I was interviewed by @amandacastilone for her amazing Women in Wellness series. Once we got started talking it was hard to stop – our conversation was over two hours long, so this is a lengthy transcript, but SO worth the read!

 

Here’s some of the highlights of our conversation:
  • Dr. Lisa’s story
  • What Naturopathic medicine is and how it differs from conventional or functional medicine
  • Common misconceptions about depression and Dr. Lisa’s refreshing and real take on it
  • Why treating the label of your illness does not work and what to focus on instead
  • Why happiness is an emotional unicorn
  • What Intuitive Eating really means
  • The only 3 things we really know about human nutrition
  • How to use your menstrual cycle as a superpower instead of a curse

 

Grab a tea and have a read!

 

Amanda: Tell me about your journey: How did your personal health story lead you to become a Naturopathic Doctor? 

Dr. Lisa:  My health journey started around the age of 15 with fatigue. Between the ages of 15 to 20, I started to look for answers around fatigue and the extra weight that I wanted to lose. By my early 20s, I had gathered the labels chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and depression. I was not getting answers from my medical doctors. They would suggest pills or talk therapy or told me it was ‘all in my head.’ 

At the age of 12, I had asked my doctor during a checkup about my weight and when he answered I remember thinking, “you don’t even know what you’re talking about! I’m twelve and even I know you don’t know what you’re talking about.” I kept not getting answers and not getting better. I knew the answers I was given weren’t right because they wanted to give me drugs, but when I took them they made me worse. And I knew that couldn’t be the answer – it didn’t make sense. 

So, I went to look for my own answers and I felt drawn to nutrition. I felt there was a bigger picture to be considered beyond nutrition, and I came across Homeopathy and started to put those two together. Then I came across the fact that there was a thing called a Naturopathic Doctor, that encompassed everything I had found to be important. This path allowed me to use the tools that I was really drawn to. So, it all made sense for me. 

Because of my own health, I had a lot of false starts. I had to leave my undergrad twice because of chronic fatigue. It took me 8 years to get my undergrad, which is crazy. I’m from Canada, so I went to the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

 

Amanda: For your personal health issues, what finally helped you realize what was going on, and how did you fix it?

Dr. Lisa: There was a lot of pieces and it was a 20-year journey. My hope now is to make that a much shorter journey for people, because I’ve already been there. Naturopathic medicine as it’s taught in the schools focuses a lot on the environment that your body, mind and soul live in. But a lot of it is physical stuff, where we’re looking at the food, but also: Are you missing vitamins? Are you moving? Are you sleeping? – those types of things. I would put one piece in place and would get a little bit better and then kept going deeper. 

We’re energetic beings in a physical world. As above, so below; it’s like a trickle-down effect. If we think about the physical body in the trickle-down effect, it’s the end of the line. If you’re just focused on the physical body, changing your food or your sleep or your exercise, it’s a little like trying to micromanage. You have to go to the deeper levels of brain chemistry: How did you get wired? What’s running the autopilots of how you’re making your choices? Understanding that piece as well. Now, I work even more so with energetic medicine. I need to understand where the energy is disrupted in the body. What’s feeding this whole physical illness? Coming at it from the energetic medicine side with acupuncture, homeopathy, or reiki to correct, heal or put more energy in the body where it may have been disrupted. All the pieces are important. I think nutrition gets you so far, then you need another piece of the puzzle to get to the next step and put it all together.

 

Amanda: What does healthy mean to you? 

Dr. Lisa: Healthy means flexibility. When your health journey is taking you to a place that is restricting your lifestyle, that is loss of health. It’s also understanding that your body is your vehicle to explore the world with

Your body is your vehicle to explore the world with. We have to have a bigger end game than just to be healthy. 

Let’s say that the health spectrum ranges from 100% healthy to 100% dead. If we just focus on the health at all costs – say, juicing, retreating, cleansing and doing all those things, then we don’t have flexibility in our lives. You can’t just go and enjoy. Then there is the other end, when we’re ill and we’ve lost the ability to eat certain foods and we don’t have the energy to get everything done. In some cases, the intervention that we’re trying to use to heal us is also creating more rigidity, especially in this whole SIBO world which you’re familiar with, Amanda. The treatment itself for SIBO is to get very restrictive with the diet. So, we have to look at where the flexibility is lost and how we can bring it back in.

I think we should be able to (not that we would want to) eat at a 7-11 or McDonalds if we have to. We shouldn’t have to live in that tiny world where we have to wait 8 hours to eat again because we can’t find organic, free-range, gluten free foods. We shouldn’t have to worry that if we eat the fast food we’re going to pay for it for 3 days afterwards. If you are careful and you have all the knowledge and are doing all the right things, which was my journey, but you have to keep getting more restrictive just to feel okay, that’s not healthy.

Amanda: Exactly, because that impacts other areas of your life. You might have your diet “on point” but then you can’t go out with your friends or have a piece of pizza or a glass of wine without feeling like a truck hit you.

