#264: Behind the Scenes of My Personal Health Journey

My Personal Health Journey - Michelle Leotta smiling

Most of us became health coaches because of a lifelong interest in health and/or personal experience with illness. This week Michelle shares about her personal journey in a behind-the-scenes look…and demonstrates how sharing YOUR story can be your superpower. Join our free 5-Day Jumpstart this November at: HealthCoachPower.com/jumpstart

Behind the Scenes of My Personal Health Journey

Have you ever felt the nagging thought that your own health must be in perfect order before you can effectively help others as a health coach? Today I’ll share my own health journey over nearly 2 decades and demonstrate how powerful it is to walk your own path –  and perhaps, just maybe, NOT be perfect. Wink. 

My Imperfect Health Journey

I’d always been healthy and active but my health took a sharp turn at age 16 when I started experiencing fainting episodes, dizziness and extreme exhaustion. This led to various doctor visits and endless “You’re fine” responses. Into my 20’s, I also struggled with chronic sinus infections and digestive problems, which I accepted as normal.

I was miserable.

This was not normal.

No Thanks To Medication

Finally, a therapist recommended anti-anxiety medication. It was my first clue that I might be experiencing this thing called “anxiety.” But before accepting meds, it seemed reasonable to try some other approaches – like yoga. The therapist shrugged her shoulders and I gave it a shot.

Turned out, yoga changed everything.  It made me feel different – lighter in spirit – and it awakened an understanding of the importance of food and nutrition.

With that, I adopted a strict dietary approach – eliminating sugar, coffee, dairy and other items from my diet. My health improved and I thought I’d found the answer.. Hence, this was the approach I used with my early health coaching clients.

Flexibility and Self-Acceptance

As my journey progressed, I reintroduced coffee, became more flexible with my diet, and started enjoying life without being too dogmatic about what I consumed. The real transformation came from focusing on my nervous system’s well-being, tending to stress and emotional health, which had a huge impact. In fact, I believe that the proper diagnosis for my fainting episodes may have been POTS Syndrome, and the root cause was always chronic stress and HPA Axis Dysregulation. That explains the digestive problems too!

In my health coaching business, I started focusing more on the stress my clients were experiencing – both acute and chronic. Suddenly, coaching felt bigger than just “what to eat.” It was about our role as women in the world, the patriarchy, the neverending expectations. I wasn’t just helping a client reach her individual goals anymore. It became bigger than that, changing the world in ways I never imagined health coaching could.

Imperfections Make Us Relatable

Today, I’m not perfect, and that’s perfectly fine. I still deal with sleep issues, some perimenopausal mood swings, and joint discomfort. But that’s what makes me human and relatable as a health coach. My experiences can inspire and connect with others who face similar struggles.

(Maybe you’re nodding your head as you read this because you also have heard “You’re fine” when you definitely were NOT fine!)

Join the Imperfect Journey

Remember, good health is journey, not a destination 

That’s why I want to support not only your business, but your wellbeing. Join me this November for a free 5-Day Jumpstart designed specifically for health coaches at: HealthCoachPower.com/jumpstart

Full transcript:

Well, hello there. Health coaches, if you're listening or watching this episode, you probably have a lifelong interest in health and or personal experience with illness. That's my guess. Yes. So if you're here live, and I see Linda is here, Linda's here from northern va, I used to live in northern va. Tell us in the comments and just a few words, what brought you here? What brought you to this industry? How did you get involved with health coaching? How did you find your way into this craziness? I would love to hear about your path. I hear a lot of coaches worried that however they got here, they aren't healthy enough to be a health coach. Have you ever felt that way? It's as if, I don't think anyone ever says this, but we just kind of get this feeling like, well, our own health has to be in perfect order before we're going to be able to help anyone else, right?

So today I want to share my journey so that you can see from an outside perspective how much a coach has to share even when someone's health is not perfect, even if inevitably you're going to be on your own journey of healing and learning and growing and changing as people do. Aren't we all going through all of that all the time? Also, for the first time ever, I want to let you know I am offering something to help health coaches, not just with business, but with your own health journey as we're talking about today, because your own health journey does inform your business. So I've put together a brand new five day jumpstart for health coaches. Like I know you guys, I am you. I know what we need. I want to help us all recommit to health habits and take care of ourselves this holiday season.

