Charlotte Laguardia on access to individualized nutrition

Charlotte Laguardia on access to individualized nutrition

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Charlotte. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight.”

Charlotte LaGuardia: Thank you so much, Zibby. I’m so happy to be here.

Zibby: It’s so nice to see you. Charlotte, first, give listeners a little bit of a bio and your background, how you got into this industry. Then after that, we’ll talk about your whole journey to getting here. Give us the rundown of a bio and background for now.

Charlotte: Absolutely, yes. I grew up in Southampton, New York, so out in the Hamptons. I went to college in Worcester, Massachusetts. I went to Holy Cross. I was studying psychology. I wanted to be in marketing. I wanted to do advertising. I was really excited to do that. I started to notice that I wasn’t feeling well. By the time I graduated college, I was like, there’s no way I can do a nine-to-five job. I don’t have the energy. I don’t feel well. I dove into a degree in nutrition trying to find some answers. That’s what led me into the nutrition field. I got my master’s from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. Then I did an internship. I did an exam. I took an exam to qualify for the boards, and so now I’m a certified nutrition specialist. I’m also a yoga instructor. I like to combine the two worlds of nutrition and yoga. Now I’m back in Water Mill in the Hamptons. I have my own private practice that was in person. Now I have moved to completely virtual. I do virtual yoga. I do virtual nutritional consultations as well as workshops. I do a lot of ladies’ nights on Zoom. We do some breathing exercises. We talk about things you can eat and all of that good stuff.

Zibby: If people want to find you, where should they look you up?

Charlotte: My website is My Instagram is @ThriveEastNutrition.

Zibby: Awesome. Charlotte, you and I met when I had one of my many hit-bottom moments. I was like, I need to see someone immediately. I can’t do this by myself. I’ve had kind of a love-hate relationship with getting experts involved in what I know is something I should master myself. You were so kind and came over a few times. Then again, I sabotaged myself. Now I can’t even face it again, but not because of you. You were amazing. Tell me about your own — go back to when you weren’t feeling well. What even led you to nutrition versus med school or something like that?

Charlotte: It is a little bit of a long story. What didn’t lead me to med school was a —

Zibby: — Wait, I want the long story. That’s the interesting part.

Charlotte: I know we are on a podcast for why moms don’t have time to lose weight. Personally, I don’t have a weight loss journey. I had always been on the thin side. I grew up thin. Nothing ever changed. I could never gain weight, actually. I always thought I was really safe. I remember in the seventh grade, learning about diabetes and heart disease. I was like, I’m not going to have that. I have no problems. I’m thin. I had this false sense of safety. I went through life never being affected by the food that I ate, that I knew. I would eat pints of ice cream. I would come from home, and my after-school snack was literally a whole container of whip cream. I was really addicted to those sugary carbohydrate foods. I remember I didn’t eat a vegetable for probably years. My mom would try, but I wasn’t interested. All I wanted was the white rice and some ice cream after that. I was really hooked on those highly processed, highly refined foods. It never showed physically, so I was like, I’m totally fine. Then by the time I got to college and had to go through stress — I had all this new stress that I didn’t experience in high school, the late nights. I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t exercising. I was eating a hundred percent processed diet out of the dining hall or fast food or whatever I could heat up in my microwave.

