Practice My Rule of 3’s — Pause and Breathe! — Start here! Prioritizing breathwork at mealtimes helps you slow down and calm the nervous system by moving you into the ‘rest and digest’ or the parasympathetic state. I recommend 3 deep breaths, 3 times per meal; sitting down, slowing down and thinking about the act of chewing and swallowing. The parasympathetic nervous system state supports upregulation in digestive juices like stomach acid to break down protein, digestive enzymes from the pancreas and healthy bile flow from the gallbladder to emulsify fats. Your metabolism and your bowel movements will thank you!
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Meg Gerber.
Meg Gerber is a functional medicine dietitian specializing in gut health, autoimmune and gluten free living. She is passionate about improving the quality of life in those with gut issues by melding individualized nutrition with stress management through her unique approach. Her upcoming cookbook ‘How To Glow Gluten Free’ based on her personal journey with autoimmunity is due out in November.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I am a functional medicine registered dietitian, led down a path of specializing in digestive issues, autoimmunity and gluten free living due to my own journey with Celiac. Just ‘going gluten free’ didn’t solve all of my digestive problems (like my doctor at the time told me it would). I have a very personal experience with the healing powers of root-cause analysis nutrition in addition to lifestyle measures like meditation, breathwork and mindset and how all of that plays a role in gut healing. This experience was born into a career in which I meld an individualized approach to nutrition with parasympathetic-focused stress management for truly sustainable gut healing. I was born and raised in New England with three siblings and my parents. I currently live in Austin, TX where everyday I get to embrace my love of nature and being outside!
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways you learned from that?
One of my favorite stories from my career actually doesn’t revolve around nutrition. That’s right, the dietitian whose favorite memory is not about food! It’s about the gift that is exposing my clients to the power of their own innate healing abilities-via breathwork, meditation and yoga. Many of my clients are high powered women and men who work as CEOs and founders of their companies and truly LIVE in the go, go, go high stress ‘work hard play hard’ mentality. Trust me, I get it, I was them. Many of them may have never been exposed to things like breathwork and meditation. Or simply, they (like many of us) are in denial of the utility of taking the time to calm down and get quiet. A past client of mine was truly transformed when they were exposed to one of my parasympathetic breathwork styles (what I call ‘rest and digest’ breathwork) to calm their nervous system. I watched the transformation before my eyes on our video call as they realized how valuable this tool (that they have inside of their bodies and can access at any time) is to supporting their life. They had never before stopped to slow down and breathe with intention and they had tears in their eyes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, healing goes beyond just the food! And, I’m so grateful I get to expose people to that.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think what’s unique about my company is not necessarily that it was organically born out of my own journey (many companies are), but that I refuse to practice nutrition and functional medicine without highlighting, teaching and educating around the power of our breath.
When I was practicing at a broad spectrum functional medicine practice for a few years before I started my company, I found that there was a lot of stress created around a functional medicine approach. We were telling our patients to make drastic diet adjustments, reduce their stress and take a bunch of supplements and I would watch the overwhelm that it would create in people. Patients would be stressing about the fact that they couldn’t make time to address their stress! My focus now is on teaching and empowering vs. telling…having my clients actually FEEL the power of breathwork and meditation in their body with me in one of our private sessions. That way, they can take with them what they like and what feels good and leave what doesn’t. This is a partnership in their health journey vs. me just telling them what’s best. If my client feels a supplement protocol isn’t realistic to their current schedule, we adjust and pivot in a way that works for them. The healing journey itself doesn’t have to be an added stressor.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Yes, I’ve worked with a number of coaches and mentors over the years but the mindset coach I worked with when I first launched this company was paramount to my transformation as a business owner, CEO and healer. She helped me re-find trust of my inner guide. Ultimately, trusting myself and my body to heal and support me on my journey. Believing that you can heal and that you can trust yourself is a concept that I talk about with my clients. Instead of reacting to digestive symptoms with what’s wrong with you, why are you doing this again? We can work with our bodies to change the narrative to what are these symptoms telling me, how can I help support myself?. It’s so cliché, but if you don’t believe in yourself or that your body always wants to find its way back to a healing path then we are playing against ourselves!
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
In my opinion, resilience building is the ultimate goal of the work I’m doing in real time with every client of mine. It’s building this ‘buffer’ or ‘blanket’ of support that allows you to be a human and live your life to a certain extent and be able to bounce back from some of its adversities. A resilient person has a nervous system that responds vs. reacts. For example, you find that eating gluten or dairy free helps your gut symptoms, but we’ve built a longer term food, lifestyle and supplements ‘toolkit’ of health that supports resilience so you can travel abroad and enjoy going off of your course once in a while. Many times, my clients start working with me in a ‘container of healing’ where we may initially need to identify root causes behind their symptoms and build a foundation of health before we get to the resiliency stage where they can loosen some of lines in the sand around their eating, lifestyle and supplements; spark notes: we use testing and possibly stricter or more aggressive approaches initially.
