Wellness Interviews with Inspiring Women
Read Time: 5-7 Minutes
I first met Anne on a location shoot at her beautiful farmhouse with photographer Chris Craymer who is a friend of hers. She always had a radiant smile, a lot of passion, and great energy for gardening and DIY work around her home. She would make us breakfast and lunch, and send us home with fresh eggs from her hens and herbs from her garden and I quickly grew an admiration for her. From the Anne I knew, I never could have guessed that she had a long struggle with the heavy symptoms of Lyme disease. Below, she shares how she found a cure for herself through food and gardening.
Munemi: You’re originally from Germany, when did you move to NY from Europe? What opportunities brought you there and how has life evolved since?
A: I started modeling in Europe in the 80’s, and when I did the campaign for Giorgio Armani in 1989, New York was the logical place to be. So I came to work for a couple of weeks, and it’s been almost 30 years now. I met my first husband when I was 21, but before our son turned a year old, we decided to get separated. I thought “OK, I am an adult with a young child; I better get a serious job.” Having a child changed me, and I wanted to do something meaningful with my life. Fashion had a frivolous aspect to it, and I was ready for a change. I had grown up in Germany around two boys with developmental issues, and this inspired me to study in the health field, so I enrolled as a pre-med student at Columbia University’s School of General Studies. I loved it, but it was also very hard having to juggle my little son and school. I didn’t want to fail at either, and so I didn’t take any shortcuts. For example, I cooked everything from scratch, and we ate healthy. After a couple of semesters, I had become fascinated with physics and mathematics. It was a lot of hours of studying, and I got completely burned out from juggling my studies and home life. I barely had time to sleep at night, and I took less and less time cooking. I would just do whatever was fastest, like grab a piece of white bread with cheese from the campus cafeteria for lunch. Between the nutritional deficit and lack of sleep, things really started to slip.
M: I recently learned that you had Lyme disease and have overcome it. I had no idea from seeing you. Could you tell me about the story and how you regained your health?
A: Yes, I contracted Lyme disease while living in the Hamptons, around 1990. People didn’t really know what it was back then; it was very new. I took antibiotics for a couple of weeks and never thought about it again. A while later, I started to have mysterious memory loss that, in hindsight, was from the Lyme, but at the time I just chalked it up to getting old. I was 22 when the symptoms started. I would look in the fridge and realize I needed milk, butter and sugar, but there was no way I would remember even one of those by the time I got to the store. It was spooky. I started to write everything down. I also often had flu-like symptoms. These symptoms progressed slowly but steadily. My studies required an intense amount of memorization, and I shortened my nights to 4 hours of sleep to make sure I got all my work done. Doctors had no explanation for me, but would often suggest that my life must be too stressful or my marriage was unhappy. By then, I was married to the love of my life, so I knew that couldn't be it. I was often told I should be proud of my good health, and so I ignored the symptoms as best as I could and worked myself further into the ground. I felt awful. I eventually decided to quit my studies, and we moved out to Westport (CT). I felt like a car with a dead battery: all the parts were there but I just could not function. I couldn’t get out of bed; I couldn’t remember stuff; I couldn’t stick with keeping anything in my head.
All together, I had untreated neurological Lyme for almost 20 years; 1990 to 2007. The disease increased in severity so gradually, that I simply couldn’t remember what feeling good felt like. Constantly being tired, in pain, foggy-brained -- it became normal. So each time I declined and got a little bit more achy, tired, and foggy-brained, it barely registered. Gradually things kept on slipping and slipping, getting really bad.
Toward 2007, I was returning from an errand and when I was just 3 houses away from home, I suddenly did not recognize my surroundings. My husband and I have a blended family of four, and when my husband was traveling, and the children were with their other parents, I would lie in bed with migraines for two to three days at a time. Often, I would still have my work clothes on, because I didn’t have the strength to take them off. I was renovating our home, doing a lot of the work myself. I would have no strength to shop or cook properly for myself, to take care of myself in any way, shape or form. Our friends noticed my decline, and people were always reaching out to make suggestions, sharing their ideas and favorite doctors. I pretty much followed every lead, but nothing worked. I felt that I was going to just fade away and die. I wanted to write my last will, but was too confused to do so.
