with pain constantly day and night. Fed up of having so many meds, most of which altered my moods and mind clarity, I decided to investigate alternative methods that I could utilise. After many unsuccessful attempts with mainstream methods, I decided to investigate the fuel I use. I landed in clinical Nutrition and turned an interest into an additional tool for my patients.

Changing what you eat will not necessarily “cure” but if it helps alleviate symptoms that is a bonus. Fortunately for me, I had traveled this road and so when diagnosed with breast cancer I knew how best to fuel my body to repair at its optimum post op.

There are certain food and drink options that I have identified as a pain enhancer and as such, I chose to avoid them. This is my own discovery for my own body.

Having experienced many life-changing health issues, what has been some of the greatest sources of inspiration to guide you through them? 

I never really need inspiration as such. My Dad constantly showed me a never give in attitude. He pushed me in all my endeavors to be the best I could be. I think this became engrained in my personality as it is truly what keeps me going. Challenging myself to go outside my comfort zone has lead to a multitude of unexpected opportunities.

I lost a very special person 2 years ago and occasionally I talk to her. Usually in the car on a long journey when I am mulling over an idea or situation. My angel always encouraged me to believe in myself when she was alive. In fact, she was the catalyst to my guest vocals on a track I commissioned called “Just Like Fighting Shadows” by Bravado Cartel. I listen to her even now asking me why I feel I couldn’t do something but I know really it’s my own internal dialogue, I have just given it a face.

How do you feel about the current education on positive health and nutrition for the general public?

Nutrition is a minefield right now. Pseudoscience and personal testimony being used as factual evidence is not helpful. There is a lot of slating and undermining that I steer clear of.

I ask myself questions constantly,

For example, the notion that a change of diet can cure cancer is dangerous. However, if I was informed that there is nothing more that the medics and NHS or private treatment can do for me, is it right for anyone to deny my hope that by removing sugar from my diet it may give me an increased life span and more time with my loved ones?

I have personally asked NHS for dietary and nutrition advice on multiple occasions both for myself and others. I received nothing of much use. And yet there are fantastic sources of knowledge out there to access if you can identify them.

Positive health education is strange.

Perhaps what we see as basics are actually not so basic.

Eating too many cakes, buns, biscuits, chocolate, crisps etc is bad, not moving enough is bad, smoking, drinking, eating excessively is bad but balance is key!

I think some education on achieving balance is key and forming this at the youngest age we can is paramount.

Habits form in youth and are more difficult to break in adulthood.

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Do you think there is too much pressure on people to lead certain lives in order to feel accepted, liked and admired?

I think we covet certain lifestyles. I think when you combine this with unattainable and unrealistic images and snap shots, it can lead to detrimental assumptions that to be successful, admired, accepted and liked we must emulate the same.

I am seeing a slow change with influencers trying to dissipate these ideals. I never photoshop any images I post. Never have and never will. I am me and the same online and offline.

In your professions as a doctor of physical medicine and nutritionist, is there enough support in place for those suffering from all forms of mental health conditions, such as eating disorders? 

Mental health is a buzz word right now. This has a two fold effect in my opinion. Firstly it’s great that we are raising awareness and reducing stigma, however, I am also seeing some people that maybe having a bad day tagging mental health, depression, anxiety etc. The influx of sufferers seems to be clogging up the system for those that may indeed require a more urgent and significant level of care. I truly believe we should have the right to chose and the right to treatment. I worry that the worst cases may not come forward and be overlooked.

When you have suffered or seen suffering the despair is real. Eating disorders are high on the list due to my own personal experience. A very dear friend of mine couldn’t get hospitalised treatment as she was “too old”! Thankfully 12 months on we got her the help she needed as she is mending. I conducted a survey about living with a mental health sufferer. Not living with it yourself but someone else.

It was fascinating. There is zero help available. No one would read it though. When I asked for help at my own gp all I was offered was anti depressants. Not a solution or any use to me. I am not a mental health expert and I don’t advocate that it’s a specialism of mine. What I do know is my own life experiences and things patients have tried at my suggestion which may help.

I still think we’re way off the mark. Improving slowly but we have a long way to go. A mental health triage would be fantastic and encouraging the publication of tell tale symptoms and signs for people to be aware of within themselves, family, friends and colleagues could be a path for identifying sufferers not coming forward.

A little like the stroke campaign making it common knowledge without stigma.

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What sort of things do you feel need to be improved on when it comes to the health, fitness and wellbeing professions?  

I guess ideally we need more stringent guidelines and qualifications. Health care is great for meeting standards and requirements. Fitness falls short and I am not sure what you mean by wellbeing. There are unqualified advice givers and very influential public figures that need to have more care over what they give to impressionable followers. One of the problems is that no one dare to question them in case they affect their own popularity.

Finally, what advice would you give to others out there who have experienced extreme life-changing moments and how to come out stronger?

I think it’s very individual. There is no one solution. I believe enduring positive and negative life experiences and learning from each inevitably makes you more prepared and stronger.

I focused on planning.

What do I have control of?

What elements can I affect?

I focused on these and allowed the uncontrollable to run it’s course.

My strength comes from knowledge. I research. The Determination to not be beaten and to try my absolute best in everything.

Believe in yourself.

I knew I would beat Cancer. I never doubted my recovery. Others worried for me.

Don’t bottle fears inside.

Reach out. You are truly not alone in any situation.

When I found out about my breast cancer I didn’t just want a medical insight, I spoke to women about their experiences. Their advice was invaluable. No consultant can tell you how it feels emotionally to realise you are unable to feel your partner touching you.

Be true to yourself first. Your family second and realistically no one else really matters.

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