So I'm going to be your health coach for a week if you're up for it. And this is a completely free event. The bonus here is that I'm going to be modeling for you how to run this type of program in your own business. So I'm suggesting that you do this for yourself and at the same time, you're going to learn how to run something similar like a five day jumpstart, something similar to that for your own paying clients. You can charge for this type of thing. I'm doing it for free for you, but you can charge something in the future when you do this for yourself, which I've done many times in my own health coaching business. This time around though, the one I'm running for health coaches is free. It happens this November. So I want you to go get signed up at healthcoachpower.com/jumpstart, and we're going to put that link in the show notes for sure.

I'm also going to drop it over here in our Facebook group right now. Again, that's healthcoachpower.com/jumpstart. It is going to be a blast. Okay, let's see what we have over here. Ellen is saying she became a health coach after 20 years of being ill and yes, still dealing with issues. We hear this a lot. Linda says, from my own gut health challenges and from my mother's illness, it could be the people around us that got us in here. It's never going to be perfect. We want to say, oh, I keep my family so healthy, and then both my kids have a terrible cold. I saw someone in our Facebook group say that the other day. I'm very sick. I have a cold. Of course, it's that time of year, but we can do things to help. We can do things to make sure that when we do get sick, it doesn't last quite as long, and then we can ultimately walk around being an example for our clients, not of perfection, and this has nothing to do with looking perfect or being perfect, but just bringing that kind of energy to the table.

I do the things that I know are most helpful for me. People feel that energy, right? I think it's going to be so much fun. So Ellen saying, thank you, a nice Christmas present. Yes, a little like holiday. Pick me up for health coaches because we're giving all year long to our clients, right? Of course, to our families, to our communities, and it gets at the height of giving when it comes to the holiday season. So this is a give back for all of you. I also want to give a shout out to Stephanie. Hey Steph, who left this five star review on Apple Podcasts. She said, this podcast is priceless. Michelle is so full of knowledge, experience, and actionable tips. She is honest and easy to follow. I feel like I'm chatting with a friend. This is the place to go for starting your business for Healthy Profit University and online courses are worth every penny.

Stephanie, love you, love having you in our community. Please send your mailing address to support@healthcoachpower.com and reference this episode. I got a little thank you gift that we want to put in the mail for you. I really appreciate everybody's podcast reviews. This is one of the major ways that we get visibility and we're able to get this kind of help to the health coaches that need it. And there are so many. So please, if you haven't already, take a moment and leave a written review on Apple Podcasts and maybe next week or the week after, I will read yours right here on the air. Okay? So let's get into it. Today. I want to give you a little peek behind the scenes of my own health journey and also how it's impacted my coaching career along the way. So if you've been in my world for a while, you've probably heard bits and pieces of the story, and if not, hello, nice to meet you.

Suddenly going to get a deep dive into my own personal health. So this is kind of strange. I've never done an episode like this before, but I did just do an episode for somebody else's podcast and they asked me all about how I got into this and all they want to know all about it. And I thought, huh, our stories are valuable. So anyway, you can do this too. You can think of ways to be sharing your story with the right audiences at the right time so that you form greater connections so that people go, oh yeah, I see myself in you. Right? It is really helpful sometimes to use your story in your marketing. So I get into health coaching after a very strange sequence of events. I wouldn't say I was always interested in health and wellness so much, but I was a dancer growing up.

I was a ballerina and I had to make that pivotal choice when I turned about 13. Was I going to join the company? Was I going to go whole hog into dancing or was I going to date boys and have a normal high school career? And I decided I liked boys. So that went out the window. The other things that the other girls that were going to become ballerinas were far too skinny. When I showed up at the company, I was like, oh my. And I've always been on the thinner side, that's just my body type. But I got a little scared because in addition to being a dancer, I'm Italian and I love to eat and I love food, and it was very strange to me that I would ever need to eat less food in order to do this thing that I loved, which was ballet.