Dr. Lisa: Yes, and I think that’s where the trickle-down effect, along with the understanding that we are energy before we are physical comes in. We’re able to micromanage so much on the physical level, but until we understand what is ultimately feeding this scenario is we don’t have the full picture.

Amanda: So, do you think it’s important for people to have a spiritual practice as a critical component to health?

Dr. Lisa: It’s a critical component, yes. I think the spiritual component is so personal and ultimately, we have to at least have some sort of understanding that there is something bigger and a way to connect to that. Because if we’re here without anything to connect to, it’s kind of pointless.

We are a society that’s very disconnected and that’s causing a lot of our illnesses in and of itself. I think science is now catching up with the energetic world. We just haven’t been able to measure it up until this point. Now, we can measure someone’s heart rate variability, their magnetic field and we can actually measure the electromagnetic field of two people – showing what the electromagnetic field of that relationship is. We create a dynamic when we come into someone else’s field and our field affects them (SO COOL!). I think understanding the fact that there is energy there, even though we can’t see it. It’s becoming more and more real – that whole energetic anatomy and physiology behind our physical bodies. Not even that you have to have a spiritual connection, but to understand that our physical bodies have “the wizard behind the screen.”

Amanda: I think that the spirituality piece is one that’s missing for a lot of people because its perceived as “woo-woo” or it’s tied to religion. What are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Lisa: If we look at how everything else is run, there is something that makes the planets rotate, that causes the sun to come up, that whenever a forest it burned down it will grow back, and it will grow back in the exact same order every single time. So, whatever that is, that’s not physical and we can’t measure it, but we know it’s there. Just like the wind, we can’t really see it but we can see the leaf move.

I’m a person who needs just as much logic as anyone, but I need a little bit of the woo-woo because what we can see and know and touch is not the whole story. 

We’ve come to know health in the Newtonian model. In the Newtonian model, everything is broken down into smaller parts that we can see — and that’s where specialty medicine came in. We could open up bodies and see that there were lungs and intestines and understand it as machine. In that way, we just focus on the intestines and fix them, for example, and we don’t need to worry about the rest of the body.

But now we’re moving past Newtonian science to understand what we call in Naturopathic medicine, Vitalism. That’s the fact that there’s an organizing principle that’s organizing every living thing. The thing that will allow a lizard to regrow its tail – how does it do that?! That same thing. How do we fix a paper cut? That’s Wolverine shit right there! What is that thing? That’s what Naturopathic Medicine really works with – that thing! We’re not really just safer medicine or holistic food. We’re working on: What is that thing? What’s in the way of that thing? And how can we help it? Because it’s the only thing that can really fix you!

Amanda: In our society, we value the quickest easiest cheapest way to do things and I don’t believe that’s how life is meant to be lived.

Dr. Lisa:  That’s what we were taught. We’re taught since we’re young that there’s no operating manual for your body and when you get sick, you go to a doctor and they’ll give you a pill to fix you. Even the people who want Naturopathic Medicine still have that “fix me” mentality. They want something to come in from outside and fix them. But the fixing happens inside. We just have to jockey your body into position and allow it to heal.

It’s like a flower analogy; If you plant an orchid in a concrete parking lot, it’s not going to survive. If you put a human in conditions that do not match that human body, it’s not going to have the function that it wants. It’s that simple. It’s a cause and effect, not a blame or judgement. Everything on this planet works on cause and effect. But we’re never taught that. We’re taught that illness is a thing, we get broken …and a pill will fix us. It’s a really hard shift to make, even when you know you haven’t found the right answers from conventional medicinal. I think people get to the place where they have just lost hope and think, “I just have to live with this.” So many people come in my office and say, “I have Crohn’s and my doctor says it has nothing to do with the food I’m eating and I have to learn to live with it.” And I’m thinking, “how is a GI specialist in this millennium even allowed to say that your gut has nothing to do with food? It touches it all day long! How could it NOT?!” Crohn’s is totally fixable!

In Naturopathic medicine, we don’t treat the label. When people come in and they say they have Crohn’s, psoriasis or depression, for example, I write those words down and then I cross them out. None of those labels are going to help us find the answer. There is no Naturopathic treatment for Crohn’s. But there is a Naturopathic treatment for YOU, and we have to find out the why of that patient’s Crohn’s. If I have 10 people come in with Crohn’s, there’s 10 different reasons why they have it. We could put them all on the gluten-free, dairy-free diet and that might help one of them. But another one might need a different intervention. It might be stress, it might be a virus – we don’t know until we look at that person.

Everything the body does is its best solution for the conditions it’s in. Just like the orchid in the parking lot, if it starts to turn brown – BROWN is not the disease. BROWN is the adaptation to the nutrient deficiencies that its having because it’s trying to survive in concrete. 

Amanda: What is something that you wish more people knew about depression and brain health?