To get clinical, a piece to the resilience building puzzle that I use in my practice is a measure on stool testing called secretory IgA. While this isn’t officially a measure of resilience, it does tell me how the immune system is reacting in the context of the gut and it plays a huge role in someone’s ability to fight off infection, invaders or stressors. Someone with a healthy sIgA (not too high and not too low) is the goal because it tells me the body can appropriately RESPOND to stressors vs. overreact or underreact.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
I think that courage is linked to resilience in that it’s a courageous undertaking to explore opportunities for creating calm and managing stress in your life. Stress and the cycle it creates can be addicting. We are living in a pandemic of stress addiction (amongst other things) where it’s glorified to be busy, successful and ‘doing all of the things’. It takes courage to acknowledge the power of the pause in our lives even though it’s frequently looked down upon. Courage is different from resilience in that I feel you REQUIRE the courage to BUILD the resilience.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I think of anyone who chooses to come out of the other side of the global pandemic (or any traumatic event for that matter) choosing joy, love and most importantly, connection to self. It’s a hard journey to choose to experience the ever-changing emotions of life and all of the pain and joy that comes with it rather than numbing or suppressing it via drugs, alcohol, addictions to victimhood, etc. Those who choose to prioritize their mental health are inspiring to me and embracing their resiliency in real time.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
I, as my biggest critic, in the past have told myself I couldn’t start my own company, couldn’t move cross country, wouldn’t be able to release a cookbook (since I’m not a trained chef) and wouldn’t be able to heal my gut symptoms. I was wrong and needed to get out of my own way! So many of us are letting the thoughts and stories in our mind rule our lives and stop us from choosing our best version of ourselves. It’s a choice and we can choose to be on our own team!
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
Yes, during the pandemic I was at a crossroads with my job at the time and felt overworked and underpaid. If I stayed at the job with their financial shortages I wouldn’t have been able to afford my current lifestyle and apartment at the time. I initially reacted in a story of “I am alone” and “no one is here to help or look out for me”. I was scared but it ultimately was the biggest growth point to push me into manifesting and creating the business of my dreams. Those scary moments in life are what allow us to grow and get outside of our comfort zone and TRULY get present to what we want. I’m grateful for it!
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
My journey with celiac has been one of pressing pause, shaking up my routine and getting out of my comfort zone to build my body’s resilience. I have been lacking resilience at many points in my life and I believe resilience is the key to living and healing from an autoimmune disease. I was that person in the past that measured success based on how busy I could be and how much I could push myself mentally, physically and emotionally. I created more harm than help when I was living in Boston in my early 20s drinking alcohol often, doing extreme exercise, suppressing emotions (‘criers are weak!’), intermittent fasting and eating low carb. It was a lifestyle of work hard play hard. Re-evaluating the stressors I was creating in my own life in order to move forward in a way that built resilience was a big part of my healing journey. I came to realize….all of this, for what? I finally was truly able to pause and go within when I started my yoga teacher training. I found an extremely welcoming, open and vulnerable community there where I really started to own the pieces of me that make me Meg. It helped me move into what it would look like to really accept parts of myself-even the parts I didn’t fully like and accept at the time; like being single, having an autoimmune disease and being someone who didn’t drink as much as I used to. My focus now is a goal of balance between work, pause and play; and the versions of those things that serve my life at the moment.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
One of the most important ways we can build resilience is by creating safety in the body. We do this by reducing and managing stressors. We can’t make all of the stress just go away, but we start by acknowledging it (in its many forms) and then appropriately managing it by creating space for calm and centering so the body can recognize safety. I like to identify ‘unclassical stressors’ and how they impact resilience building. For example, undereating, not stopping to slow down, toxins, and pesticides are some of the ways that we add stress to our bodies on a daily basis. Of course, things like adequate sleep, getting outside into nature and meditation support resilience. Being that food is my wheelhouse, my focus below is on managing stressors to build a foundation of body safety through my lens of ‘building digestive resilience’. Doing these five things in a community setting (community on its own is an incredible healer) is even more powerful.
- Practice My Rule of 3’s — Pause and Breathe! — Start here! Prioritizing breathwork at mealtimes helps you slow down and calm the nervous system by moving you into the ‘rest and digest’ or the parasympathetic state. I recommend 3 deep breaths, 3 times per meal; sitting down, slowing down and thinking about the act of chewing and swallowing. The parasympathetic nervous system state supports upregulation in digestive juices like stomach acid to break down protein, digestive enzymes from the pancreas and healthy bile flow from the gallbladder to emulsify fats. Your metabolism and your bowel movements will thank you!
