This episode is part of our Success Leaves Clues Series and features Helen Perks, a nutritionist from the UK. She joined the Practice Accelerator in 2017, and as you listen to her story, you’ll hear just how valuable a supportive community of practitioners can be when building your practice. Along with functional and integrative medicine training, the solid foundation she built for her practice has given her the opportunity to shoot for the moon with a mission that could be truly transformational for patients in the UK. Enjoy!
- Helen’s journey to functional medicine, beginning with her own health challenges and those of her father
- The one thing she did with every patient that had significant impact on the success of her practice
- How the Practice Accelerator gave her the tools and the community to build a solid foundation for her practice
- And so much more!
Resources mentioned in this episode:
James Maskell: Welcome to the Evolution of Medicine podcast, the place health professionals come to hear from innovators and agitators leading the charge. We cover the latest clinical breakthroughs in health technology, as well as practical tools to help you transform your practice and the health of your community. This podcast is brought to you by the Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center, who provide a range of options to help you deliver successful, effective, functional, and integrative medicine. To find out more and to get started, go to goevomed.com/lmrc. That’s goevomed.com/lmrc.
Hello, and welcome to the podcast. This week, we continue our Success Leaves Clues series that we’ve actually done over the last five years, which features practitioners who have been through our Practice Accelerator and are going on to do incredible things in the world. The Practice Accelerator launches twice a year, in February and September. You can find out more about that at goevomed.com/accelerator.
This week, we have Helen Perks. She’s a nutrition therapist from the UK. She joined the Accelerator in 2017. It’s an incredible story, as to the value of having a supportive community. She’s been to all of the IFM training, become a nutrition therapist, but what you’ll see, as you listen, is that there’s so much that she learned along the way, and by building a solid foundation for her practice she’s now able to really shoot for the moon with something that could be super transformational for the UK.
One of the themes that we discussed is integration with the system itself. That’s going to be a continual theme through our year of growth, looking how the functional medicine ecosystem interacts and engages with the rest of medicine to make the biggest impact possible. So much good stuff. Enjoy.
A warm welcome to the podcast, Helen Perks. Welcome, Helen.
Helen Perks: Hello, James. Thank you for having me.
James Maskell: We’ve had people in our EvoMed ecosystem over the years from the UK, from Australia, from South Africa and from other parts of the world. As I look back, I realize we haven’t really featured those people as heavily. And I just wanted to have you on, because you’ve been such an incredible member of the Practice Accelerator, you’ve supported so many other people in the Facebook group and you actually have an incredible story that I think many would love to hear and also to get a lot of value from. Thank you for being part of it and thanks for being part of the community.
I guess let’s just start with your why. I think everyone who’s in integrative and functional medicine has some sort of reason why they got involved and why they feel this sort of moral obligation to practice in this way. Why don’t we start there?
Okay. Yes. Well, my reason why is actually twofold, James. One, my own health and two, the health of my father and the way we kind of fell through the gaps of the NHS medical model. I had ME for 17 years. I had no idea. I was undiagnosed for the first 18 months. I’d had several miscarriages and I had no idea about anatomy, about physiology. I used to be an auditor and used to work for the Ministry of Defense before that. Burnt the candle at both ends, so I really wasn’t looking after myself. What happened was I became incredibly ill. After my third miscarriage, I nearly lost my life. All I was told by my GPs, at the time, was to go and have counseling, pull my socks up.
Of course, I then began to think that, “Oh my God, this is all in my head.” And so I pushed against what my body was telling me, to the point where I just crashed. I was bedbound and housebound for many, many years. Lost everything, my independence, my career. Luckily I didn’t lose my marriage. When I tell people, now, “If you haven’t got your health, you’ve got nothing,” and I really mean it. I know how that feels so I can totally empathize with people.
It was only when I began to have enough energy to start investigating what I could do for myself, because everything I went to the GP with, “Oh, look, my temperature is only 35.4°C.” They weren’t interested in that unless it’s above 37 degrees. Of course, it was an endocrine element that they weren’t looking into. I began to realize actually I was quite on my own with this and I felt really quite isolated. The more I researched, the more I became interested in what was going on, the mechanisms in my body. That’s how I got into nutritional medicine and how I studied for a Bachelor of Science in nutritional medicine. Because as I slowly began to change my diet, which is a low-hanging fruit, I then started to feel better. That was just one of the pieces of my recovery jigsaw, was the dietary element.
