S1 E27: Rewiring Your Brain with Theresa Piela


Listen on Apple Podcasts

Amanda: Hey, this is Amanda, women’s health dietitian.
Emily: And I’m Emily, nutritional therapy practitioner.
Amanda: And this is the Are You Menstrual? podcast where we help you navigate the confusing world of women’s hormones and teach you how to have healthy periods.
Emily: Each week we will be diving into a different topic on women’s health and sharing our perspective using nutrition, female physiology, and metabolic health.
Amanda: Our goal is to help you wade through conflicting health information and empower you on your healing journey.
Emily: We hope you enjoy it.

Amanda: In this episode, we’re talking about how to rewire your brain and support your body during the healing journey with Theresa Piela. Theresa is the founder of Living Roots Wellness. A colon hydrotherapist by training, she works as an independent health researcher and brain rewiring coach. Theresa holds space for one-on-one group coaching and hosts a brain rewiring membership—that I’ve heard really great things about—emphasizing brain rewiring and EFT tapping for those with complex histories of gut-brain trauma disorders. She focuses on supporting the most complicated cases of chronic illness that may have lost hope and the ability to connect to joy as a result of their illnesses. With pro-metabolic nutrition, learning to truly embody safety at the level of the nervous system, and release inherited and stored trauma, she empowers her clients with simple tools to reclaim their elegance, confidence, and strength and to ultimately heal themselves. Thank you so much for being here, Theresa.

Theresa: Thanks for having me, Amanda. I’ve been so excited for this.

Amanda: So why don’t we just start right off with what is your story? How does someone get into brain rewiring and, like, EFT tapping, especially coming from that background of colon hydrotherapist?

Theresa: Yeah, I think like a lot of your listeners, a lot of your clients, I didn’t even really know I was so sick until it was almost too late. And my story starts very early. And I think research is really beginning to show the impact of the mother’s health on the developing fetus and the child. But even further back, the impact of generations before us completely changes the way we come into the world. And so what was showing up for me was as early as second grade, I just felt off, I had a pretty distended stomach, I always felt tired, I always felt really sad. I felt very removed from the other kids, like, as if I were in this gray bubble. And at the time, I didn’t have the understanding, the language, anything to really, really place myself in what was happening. And it kind of grew and intensified as the years went on. I just thought it was normal. I just thought oh, okay, this is how I am. Maybe other people feel this way. And I had maybe a little bit of evidence showing that some people just felt different, okay, not a problem, we have diverse experiences.

But it kind of snowballed in my adolescent years. And the classic Western approach, again, is to kind of medicate and treat symptoms. So as early as seventh grade, I was put on Prilosec to deal with my acid reflux, I was given a bunch of antibiotics for all the ear infections I was having, I was eating pretty terribly, because again, I had no awareness of the importance of food. And as a young adolescent, you know, it’s just not something you really think about in terms of a long-term approach. And from there, I just continued to go downhill and started developing even more intense symptoms of just fatigue, joint pain, panic attacks, just feeling completely unwell. So again, the approach was, oh, give her some Prozac, give her some antidepressants, put her on birth control, it’s good for her bones, all these things that I blindly accepted. So that was the first phase of thinking, okay, I’m, I’m gonna feel better this is going to be leading me where I want to go. You know, it was not the quick fix that I had hoped. And it only left me feeling more out of body, more sickly, more overwhelmed.

And it was my junior year in college, actually, where I feel like it was a very pivotal time in terms of getting my first diagnosis of Lyme and a bunch of co-infections. And it felt like, yes, finally, I had an answer. This is why I’ve been so sick my entire life. It’s like, okay, they can fix me awesome. As a lot of people can probably relate that took my pretty dismal health and basically destroyed it even more. I was put on massive doses of antibiotics for about seven months, I was getting injections of antibiotics. I had basically a binder of supplements, a lot of toxic supplements that I now would never recommend to anyone I love, you know, the classic fish oil, zinc, glutathione, iron. The one thing they did right was put me on a thyroid supplement so I can thank my doctors for that.

But that kind of opened up this world of getting testing and diagnoses and trying to find answers that started to feel extremely overwhelming, because what first was just oh, Lyme and co-infections then turned out to be, oh, wow, you have severe osteoporosis and you’re 20 years old. Oh, you have extremely high levels of lead and mercury and thallium and cadmium. Oh, why is there toxic mold in your pee? All of these things that just felt completely out of place, you know. I just didn’t feel like there was any rhyme or reason. It made sense, given how awful I felt, but it didn’t give me a clear way out.

And backing up from this picture for a moment. A lot of the recommendations that the doctors would give me I would do right away, because I wanted to feel better. So the first thing was a low carb, sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free diet, which is kind of like a modified autoimmune paleo approach. Like, really heavy on the nuts, really heavy on the proteins, you know, seven cups of vegetables. Everything that, okay, looks beautiful on a plate, but when someone’s gut is already pretty ravaged and dysfunctional, it’s, like, maybe the last thing you want to do to someone.