Then a friend gave me a book that she had read about in Vogue magazine, The Swiss Secret to Optimal Health. The approach was called biological medicine, included regimen like a 3-week liver cleanse, and gave a general overview of how and why the human body needs to be nourished naturally to function properly. Although I grew up eating healthy at home, I hadn’t thought about food that way before; that food is not just for entertainment or stopping hunger, but that it is a basic requirement for allowing your body to function properly; to prevent disease or even cure it. So I went for it. I grated beets and chopped parsley, holding very strictly to the recipes, and for the first time in years I didn’t have any migraines. Prior to this, my migraines were so bad that the thought of throwing myself off a bridge to stop the pain had crossed my mind more than once. Being a mother, I left it at that, but it gives you an idea of how desperate I was. None of the doctors I saw knew what caused the migraines, and some just suggested I take anti-seizure medication for the rest of my life. I was very uncomfortable with that idea. I was wondering what I was doing wrong -- something in everyday life. I felt didn’t have the mental clarity to figure out what the problem was, and I was running out of time.
I took a leap of faith, packed a tiny suitcase and traveled to Switzerland, to the clinic headed by Dr. Rau, who had written the book that helped me so much. I stayed for two weeks. It was a shot in the dark, like so many I had taken before. I received intravenous ozone, and vitamin C drips with other food-derived vitamins. Everything they used was natural -- made from actual food. They had a strong emphasis on educating their patients on nutrition. For example, lunch should be ⅔ raw, and dinner should be simple steamed vegetables. Feeding a body is a thrice-daily responsibility if your body is to have the ammunition to function and fight disease properly. When I came back, I did not have a migraine for four months. The difference was immediate and mind-blowing.
M: And this book is specially written for Lyme disease?
A: Not at all, it’s about chronic disease in general. The clinic is a very special place. I remember one woman with tremors, 36 years old, 4 children, from Pennsylvania. Her doctors had told her she had Parkinson's. They put her on daily medications to slow the disease, but told her she would die of it eventually. She checked into Paracelsus, where she was re-diagnosed and treated for heavy metal toxicity instead. She was so happy and hopeful about having found this place, and of being given a chance at an actual recovery. I always think of her. I felt the same.
M: So this became your eye-opening, life-changing moment. When you came back, how did you continue?
A: For lunch, I might eat shredded beets with lemon juice, olive oil, parsley & garlic and some green leafy vegetables with boiled potatoes. I really made a huge effort concerning nutrition, and still do. Instead of eating out, I stayed home and cooked from scratch again, and it completely saved me. No doubt about it. I focused on eating organically.
It was impressive, how well eating like this worked for me, but my progress to recovery was still slow. I wasn’t in constant pain anymore, but I still was incredibly weak. I came across a book called The Gerson Therapy, written in 1930 by a German doctor. It was mostly used as a therapy for cancer and other chronic illness. Gerson found that dietary salt was a major problem, as was fluoride and aluminum, common ingredients in toothpaste and anti-perspirant, respectively. I cut out all salt from my diet and switched to deodorant. Fluoride was much harder to avoid, since it is commonly added to drinking water, but I at least stopped using fluoridated toothpaste.
M: You don’t even use salt now? How do you flavor your food?
A: My tastebuds adjusted after about a couple of weeks. Everything tastes as good to me now as it did with salt. It's mostly in your mind, I guess.
M: I don’t use too much salt, but still I am not sure if I could cut it out of everything...
A: Just do it for two weeks, and you will see that it’s much easier than you think. Even my husband cooks without salt now. If we go to a restaurant, I might ask the waiter to find out what they could prepare without any salt. And sometimes all I will have is a couple of boiled potatoes. *laughs* There’s so much more pleasure in being healthy than in eating something needlessly enhanced by salt. It is a part of the vegetables we eat; we don't need to add it.
We do have to make sure we get enough iodine and potassium; a major emphasis is put on that in the Gerson diet. I guess under certain conditions wild animals gravitate toward salt licks, but if you put a dish of salt outside, would there be animals fighting over it at every meal? I doubt it. My horse rarely touches his salt lick. Animals get what they need as part of their natural diets so I feel that we don’t need to add salt, either.
If we eat the way nature intended, we will get all the nutrients that we need. I think of Darwin. We evolved as a result of what was growing around us, and that still holds, although modern supermarkets have trained our desires towards packaged and flavor-enhanced foods. We cannot just go ahead and all of a sudden live off mostly fried, salty, and cooked foods, or grow plants just in water and chemical fertilizers -- it’ll have an effect. Cancer and diabetes are so rampant these days; it really makes me worry about how much we have altered our diets.