So I said goodbye, and in high school had plenty of boys. High school also brought at the time that I was in high school, the fat free craze. So again, I don't think I was too into my health, but it became very trendy to not eat anything with fat. You know what I'm talking about. So we would eat a plain bagel for lunch and maybe a Snapple, and that's what we did. I was always active though. I started going to the gym when I was about 15 or 16 years old, mostly cardio. I just liked it. I just always liked moving my body. But it was also around that time around when I turned 16 that I fainted for the first time I was at church. I grew up Roman Catholic. I was at church with my parents, actually had a friend with me that day. Didn't feel so well. Boom, cocked out, woke up outside. They had called the EMTs and everything. It was a big scene and I had no idea what happened and didn't happen again for a while, but it wasn't the first time I was going to faint. There were lots of fainting episodes ahead for me. In fact, straight into college I was having issues and I would get dizzy spells and I would actually pass out different places that were highly, highly inconvenient, such as the T station downstairs in the subway by myself thinking I don't feel so well and propping myself up against a wall so that if I fell, I would just kind of fall against the wall and not make a big scene in front of a crowd of people.

So I got really good at fainting in public places. I went to the college, what do they call it, the clinic or whatever, the nurse on campus. And she was not the first doctor I had been to or the first office I had been to who would take my blood pressure and run a couple blood tests and say, what do they say you guys? They say, you are fine. You've heard it too, right? You're fine. I remember being in that clinic with the nurse with the cuff around my arm. She was taking my blood pressure and that was making me start to black out. And I was like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. And trying to sit down and she's like, no, no, honey, you have to keep standing. And I'm like, what? Definitely, definitely blacking out right now. She was like, tk, tk, you're fine. So not fine. Also so exhausted. Now, in my first job, I remember my very early twenties right out of college, dragging myself into the office.

I should have had so much energy. I was like 22, 23 years old, exhaustion, more doctor's, visits, more people saying that I was fine. Here's something I didn't talk about all the, well, what I now know are IBS symptoms, all the digestive problems that I just thought was normal. And this happens with so many of our clients. They just think it's normal to always feel a certain way. So they may not even tell you about it because it doesn't cross their mind as being an issue. So I didn't mention any of that to my doctor. Of course, I also had chronic sinus infections. They were getting so bad that I would take, I'd be out of work for a week, two weeks. And when I was working in a freelance or hourly being paid hourly kind of capacity, I was missing out on a lot of money.

So it was a real problem. And I started going to the doctor again and again, at one point I insisted, I said, I have to have mono. There's no way I don't have mono because I'm so tired. I had no idea what was wrong. Please test me again for mono. And when they came back and they said, for the 5000000th time, you are fine. I burst into tears. I was a hot mess and they were cleaning up around me and getting ready for the next patient. And this nurse who wasn't really the kindest nurse I've ever run across, but she did turn to me and she said, honey, have you thought about seeing a therapist? I don't think she said it in a nice way either. I think she was kind of like you crazy. But I thought, no, I never thought about seeing a therapist, but what else am I going to do? So I found a therapist. I went to a therapist, and after that very first session, the therapist said to me, have you ever considered anti-anxiety medication?And my face must have looked so confused, like why would I consider anti-anxiety medication? I don't have anxiety. Oh, are you telling me I have anxiety? Is this how you find out because someone's about to prescribe you something? And I thought, oh, okay, that's weird. I have to think about this. But I remember I said, well, don't people do yoga when they have anxiety? And she kind of shrugged. And she said, yeah, you can try that. And I thought, I think I will. Because every single day, I mean I was was not a crunchy person at this point. I was not a natural person. I was not eating flaxseed or fermenting my own kombucha or anything like that.

Back in the day, I was wearing black pants, high heels. I was living in the middle of the city. I lived in Boston, but every day I walked right past a yoga studio, actually turned out, it was at the time the best yoga studio in the entire Boston area, but it just happened to be on my way home from work. So I'm like, I'll just stop in there I guess, because what I should probably do that if I have what you say is anxiety. And I did. And when you start at a yoga studio, sometimes they give you that two week pass for free or for $25 or whatever to get you started. I did that and I went every day. I needed to know if this was going to help. And I bet you can guess what happened next. I mean, it changed everything. It changed everything. There are parts of myself I didn't know. I didn't know.