So yeah, it was basically like a downward spiral into more and more levels of dysfunction. And I was losing basic ability to function, I was so brain fogged, so panicked, just, you know, someone you probably wouldn’t want to be around. I think one of the biggest symptoms for me was I so badly wanted to heal and was willing to do whatever it took. So that led me into starting to do some self-exploration in terms of okay, what are some other options aside from what the doctors are giving me, aside from what the Western model is giving me. But even with the naturopaths, and the more of the, even Chinese medicine doctors and acupuncturist and shamanic healers…even with their protocols I wasn’t getting better. And I started to notice that everything I was thinking, as I was telling you before, every thought that would pass through my head was just panic, despair. I didn’t believe I could heal. I didn’t want to stay alive. I didn’t see any point in staying alive just given how dysfunctional my body was.

And I’ve mentioned to you probably in the past, but one of the symptoms after heavy doses of antibiotics for Lyme disease was I had lost all gut motility. And some people call it gastroparesis, but what we’re understanding now is that the Lyme infection can actually damage the vagus nerve. And basically, even if you’re doing everything right, the gut loses the ability to have the normal contractions and the normal peristalsis. So whatever you put in stays, and that was, that was probably the worst of it. Because if anyone hasn’t had a bowel movement for, like, three days, you probably know how uncomfortable that feels. I would go about five to seven-ish days with nothing. And that’s when I started to realize, okay, I have to do enemas at home. And that opened up my interest into colon hydrotherapy and really seeing this as such a helpful tool.

But long story short, it was when I finally started stepping away from doctors and healers and the idea that someone else was going to fix me, and started to check in with myself and realize, okay, if I don’t want to be here, if I don’t believe that I can heal, that’s on me. It feels like a dark night of the soul if you, if you know that phrase. It’s like when everything has fallen apart. And literally, I was 79 pounds, I looked like ET, I was terrified of my body, I saw no future for anything. And yet, I had a beautiful partner who’s now my husband. And something about having his company and his reflection that okay, we’re going to do this together. It’s like that planted a little seed of hope, where I started to realize, well, wait a second…what if I believe I can heal? If both stories are, you know, if we’re making up both stories anyways, I’m going to be sick and I’m going to die very young or maybe I can heal. I’ve seen other people do it. I’ve seen, I’ve heard amazing stories of people overcoming Lyme and cancer and all sorts of pretty intense diseases.

So that opened up this beautiful box of starting to change the brain and that really informed a lot of the research into trauma and just rewiring the nervous system, supporting the vagus nerve. And really understanding more about how the nervous system and that feeling of safety impacts every physiological process in the body. So, while diet is important piece, is an important piece for so many people, if they’re still stuck in the fight or flight and panic mode, even the best, most beautiful mineral-rich diet is not going to be as healing as it could be. If we start to really change the brain and allow the body to start to say, okay, well, even though I don’t think I can heal, what if I at least focus on the fact that I’m still here, my body’s still keeping me alive, my heart’s still pumping, and really, really opening up, like, a gentle one step forward at a time. Because there’s a lot of ideas right now about, like, how people manifest diseases and, like, you just have to think your way out of it. You have to manifest the vitality and the life that you dream of, which I’m not a fan of, because it puts a lot of guilt and shame on people that are truly very sick. But I am a fan of learning to take responsibility for your thoughts, because, as we’ve talked about before, your body wants to heal. And part of that schism that I see so often, that I saw in my, in myself is that we forget that the body is desperate and begging to be healthy. And we shame it, we torture it, we criticize it, we create all sorts of stories about how it’s not good enough, how it’s not trying hard enough. And that’s a big piece of this too. So I’ll leave it there because I could go 30,000 directions.

Amanda: But, I mean, think about it, like, I didn’t realize it started for you so young. Like, that’s a lot to recap. Second grade? Like, yeah, thank you, you know, that’s a good chunk. I’m still so caught on the fact that you were on Prilosec so young. Oh, my gosh, I just, like, I feel like that would stand out to anyone, like, even if you have family members on medication as being, like, this is kind of weird. You know what this is probably not good.

Theresa: Yeah. And the recurrent ear infections as well. I’m thinking anyone should have seen that as a sign that something’s not right. So maybe these days people are a little bit more informed with the microbiome. And, you know, just thinking about the gut-ear axis, and what might be going on there. But I’m sure we have all sorts of listeners. So this is not to make anyone change their mind about anything. But it really made me question the Western medical model, because I’m just, like, wait a second, looking back, I’m like, is that really the solution?

