Empowering Women is an intimate interview series talking with women from all walks of life. This project aims to open up a dialogue about who we are as women and as people, but to also educate and inform. I’m sharing the stories of extraordinary women doing extraordinary things, encapsulating knowledge on business, a holistic lifestyle and healthy guidance for all things that help us blossom as women. This week I sat down with Emma Bowes from ‘Honestly Emma’ to chat about all things covering conventional and functional medicine - her journey away from pharmacy and into her wellness business - how society has an over-reliance on medication and her top tips for sustaining your health.
Emma, just so people have a bit of background - you studied and worked as a pharmacist for 15 years and owned a few of your own pharmacies before Honestly Emma, can you share a little bit about this journey?
I grew up in a house surrounded by pharmacy, my Dad’s a pharmacist and my whole life I’ve just been immersed in that world. It’s where I had my first job - it wasn’t what I always thought I was going to do. I really loved the idea of owning my own business and that was probably the main driver for me originally enrolling in pharmacy. As I studied my degree and got into work I realised the passion that I had for helping people with their health and to finding a path to get better.
I then went into pharmacy ownership and was a partner in seven pharmacies over the twelve years I was a business owner and it was probably in the last three years and after being a mum where I started down another parallel path looking into my health, my children’s heath and my families health and ways we could be healthier. Whether that was food, looking at all the products in our house, the products we were putting on our skin. So I then studied with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and did a nutrition and health coaching course and through this discovered functional medicine. It was like a light just went off in me and discovered this passion just ignite. So I then studied functional medicine through the Institute of Functional Medicine in America completing each of their modules over 4 years. I just recently sat my certification exam in December and now am a certified functional medicine practitioner.
So.. I’m curious how did Honestly Emma evolve?
It was in studying functional medicine that I decided that I wanted to create a wellness business and that’s how ‘Honestly Emma’ was born. So I ran both businesses side by side - I owned my pharmacies with my business partners and I also started up at the end of 2016 ‘Honestly Emma’. The original intention was to share the knowledge that I’d learnt about functional medicine and about health and nutrition and living a low toxic life - I’d lived my life a certain way for 35 years believing that medicine was the answer - I then discovered all these other things about health, wellness and ways to live your best life and I really wanted to share that.
I remember listening to you speak at an event and you were really passionate about our current medicinal practices as a society - especially pill popping - which treats only the surface symptoms not the root problems. Why is this?
I think that as a society we have an over-reliance on medicine - we have been raised to believe that medicine is the answer. We’ve believed all the hype and all the propaganda that drug companies have sold us over the years and this is coming from a pharmacist. This is what I studied - I am a pharmacist and I was a part of the hype in believing that all you need to do is have a diagnosis and then you match the diagnosis with the medication and you’ll be fine. What I’ve come to realise through my study of functional medicine is following that model of healthcare or as it actually should be described - a ‘sickness’ model, is just about treating the symptoms. What functional medicine does is get to the root cause of the disease.
A really good analogy that I like to use is - If we have a nail in our shoe we could treat it two ways. The conventional medicine way would be to prescribe painkillers to numb the pain and yes the pain might go away for a short time but it actually hasn’t dealt with the source of the pain. Functional medicine goes oh, there’s a pain in your foot - let’s look to see what might be causing the pain - let’s remove it and then the pain is gone for good.
From this I realised that the style of medicine I had been practicing and trained in as a pharmacist was not really serving people. Sure, it would treat their symptoms but it wouldn’t bring them to optimal wellness. Now that’s my focus with clients - to get them to optimal wellness. I want people off their medications and it is absolutely possible.
One of my clients had rheumatoid arthritis and we worked together for six months focusing on diet, lifestyle, emotional and mental health factors approaching it from all angles and for the first time in 12 years she’d gotten off her medication and went into remission. All we did was look at food - we gave her supplements to support her body - managed her stress, making sure she had time for herself and from doing all of this she lost 12 kilos and her rheumatoid arthritis came under control. She was one of my very first clients and that was an affirmation to me that I was on the right path. It was absolutely possible to treat people with as minimal amount of medication as possible. I’m not saying that medication is bad - and there are times for it. Generally, when we need medicine it’s when we have an acute illness - when we have an infection and need antibiotics - but when we have these chronic conditions that require us to take medication for life there’s got to be a better way. About 90% of most chronic diseases are caused by lifestyle issues - thats food, stress and environmental issues. If we address these issues it can have a dramatic effect on our health.
