Maia Ruth Lee

ARTIST & DIRECTOR OF WIDE RAINBOW, NEW YORK CITY

"I mean it just goes to show what you put into your body has a huge effect on your body and mind."

TALKS HEALING POLYCYSTIC OVARIAN SYNDROME WITH DIET & NUTRITION

To me Maia is one of those women who I am so deeply grateful to have had the pleasure of crossing paths with in this lifetime. I interviewed Maia originally in 2015 before moving back to Australia and briefly touched on her life with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Years later upon returning to New York, Maia was going through a very healthy pregnancy and had healed herself completely of the condition, despite the lack of information from her medical practitioners.

This news excited me so much as this conversation is so closely aligned with the reason why I started a platform like Hello! Sun in the first place. Two years later, I met with Maia again and re-did the entire interview with a whole different focus.

To those who may call Maia a stranger, she is one of the most beautiful, enlightened and intelligent woman I know. In a time where we are reevaluating the definition of womanhood and feminism, Maia truly is a great inspiration. From the way she defines herself with such grace to projecting wisdom to such high volumes without a spoken word.

I hope this conversation, where we discuss the mind + body connection and the value of diet and education can assist or inspire a restoration of faith back into ourselves and our bodies natural healing cycles and rhythmic patterns. In a time where we place so much dependency on our health care system and our unquestioned reliance on its pharmaceutical industry, I hope this can bring a bout of fresh air in time for the new year.

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YOU HOSTED A BEAUTIFUL FERTILITY DINNER LAST SUMMER. CAN YOU SPEAK A LITTLE ABOUT HOW THAT CAME INTO FRUITION?

The fertility meal was created with my dear friend and artist Violet Dennison. We started thinking about the woman’s body, and how we all suffer from all types of symptoms - one major one being the menstrual cycle. I’d always thought that the woman’s body is a very mysterious place and wanted to create a healthy and positive space for us to treat our bodies kindly. Also, the idea came about because I have PCOS - Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome - which is actually quite common. One in ten women are diagnosed with ovaries that are covered in tiny cysts that are formed by an imbalance of hormones which then develops all these side effects. The most common symptom is that you have irregular periods and I’ve had that my whole adult life. The ovaries develop more testosterone than estrogen so it can manifest in other ways like you grow more body hair or develop acne and can even cause depression. 

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IS IT GENETIC?

It could be genetic but sometimes it can be from eating the wrong diet or just having a rough lifestyle like smoking or drinking a lot.

SO ESSENTIALLY ANYTHING THAT ALTERS THE NATURAL CHEMICAL AND HORMONAL BALANCE OF THE BODY?

Yeah exactly. So I’ve known that I’ve had PCOS my whole life but the doctors never told me like, “oh this is what you should do”, they were more like, “this is what it is and this is what you have” so for the longest time I wasn’t even aware of the many ways you can reduce the symptoms or heal your body from it whole.

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WERE YOU EXPERIENCING ANY SEVERE SIDE EFFECTS OR SYMPTOMS YOURSELF?

Fatigue was a really big one for me and the irregular periods. When my husband Peter and I were thinking about having a kid, I knew that PCOS could get in the way. So the first thing I wanted to do was to feel better and healthier. 

What happened shortly after was that I met a friend who told me she was on a very specific PCOS diet. I had never heard of it before and to my surprise she gave me a lot of tips on how to educate myself and understand how to take control and feel better. 

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WHAT DID THE PCOS DIET ENTAIL? AND HOW DID THE HEALING OF PCOS COME ABOUT WHEN YOU WEREN’T EVEN AWARE OF IT’S POSSIBILITY?

The diet is very basic - eliminating foods with gluten, dairy and anything that's high in sugar or processed foods. Basically anything that would turn into sugar in my body, so eliminating anything with a high glycemic index. I knew this meant less red meat, which I know is meant to be better for you anyway but I really eliminated all of those things for about two years.

I was on the diet for two years and I think we started trying for a baby some time ago. For some people it happens right away like there are people who say “we got pregnant on the first try” , but for us it wasn’t happening that way and I thought maybe dealing with PCOS was the way to go. The crazy part is when I went in for a scan after I found out I was pregnant, the sonogram showed the cysts had completely disappeared. It was all gone. What was crazy to me is that I always thought I would have it forever because the doctors had told me so and I never knew I was able to take control and change it around. 

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DID YOU EVER MAKE A CONNECTION WITH YOUR CONDITION AND THAT PERHAPS IT COULD BE LINKED WITH DIET?

I never knew, because the doctors never told me that so it was a real surprise to me the day I found out.

I mean the diet was hard because you know I LOVE eating and you know it’s funny because now I’m back to eating whatever I want because my circumstances changed and I just had too. I mean at one point I stopped because I was traveling a lot and I just had to eat because I was immersed in cultures where it was really insulting to refuse gluten or whatever. But even now, now being back to eating whatever I please, I do it more consciously and am just more aware of what goes into my body and won’t overdo it. 