Amanda: It’s the solution if it works, and then, until it doesn’t, and then they’re kind of like, well, we don’t know what else to do with you. And I think that’s the frustrating part. If someone has an ear infection, they take an antibiotic, it goes away. That’s amazing. That’s great. But if it doesn’t, and it keeps coming back…you know, my nephew had the same issue, like, recurrent ear infections, and I’m, like, we can’t keep giving him antibiotics. I think we like it’s my choice. I just, I’m always like, like, sharing advice with my sister and stuff, because I would just, like, she does with me. And I was, like, we got to try something else. Because it doesn’t mean he can never take another antibiotic again. But I’m like this kid’s two, and he’s been on four rounds of antibiotics already and he still is getting these. And it’s scary, because you want to do the best for your child, for yourself. You’re scared for the situation. And I guarantee that’s what your parents were thinking that it’s, like, you’re just doing the best you can with what you have. And it’s so interesting.

You were still really young in college and getting that Lyme diagnosis. That’s heavy, that’s a lot to be, like, my health is falling apart, I’m super young, I shouldn’t be feeling this way. So I can totally see how that spiraled out, it’s, everything that it did.

Theresa: The restrictive diets I think was a piece of rewiring my brain towards panic, towards doom, because not only did I start to become so fearful of foods or messing up or not healing, I actually started to become fearful of having symptoms from meals. Because a lot of the foods I was eating to heal actually made me feel awful, you know, like, very extreme flu-like symptoms that compounded over the years. And the more I just had food sitting in me and didn’t even realize that was a problem. You know, I didn’t know that if you’re not having multiple bowel movements a day you’re constipated, you’re reabsorbing that through the gut lining. Now I know better, but at the time, it was just the cycle of panic, panic, panic, scared to go out, scared to travel. So I’d be at home eating my perfectly prepared, you know, GAPS meal but feeling, ugh, feeling like I could just lay down and just be in comatose position after a meal. So all the things we learn.

Amanda: I know and it is hard. And anyone listening that they’ve had a lot of food fears developed from restrictive diets, a lot of it does come from, like, not wanting to do the wrong thing. Like, they’re trying to follow the list of recommendations given to them by their doctor who probably had great intentions. It’s when we’re always looking for information outside of ourselves and then never listening to what’s happening in our bodies that it creates this huge disconnect that can make it really hard to heal.

Theresa: Yes. And I think as a result, the body learns to not feel safe, because it doesn’t know how to trust itself. For an example, like, even just eating a restrictive GAPS diet, like, they start you off with just broth, ghee, and I think a few different types of vegetables. It’s so restrictive. Oh and meat. And say you keep forcing yourself to eat that, coming from that really good place of I want to feel better, I’m going to do whatever it takes…it’s almost like we forget to even take in the signals that the body’s like, ah, this doesn’t feel right, this is not working for me.

So part of healing from that is learning that you actually did know what you needed all along. And that everyone’s always going to be presenting ideas, but learning to honor that there is that little voice, that it has this pull towards certain things. And there’s a reason why when maybe a doctor or a coach gives you a protocol, and all of a sudden, it feels like intensely overwhelming and so stressful. That’s something to listen to, because the stress response is so closely tied with that intuition, with the vagus nerve, telling you that maybe this isn’t the way. And I think if, for a lot of people honoring that, that that could be a piece of the puzzle for you. Because if something is causing more stress, it’s counterproductive—basically preventing the body’s innate ability to heal.

Amanda: That’s a perfect way to put it. It’s just literally preventing your body from actually healing. But it can be hard, because you’re trying to do the right thing. One thing that you said at, like, the very end of telling your story is how you kind of came to this place where you recognize your thoughts. And how if I, like, just kind of start making some small changes here and there, like, I think this could actually help me. Is that, like, what you mean when you’re talking about rewiring the brain? Like, what does this phrase mean?

Theresa: Yeah, so great question. I think it really starts with the awareness of starting to look at the chatter in your brain. And for a lot of people, there might even be a disconnect there. Because in a way, life requires us to kind of ignore, mind over matter, or we do certain things and we’re not even realizing what we’re doing. And an example of this would be we almost expect ourselves to feel awful. Say we’ve been feeling sick for a while, the brain will start to imagine, like, I’m going to feel so tired when I wake up and I’m going to feel so panicked. And then I’ll eat that certain food and I’ll feel absolutely miserable. And I absolutely cannot work out because I’ll feel exhausted afterwards. And stories like that, where again, we don’t even realize what’s happening until we really start to look at that. And you can start to question, wow, is that true? Is this helping me? How did this even start? And starting to play around with that.