Dr. Lisa:  Oh my gosh, there are so many things! My favorite thing, especially for brain health is that the stigma is that “you’re broken and you’re a mentally ill weakling that can’t do life.” So, my favorite thing to say is that depression doesn’t mean you’re a mentally ill weakling who can’t do life. It means you’re the sanest person in the room operating exactly as designed. Just like a physical illness, there is always sanity in the insanity. With depression, if you’re in a room of people and you want to find out who the most intelligent people are, ask for a show of hands for who suffers from depression. It’s the shiny, happy always perky people that make me suspicious.

Brain illnesses are not mysterious mental illnesses, they are physical illnesses. 

Your brain is a physical organ just like your heart, but it’s the most vulnerable one. So, the Central Nervous System (CNS) goes down first when your body is in trouble. For some people that’s simply brain fog or insomnia. When our bodies are in trouble, we have 3 possibilities: we can fight, flight or freeze. Depression is the freeze; the shutdown. Now we’re seeing the direct link between cortisol and inflammatory markers with depression and anxiety. The higher these markers are, the more severe the CNS reactions are. The Serotonin Theory is quickly being replaced with the field of Psychoneuroimmunology — the way your gut, brain and immune system all play with each other.

To sum it up:

  • Depression is a very sane response and it tends to happen to the intelligent, creative, sensitive people in our world.
  • It’s a physical illness that does not involve missing neurotransmitters, and it’s happening on purpose. The body does not do anything just to piss you off or for shits n’ giggles. The body is giving you the best solution it’s got to the situation it’s in.
  • Depression is like a fever, the way for our bodies to tell us something is wrong. But a fever doesn’t tell us what’s wrong; Do we have a virus? Do we have an infection? Where is it? The fever is just the warning sign that something is not okay and it’s up to us to find that thing that’s not okay.

First your body will whisper, then it will yell, and then it will scream. It’s a progression and it is very intelligent. 

Amanda: When you see people with depression, is there always something else going on in the body? I’m assuming that depression wouldn’t be the only symptom as to something being wrong. Is that right? 

Dr. Lisa:  Yeah, for sure. Depression is no different than say, eczema. It depends on where you’re vulnerable. What’s a system in your body that has had a lot of undue stress in it? That has not had all the raw materials that it needs? Have you had an injury? If you’ve sprained your ankle once, it will sprain much more easily and that will be the first place you get Arthritis if you get it, because its vulnerable.

Someone might have a gluten intolerance, which is popular to have these days, but that could show up in one person as depression symptom, someone else as eczema symptoms, and someone else as joint pain. In Naturopathic medicine, we have the concept of emunctories. Those are the waste portals – how we get things out of the body. The CNS is one of those places. While we can get things out through the liver, the kidneys, the gut, the skin, the joints and the psyche, but also through the brain.

I’ll always teach people that their label can’t help us, and focus on what we’re going to use to find out what’s not working for them:

  • Why is your body needing to give you this symptom right now?
  • What are your emunctories telling us?
  • What are your neurovegetative status markers doing?
  • Where has your body been damaged before?

Those are all things that will help us figure out why your body had to go there. When we figure these things out, the labels are no longer necessary.

Amanda: I also think that just going by the label blinds people from figuring out what else is going on and how it could be connected. Take SIBO for example, since that’s something I struggle with and is fresh in my mind. I don’t think a lot of people would tie me not getting a period for 4+ months to SIBO because that’s not part of the typical SIBO symptoms, but it’s absolutely connected to that.  

Dr. Lisa: Right. Usually if you really dial it down, there’s 1 or 2 driving factors that are showing up in all these areas of your body. In our conventional world, someone will have 5 labels, and we think there’s 5 different reasons for these labels, and that we need 5 different treatments. In the Naturopathic world, we understand that your body is in adaptive mode, and we need to understand why. There’s usually only 1 or 2 reasons why you’ve adapted.

Hormones and gut are so intricately woven and then connected by the liver, so it makes sense that there would be issues with your cycle since you have SIBO. But you have to keep stepping back to figure out what is causing the hormones and gut to adapt in this way. Even for you, highly educated and in this sector, and I still do this myself, you still want to jump to the category of your illness and the part of your body that’s off and think, “Ok, what do I need to do for this part and this part.” It’s very compelling to think that they’re different things, but they’re not. For me, having had chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, depression and disordered eating – all the same thing.

You also have to consider the energetic language of the body — the Chakra System is one energetic language. Every chakra is in charge of an organ system in the body. So, if we’ve had this organ that’s been an Achilles heel for us our whole lives, then what happened to the energetics there? Maybe there’s a connection and we have to come at it from both angles. You have to have all those pieces of information and put them together.

You have to do the right things in the right order to put the body back into the place where it no longer needs to compensate. We move that orchid to a steamy, amazon jungle. In that situation, it’s going to heal that brown stuff. We don’t have to do anything, we just have to change the environment. 