It changed everything. And from yoga, which then became a daily thing for me, even after the two weeks were over, I started thinking about food because you suddenly notice your digestion a lot when you're in a yoga class and your stomach's making noises. Has this ever happened to you guys? And you're like, Ooh, what did I eat? So I started thinking more about my food and the yoga teachers would talk about food from various perspectives. I had one yoga teacher who at the time was a raw vegan, and he talked about that a lot. So anyway, I started doing some research. I picked up a book at the library, it's called The Hip Chicks Guide to Macrobiotics, and it's by Jessica Porter Macrobiotics. I think by now, I don't think anyone really follows a macro macrobiotic diet anymore. I think it's been proven to be extremely deficient in zinc.

But at the time, it was so interesting to me, I never heard anybody talk about food this way. She even talked about going outside and putting your feet in the grass. We talk about grounding a lot these days, but I'm going back, this was like 2003, 2004 maybe around that time no one was talking about grounding. So it was really interesting. And she wrote about nutrition and taking care of yourself in a way that got me excited. I hope I still bring that to what I do because it can be so boring when you pick up a book about nutrition, it can be so dull. And this is what I don't want for you guys and your practices to be talking about nutrition. And even though you might have good information for it to be so boring that nobody wants to listen. So be like Jessica Porter. Check that book out just to hear her tone, just to see how she makes it fun because she did. And through this hip Chicks guide to Macrobiotics, I took all the sugar out of my diet. I stopped drinking coffee. I took a really close look at everything that I was eating. I think at one point I was basically just eating beans and grains and that was it. And I know our paleo crowd is going to go crazy when I say that, like, oh my God, the lectins. But at the time, it helped tremendously. I was going from a diet of Dunking Donuts and lean cuisine to eating real food. And I think that is the biggest shift that we can help anybody make however they do it. I remember this one day I cleaned out my pantry of all the sugar. You just start reading labels and you're like, oh my God, it's in ketchup.

Oh my God, it's in this salad dressing. I was just doing that exercise for myself. And it was around that time I noticed I felt different. I can picture myself standing in my home and the sun was coming through the window and I felt different. And I go, is this what happy feels like? I felt lighter, I felt changed on the cellular level. I'll never forget that moment. And it was right around the time, right around the time. There was maybe a year or two between this. And when I left my job in advertising, I had been working in big advertising, very stressful, very male dominated, very long hours, and I left to become a health coach. And guess what, when that happened, I was happier. I was healthier. I was still struggling with anxiety to a degree. I was still needing to be very, very strict with my diet in order to feel my best.

And some of you may be there right now where you're very dogmatic. I was very dogmatic in the beginning because that's what I needed to feel. I couldn't eat a piece of cheese. I couldn't look at a glass of milk without having diarrhea. You know what I mean? That's where my stomach was at. So I was very, very strict in my dogma at first. And when I started working with clients, that's what I brought to the table. I thought this was the path to feeling great for everybody. And I had to involve no dairy, no gluten, no sugar, no coffee. I even did a couple months as a raw vegan myself way back in the day, inspired by my yoga teacher, and I felt great. I did it for about six weeks. I also lost way too much weight. I was going to get married later that year, and I lost so much weight that the wedding dress was falling off of me, and it had already been altered.

So you know, can't do that. I had to get off the raw vegan diet for that reason alone. And then things started to change. And if you're newer in your health journey, meaning you've only recently figured out that what you eat changes how you feel, if that's in the past year or two for you, there's so much ahead. It's so interesting to see how it changes, because I was pretty much eating a vegan diet. And again, that's what I was bringing to my clients, this idea of going. But when I got pregnant, I wanted a Philly cheese steak. It was nobody's business. I lived in Boston. I was ready to get in the car and drive all the way to Philadelphia. I grew up outside Philadelphia. I needed a cheese steak bad. And one day, it was like two or three o'clock in the afternoon, and all by myself, I walked into red bones, which is in Davis Square, if any of you are familiar with that area.