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I ALSO GOT SICK ABOUT SEVEN YEARS AGO AND DID MY OWN RESEARCH INTO NUTRITION AND DECIDED TO GO VEGAN AND DO RAW FOODS. THAT WAS THE START OF THIS JOURNEY FOR ME WHERE I HEALED MY ILLNESS THROUGH DIET WHEN THE DOCTORS PROVIDED ME NO ALTERNATIVES.

I mean it just goes to show what you put into your body has a huge effect on your body and mind. Before I adopted this awareness or education I was eating a lot of shit. I never cared about what went into my body, but now I know how much sugar certain foods have and also the healthy level of sugar intake.

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HAVING PCOS, DID IT MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT TO FALL PREGNANT?

Another symptom of having PCOS is infertility, so I always thought infertility could be a possibility for me. The idea of the fertility meal came about because everything that was eliminated from the meal (dairy, sugar, processed, meats, gluten) is supposed to enhance women's health.

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ON THE PCOS DIET, WHAT DID A REGULAR DAY LOOK LIKE TO YOU?

In the morning it was grits, gluten free oatmeal or toast with maybe eggs. Throughout the day I would make sure I had a salad and/or fish. I would always have protein and eat less snacks. I mean I was such a big snacker - I would just snack all day and eat so many pastries  - so just eliminating that and eating meals instead of snacks or having small regular meals, whenever I’m hungry, maybe a small meal every 2-3 hours instead of waiting for lunch or dinner. Dinner involved a lot of grains, nuts and some protein - just a balanced diet throughout.

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WHAT DIFFICULTIES DID YOU FACE FOLLOWING QUITE A REGIMENTED DIET?

The first two months was really hard because I was craving sugar and dairy, like milk, yoghurt and pastries etc. The first two months my body craved and crashed hard and that was when I realized my body was dependent on these sorts of foods. 

WERE YOU STILL CONSUMING ALCOHOL AND COFFEE?

I never really drank alcohol before so cutting it out for me wasn’t a problem. With caffeine etc, everything in moderation is fine so I would have one coffee a day or try and replace it with two teas instead.

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WHEN YOU WERE EATING A DIET CONSISTING OF SUCH WHOLESOME FOODS, REGARDLESS OF THE PCOS CONDITION, WERE YOU AWARE OF THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HOW YOUR BODY AND MIND FELT BEFORE AND AFTER THE DIET?

My energy level went up - I used to think I was born tired and always struggled with fatigue. I would usually crash in the middle of the day at a certain hour, which would bum me out, and to get rid of the tiredness I would eat even more. Once I really weened off of certain foods I was really able to go all day without ever really crashing and if you were to look at it like a graph - there were no peaks or spikes or anything, everything was more mild and stable. I would say that it not only helped my health but my mind as well because those two obviously affect each other and go hand in hand. I was less moody - not that I’m a super moody person or anything, but everything just felt very stable. 

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AFTER HEALING YOURSELF OF PCOS, DID YOU FIND IT EASIER FOR THE PREGNANCY?

I guess so, becoming pregnant is such a crazy concept. It’s such a biological thing but also a mental thing. You can never predict when it’s going to happen and if it doesn't happen then you have to trust it’s for a reason. I was actually getting to that point where I thought “you know I’m going to be okay regardless, I’ll be happy either way”, and once we kind of settled into that, we conceived while we were on a road trip.

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NOW WITH YOUR PREGNANCY HAS YOUR DIET CHANGED AT ALL?

A little because now I have to be more conscious of what I’m eating and making sure my diet consists of the right proteins, greens, folic acids, DHA and vitamins and now making sure all of those things are all leveled out and balanced. But you know I’ll still eat a slice of pizza and some junk food and it’s okay. Looking back at the whole span of humanity and our existence, we've done this forever and we’re really lucky to be in New York and have the resources in place to learn about health and women's health and continue to have the support and the education around it. There are so many places where people are not as lucky, like women giving birth in the patty fields during laborious work - that still happens. So in a way, I’m not whining about it. I don’t feel like I’m doing extra work - I’m grateful to be where I am.

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AND HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR BODY AND ITS TRANSFORMATIONS?

Pregnancy is very strange. Some days I don’t think about it and some days it really blows my mind. Peter has been great. I mean it's incredible to me that he has absolutely no idea how this transition feels, I mean emotionally he does, but it’s such a physical experience for the woman.

From conception to birth to nurturing and feeding, I am committed to it with complete trust. It’s insane but at the same time it is empowering to know that the female body is apt to do all of those things and more. So in a way, I’m surrendering to these changes and allowing my body to relax and do it’s thing, and protect myself too by not rushing, not overdoing it - or burning myself out. 

Now I know I can't have full days. I need 2-3 hours of alone time which I really enjoy, because it’s my energy but it's the babies energy too. I feel like I’m purely just a vessel right now, which is also very weird to think about. I’m just feeding this thing, it’s got nothing to do with me, it has it’s own personality and it has its own complete set of characteristics. It’s a beautiful thing and I’m excited to see what the next stages are going to be like.

Words & Photos by Angel