Amanda: Obviously, as a patient of yours, I strongly believe in the power of Naturopathic Medicine and have experienced it first hand. But there are still so many people who swear by their Medical Doctor or Functional Medicine Doctor. How is it that MDs and FMDs are able to heal people and have success stories if they don’t take the whole entire body, mind and spirit into consideration?

Dr. Lisa: I think it depends on the condition. Let’s say you went into a Functional Medicine Doctor with Psoriasis. They test you and find out that you’re really low in Vitamin D and A and then prescribe you those vitamins and treat the condition. That would be a successful treatment, because the Psoriasis is fixed. The people that I end up seeing are the ones who have done all the right things and have not gotten better. So, I don’t think there’s a ‘wrong medicine,’ I would just say that I’m very passionate about my medicine. I’ve seen my medicine do magic. I am known as the “Magic Doctor” in our office. So, I think it’s what you’re after – what your definition of healing is.

There is definitely a place for Western, conventional medicine. In acute emergency room care they are fantastic. Functional Medicine Doctors choose to use safer pills, which is awesome, and they do try to look at the whole lifestyle. But they do come at it from the Newtonian model and treat towards the label.

The confusing part of Naturopathic medicine is that we can all operate differently. With the type of medicine I practice – Vitalism or Nature Cure – I know that the body knows what it’s doing and I just have to help it. If someone came to me expecting to get 10 supplements and a meal plan, they would be disappointed. Most people who come to me want something very different from the conventional medicine that they’re used to, which is something I hope I give. I love working with people who haven’t been able to find answers.

Amanda: What is one important thing that we can all do to protect our brain and improve its health?

Dr. Lisa: That’s a big question! I think it’s important to understand the 4 essential components your brain needs to function — fat, sugar, oxygen, love:

    1. Eating the good fats and taking out the toxic fats. Toxic fats can literally rip holes in your brain. These are vegetable oils, canola oil, restaurant oils, cooked oils, soy, safflower, sunflower – all plant oils in a bottle. Even when they’re healthy oils and they’re taken out of their package, they are now vulnerable and contain free radicals. Our brain and the coating around our nerves are all made up of fats. If yours are made up of these toxic fats, it’s not that you can’t make neurotransmitters, but the neurotransmitters can’t get to where they’re going. Low-fat or vegan diets are another other big thing. I see women come in with a cholesterol of 140 – they don’t even have enough cholesterol to protect and stabilize their nervous system.

 

    1. Balanced Blood sugar. Blood sugar is so important. Imbalance can come from many different angles. Most of the people I see do not overeat sugar, they eat really clean, yet they’re eating too many carbs or their macros are a little off, or they’re missing the nutrients to process it. Or sometimes they’re skipping meals or doing intermittent fasting. So, they still get in a situation where they have blood sugar swings even though they’re eating healthy. That mimics depression and anxiety in the body, so sometimes all someone would need to do to feel better is make sure their blood sugar is balanced.

 

    1. Getting enough oxygen. You need to make sure you’re breathing. Most people don’t breathe throughout the day. Move a little bit and get fresh air so that your brain has oxygen for the reactions to take place.

 

  1. You have to be living a life you love. I think the biggest pain comes from the difference between who you are and who you’re being. There’s tons of reasons why we’re not being who we are, but that’s painfully destructive to all levels of us. There’s a lot of work to be done to bridge that gap. I call it ‘homesickness’ that space between who you are right now and who you are really.

Amanda: I think what you said about living a life you love is so important, and it’s not normally talked about in this way. It’s talked about in terms of your happiness, but not how it impacts your brain.

Dr. Lisa: I call happiness an “emotional unicorn” because it’s not real.

We’re not really after happiness. Life is hard and life is good, but if we think we’re after Oprah happiness, we’re going to be more unhappy because we can’t get there. 

Amanda: It’s so refreshing to hear you say that! In our self-help focused social media world today, you hear all the time, “just positive affirmation your way out of a negative mood.” But you’re so right. It’s like having the “perfect body” it’s not a real thing.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, we need more than that. Especially for the brain. We need more realness, more transparency – which is starting to happen. We just came out of an age where the self-help guru with the million-dollar life and perfect 5-minute body was praised, but even these gurus weren’t walking their talk. But you couldn’t see what was happening in their lives behind the scenes. So, when you tried to have their life and it wasn’t possible, you thought it was your fault. Now we’re living in a world with people who are real about their lives. So even the people who are teaching self-help and personal growth are showing you the hard times of what’s involved in that.

If you’re trying to be blissfully happy all the time, you’re very likely going to hit a wall of depression, because it’s not real. 

We can see that the world is broken and people are broken, and it’s okay to be sad about that. That would be the natural human response to a world that’s not okay. To walk around with a smile plastered on your face 24/7 seems a little odd to me. We don’t have to wallow around in the pain of stuff, but just recognize it, be real, sit with it.