That’s really when it hit. I honestly remember — this is crazy. I would walk through halls. It would be one o’clock in the morning. I’d just finished a paper. I’d be walking through the halls of the library. I’d see, there’s nothing in front of me, there’s no one around me, I’m just going to close my eyes while I walk because I’m so tired and I’m so just shut. That was when I realized that something had to have been up. When I graduated school, I ended up going to a few doctors. Throughout all of that, I always had some GI things. I was never regular. I was always bloated and cramping. If I didn’t eat, I’d be doubled over in pain, things that just weren’t normal. In my head, I was like, I’m thin, I’m fine. Everyone experiences this. It’s okay. The GI doctors could only say IBS, which is, we all know, this blanket diagnosis. Something’s not right. We’re not positive, but we’re going to put you in this category. Then I started getting neurological symptoms, so things like tingling, buzzing feelings in my body, the extreme fatigue, couldn’t remember a thing to save my life. All of these different things started popping up. Neurologists couldn’t really figure out what was going on. They were like, “You might be depressed. You might have B12 deficiencies,” which wasn’t the case. After a full year of not getting a straight answer and not being able to work or do anything, I was like, I have to go back to school. I need to know why this is happening, why this is happening to my body, what I can do to help fix it. Modern medicine is amazing. You get into an accident, they will bring you back. It’s the preventative, getting down to the root cause where there’s a little bit of lacking. It’s a little lacking there.

I decided I had to be my own advocate. I had to figure out, when I eat food, what happens to it? Why do people eat vegetables and not tubs of ice cream? That was really what motivated me to go to school. I knew I could buy a textbook, but I’m the type of learner where I need someone to explain things to me. I found this great program. It was online. It was somewhat self-paced, so I could still do a part-time job while I was learning. It just changed my life. What I started learning about how our food is digested, why we choose certain foods, what all of my symptoms actually meant, and figuring out the whole reason why everything was happening — a lifetime of antibiotic use, but we’ll come to back that. When I started learning all these things, I was like, oh, my gosh, I have to tell the world. Why did no one teach me this? Why was it in the seventh grade that I learned diabetes and heart disease existed but not how to prevent them or why they start in the first place? It was really, really eye-opening. I went from that mindset of, I want to work that nine-to-five office job — I was so excited for pumps and pencil skirts. Now I’m like, oh, my gosh, I just need to be with people every day and share this information, especially kids. I’m finding that I’m heading more towards the adolescent world because that was the time where if I had learned all of this, I think things would have been incredibly different.

Zibby: Now I want you just to talk to my thirteen-year-old daughter. You’re such a likeable person. You should have your own YouTube show or something. Do you have that?

Charlotte: You know, people all the time. I am so camera shy.

Zibby: But you’re doing great right now. I know this isn’t a camera. It’s just Zoom. I feel like my daughter’s all into YouTube. To have somebody up there actually giving healthy, health-centered information as opposed to just how to put on her eye shadow would be really awesome.

Charlotte: I could do a little eye shadow too.

Zibby: That would be great. So what was the answer? What was wrong with you?

Charlotte: Really, what it was, was a full-blown gut issue. I had chronic ear infections as a kid. From ages one to about three, I was on antibiotics a few times a year. For that age span, what’s happening is your microbiome is really setting up. The microbiome is this about four-to-seven-pound collection of bacteria and yeasts and some viruses that should live in harmony. They are there to produce your immune cells, neurotransmitters. They even play a huge role in turning genes on and off. I don’t know if you’ve heard the saying, genetics is the gun and your lifestyle pulls the trigger. That lifestyle influences the microbiome. Really, it’s the microbiome pulling the trigger on risk factors. During that age, kids are sticking stuff in their mouths. They’re eating dirt and stuff and trying to put things in their mouths. What that is, is they’re trying to get bacteria into the microbiome based on their environment. It’s a really special time. I was taking antibiotics which meant every time I took a course, I was killing off a big portion of that community.

Fortunately, our microbiome is really resilient. However, we didn’t know this at the time. My mom did everything she could. She kept me really healthy. I didn’t have chronic ear issues because we took of it then. We didn’t know, take a probiotic or eat your fermented foods. As I grew up, I had this really imbalanced microbiome. There were probably strains in there that shouldn’t have been. There were strains in numbers that shouldn’t have been. I wasn’t doing anything to help it. I was only feeding the things that fed the negative bacteria and negative yeasts. What that led to was what we’re calling in the industry now, leaky gut. Leaky gut is when the cells that line your intestines start to separate. There’s little perforations. Through those perforations, your undigested food particles, any bacteria or viruses that come into the body can seep into the bloodstream which then in turn can set off the immune system. This situation can lead to pretty much all of the symptoms that I had. What I learned was to go back and heal the gut and the heal the system. I can tell you, it’s been years, and still always going to be a work in progress. The one thing that I’m learning is that the body is so resilient. The body wants to be healthy. That is where it’s trying to get every single day, but we just have to give it the tools to get there. That’s what this journey has been.

