Growing up in an African household, Cynthia Kambou was raised on a mix of traditional plant based dishes in combination with more modern processed foods like Nutella and Maggi soup mix. “I’m one of these people who has a basic journey where when you’re young, you just eat what you parents give you because you don’t know better.”
As a student, she also worked at McDonalds, and admits that she actually liked being able not only to enjoy eating fast food because it was cheap and tasty but also because it was something she could share with friends and family. Cynthia loved to bake sweets for the same reasons. As an active, carefree young woman, “I was really into sports. I wasn’t getting bigger or anything so… I was eating whatever.”
The first turning point in Cynthia’s relationship to food came from an interesting source that doesn’t have all that much to do with what she was putting on her plate. She traces the source of her current food philosophy to her decision to join the natural hair movement by ceasing to use chemical relaxers, which are known to have plenty of negative impacts not only on the body but also on the environment.
I stopped relaxing my hair because black girls have this natural hair, but we relax it from when we are really young and then we just keep relaxing and relaxing. Then, I started researching alternatives to take care of my hair–natural stuff–and I think it all just fell into place. I started putting natural things in my hair and then on my body, and I started to think if I’m not going to put these things on my body, there is no point in me putting them in my body!
From here, a renewed attention to diet followed, and her choice to go natural also strengthened her roots beyond the focus she was putting on the health of her physical body. As she gradually used more natural ingredients from her childhood, she began to consult her mother who is originally from Cameroon, “…with all this African food that I was eating I started asking my mom about how to do this and that.”
This process fostered a deepening of ties to her cultural background as she learned about what she and the generations before her used to nourish themselves. Her lifestyle grew into a source of equal inspiration for other women around her, as her mother felt encouraged to return to more traditional ways of cooking and her sister, cousins, and friends consulted her for advice regarding nutrition.
Cynthia is also a lover of the environment, something that goes hand in hand with adopting a more natural lifestyle. She views her approach to food as a divestment from a culture steeped in overconsumption. Using less synthetic chemicals in her daily routine has also reduced the amount of harm her actions cause toward the earth. “I just think we live in a time where the earth is really in danger, and we can all do something to help it. We come from the generation, they call it the ‘bin generation,’ the garbage generation, where we burn through industrialization, and we’ve just been eating and drinking and exposed to all this stuff. So just do it for you because if you feel good about what you’re doing in terms of how you’re treating the environment, then you’ll educate your kids later on to do the same.”
Her approach to food is one that seamlessly syncs environmental awareness with traditional heritage and personal wellbeing. In embracing the natural, everything flows into a balanced and harmonious way of life.
The true potential of Cynthia’s lifestyle choices in promoting wellness was made clear after she was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. She applied her researching and attention skills to fighting the disease using natural methods in conjunction with conventional ones. Her triumph is truly a testament to the power of nutrition and a conscious approach to food.
During her chemotherapy, she used intermittent fasting techniques coupled with highly nourishing staples like homemade chicken broth and lots of fresh juices to stave off the symptoms so commonly associated with the treatment. “I do eat less than before, but I eat better than before. I eat the right nutrients for my day to have loads of energy and don’t overconsume because I think that before, when I was overconsuming, my body dedicated itself to trying to digest everything I was eating and not putting the energy into the right place.”
She also took a more disciplined approach to eating in that she cut out sugar completely, which she points to as one of the most cancer sustaining substances that people are regularly including in their diets. In addition, she turned to the remedies of her African and Caribbean heritage, drinking soursop tea and turmeric on the daily.
Cynthia’s strategies were so effective that she completely bypassed the usual prerequisite medications, and ultimately cut out many of the side effects of the treatment altogether. “Even one of my doctors looked at me and was like ‘oh my god, you look like you’re in Club Med, or like you’re on holidays! I look at you, and you don’t even look sick.’” Indeed, her glow and infectious energy, even in the middle of her chemo, really is difficult to deny.
I think having this natural way of life with modern medicine together really helps me fight the disease even better. I think if I just did the chemo and radio therapy without changing my lifestyle, or if I did the natural stuff without the chemo, [it] wouldn’t be as good. With the cancer, I got more restrictive with the food I’m eating, but I don’t even feel restricted on a daily basis. It’s really not restriction; it’s just what everyone should be doing anyway.
Cynthia also emphasized the importance of taking things one step at a time. Her fluid and continually evolving way of relating to food seems to have only been enhanced by what life has thrown her way. “I think eating better, even better than I used to before, and cutting back on things that really, I did not need has made my body stronger for [fighting] the whole disease. I think that’s why I’m doing this lifestyle, really. It just makes sense.”
This post was originally published on The Food Keeper, a project co-founded with Fanette Guilloud.