Depression in itself is a disconnection and we’re living in this “fake connected” world where we feel like we’re connected but we’re really not. We can get addicted to an emotional state because emotions are just chemicals hitting receptors, much like heroine. Just like when a heroin addict is used to heroin hitting the receptors, we need that emotional state. Even if it’s a painful situation, your body needs it otherwise you’ll feel very uncomfortable. So, you’ll do things that are not ‘you’ to get to that emotional state. And you’ll say, “I told myself I would never do that again. How the heck did I get here?” Because you’re at the mercy of needing to create that emotional state in your brain. I don’t believe that we can white knuckle our way out of that. You have to take that chemistry apart.

Another big thing that you hear a lot in the self-help space is intuition and the whole intuitive eating conversation, which I’m actually building a program around. Intuitive eating can only work when you’re already in a very good space – a space where your body can send you the proper signals. But first, you have to understand what your brain’s autopilot is. A lot of people use food to create certain emotional states, and you’ll never be able to intuitively know what you want to eat if your brain is running a hidden agenda. You’ll never be able to tell between if you’re trying to screw yourself or if it’s your intuition. We all have intuition, but most of our intuition is severely clouded by chemical imbalances and brain neuropathways. You have to get that all sorted out and then your intuition is there.

Amanda: I have all these light bulbs going off for me as we speak. I obviously know that I have my intuition, but for my entire life I’ve felt like I could never really hear it. Now I know that I’m not crazy! It’s because of the things I’m trying to fix in my body – like SIBO. But I know my body is doing what it’s supposed to do.

Dr. Lisa: Yes, it is. Most people I work with have 6th chakra disturbance {Reference: A concept created by Bizzie Gold | The Break Method}, which means they have a skewed perception of things. Their brain likes to tell them stories and they over analyze and have conversations in their head. The other half of the 6th chakra is intuition. So, if you’ve spent most of your time using your 6th chakra against yourself in over analysis, then your intuition is hard to use. One of the ways to start trying to use it in the midst of all the chaos is the 5 second rule. Anything that shows up instantly is usually truth and intuition. Anything that shows up 3-5 seconds later is your brain coming in on top and giving you this whole song and dance about how you can’t do that, or whatever story it’s saying.

The brain is just a ‘don’t get killed machine,’ so it’s doing its job. It’s also over dramatic and doesn’t have a big skill set. Actually, it has a really shitty skill set and it’s trying to run your life! 

If you’re really honest with yourself when you have a question and you listen, you get that first hit – and then you shoot it down. That first hit was your intuition. So, just get used to trying to see if you can hear that first hit. You’ll still try to talk yourself out of it and make yourself believe the brain chatter, but at least get used to listening to that first hit and differentiating between the two.

Amanda: There are so many resources out there that talk about intuitive eating and people who are living examples of it working. But they might not necessarily understand what’s happening in their bodies and brains to the level that you were talking about. How is that possible? Do you think these are people that maybe never had an issue and their bodies are healthy so they have a clear path to listen to their intuition?

Dr. Lisa: Yes, and there are different ways that you can get to that place where you are actually trusting your body. I think there are a lot of people in that space who talk about or try to teach intuitive eating with some missing parts. Just like depression, “weight loss” is a label. If we make decisions based on the scale or pant size, we will end up screwing ourselves. We can still get the same result, having a body you like to live in, but we have to be using different information to make that happen. The people who come to me usually want to change the way their body looks, and also have physical health issues that require them to change the way they eat. Those two worlds get meshed together and then they can’t figure out it they’re eating in a way that’s good for their health, or if they’re eating restrictively because of their weight. To go straight to intuitive eating when you have an issue that requires you to be restricted in order to heal, this is the space that I’m making a program for. Pretty much all the women who come into my practice are coming in trying to find their answers in food. Some of their answers will be food, but most of it will not be. There’s also usually some restriction around what they can and can’t eat because of an issue in the body. So, they can’t just go and eat whatever they intuitively want.

In the end, it’s not about food. None of this is about food. 

All we know about human nutrition – all the books and all the fad diets and labels – the only three things we know for sure about human nutrition is that we have to eat food that hasn’t been changed, we have to eat food that can generally grow where we grow and that there are no Vegan cultures. That’s all we know. There are various cultures around the world where nobody is counting their macros and no one has access to Thai coconut smoothies, they’re just eating what’s there that hasn’t been changed and they thrive. There are no vegan cultures because they wouldn’t be around long enough to reproduce. They would not survive very many generations.

The other thing that’s so big right now is Paleo. Paleo doesn’t mean bacon. It means our ancestors had to be come nutrition experts or else they did not survive to the next generation. They had to manipulate their nutrition environment to make the strongest, healthiest babies that would become the strongest, healthiest tribe members in order to make new generations. That’s how they made nutrition decisions. Going Paleo and just taking out grains and dairy and living on bacon + animal flesh is not how our ancestors ate. Its taking out processed food and that will always be good, but true Paleo is eating to optimize your genetic expression.