Zibby: Wow. One thing I heard you say is processed food is not going to help be one of those good tools. Is that right?

Charlotte: It is. It’s hard. We live in a food industry. Food is a business now. I tell clients every day, companies, they just want to sell you a product. They want to sell you on their brand. They don’t necessarily care if it’s not the best thing for you. They don’t care if you have gut issues or a hormonal imbalance. They just want you to eat their product. That’s just the nature of business. I can’t really blame them for it. We just need to be more educated about the products that are out there. With processed foods, there’s normally sugar added in everything. Ketchup, salad dressings, everything has some sort of sugar even if it says zero grams on the nutrition facts. You’re like, there’s no sugar in there. I’m totally fine. You look at the ingredients, and see you cane sugar or molasses or date syrup. You’re like, okay, there’s a little sweet in there, but it’s not showing up on the nutrition facts, so it should be fine for me.

The point of that is when you ingest the food, you don’t taste sweet, but our digestive system actually has sweet receptors. What those sweet receptors do is they actually talk to the brain. Our gut is connected to the brain through this vagus nerve, this big, huge nerve that goes throughout the body, but its main connection is gut to brain. Those sweet receptors take in the little sugar that you don’t taste in your mouth. They recognize it. They release dopamine, which is our reward signal. It makes you want to eat more. It could be a potato chip with a little added sugar. It could be ketchup on a chicken finger, which is just a protein, but it’s making you go for more because those sweet receptors keep releasing the dopamine. Your body’s like, oh, this feels good. I’m going to keep going. I’m not going to stop. It’s a little secret of processed foods. That’s why it’s really hard to only have one chip or one fry in the ketchup.

Zibby: What about if you’re actually eating lots of sugar, sugar that you know you are eating because the second you put the cookie in your mouth you feel like it coursed through your body and you get this hit of amazingness?

Charlotte: That’s exactly what’s happening. It literally is a hit of amazingness. Now you’re getting twofold. You’re getting dopamine release because the receptors in your mouth are tasting sweet. Then the receptors in your gut are tasting sweet. It’s a full-body experience. At the end of the day, it is very neurological. It’s not necessarily willpower either. I think that that’s something that a lot of us get wrapped up in. I’m weak. If there’s a cookie in front of me, I’m going to eat it. It’s my fault. I’m weak. I’m not good at this. There’s so much more at work here than just willpower. It also depends on the balance of microbes in your digestive system, in your microbiome. If you have higher numbers of certain yeasts like candida, that candida feeds off of sugar. It has this huge nerve, the vague nerve, that talks to the brain and can ask for more sugar. Those cravings, again, aren’t that willpower or seeing the cookie. It’s actually these old bacteria and yeasts in there using their power to harness the brain and harness our activities.

Zibby: How do you know if you have those in you?

Charlotte: Normally, if you have a very high-sugar diet, I tend to assume that that’s where we’re headed because whatever we feed will most likely be there. There are stool sample tests you can do. There are also some symptoms like sugar cravings, a lot of dandruff, and yeast infections on the skin or in the body. Thrush is another symptom of candida. It’s sneaky. A lot of these bacteria, they’re just around for survival. They don’t care if the cookie’s going to make you crave more. They just want to survive.

Zibby: What is your advice then if somebody, regardless if they have candida or whatever bacteria are feeding the cravings and maybe it’s not willpower, but what do you do if now you’re in this spin cycle of sugar addiction?