James Maskell: Yeah, no. I think one thing you said there that really resonates with me is just the isolation of being the only person that you know that’s going through this and thinking like, “Wow, these experts don’t really empathize with me. Don’t really know what’s going on and you know, I’m going to have to go it alone.” So many, I think, practitioners and even patients feel like that. It’s amazing then when the shoe is on the other foot, when you’re a practitioner, to sit in that with people and for people to be like, “Yeah, I know what it’s like to be that. I was that. And this is my journey.” Yeah, I love that.
You mentioned food was one part, what were some of the other parts of your recovery?
Helen Perks: My lifestyle, I was burning the candle at both ends. I wasn’t giving myself enough sleep. I had quite a high-powered job. I’d just finished a stressful systems audit. All of those things were just kind of cumulative, really. On top of eating a poor diet, on top of rushing around, and I have to admit, 22 years ago I did smoke as well. Like I said, I was burning the candle at both ends. I wasn’t doing enough physical exercise. I had no idea what meditation was, I was having panic attacks. All these things played a huge, huge part in my recovery. Using things like emotional freedom technique, meditation, breathing, they were all part of my recovery. The biggest part, I think, was a technique called the Perrin Technique, which was developed by an osteopath, Dr. Perrin. Yeah. I started engaging in some of that. Yeah. Again, that helped me progress even further.
James Maskell: What was the moment when you transitioned from like, “Okay, I’m going to get myself better,” to, “I’m going to become a health professional.”
Helen Perks: I think it was the remarkable shift in…because, ME, chronic fatigue, you’re totally exhausted and all you are really recommended to do is this pacing and either antidepressants and sleeping pills and things like that. But changing my diet, implementing meditation, really supporting my parasympathetic nervous system really kind of … I don’t know. It’s really difficult to explain. I think you have to experience it to bloody believe it, as I say. The change was that remarkable. I just felt alive again.
And I thought, “Well, I need to spread the word. I need to educate myself in this,” which is the Bachelor of Science and nutritional medicine and then being educated to the Institute of Functional medicine and really help others get to the root cause of their symptoms so that they can get from A to B in a lot quicker time than I did. Seventeen years that was taken from my life. I really could have probably recovered in one to two years, if I’d known everything that I know now, especially, about my thyroid and my endocrine system, which contributed hugely to my miscarriages and so on and so forth.
James Maskell: Yeah. That’s amazing. Yeah. Tell us about the early days. You’re going through your Bachelor of Science. How did you find out about IFM? When did you start taking courses? And what was it like? Were you flying to America or were you doing them over there with Mike Ash?
Helen Perks: No. Well, Mike Ash wasn’t doing them at the time, but the course, Clinical Education, are delivering them now on the behalf of the Institute of Functional Medicine. I did all of them in one year, online, which I really, really enjoyed. The more I did it, the more I wanted. I just couldn’t get enough of it. That was in, I think, 2017. Then in 2018, I did the final part, which is…I did it the other way around. Applying function medicine and clinical practice, and that was a five day in person course. From that I created a WhatsApp group, which now has GPs, nutritional therapists from the EU, UK and the Emirates in there as well, which is great. It’s really active. We talk about complex cases and referrals.
I got into the Institute of Functional Medicine, I don’t know whether it was through Evo Med. When I joined Evolution of Medicine, I think I might have heard people talking about this Institute of Functional Medicine. It kind of triggered me to go and research a bit further. Then, of course, I signed up to their courses. The Institute of Functional Medicine, along with Evolution of Medicine, really helped me to deliver functional lifestyle medicine in the way that I do. Not just in terms of one to ones, but in programs, master classes, tutorials, and group visits.
James Maskell: Awesome.
Helen Perks: Yeah. I got a lot of kind of clinical tools from Institute of Functional Medicine. Then from Evolution of Medicine, I got the tools that I needed to roll that out.
James Maskell: Yeah. Well, let’s talk a little bit about that journey. This is part of a series called Success Leaves Clues, and this has been a whole series that we’ve done, over the last five years, to speak to practitioners that have come through some of our programs and who have built success off the back of them. Let’s talk about the early days of you starting to realize that this was your new profession. Then also, what were some of the things that you implemented that made an impact in moving your business forward?
Helen Perks: Okay. When I first qualified, I was doing one-to-ones, primarily, most of the time. Then when I came across Evolution of Medicine, that’s when things started to change, because I started to learn about group visits. For example, if someone had hypertension, it makes sense to have a group of people who are experiencing hypertension and deliver education to them, which helps them, in terms of peer to peer, it educates, it motivates, but also it reduces duplication of effort on the part of the practitioner. From a group visit point of view, that’s how Evolution of Medicine enabled me to progress from a one-to-one to a one-to-many, if you like.