Beyond the things that we know, there are no food rules. The rest of it is healing your physiology. It’s healing the brain; Why is body image so important to you? What are all these neurochemical agendas that you’ve got going on? Once you get past that, then you can get to the place of actually intuitively eating and choosing things freely – not on an agenda.

I think we should enjoy food, but there is so much more to life. My life had been consumed by food. Food rules, research, healing. Our physical body and being able to manipulate our physical environment is like the tip of the iceberg for health. Once we are truly feeding ourselves nourishing food that feels good when we eat it, we will have all the building materials our bodies so need we can get on with all the things . At the end of the Intuitive Eating course, that will be the outcome.

Amanda: Do you have any plans for when this will be released? Will it be offered online?

Dr. Lisa: I’m hoping for January/February time frame and it will probably be available online too. This will be something that everyone I work with gets because this whole food conversation needs to stop.

There’s so many more important things we need to be talking about. We need to be talking about changing the world, not quinoa and one-upping each other on who eats a more restrictive diet.

Amanda: How do you see stress impacting the body, and specifically the brain?

Dr. Lisa: Stress is hard because it’s such an intangible word. What is it? Who has time to deal with it? ‘Maybe I’ll deal with it when I retire.’ It’s not understood, what it actually is. Back in 2001, the Journal of the American Medical Association wrote an article and they called stress the new smoking. Because stress is putting your body in a chemical wear and tear state. Stress is having to rise to the occasion too often, or having to rise to the occasion that you don’t have the resources for. When this happens, you’re going into emergency mode in your body and secreting more cortisol, which historically was supposed to be used only once or twice a month to get away from a sabretooth tiger. But today, we use it in our daily lives. Cortisol has a half-life of 6-8 hours, which means once you press the stress button and release those hormones, you’re in that state for the next 24 hours. You have to wait for all those chemicals to work their way out.

We know that we can only inject prescription cortisone into a joint 3 times, ever. That’s because it’s such a destructive hormone. Any more than that would start to tear down the joint. One injection into a joint stops the inflammatory response so you don’t feel the pain but more than 3 times will tear down the joint. That’s how corrosive cortisol is.

When we’re living in that constant state of go, go go, and are in a cortisol-dominant state, we are literally wearing and tearing every system in the body down. 

The interesting thing with chemicals and the brain specifically is that whatever is common feels normal. There are so many people running around living in a high state of anxiety and they no longer feel that as anxiety, because it feels normal. When they stop and try to go on vacation and slow down, it feels creepy because their chemistry is not used to not having an elevated level of cortisol.

In the world of anti-aging, dumping cortisol into your system (being chronically stressed out) is one of the worst things you can do.

Amanda: I talk about managing stress a lot, because I know the impact it’s had on my life, but you’re right, it does feel really intangible. You’re helping me realize that if we can understand what’s physically happening in our bodies, both when we’re stressed and when we start to take ourselves out of that state, it helps us see stress as a priority.

Dr. Lisa: Yes, seeing it as a priority and not something that ‘I’ll handle someday when I have time.’ Stress is a huge priority. This is the chemical state that your cells swim in every day. There is going to be a consequence. That’s why they call it the new smoking. It’s as damaging as the chemicals in a cigarette to your body – and it will break you somewhere.

Amanda: I always say that ‘should’ is the worst word in our language. We tell ourselves, ‘I should be eating this,’ ‘I should be exercising more,’ ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this way.’ It’s easy to get stuck in that way of thinking, which creates stress.

Dr. Lisa: The ‘shoulds’ do not lead to flexibility, they lead to inflexibility. We try to get tighter and tighter, but health should be expansive. Even though for most people there’s a therapeutic, awkward phase before you get onto this bigger playground. But you need to be careful that you’re not trying to feel good at the expense of the rest of your life.

Amanda: It might seem like a big undertaking, and it is, but it’s worth it right? Because why else are we here? I think we’re all here to feel good and to serve others. There are many reasons why we lose sight of that and fall off track, but it is our jobs to bring ourselves back. A lot of people need help doing that, so it’s about helping them when we can too.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I agree. And I think we are all here to explore the world and our bodies are our vehicles to do that. We all have unique gifts to share.

I also think that sometimes the fact that we are all unique and we are here to contribute is too overwhelming. And it is much easier to play with food or health rather than to step into your bigger role. It’s usually the people who struggle with their health the most who have the biggest things to share.

Amanda: How do you manage the stress that inevitably comes up in daily life?

Dr. Lisa: I am super chill, so I would never be accused of being a high-strung person. The main tools I use are HeartMath and Transcendental Meditation (TM). HeartMath is a super-fast way to get you into a coherent state, and you can shift yourself from cortisol dominant to DHEA dominant (DHEA is the renewal hormone) in a minute. You can get your cells out of that shit in just one minute! They use heart rate variability, specific breathing and visualization techniques and teach you how to put yourself in that space. Coherence means that your heart, hormones and brain are all synced up. Your heart is the biggest electromagnetic center in your body, so if your heart rate variability is chaotic, the rest of your chemistry is following that tone. So, if you just change that, you’re putting everything else back online. It’s pretty powerful. Life and stress will never change, but if we can change the damage that it does to us. You’re creating more elegance and space in you CNS to be resilient to what is thrown at you. When I teach HeartMath to people, they say that life just feels easier.