As a community how can we move away from conventional medicine?
I think it is about having awareness - medicine is not the panacea. As I mentioned, there is a role for medicine in society - I for one am so grateful that we have access to medication when we need it but it shouldn’t be our first step when somebody’s not well. The thing I love about the functional medicine model is that it turns the conventional medicine model upside down - we look at food, environmental toxins, stress, relationships, physical activity, supplements and then we decide once we’ve addressed all these things whether medication is needed. As a society if we all have the awareness and education that all of these factors can affect our health then maybe we could start making some different choices and moving away from conventional medicine.
Are there negative health implications for using these over periods of time?
Absolutely - I think that’s the one I underestimated. In pharmacy school we were taught about the side effects of medication but taught in a way whereby side effects were just a part of every medication, there’s nothing to be scared of and that we should basically allay our customers fears about starting a new medication. It’s crazy - nothing that we do or consume is free from impact. Every medication has a side effect and even so-called safe medications like paracetamol can be devastating on the liver and our detoxification system. This is the medication we give our Kids - I gave my own kids but what I’ve now learnt is that they can be particularly toxic for some people depending on their genetic makeup. Growing up as a girl who was always popping pills out of the medicine cabinet - my dad also a pharmacist who has been on this journey with me as well. I was given antibiotics as soon as I had a sniffle or for every cold - that’s just how I was raised. What I now understand is that there is a consequence for every one of those choices. I was an asthmatic and on a bucket load of antibiotics my entire life that my gut health isn’t great and I’ve been on the path to fix that. I think we all should be aware that there is a consequence of taking medication over a period of time.
Your new practice aims to help individuals navigate health on a much more mindful and natural approach - moving away from conventional medicine - How does this help women?
Our bodies are incredibly amazing machines - we have the ability to heal ourselves through the food we consume, reducing toxins, mindful movement, having strong relationships. My clients range between women and men but mainly women come to see me. Most of these women are mothers and what I find is that these women come to me exhausted, tired, flat, with a range of health issues and often if they just focus on nourishing themselves and their families - if they focus on giving themselves time to focus on just them - if they get good quality sleep - they drink lots of water - it has a dramatic effect on their health. Sometimes people hate hearing that because it’s so boring but it’s also the truth.
You see a range of women at a range of ages, what are some of the most common conditions and health worries they are coming to you with?
I get a range of health concerns and work with a range of women. I have clients that come to me because they are trying to fall pregnant or women who have had babies or have young children. Generally they are seeking help in getting their bodies optimally healthy in order to fall pregnant and that’s a really important process and something we certainly aren’t told about. Six months before you start trying to conceive is the time to start thinking about your own health. I help women in the Post Natal period because one of the things I’ve learnt after having my own three children is that it is really common for women who go through a significant stage of depletion after having a baby which has been termed Post-natal Depletion.
This basically means following your body growing an amazing and healthy baby, nourishing it for 9 months then giving birth and breast feeding - it takes a huge toll on a woman’s body to go through this process and what happens at the end is that as women our bodies are left depleted of essential nutrients and minerals. This can have a devastating effect on a woman leaving her feeling tired, struggling to lose weight, trouble sleeping - which can be quite stressful when looking after young ones and trying to get your mojo back. This is definitely where my passion lies and helping women get that back. Outside of that I have clients that come to me with auto-immune issues, thyroid or hormone issues as well.
What are your top 5-10 tips you recommend for women for sustaining their health and nourishing self-care.
They are pretty simple tips and require pretty simple actions that can have huge positive effects:
Eat lots of nourishing foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, I recommend 9-12 cups of veggies a day which is a huge increase to what people are currently having.
Limiting processed foods and sugar - these can have devastating effects on your energy levels and health - at a cellular level they are not beneficial or needed.
Make sure you are drinking lot’s of water, at least 2.5 litres of water a day.
Getting good quality sleep - I think above all else this is the most important. This is where our cells regenerate and re-nourish. I believe it’s an area that’s so overlooked especially with all the stimulation we have these days with smart devices, laptops and Netflix. We can neglect our sleep to get through the shows we are bingeing on or to get through that last bit of work so sleep is a big thing.
Making sure that you have supportive relationships in your life - I think this can definitely be underestimated - unsupportive relationships can bring a huge amount of stress into your life.
Living in alignment with your values - sometimes we could be working in a job that we can’t stand or a boss that drives us crazy and that can put so much stress on someone’s life. Making sure you have a job you love and that your treating others in alignment with your values.