Charlotte: First, I like to recommend different ways to get dopamine. It sounds a little crazy, but if we do something like fifty jumping jacks before we eat the cookie, we’re releasing dopamine on our own through physical activity. Then we’re less likely to go for the second cookie. Then sometimes, over time, you might not even want the whole thing or even the cookie at all. It also depends on the day. I’m also not about deprivation. We’re going to eat cookies. It happens. It’s life. There are cookies in our world. We want to do it in the best way possible. If we can do those jumping jacks beforehand, get an initial dopamine surge, then we can have and enjoy that bit of cookie and move on. Other things we can do to release dopamine are talk to a friend or a loved one. Right now too, social isolation is a big thing. Call a friend. Call a family member. Talk to them. Skype with them. Zoom with them. Do whatever feels right or appropriate at the time. That connection releases dopamine. Then the final and favorite one of mine is a hug. A twenty-second, chest-to-chest, equal-partnership hug will help to release those feel-good neurotransmitters as well and, in a lot of cases, start to kick those sugar cravings.

Zibby: If I hug my husband for twenty seconds in front of a plate of cookies, I might not want as many cookies?

Charlotte: Correct.

Zibby: Seriously?

Charlotte: Seriously, yes. For Christmas, we got a basket of gluten-free goods because everyone knows that I don’t eat a lot of gluten. You know those stroopwafles that you sit on top of your cup of coffee and they get all gooey? Those were in there. They’re really good. I would have one, but then I would do some jumping jacks and I would remove myself from the situation. Yes, a few times I went back for a second one, but not as often as I would’ve if I didn’t do those dopamine-enhancing activities.

Zibby: What’s interesting about this to me is that, of course, I’ve heard the advice. Instead of eating, you should go do something else that’s fun. I always interrupted that as a means of distraction. Yes, eating makes you feel good, but other things make you feel good, so just do them instead. I’ve never heard that the dopamine released from those activities counteracts the cravings for the actual treats because your body is getting the surge that it needs already, so it doesn’t look to something external on a plate. Did I get that right?

Charlotte: Yes, you did. Something to remember, too, the fifty jumping jacks will not give you the same awesome explosion response that a cookie in your mouth will. It’s not as intense.

Zibby: You didn’t need to tell me that. That, I know.

Charlotte: It’s very subtle. I don’t want you to do the jumping jacks and be like, wait, I don’t feel that. That feeling is going to be completely different. If we take the time, it is also a little bit of a distraction, but it’s helping because you’re getting that reward the body’s looking for.

Zibby: Okay, I could try it. I could test this out. I could test it out.

Charlotte: It’s always worth a shot to test out. Then remembering too, when we do go to eat that cookie after we do the jumping jacks, eating it slowly and enjoying it fully. I know a lot of times with junk food and cookies and baked goods and things like that, we feel some guilt. We’re like, I know I shouldn’t be eating this. I’m going to eat it, but I’m going to eat it fast. If I eat it fast, then maybe it doesn’t count. This is a train of thought I’ve had many times. If you sit down and mindfully, slowly eat it, notice the texture, the smell, the mouthfeel, you’re going to be so much more satisfied from the one cookie and not need to go for the second. A lot of times, you have a sandwich with two halves. You eat one half. You eat the other. You look down and think that the other’s still there. That’s what’s happening in this guilt-driven cookie eating. We rush it because we hope nobody sees or it just doesn’t count if we get it in. By eating it really slowly and enjoying it and honoring it and experiencing it, that awesome feeling lasts a lot longer too.

Zibby: I was eating a cookie the other night. It was gooey and warm and perfect. I was sitting and I ate it in front of my husband. Sometimes I do try to eat things quickly out of sight of everyone for my own guilt reasons. Anyway, I ate it. Literally, he was laughing. He was like, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone enjoy a cookie as much as you are enjoying this right now.” I was like, “This is so amazing. It’s the best thing ever.” Not to say it didn’t make me want more. I don’t think I had more at the time, or I probably would’ve had more. I see what you’re saying. Take the time. Enjoy it. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Sometimes I think that’s another thing in the cycle that people do. I’ve already ruined it with the one cookie. I might as well eat six.