And I ordered the steak on the menu because just I said, fine, I'll just get a steak if I can't get a Philly cheese steak. And that's how I reintroduced meat, because my body wanted it badly. And through my pregnancy, through breastfeeding, et cetera, through my multiple pregnancies, that became a very important piece of my health to reintroduce meat, I was able to reintroduce dairy. Now I can eat cheese. I can drink a whole glass of milk too if I want, and my stomach is fine. Vastly different from where I was before over the course of having my two babies. And also with the times things come and go, you know how keto is very hot right now? Well, no one had ever heard of keto then, but paleo was new on the scene. So I was starting to go towards a paleo diet to try that out gets me very constipated.

Really cannot do a strict paleo diet. That's what I learned. But did great things for managing my blood sugar, which as you can imagine, did great things for my anxiety levels, right? All the highs and lows just evened out. And I was like, oh, there is really something to this. I don't know what I was doing with all those beans and grains a couple of years back, but now I know where it's at. I need the protein, I need the fats. But overall, what I found after five to 10 years of healing was I could start being much more lenient with my diet. And thank goodness right around the time that now I got babies, I got a toddler, and my work with my clients evolved to also be more open-minded, to also be more flexible. Really important shift in my journey, but also in how I was coaching.

A few years later, I was studying with Aviva Rom. Do you guys know Dr. Aviva Rom? She has a professional training program. And as I went through her course, which is for licensed medical professionals and also health coaches, acupuncturists a whole array of health practitioners, it was fascinating. And I realized that all of my symptoms starting at age 16 with the fainting and all the dizzy spells and all the exhaustion and all the digestive problems and all the anxiety were probably fallout from chronic stress or HPA axis dysregulation. And if I had been properly diagnosed, if that had been a possibility, I believe I would've been diagnosed with pot syndrome back in the day when I learned about it, I was like OMG, that is the best thing I've ever heard to describe my experience. And it makes sense, right? You start to put the pieces together.

I was always a high achiever. It was no surprise that my health was at its worst. When I was maintaining a full academic scholarship in college, I was working three jobs or in my early twenties, right? Big advertising out, partying most nights of the week, trying to impress my bosses and get promoted beyond that entry level pay, I was barely covering my living expenses. A lot of stress there. So understanding this, I started seeing that HPA axis dysregulation with so many of my clients and so many of the people around me, right? Don't you do that? You learn something and then you're like, oh yeah, oh yeah. Oh, there it is. And you start spotting it. I was changing again how I worked with my clients, dealing more with stress, dealing more with not just how women are stressed because of their day-to-day, but how the system, the world is set up to make women sick, started to get kind of political dismantle, the patriarchy.

It became bigger than an individual's food and self-care. One of my favorite clients, her name's Alex, and she had always been a people pleaser, a people pleasing academic, just perfect. Just like a perfect little girl goes to school, get straight. That was her whole life. And now she was stuck in this cycle of health issues by the time we finished our work together. And I think it really informed how I started coaching moving forward, like this relationship with Alex, she stopped coloring her hair. She started riding a motorcycle, and she found a job that allowed for family time to be a priority instead of being at the office all night. And that was more healing than any dietary changes that she had made. And she had made many up until that point. So here we are, I don't know, a decade and a half or two decades since this all began more like two decades.

Oh my gosh, what's working now? This is going to be different for all of us. What's working for me and my health is not going to be the same. What's working for you? What's working for your clients? And this will change. But these days I drink coffee again. I didn't drink coffee for 15 years. Now I drink a cup of coffee with whole milk, and I love it. One cup a day. I look forward to it. That's exciting. I eat oat bran for breakfast. I know, I know. It's not that protein thing that I was just talking about, but I got to tell you really keeps me regular. So I'm loving the oat brand. I got some supplements. I bet you do too. I'll tell you what they are. You might be interested. I take magnesium citrate again to help because I tend to get constipated.