- Support Mineral Balance — Build a Daily Foundation. Minerals are vital to optimal bodily functioning! You can think of them as the initiators that trigger our cellular reactions…everything from making energy to hormone production to hormone detox and making of enzymes to help us digest our food. Mineral deficiencies can cause sluggish digestion-think slowed metabolism, sluggish thyroid and constipation! AND, we are lower in minerals than ever before thanks to our depleted soil health, 5G/EMF exposure and high stress levels. And because we don’t make them (like we do some vitamins), they are REQUIRED to be ingested throughout the day! Therefore, you can imagine the stress your body experiences when the key ‘actors’ of the performance aren’t present or are showing up inadequate. Start by supporting sodium, potassium and magnesium in adequate amounts daily via a mineral mocktail and topical magnesium oil. My mineral mocktail recipe includes ½ cup fresh squeezed grapefruit or pineapple juice, ½ cup 100% coconut water and ¼ tsp celtic grey mineral salt (like Selina Naturally brand) diluted with filtered water or mineral sparkling water like Pellegrino. In addition, salt your food (with good quality salt) and don’t be shy; we need those trace minerals!
- Eat Breakfast Daily — Choose the 5 Components for a Balanced Meal. Skipping breakfast (especially as a female) is highly stressful on the body; one of the best ways we support stress management simplest is by nourishing ourselves regularly and appropriately. Undereating and overeating are both stressors that can cause the body to feel unsafe. What do I mean by balanced? A meal with my 5 components for optimizing: a healthy protein, fat, fiber-dense carb, non-starchy veggie and antioxidant booster (fresh herb or spice). Some examples include: eggs (protein/fat) cooked in greens (non-starchy veg) and basil (booster) + sweet potato (fiber-dense carb) or a protein smoothie with bone broth protein powder (protein), blueberries (fiber-dense carb), cardamom (booster) and avocado (fat).
- Reduce Pesticide Exposure — Eat from a local farm! Pesticides like glyphosate have been linked with causing gut permeability, increasing cancer risk and reducing mineral levels in the body. We are surrounded by a contaminated food system in the US but we can use the power of this knowledge to support food initiatives that are reducing our pesticide exposure. Yes, eating organic can be helpful but one step better is choosing to purchase from local farmers and talking to your farmers about their practices. A farmer that takes a regenerative agriculture approach is supporting a healthier microbiome-dense soil that translates to more mineral dense and healing food without toxic loads of pesticides. Even better, grow your own even if it’s just an herb garden like I have on my city stoop! Choosing more whole foods vs. processed grains and packaged foods helps reduce glyphosate exposure as well; studies have shown that foods that contain oats (think: granola bars and cereals), beans (think readymade hummus) and wheat (think crackers, cookies and cereals) tend to have the highest levels of measured glyphosate. Choose to buy from glyphosate-residue free brands like MALK, One Degree Organics and Chosen Foods when getting things at a grocery store.
- Eat Bitter Foods — To support digestion, fiber diversity and manage sugar cravings. We have more bitter receptors lining the entirety of our digestive tract (from mouth to anus) than any other taste receptors in the body. Meaning, bitter foods can stimulate healthy digestive flow and motility (movement of food/stool) more so than any other food. I love bitters because they also help us manage and reduce sugar cravings by diversifying what our taste buds are exposed to since much of what is common in our food supply is salty and sweet. Lastly, bitter foods are usually less common (and less desirable for some of us) so they help us diversify our sources of plant-based fiber intake. This builds gut resilience and immunity on a deep level. Yes, probiotic foods and/or supplements may help build up your good gut bacteria, but latest research shows us that we truly fuel and allow those good gut bacteria to ‘stick’ and build a flourishing microbiome when we feed our bodies ample and diversified fiber sources. Some bitter food hacks to try now: next time you put out an appetizer spread, add radish and endive-both are bitters that go great with a dip! Add raw cacao to a smoothie (a bitter) or cook down rhubarb (also a bitter) on the stove with strawberries and make your own compote for yogurts or to spread on toast. Instead of adding lettuce and tomato to your taco, add a raw cabbage slaw (a bitter). Consider mixing up a typical green salad with some radicchio (bitter) or blend fresh dill into a salad dressing (I like it with lemon juice, tahini, salt and pepper) as it’s also a bitter food!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My Rule of 3s breathwork at all mealtimes as mentioned above; taking 3 deep breaths, 3 times per meal to slow down, improve digestion and get present. We forget how pleasurable the experience of our food actually can be. When we can tune in, possibly enjoy it in a community setting, and get away from the distractions of life, meal presence is a powerful tool. It physically benefits digestion (studies show that we upregulate our digestive juice output just by engaging in the ‘cephalic’ or brain phase of eating where we embrace the sensory experience of our food). AND, it’s free.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Without a doubt, Dr. Zach Bush. In my opinion, he is transforming how we approach gut health and reconnecting to nature in a science-backed and highly conscious manner. His interviews and speeches have brought me to tears and continue to reground me in my purpose as a human who seeks to be part of a healthcare movement in which we realize that in order to support our own individual health we must seek to support the health of the planet on a greater level.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
They can check out my website at www.groundednourish.com or connect with me on Instagram @groundednourish where I share recipes, life hacks, stress management tips and updates on my cookbook in real time!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!