Engaging in some form of self care on a daily basis - that could look like a couple of minutes of breathing or soaking in a bath, perhaps enjoying that hot cup of tea. It could be catching up with girlfriends or picking up the phone and calling a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while.
Mindful movement! So I deliberately don’t call it exercise as it conjures up images of having to go for a run or to the gym to sweat it out - it should be choosing movement that feels right for you. It could be choosing something as gentle as yoga or going for a walk or it could be high intensity exercise like F45, the gym or cross fit - it could be stretching. It can be whatever you want it to be. Tapping in and listening to your body intuitively instead of doing what you think is simply needed because that’s what everyone else is doing.
Why is self-love important?
Self-love is so important because you need to love and care for yourself first before you can possibly love and care for others. I think it’s one of the most important things and it’s one of the fundamental pillars in my program for women. I also love the term self-compassion, for some people using the term-self love can be quite a hard pill to swallow or understand, where as self-compassion is just about being passionate with yourself and not being so hard on yourself, knowing that you’re doing the best that you can. I’m a huge fan of these terms being used interchangeably. I think it’s so important to be kind and gentle with ourselves and to love and prioritise ourselves. Put yourself first - it’s ok! There’s a quote I live by spoken by Audre Lorde that says, “Caring for myself is not self indulgence - it is self preservation”.
“Caring for myself is not self indulgence - it is self preservation”.
- Audre Lorde.
Today is seems like we are more stressed than ever - how can women manage this and why should it be a priority?
I think we are so lucky to be women living in today’s society - we have so many opportunities at our fingertips but I also think that’s part of the problem. We’ve been raised to believe we can do anything and be anything and I feel there’s a huge amount of pressure we put on ourselves to fulfil that dream that we’ve been sold. We are trying to be everything to everyone and trying to do everything. We are trying to launch a career and be great mums and wives and trying to do it all but I don’t actually believe we can have it all. I think that we can do anything but not EVERYTHING - and there’s a subtle difference in that.
I think the sooner we can see and accept that - making intentional choices about what we actually want to be doing, it can relieve a huge amount of stress. This needs to be a priority! Stress is the number one driver of disease. The more we load ourselves up with meetings and activities and the busier we get the more stress it puts on our system and we pay the price for that. We can live much slower and more intentional lives and be much more happier and healthier.
What are your top rituals for self-love/self-care?
Getting up an hour before the kids wake up so I have time to do a morning meditation or write in my journal just to get my head in my space for the day rather than it going straight into the kids and family space.
I prioritise myself making sure I have time to go for a walk or a yoga class for me.
How do you balance your business and personal life?
This is the constant struggle for women with kids - I make no secret that the only way I can do this is with really good help. I have for the past two years had a wonderful nanny who has helped me a day and a half a week allowing me to see my clients and get my work done. What I try to do is when I have days when the kids are at home with me that I am focused on them - which I know is sometimes easier said than done. At the end of last year I actually deleted Social Media off my phone - Instagram, Facebook and emails - which was huge for me. I found this really helped me to stay present and focused with the kids. It also took the addiction of my phone away from me. I don’t now if there’s a right way to answer this question, I feel balancing your business and personal life when you have your own business is so hard especially when it’s all you in the business but I do the best I can and try and keep my work days as my work days.
Being a successful business woman, what’s one thing you’ve learnt or found really valuable that you can share?
I would say mine are knowing your values and staying true to them - don’t be afraid to run your business like a woman. That may sound like a strange thing to say but when I was in pharmacy ownership for 12 years I was surrounded by a lot of men that changed the way I would usually do things based on how men do things. Something I’ve realised whilst being on this personal journey of mine in the last 3 years is that as women we have our own strengths and can be so amazing! Yes, we do do things differently to men and that’s ok. I’ve definitely stepped into a space where I believe I can be a successful business woman in my own right - embracing my feminine energy and still being successful. The picture of success that had been modelled to me and a lot of women is success through the masculine - the striving, pushing, cutting people off at the knees to get ahead and I think as women we can do it in a more gentler way. I’m loving embracing feminine energy into my business.
If you could leave women with one word of wisdom what would it be?
Health begins on the inside - focus on what’s going on inside your body and your mind - it’s about what’s happening on the inside that matters. I have a little motto I live by - “slow down, get your glow on and get your flow on”.
You can find Emma at www.honestlyemma.com.au or @honestly.emma on Instagram.