Charlotte: Absolutely. I see that all the time. It’s important to remember, too, when we’re stressed and eating, the stress actually turns our body’s ability to digest foods down. We don’t extract as much as we could. I know a cookie has sugar. It’s definitely something that is somewhat processed depending on where you get it or if you made it. You could have it with dark chocolate and whole wheat flour and get some B vitamins and antioxidants. If we’re feeling guilt eating that cookie, those few benefits that are in there, we won’t be able to absorb as many. All the more argument to have it, but enjoy and relax and breathe. Look at it. Smell it. Just be in that moment with the cookie. Then go have a fully balanced, healthy meal before or after.

Zibby: Basically, if I or my listeners can eat a mostly balanced diet, I could basically have one amazing chocolate chip cookie every day and still not succumb to what I feel like is addiction, essentially, of the feeling of the cookie in my body. Correct?

Charlotte: Absolutely. Everyone is completely different. It is really understanding yourself. Some people might have a harder time. Some are all or nothing too. I know I have a lot of clients who, even just looking at a cookie will send them into a spiral. The whole mindful eating, have just one slowly, is just not for them. That’s okay. We recognize that. We put other things in place. For a lot of people, if you can harness the power of mindful eating and you can slow yourself down, that one cookie is definitely doable, and making sure it’s the highest quality cookie. You can make it yourself. You can source great ingredients, organic whole wheat flour. Like I said, dark chocolate’s a health food. Add some dark chocolate in there, and nuts and seeds. Make into something that’s really healthful.

Zibby: Do you have a go-to healthy chocolate chip cookie option or recipe or something?

Charlotte: You know, I don’t, but I can definitely make one if I put a little time into that. After talking about cookies all this time, I’m thinking, definitely.

Zibby: If you want to drop them off here…

Charlotte: Want to be my tester?

Zibby: I will test them out.

Charlotte: You can be my recipe tester. We’ll get something good going. It would be great.

Zibby: Charlotte, this has been great for so many reasons. One, thank you for sharing your story with me. It’s such a good reminder that you can’t cheat on your body for too long without it catching up with you. If you’re doing things that are not good for you, even if you can’t see it, your body sees it. It’s just a good reminder that even if you feel good with your weight or your clothing size, that is not the full story at all. That’s another good reminder. Two, just the processed food, as we all know, that processed foods are like the devil. Eat in moderation. Look at the ingredients. Be careful. Eat with caution. Then also, remembering the things to counteract the hit you get from sugar and adding things like hugs and jumping jack as a means to fill that dopamine receptor up so it doesn’t have as much left to fill with the cookie, which I like. I also like that if you give yourself permission to enjoy something regularly without guilt, then maybe the whole thing ratchets back down in terms of this whole viscous cycle of punishment and willpower and all the things you were talking about. Awesome.

Charlotte: Absolutely. There’s so much more to it. I think we like to simplify things and say if you are eating a ton of sugar, you’re just weak. You have bad willpower. That’s not it. There’s so much more. There’s so much more we can do also.

Zibby: Awesome. I am going to get back in touch with you just to chitchat to teach my kids. Even though I teach them all the time, I think it helps so much to have someone else come in just give a little tutorial. I’m going to do that. I’m going to go bake some really good cookies.

Charlotte: Eat them slowly. Enjoy. Be in the moment.

Zibby: Yes, perfect. Charlotte, tell everybody again where they can find you if they want to book a session or learn more about you.

Charlotte: My website is My Instagram is @ThriveEastNutrition. You can message me on either platform.

Zibby: Perfect. Thank you so much.

Charlotte: Thank you so much. This was wonderful.

Zibby: Great. Bye, Charlotte.

Charlotte: Bye.

Charlotte Laguardia on access to individualized nutrition