I’ve also been dabbling with Transcendental Meditation, and that is so fun! I am NOT a meditation person – it makes me want to stab myself in the eye. But TM is easy, fun and you can feel it happening. It’s not like sitting there trying to clear your mind or focus on your nostrils. They use the analogy of us being like an ocean; we have that turbulence on the surface, which can be mild, moderate or severe, giant waves. But at the bottom of the ocean it is always calm and balanced. TM dips you into this state of calm and helps you take yourself out of the chaos, within about a minute.

Amanda: That sounds amazing. How does someone get started with Transcendental Meditation?

Dr. Lisa: You actually have to learn it one-on-one, which turned me off for a while. It’s a mantra-based meditation, and you’re given your own mantra that only you and your teacher know. So, you have to go to a center to do this. The one closest to me is in Beverly Hills. It’s 90-minutes a day for 4 days, and it’s actually a really neat process. You go back a month later and they check to make sure you’re doing it right.

For more information on TM and to find a center near you, visit www.tm.org

Amanda: I personally struggle with issues with my cycle, and I know a lot of other women do as well. Based on your experience in your practice, what are some of the most common reasons women have irregular cycles and imbalanced hormones?

Dr. Lisa: Our period in general is our overall report card of how well our lives are matched to our bodies. That’s one of the reasons it makes us better than men 😉  We have an extra piece of health information and we get 50-some report cards per year. I think we live in a world itself that is hormonally imbalanced. We’re living in a linear male world that doesn’t honor our rhythmicity. If we’re not honoring it for ourselves, then we can lose our rhythm. Our brain sends signals to ovulate or not ovulate, what hormones to make, etc. And your adrenals are playing a part in how much sex hormones you’re making. We have to look at it from the angle of ‘how would this be the best solution that your body has right now?’ Completely skipping periods can be that you’re not in a space where you can support someone else’s life at the moment, so your body is just shutting that down. The ability to recreate is the first to go when you have more vitally important things to take care of because you’re not nutritionally or systematically strong enough to carry another person. You’re both being protected by that.

On the energetic side, that’s chakra 2 and 6, and a lot of people have a 2-6 imbalance. We then have to look at that part of it – all the things chakra 2 is involved in. Including your life between the ages of 7-14. Did the energetics get dinged then, and how is that showing up now? It is so tied into your HPA-axis. So, stress is dialed right into your hormones. If stress is high and it is not a suitable environment for another person, then your body shuts that part down.

Your body is showing you exactly what does not work and the things you need to learn. 

I always say that if I lived the way most people lived, I would probably be dead. I am not the person that was meant to live completely obliviously. I needed to step up my game in how I took care of myself, what answers I went to find, all of this stuff. I see people come into my office at age 50 completely clueless about their body — because we are never taught how to take care of it!  Since I was twelve I had to know these things because there was something bigger coming. It’s like the universe was saying “we need you on your game for whatever you’re going to do.”

The female organ and body image realms are big, BIG teachers for us. Paying attention to the moon is also so important! If your cycle is irregular, you can use the external moon cycle to help re-teach your body a rhythm. You can use seeds, homeopathics, fatty acids, and behaviors to sync yourself. It has been super helpful for women to just start to put the token behaviors of the cycle in where they should be. We are chemically different in each of those 4 weeks, so we need to honor that. For example, on the new moon, even if it’s just 15 minutes you have to shut off, stop stimuli, stop taking care of other people and just be still. We are supposed to stop and integrate what just happened to us over the last 30 days on the new moon. When we don’t, I think that’s one of the biggest reasons for overwhelm. That’s actually another program that’s coming, it’s called ‘How to be Overwhelmed,’ but it’s really teaching you how to live in your rhythm. Everything in our body is run on rhythms, so when we’re out of rhythm, sleep is going to go, period is going to go, etc.

Meet the 4 different women in your cycle — each has her own strengths, weaknesses and needs: (the exact days are different for everyone, but when you start to pay attention you’ll easily be able to see these 4 gals)

  1. The Ingenue (Day 1 to 7) – She’s full of potential, full of plans and can’t wait for the month
  2. The Big Deal (Day 7 to 14) – She’s the extrovert. This is when you want to do your highest energy activities, plan your outings and your hardest tasks. That’s when you have the highest serotonin, estrogen, and testosterone – you’re on your game.
  3. The Editor (Day 15 to 21) – PMS, our superpower week! Her bullshit detector is super strong. This is when our serotonin has fallen and the rose-colored glasses come off. I have women start to look at the things that come up when they’re PMSing and write them down. I advise you to address them later, because you have zero tact in that week to handle those things.
  4. The Guru (Day 22 to Day 28) — This is when we are supposed to completely retreat and be in our own wisdom, rather than having external stimuli. Doing a social media unplug is great here. This is when our intuition is the highest and our hormones are really quiet. We just have to get quiet enough to listen to it.

