Life & Work, Quotable Magazine

I Switched my Focus from Nutrition to Gut Health and It Changed Everything

I get it now. As an entrepreneur, health coach, mom of two young kids, wife, dog-mom, and home renovator, I’ve learned the hard way how many things I can juggle simultaneously before my body gives out.

When I was younger, I didn’t get it. I thought my body was invincible. Trained as a health coach and athlete in my early twenties, I felt I knew how to take care of my body. I thought as long as I ate the right foods and got the right amount of exercise I would never get sick.

For a while, this seemed to work. When everyone else got the flu, I wouldn’t even catch a cold. When others would come into work wearing shades and looking exhausted, I couldn’t remember the last time I felt worn out. I thought I had cracked the code on how to maintain peak health and wellness and that it would be this way forever. I simply didn’t understand why others seemed to be struggling with their health.

I didn’t realize that diet and exercise were not enough until my daughter was almost two years old. I’d survived six months of sleepless nights after she was born, and seemed to have come out only minorly scathed. After having a baby, somehow I still managed to stop at the store on my way home from work to make homemade meals and found time to go to the gym. But then I changed careers and started planning a wedding and not long after, I hit my breaking point.

It felt like my immune system was breaking down. In the two months leading up to my wedding, I kept getting illness after illness. Everytime I thought I was getting better, a new virus or infection would have me back in bed the next day.

The nonstop pace of my life had slowly eroded my highly prized health I had so carefully cultivated over the years. I came to realize that despite my protein shakes, exercise and healthy diet, that I was only human.

I was working out of my bed trying to hold onto my job in corporate wellness, crossing my fingers I would be able to go to my own wedding, all the while feeling like a hypocrite.

Who was I to work in the wellness industry when I was running my health into the ground like this?

I started to come to terms with the very real possibility I might not be able to walk down the aisle on my wedding day.

This was all happening around the time I was reading all the latest research on gut health for a book I was writing. Sure, I had read the research while writing my book but only now did I start understanding how important not only nutrition was in maintaining a healthy gut, but how integrated our microbiome is with our nervous system.

Our microbiome is the living ecosystem that exists within our bodies responsible for producing 90% of our feel-good and sleep chemicals like serotonin and GABA, digesting our food and extracting the nutrients we need, managing inflammation, and so many other important things.

This is why our microbiome is such an integral part in managing our stress, getting a good night’s sleep, keeping inflammation levels down, and even directing our food cravings. It does all of this through our gut-brain-axis which is a communication channel between our brain, our gut and our larger nervous system.

As important as a healthy diet is to our gut health, I discovered, the microbiome can only do all of these important functions when our parasympathetic nervous system is in “rest and digest mode.” When we’re super stressed out for prolonged periods of time our nervous system can get “stuck” in fight and flight mode. Whenever we’re in “fight and flight” we simply can’t “rest and digest.” This can lead to nutritional deficiencies, anxiety, depression, and a weakened immune system.

Our nervous system’s stress response is intimately connected to our digestive system and vice versa. This means, we could be eating the healthiest diet in the world, but if we’re not taking time to rest, meditate, and go for walks on a regular basis our gut might not even have a chance to absorb any of those precious nutrients we are consuming and our health will suffer.

“This was where I had gone wrong. My nervous system had been in a high-stress mode 24/7. I slowly realized why it was so important to cultivate peace in my life.”

If you are a high-achieving woman juggling multiple projects, not to mention kids, pets, and other responsibilities on a daily basis and you feel like you can’t find the “off” switch for your stress, it’s highly likely you will experience some type of gut imbalance.

70-80% of our immune system resides in the gut. The pandemic has really increased our awareness of our immune system. If there is one most effective thing you can do to strengthen your immune system, it is to balance the gut.

Luckily, I was able to recover enough just in time to walk down the aisle on my wedding day. But I had learned my lesson.

Rather than viewing my body like a machine – calories in, energy out, I started to respect my body’s needs in the same way I used to only respect my brain’s needs. I allowed myself to see the fragility of being in this body on a daily basis and became more mindful about where, with whom, and to what I was giving my precious energy to.

This experience taught me about my vulnerability, humanity and how quickly our health can deteriorate when we aren’t truly giving our body the space it needs to breathe.

The more I allow my body to have a voice, the more I find myself breathing through stressful situations and difficult choices without getting paralyzed by anxiety or spiraling into overwhelm.

The daily grind of running a business means I’m constantly managing stressful situations not only at work, but with my kids and in my household.

As I continue to develop my relationship with my body I have started to make a habit of regularly asking myself, “what would bring me more joy and ease right now?” Giving my body the space to rest and enjoy simple acts like eating delicious food, being outside in nature, or sitting in the quiet, has become my buffer to stress.

Everytime I give my body this gift of space to breathe – even if just for 5-10 minutes – it feels like I’m turning a switch in my body from “stress mode” to “rest and digest” mode and I can sense, deep, deep down, that my body, and my belly, are thanking me.

HEATHER WISE, MPH, HHC is a co-founder of SkillfulMeans, certified integrative wellness coach, mindfulness teacher, yoga instructor, and author of the book, “A Gut Feeling: Conquer Your Sweet Tooth by Tuning Into Your Microbiome.” Instead of dictating a diet, Heather’s science and wisdom-backed coaching aims to balance the gut with mindful and intuitive eating while cultivating a more positive relationship with our body for digestive bliss, immune health, and sustainable weight-loss. You can find Heather at

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