M: Since you started feeling better physically, what do you do to maintain it? Are there any specific methods or philosophies you’re following?
A: I am attracted to the concept of wild animals’ natural diets; eating what actively grows right in front of them. A horse stands in a certain magnetic field of the earth, and it eats live food that is actively growing right there in that same magnetic field. I am really thankful that I can grow some food and herbs in our garden. I feel like there’s something magical about plucking something from the same space that you are standing on and eating it right there. When I travel, I always try to eat really local food. It is also better for the environment, as it eliminates food being transported. There are many negative effects to transport, such as fuel consumption and habitat lost to bigger and longer highways. I really try not to buy items that get shipped half-way around the world. I also try to eat a lot of raw food. Heating food destroys enzymes that we depend on for proper digestion, for example. I like to evaluate the healthfulness of a food by asking “Could I grow this in my garden, and pluck it and just eat it?” Most things found in our grocery aisles these days (think boxed cereal, macaroni & cheese) are too far removed from nature.
We raise our own chickens, so I know first-hand that it takes a substantial amount of food to raise a bird. A meat-centric diet is very wasteful. Something like 50% of the United State’s water consumption is dedicated to meat production. It takes something like 80 pounds of vegetables to produce just one pound of beef. That pound of beef is eaten as part of just one meal for many Westerners. Now consider how many days you can live off of 80 pounds of vegetables? At this point I’m not vegetarian, but I do feel that modern meat-production is very dangerous for our planet. How much energy does it take to grow our food, and how does that food affect our health? All of this falls under energy efficiency to me.
M: You are a very conscious eater and consumer. What is your skin care routine like?
A: I am still working as a model with IconicFocus, an agency that specializes in models 35 and up. So even though I am older now, I still want to look my best and for that I have to take good care of my skin. That being said, I like to keep it simple. I eat healthy and NEVER sleep in makeup. MŪN Akwi cleanser takes off everything, even inch-thick set makeup. If my skin feels oily after rinsing, I spritz some MŪN Anarose toner on and pad down with a clean washcloth (I stay away from disposable products such as cotton balls/pads.) Then comes Clarins Double Serum, followed by MŪN Aknari serum, which leaves my skin dewy. Occasionally, I exfoliate with a Clarisonic. I look for natural products with few ingredients, so MŪN is a definite favorite.
M: You have a great vegetable garden. What are you growing this year?
A: I love growing different kinds of potatoes, as they are rich in vitamins and minerals. I eat them every day, even twice a day. Each variety has different nutrients to offer. Same for summer and winter squashes, herbs, and lettuces. And of course nothing beats warm ripe tomatoes right off the vine. Carrots, radishes, cucumbers…anything I can squeeze in! Next week a class of school children in coming to help me plant the spring garden. They have been here before, and I cannot tell you how excited they are to learn about food this way. They immediately recognized it as something existentially necessary.
M: I started with 3 fruit trees and tomatoes on our property in Hawaii…and when I lived in my NYC apartment, I used to have a basil plant by the window during the summer. What’s your advice for people who would like to start their own garden to grow food?
A: Don't be afraid! You don't need chemicals or expertise. Find simple organic or “Demeter” how-to books at a library, and of course the advice online is endless. Another excellent source of knowledge may be your grandparents, or other elderly members of your community. Many grew up with gardens and would love to share what and how to plant for food. It all used to be part of normal life. I know some Italian immigrants that view tomato-growing as a blood sport, lol. Make it part of your life as much as you can. It is so rewarding. You can collect scraps from trimming produce, pet fur & bio-degradable pet bedding materials such as straw and wood shavings, manure: throw it all on a compost pile. The compost is then used in the garden as wonderful fertilizer. The amount of trash that we take to be processed by our towns could be greatly reduced. Even NYC has farmers’ market initiatives that collect your compost-worthy materials. Keep resources in the recycling loop as much as you can. Every bit counts!
Having grown up in a culture where food is medicine, Anne's story was not only inspiring to me, but also let me understand even more deeply the power of healthy eating from seasonal and local produce, and how everything is connected, and how important it is to be a conscious consumer. Hopefully my little garden will be a decent food source some day as well!
Follow Anne's journey on Instagram via @anne_bannert.