One Woman’s Journey to Improving Her Health & Discovering a New Career
“I always had digestive problems.” Said Heather Wise, Author and Holistic Wellness Coach. We met for lunch after connecting at a conference. Heather said, “I realized I had food sensitivities and wanted to understand why.” She began researching possible causes while pursuing her Master’s degree in Public Health. “The more I learned the easier it was to advocate for myself. I had the information to back things up (with my doctors) and that was empowering!”
Have you ever worried the signals from your inner-compass aren’t clear? Have other people’s doubts led to self-doubt? Despite being dissuaded Heather’s instincts, that her sugar cravings and digestive issues had a solution, led her to better health and a career she’s thrilled with! She documents her journey in her new book, Gut Feeling: Conquering Your Sweet Tooth by Tuning Into your Microbiome.
We’re promised that answers to chronic health problems live in packages and that self-care is for sale. However, Heather’s work is grounded in the growing body of evidence, that self-care begins inside. WAY inside!
Born Into it
Heather’s Mom, a Doctor who specializes in holistic health, was a pioneer in seeing the need for high-quality, physician recommended, supplements. “She had a store at her office, and as a child, I wondered why people needed these supplements. There wasn’t much of a holistic wellness field back then, but you could tell that people wanted preventative strategies, and were thankful for a doctor who listened,” she said. Heather, already attuned to the power of preventative care and working in healthcare communications, began to study public health and nutrition.
Owning Your Self-Care
Heather’s curiosity and personal path to recovery, instilled a passion for educating others. “We often know what we can do to better take care of ourselves.” She realized most people just lacked the resources and expertise to identify helpful approaches. During her work in graduate school, she became confident she could help people clarify this for themselves. “I wanted to change mindsets. There are so many influences telling us we won’t or can’t take care of ourselves. We need to advocate for our own self-care.” Yes! Where to begin?
The Body’s Natural Defense System
Heather’s eyes lit up during our discussion. “Learning about the microbiome was enlightening!” Our body’s microbiome includes the microbes that make up 99% of our genes and 50% of our cells. She added, “If you hone in on the gut, the majority are there. Our skin also has some, but most are in the stomach.” She went on to explain how it works and why we should all understand its power. Heather explained, “The entire enteric nervous system is in our stomach and sends 90% of the signals to our brain. When we have physical desires or food cravings, it’s coming from our enteric nervous system.” Hence the term, ‘gut feeling.’
Heather said, “The primary goal of our enteric nervous system is to tell us if the food we’re eating is okay to eat. (However) it also determines if we’re getting the nourishment we need to thrive or if we have an allergy causing inflammation. If our body is in distress our enteric nervous system can’t do its job.” Like the “stress” kind of distress?
The Perils of Stress
Our immune system takes a hit from stress and everything we’re exposed to. Heather and I bonded, at an event, sharing the stress of finding focused time to write while raising young kids. Although stress is a common theme among Moms, how often do we think about the long-term effects on our health? Our immune systems? Heather said, “Doctors used to prescribe ‘rest vacations’…take a month off and go to the spa!” Hah! We laughed at this idealistic yet improbable ‘cure.’ Heather looked at me and said, “…In the modern world, that’s just not enough.” Why not?
What You Need to Know About the War Against Germs
Heather wisely reminded me what happens externally can hurt us internally. The toxins, now common in our environment, are still relatively new. Heather said, “Unfortunately, we’ve demonized all microbes and the healthy bacteria in our gut is also suffering. The most common microbiome disruptors have only been around for the past 70 years, like cleaners in our homes, and chemicals in our crops.” The prevalence of bacteria-fighting chemicals destroys the ‘bad’ bacteria along with all the ‘good bacteria’ humans need to be healthy. Heather said, “Our society has been so afraid of pathogens for so long. We didn’t realize there was a protective quality to dirt or that pesticides could harm our immune system.” I nodded and sighed. She adds, “It’s a recipe for feeling disheartened.” True, but what choice do we have?
New Ways to Stay Healthy
The good news, there are proactive steps we can take to strengthen our natural immune defenses and overall health despite these factors in our world which work against our body’s immunity. Heather said, “It’s a commitment, but an intentional focus on making our gut biome stronger, can make us more invincible to modern changes in our world.” Encouraging news! She said, “Our bodies are incredibly resilient. We have detox pathways built-in to eliminate the harmful chemicals that enter our systems. We just need to support it, by letting it do its job.” How?
Diversify Your Healthy Bacteria
“Consuming different types of unpasteurized and fermented foods that encourage healthy bacteria to thrive.” Okay, count me in. Heather’s described how accessible this is, “Sauerkraut can easily be made at home. It’s been in the Northern diet for thousands of years.” It’s still summer grilling season! Heather also explained how to create a ‘kavass.’ She said, “It’s another way to make your own prebiotic pill. Beets, and other vegetables high-in-natural sugar, feed on the probiotics in the air. Heather explained, “Supplements might have one strain of good bacteria, versus homemade kavass, which might have dozens or even hundreds of different strains.” She said a good prebiotic green drink might have thousands and in general, “Fresh drinks like green smoothies or a green prebiotic drink made from whole foods are more effective than a probiotic supplement.” Heather shared, “In my experience and those of my clients, green prebiotic powders can be just as effective, if not more so, than fermented foods.” She mentioned her daughter loves the Green Vibrance for kids mix and said, “The kid’s version is suitable for the whole family! You can drink a prebiotic green drink every day.”
We’re trying to live our healthiest and happiest. Yet, we’re bombarded with confusing, often conflicting, messages about how to do it. We hold our breath through the draining flu season and hope for the best. It becomes tempting to tune out all the health-related ‘should’s.’ However, the role of the microbiome, isn’t part of the mainstream narrative. Heather’s insightful and empowering view on self-care unlocks practical, new ways to stay healthy and energized.
Many thanks to the talented Heather Wise!
Check out Heather’s website to follow her great adventure, take a ‘gut health quiz’ and find helpful resources about improving wellness and reducing stress. You can also follow her on Linked In, Facebook and Instagram.
About Heather Wise:
Heather Wise, MPH is a certified holistic health coach, wellness consultant, herbalist, certified yoga instructor, and author of the book, A Gut Feeling: Conquer Your Sweet Tooth by Tuning Into Your Microbiome. She studied with pioneers in the field of holistic wellness at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, accredited by Columbia University’s Teacher’s College and the American Association of Drugless Practitioners and holds a Masters degree in Public Health from Boston University School of Public Health. Additionally, Heather has worked in health communications at a some of the most robust and pioneering preventative health organizations in the country including the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Division of Prevention and Wellness, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Department of Prevention and Wellness. She has crafted her own unique message on the transformative power of re-balancing the gut microbiome using the latest scientific research and has been invited to speak and give workshops at yoga studios, wellness centers, and universities, including at Harvard Medical School. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and children.