I take iron, I take vitamin C, I take fish oil, I take vitamin D, then I usually have a light lunch. I'm busy in the day, so it's like I grab a chicken leg out of the fridge. It's something high in protein, fat, maybe cheese, something like this, something light. And then dinner with my kids, which they're pretty good eaters. They've always had a health coach as a mom. So last night we had black bean soup, which I add ground beef to, and we call it burrito soup, whatever. I also included mushrooms and zucchini, and I blend it all up in there and they know it's in there and they're fine with it. So it's pretty cool. It's pretty cool. My kids have lived a lot of this journey with me, but then other nights I'll make sloppy joe's or something, and I even buy real bread.

They always say, oh my god, mom, you bought real bread. I find it's better for us to be a little more flexible, not so strict. I have a drink alcohol, maybe one or two drinks a week, maybe as I get older, I'm about to turn 44 in a few days. I find that two drinks is my maximum and then I don't feel so good for the next couple days. So that's a big change for my twenties. And we have dessert. Sometimes I've chocolate at night, just so many women and so many of our clients. I like that too. But sometimes it's not daily. But going easy with myself has been a big part of this journey. I don't have to be perfect. It's okay if I want to eat a half a bag of chocolate chips tonight. Alright, fine, I'm just going to do it. And then maybe tomorrow it'll be different.

And some of the things that are really working right now is that I've just gotten back into yoga. I was so into it. And then after having kids and after Covid and not being able to get to the yoga studios, I'm back in the yoga studio now, which is great. I also do the Tracy Anderson method, which is a streaming service, which I really like. I've been doing that for about three years now. It does good things for my body. And I've been doing a lot of walking down by the river, and I find that tending to my nervous system, most of all. And I'll talk more about mental health and emotional health as a health coach. I think next week I'm planning to hit that. Today I wanted to talk more about the physical stuff, but tending to my nervous system, most of all has the biggest impact on how I feel, on how all parts of my health feel.

But things are not perfect. So remember, if you're like, I still have to lose weight, I still have symptoms of this problem, blah, blah, blah, join the club. If we only had perfect health coaches, we wouldn't have any health coaches. I still struggle with sleep. That's something that popped up after my kids were born and my marriage was on the rocks before I got divorced. I didn't sleep for years. So if you knew me, then I'm sorry, I was functioning on very little sleep. So that's getting a lot better. But it's still a struggle. I'm starting to notice some perimenopausal symptoms, especially mood swings. This has become more noticeable in the past year or so. And my goodness, I am definitely more creaky in my joints than I used to be. And my left knee has been giving me a problem lately. So these are not major issues, but they are enough that if I wanted to, I could hide behind them.

I still have problems. I still have anxiety. I still wake up in a panic sometimes. I'm still not fully healed from trauma. Like I said, join the club. And I see Sharon over here saying, great reminder to be easy on yourself, grace and balance. And Angie's saying, we can be perfectly imperfect and that's okay, thank God. Because if you really are perfect, your clients cannot relate to you. You're not human anymore. And then they're just like, oh, that's interesting. But I feel judged. They feel less than. So it's really important to be able to share the good things that you're doing and the healthy habits that you have. I see you guys doing that on Instagram all the time, but what about where you're still struggling? It's okay to talk about that too.

So I'm sure by sharing my story with you, many of you can relate. You've had doctors tell you, you are fine when you're not right. You've been offered medication as a solution without even looking at support for other areas of your life. And maybe like me, you had to forge your own path. Or maybe you helped someone who was sick in your life forge their own path. And like me, it's still a work in progress. That's cool. And that's why I want to support you and through that, support your business this November. Remember, for the first time ever, we're running a free five day jumpstart. And I know I, you guys, I know you might be a yogi, you might be a CrossFitter, you might be on the keto diet, you might be vegan. I don't care. It doesn't matter. You are all welcome.

If I know anyone, I know health coaches and I know that we all sometimes need our own support system because we're giving to everybody else. So to remind you to please join us at healthcoachpower.com/jumpstart. You're going to reset from the holiday madness, and at the same time, you'll see how to run a similar five day program in your own business. And I think it could be a fantastic addition to your 2024 income plan. But first, just come experience it as a client. Again, that's at health coach power.com/podcast. Thank you all for being here. I'm seeing more comments coming in over here on Facebook. I'm going to read them right after I stop recording. I love having you here with me for these episodes, and we'll be back next week. All right. Take care everyone. Bye-Bye bye.