I’ve been able to deliver a detox program now where I have twice weekly Zoom sessions where I deliver tutorials on hydration, fasting, time-restricted feeding. That enables us as a group to watch it together and discuss the whys and wherefores and talk about challenges and obstacles and how we resolve them and the root causes of not looking after our liver, for example.
There are so many tools actually that I’ve used from Evolution of Medicine. In fact, my favorite one is the Lean Canvas. It doesn’t matter whether I’m doing a master class, a program, or whether I’m rebranding into a membership, which is something that I’m going into this year. gain, there’s information inside Evolution of Medicine, Evo Med to help you with that. This Lean Canvas has enabled me to look at what a specific problem is and really how to solve it and monetize it. That was, I think for me personally, one of the best tools that I came across. It’s almost like a business strategy on one piece of paper or a project strategy, for example.
James Maskell: Yeah. I’m glad you shared that, because I just feel like when we speak to practitioners who come in, one of the things that…they have so many ideas about what they want to create and it sort of gets their creative juices flowing, but ultimately, you have to start then execute things towards what you want to create. I think one of the things that the Lean Canvas does is really create some clarity.
For those of you who haven’t come across it, it’s not rocket science. You can actually just Google Lean Canvas and you’ll see it. It’s just really a methodology for understanding, if you’re going to launch a product or service, what are all the pieces that will need to be thought through in order to understand who’s going to buy it, why are they going to buy it? What’s going to be the messaging, what’s going to be the revenue source at the end and what will it look like for the business and what the margins are.
I think all of those things need to be thought through because so often we just get excited about something, clinically, and we don’t really think about how it’s going to turn and then affect the business. We always recommend the Lean Canvas as a starting point for any new product and service and system.
I guess, I’d love to get a little bit more…you’ve been super valuable and active in the Facebook group over the years and added a ton of value there to other people. You just spoke to the value for a patient being in a group. What is your experience of sort of going through the journey of building your functional medicine or functional nutrition practice in an ecosystem of other people that are doing it at the same time?
Helen Perks: Well, honestly, for me, I think it was beyond valuable being in a Facebook group with other practitioners that enables you to network, brainstorm. And for me I’ve created friendships that will probably last a lifetime. Even when I finished going through the EvoMed, which by the way, I still use I, on a rinse and repeat kind of cycle for all the different things that I’m coming up with and I’m creating as I progress.
Yeah. The value of listening and watching what other practitioners are doing, I think is priceless, because you can take their hints and tips and mold them into something that fits for you and for your practice. What I really loved, by the way, James, was the accountability sessions. I absolutely loved them. I was in an accountability group with two doctors from America so it didn’t matter that I was in the UK. We had great brainstorming sessions every week. We had a great accountability coach. That really spurred us on. Yeah. I just think it was great support.
James Maskell: Well, I’m glad you mentioned that, actually, because that was something that we implemented in 2017 and had it for a while and are bringing back now. Patrick, who I’ve had on the podcast before, is providing that role of accountability coach inside the Practice Accelerator now for people who join in this cohort and future cohorts.
Because having looked back at many of the practitioners that we featured in this Success Leaves Clues series, they were in an accountability group and actually later this month we’re going to be featuring a group that still meets to this day. They still meet every week to this day. Yeah. They got their foundation from 2017, 2018 and it sort of just turned into, well, you’re here, almost like a men’s group, but like all practitioners, all building their practices in different physical locations with different degree types, but all the time working on their business, every week. That’s what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Ultimately, I was really excited to hear what an impact that made on you and others. We’re excited to bring it back, because, ultimately, for most clinician entrepreneurs, it’s the week to week execution that is really critical for sustained practice success. I really appreciate you sharing that.
Helen Perks: It also leads you feeling less isolated, as well, in your thoughts. It’s really good. I say, to bat ideas off other clinicians, especially those that understand functional lifestyle medicine.
James Maskell: Yeah, exactly. In the same way that a patient doesn’t know anyone else with ME, they don’t know other people that have the same thing as them, practitioners or doctors…especially if you sort of extricate yourself from conventional medicine, you don’t know other people that are doing that, other doctors that are doing that. If you can find a good cohort of people who are, there’s some great lessons along the way. Ultimately, our goal is, if those relationships happen in the context of something like the Practice Accelerator, it means that more than likely those relationships are going to be mutually empowering because there’s a roadmap already. It’s not just going to be a sort of a commiseration group with, “Wow, isn’t it hard to leave the system. Isn’t it hard to get people in.”