With our periods and the moon — the goal is not to bleed on the new moon or be completely in sync with the moon, we’re meant to have our own cycles. The goal is to have a regular cycle every month.

Amanda: Let’s talk a little bit about SIBO, because I have it and we’ve been treating it for the past couple of months. It’s exciting to me that once my SIBO is healed, I might be able to enjoy the foods that give me trouble right now (like gluten, eggs, dairy, grains). Not because I want to make those a staple in my diet, but because it would be nice to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich once in a while!

Dr. Lisa: I know! SIBO sounds daunting and fancy, but it’s literally the new Candida. It’s just gut dysbiosis higher up in the digestive tract. Candida is usually in the large intestine, so you can eat veggies and fibers. The tough part with SIBO is that it’s in the small intestine and all of those healing foods cause so much disruption because of where the bacteria are in the tract.

Amanda: That’s so true. It’s almost like I can’t eat anything without paying for it right now.

Dr. Lisa: Well, you can eat protein and fat basically. Anything that’s got a lot of fiber is what those guys in your gut will like to eat.

Amanda: Before I found out that I had SIBO, I had no idea that all of the things that were happening in my body (irregular cycle then NO period for months, bloating, fatigue, PMS, headaches, grogginess, etc.) were because of the same thing.

Dr. Lisa: Right. And coming from the camp that label doesn’t matter, SIBO is just gut dysbiosis. We have to remove the trigger foods as much as we can, get the colonies down and move them where they need to go. Basically, all you have to do is heal the gut function and your body will figure out the rest.

Amanda: I know everyone is different, but for an average person with moderate SIBO like I have, how long does the recovery typically take?

Dr. Lisa: Dr. Lisa: Well, when it’s viewed as the label and treated by taking antibiotics, it can take a while to be fully healed. Taking antibiotics alone is basically like cutting off the heads of all the dandelions all the way down your digestive tract. If you don’t change the environment of the digestive tract, all those dandelions grow back. So, people are having to do 3-10 rounds of antibiotics, which is almost a year process.

My Nature Cure elders, the docs that have been practicing Naturopathic Medicine for 40 years, are approaching this as: your gut is broken; we don’t need to know why, but we need to put the stomach function back in place, put the motility back in place and we need to shift the microbiome. Treating it this way can take between 3-6 months. Pretty much anything in your body takes 3-6 months to fix when approaching it this way.

The 3 things that need to be true for SIBO to be there are:

  1. The stomach barrier has to be gone – there is something off with the hydrochloric acid
  2. The local structure has changed
  3. The nervous system in the gut that runs the motility is damaged

One of those or all of those have to be true for SIBO to exist. There can be some people who do gastric bypass and the structure of their gut is changed forever, they may have SIBO and treat it for the rest of their lives. They may get to the place where they’re asymptomatic, but they might have it forever. Or someone who’s had really severe food poisoning and has blown out all their nerve cells. But for someone who has all the functions, who has had no history of any structure changes or nervous system damage, then it should be just fixing gut function.

Amanda: I also read that birth control pills can contribute to SIBO. How is that possible?

Dr. Lisa: Birth control pills change the bacteria that live in your gut. Basically, the birth control pill is the devil.

Amanda: There are so many different dietary theories and opinions out there, and I know that many people, especially women, feel confused about what to eat. What’s your approach to food? Are there any foods that you avoid completely?

Dr. Lisa: First, it just has to be food – human food. I have a lot of friends who are Paleo hackers and they live on powders and bars and think they’re clean eating, but there was nothing in their day that was actually food. Then it really depends on the person. If someone comes in who has never changed their food before or been aware of what they’re eating, then I’ll have them do a grain-free, dairy-free diet just to take the load off their system for a while. I don’t think everyone needs to be grain-free and dairy-free. I actually do better on grains than if I try to do Keto or Paleo for example.

I say don’t eat according to a label. Labels are never healthy for anybody. Just eat real food that feels good. But you do have to learn that, no one can tell you what that is. 

We also have to consider what our brains are made out of, which is fat. It needs balanced blood sugar, so eating carbs smartly. We don’t need to take out all carbs, because that really screws with women’s hormones. But we also don’t need to have 10 servings of grains per day. So, we have to find out the sweet spot for carbs. Then it really depends on what needs to be healed. A good resource for people who have never paid attention to what real foods are is Whole30. I don’t see people long-term do well on Whole30, but it’s a good learning place

Amanda: Where can people go to learn more about you and your practice?

For my brain specialty things like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, intuitive eating, that all happens at girl-brains.com

I’m pretty active on Instagram @drlisalavoie

To book an online appointment, click here

To book an in person appointment, visit nawellness.com