One of the things I wanted to just connect with you is about, because it’s an amazing…you’ve shared a lot of great tips already. One of the themes I think for the Accelerator moving forward…in the next decade, what do we want this to be? Because ultimately we’ve had about a thousand practitioners that have come through and built businesses of all kinds of models and successes over the last five years. We launched it in 2016. What do we want for the next 10 years? And ultimately, what we really want it to be is a way for any practitioner to bring in functional and lifestyle medicine in the most efficient, effective way. But not just people leaving the system, but actually integration into the system itself and changing the system itself.
That’s going to be a theme for us 2022 into 2023. We want to be a space where, not just doctors who want to leave insurance, but doctors who want to bring it into the system. I wanted to have a moment to connect with you because I love your WhatsApp group and I know that’s added a lot of value to the people there. I know that you interviewed me for the Clinical Education Book Club at one point, but I also know that you’ve taken steps and made efforts to really integrate yourself, in your own private cash practice, with the system itself, with the NHS and with GP. Can you just talk a little bit about why you chose to do that, the journey to do that and what it’s meant for your patients, for your business and for the health of your community?
Helen Perks: Yeah. The thing is, when patients come to me they, usually, have been to lots of doctors, lots of consultants, and they’re still feeling pretty rubbish, even though they’re being told everything’s normal. Obviously, I take a full, comprehensive of case history. Part of their package includes a letter that I write to their GP or a consultant, within the NHS. I do that, because I truly believe that putting together the medical model of the NHS and the medical model of the functional medicine model, joining that together, ultimately, delivers the best outcome for the patient. That’s what I’m all about. Working together in that way, I think, is critical.
I have never yet had one doctor or consultant turn down any request of a test that I’ve asked for, or a referral to a consultant such as a gastroenterologist or an endocrinologist. Again, I’ve then gone on to write to those consultants requesting certain tests. The reason why I’ve done that is, obviously, I’ve looked at the whole health jigsaw of the client in front of me. Sometimes we’ve undertaken some functional medicine tests, for example, adrenal tests. I don’t know.
I suppose the best way I can explain this to you is by giving you an example of a 29 year old mother that came to me. Thought she had me two young children, totally exhausted. Had a history of Hodgkin’s lymphoma and thought perhaps that had came back as well. We tested her mitochondria and ruled that out as being a root cause of her exhaustion. We looked at her adrenals and absolutely there was an issue there. I wrote to her GP who was very approachable and they then wrote to the endocrinologist as I had requested. But I qualify why I’m requesting these things. She then got a referral. I then wrote the endocrinologist, did the relevant tests. Sure enough, she almost had Addison’s disease and was very quickly prescribed steroids.
That young lady came back to me…this is just as the COVID pandemic was starting and she’d been catching lots of colds and viruses. She said, “Had I not undertook those functional medicine tests, had you not written to my doctor and my endocrinologist and had I caught COVID I don’t think I would be here today.” There is space for the NHS and functional medicine to work alongside each other. That’s just one example that I’m sharing with you today. I just think it is really, really important. I’ve had gastroenterologists that have referred clients to me. When I’ve worked on them, it means that they haven’t had to go through invasive imagery, such as a colonoscopy, a gastroscopy, because just changing their diet within a seven week period has really helped them.
James Maskell: Yeah. I think what it does, is it just builds trust with those providers, with those practitioners, with those doctors, because they’re like, “Look, this person’s going to communicate well with me. This person’s obviously adding value. The patient is obviously over the moon with their care.” I think there’s so much to learn from that because I think, in a certain way, in its early days much of functional medicine has been in like stark opposition to the conventional medicine system. Ultimately, I think, part of this next year of growth, which is really what we’re in and this sort of growth of the movement moving forward word, is really the integration into the system.
Integration into the system doesn’t mean you have to take insurance or you have to be an employee of the state, in this case. You can still do your thing. You still have to take care of your business. You still have to bring patients through the door and you still have to build the basic ecosystem to make sure that this becomes something that can sustain you. But at the same time, every effort that you make, even those … If you just made that one commitment, which is, “I’m going to send a letter to the GP of every patient that I work with, with a sort of summarization of what we’ve been doing.” That commitment over a long enough period creates so much trust equity, so much trust value that now you are a part of the ecosystem in that way.
I want to salute you for that, because it’s something that you didn’t really have to do. It’s something that if you looked at it in a pure, is this worth my time at the beginning, you may have thought no. But I think you can really see, just in that one example, I’m sure there are many others, that taking the time to really integrate into the provider network has been valuable. And that’s as a nutrition therapist. That’s not as a functional medicine doctor or a functional medicine nurse practitioner. That’s someone who’s playing a very different role. Hats off to you for doing that. I’d love to know now that you’ve built a successful practice, you have these different programs, you’re building a membership now, what does the future look like for you? What do you sort of dream of as what’s going to be possible for you here in the future?
Helen Perks: Well, James, if anyone that knows me, I have ideas that go off in my head like a machine gun constantly. I didn’t used to think I was creative until I met Dr. Lara Salyer who told me otherwise. I love Lara. To be honest, in 2019 to -21, I’ve spent two years working on a global children’s initiative, working with an associate early years advisor and a primary teacher. Well, I think it was in 2018, I was in The Truly Epic Book of Veg Power with Dr. Chatterjee, Jamie Oliver, Sir Paul McCartney. I produced a children’s story and a recipe. The whole premise of the book is to encourage children to eat more vegetables. I was totally inspired by that. I then went on to create 10 vegetable poems for children, all less than a minute long. From that, I have created a global initiative, which I want to start out and get onto the curriculum this year. And it’s called Food for Thought: The Ultimate Children’s Pathway to Healthy Eating for Life.
I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am about this initiative, because of all the fantastic interactive activities within there. What I aiming to do, James, is because from a functional medicine point of view, we talk about root cause. With this I’m all about addressing the root of our next generations. I truly believe, in this day and age, in this society, that the tail wags the dog. This is about addressing the tail. I want children to walk away from these activities and in their subconscious remember what they’ve learnt.
For example, when they fall over in the playground and they cut their knee, they go home and they actually ask their parent, their guardian, for some cauliflower, because they learned about the fact that Vitamin K was in cauliflower and they learned about how blood flows and how it clots. Therefore, they want to eat this cauliflower to mend their knee and feel the benefits as they’re eating.
This year is all about getting that published, getting someone to recognize it, to put it on in the curriculum and to get supermarkets. I want them animated. I’d like supermarkets to show them as TV adverts and encourage footfall within their supermarket for children and their guardians to eat more vegetables. That is my main goal. My RESPECT membership as well, because I’ve been rebranding. RESPECT Your Health. RESPECT stands for Responsibility, Eating habits, Sleep hygiene, Physical exercise, Emotions, Circadian rhythm, and Therapeutics.
James Maskell: I love that. I guess what this brings up for me…I love all of it. That if you build a solid foundation and you get your business to a point where it runs effectively and you have the ability to help you people every day, you can then have a platform by which to really shoot for the moon, to go and do something that really changes the culture in a meaningful way. I think many practitioners have that dream. I’ve had that conversation with people, but ultimately there’s this missing link in the middle, which is income stabilization, practice organization, getting yourself to a point where you’ve organized your delivery of your business, in such a way that you start to get your time back, so that you can start to take on these kind of initiatives outside of whatever makes you money, whether that’s patient care or otherwise.
Yeah. It’s such a great mission and vision. I’m super supportive of it, in any way that I can be. Yeah. Thank you for the work that you’ve done, for being a shining light for those practitioners that are coming after you and also for the generous way that you contribute in the Facebook group and the way that you support other practitioners. I’m very excited to follow your journey from here on, and I have no doubt that if you give yourself a long enough timeline, which you do, that you can achieve all the things that you just shared and probably a lot more. We certainly need it. It’s certainly time for it to happen. I’m excited to see where you can take it.
Helen, thank you so much for being part of the Evolution of Medicine podcast. This has been part of our Success Leaves Clues series. For those of you who are listening to this for the first time, you can go back through our back catalog and check out many other inspiring stories of practitioners that have built varied, interesting businesses off the back of the Practice Accelerator and are now in a position to really make a dramatic impact. Helen, thank you so much for being part of it.
Helen Perks: Thank you very much for having me, James.
James Maskell: All right. This has been the Evolution of Medicine podcast. I’m your host, James Maskell. If you want to find out more about the Practice Accelerator, we are opening it twice a year in February and September. Today is day two of our opening for this year. If you want to find out more about it, go to goevomed.com/accelerator. Thanks so much for being part of the Evolution of Medicine podcast. We’ll see you next time.
Thanks for listening to the evolution of medicine podcast. Please share this with colleagues who need to hear it. Thanks so much to our sponsors, the Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center. This podcast is really possible because of them. Please visit goevomed.com/lmrc to find out more about their clinical tools like the group visit toolkit. That’s goevomed.com/lmrc. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.
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