But yeah, I think it’s, it’s, it starts with that awareness, and then starting to really ask yourself, okay, well, how would I like to feel about the situation? Am I adding suffering to this situation? Is this real? Is this helping me at all? So that, I mean, brain rewiring could look so different for a lot of people, but it’s really just noticing, okay, what’s the programming I’m running on? How did this develop? That’s a piece of it, but not necessary. And what’s the new framework I’d like to think about? And it helps to look at this from different perspectives, I think it’s really helpful to even look back on your life.

Because that was a big part for me, realizing life felt so finite, like, it, it truly felt that I was so close to death when I had just reached a point of such extreme dysfunction and extreme sickness. And it was starting to even see that as, wow, if this is my last year on this earth, how do I want to be moving through that? So that that can open up a doorway, because in a way, it’s obvious that you’d want to enjoy it, you’d want to remember something beautiful, even if you’re feeling sick. What else is there, thinking outside of the body, because you know, that’s a piece of it, too. We’ve become so hyper vigilant scanning for bloating, pain, discomfort, if we have pretty intense gut issues. Teaching the brain okay, yes, you’ve mastered the art of self-body scanning. What else is there?

So part of my personal process was starting to look outwards and distracting in a, in a healthy way, but distracting from body scanning and starting to look outside. And I would literally watch the birds. I started watching the crows where we were living at the time. And I would get these little gaps of noticing that I wasn’t stuck in a panic mode. I wasn’t thinking about the next treatment option. I wasn’t thinking about how uncomfortable my body felt. And it was almost teaching the brain that, oh, wow, there, there are other things to think about. And there’s a lovely idea, I’m forgetting the name of the psychologist, but basically what you, what you put your attention on is what your experience is, which is so true, and easier said than done. So that’s why the term brain retraining makes a lot of sense because it’s, it is an active process.

And it does take some time, especially if you’ve really created some deep grooves in the brain. They, it’s almost like we can see these highways or imprints in the brain, you’ve been wiring and firing certain thoughts for years and years and years. Time to start to shift it. And another piece of this, too, is I think a lot of people, they have tried everything and they’re doing everything right. And they might even be in a really good place in terms of finally feeling like, okay, this, this new pro-metabolic, mineral-rich way of eating, this actually feels pretty good. But they still have all of these habits and basically triggers that create that state of panic that could be worked on to maybe make that healing process more enjoyable, a little bit more relaxed, you know, a little bit more easy.

Amanda: I find, too, and I don’t know if you see this with your clients, but especially with women, when they start eating enough food and like getting a variety and balancing their meals, they have more energy to recognize all the stuff that’s going on in their head, and it can bring up a wall on your healing journey.

Theresa: That is such an important point, because brain function requires nourishment. And a lot of these restrictive diets, even if it’s, you know, cutting out a macronutrient or just being way too calorically limited, it’s no surprise that anxiety, panic, overwhelm, inability to make decisions is what we see time and time again, because the brain’s literally shutting down. I see that as a, an amazing cry for help, of, okay, we need to really boost your vital nutrients. I mean, some of the things that I think it, yeah, really overlooked in the world of mental health and mental illness, you know. Time and time again someone’s diagnosed with depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder, and really they, their body’s just nutrient deficient.

Amanda: And it’s, you know, it’s our body’s trying to compensate. Like you said, our bodies want to be well, they want to heal, they want to be in balance, and they’re constantly compensating based on, like, what we’re eating, what we’re doing throughout the day, how much sleep we’re getting…all these different things are just constantly compensating, trying to keep us healthy and alive. So it’s, it’s just interesting. I tend to see that a lot in women that maybe they’re, like, oh, like, I feel like all this stuff from my childhood is like starting to come up now. And like, like, yeah, cuz you have the energy to deal with it now.

Theresa: Yes, and the body feels safe enough to finally look at what’s there. Because I think part of that dissociation and the way we package away trauma is the body wisely says, I don’t have the energy to deal with this in the same way that when life’s overwhelming, it’s like, I don’t have the energy to deal with this. So it’s a good sign when things are finally coming to the surface. It’s like, I guess sometimes I even see acne as a really good sign. I’m like, ooh, wonderful, your body’s pushing stuff out. Great. We don’t want to keep that tucked away. We don’t want to keep that you know, stored in the fat cells somewhere creating all sorts of inflammatory conditions. Awesome, it might not be the most comfortable to deal with, but better out than in.

Amanda: That’s, better out than in, I love that. I’m going to use that when someone struggles with acne next. I’ll be like, listen to this podcast I did with Theresa. Because that is really challenging, and a lot of women experience acne on their healing journey. And they always want to pinpoint, is it hormonal? Is it based on my gut health? You know, stress related? And it’s, like, it’s probably all them, and inflammation related. And so it’s, like, you just, sometimes you have to let it take its course, which is not always easy.

Theresa: You just reminded me, too, of this idea. That’s a perfect opportunity to rewire a thought, because say in the past, you see your acne and you feel so ashamed. You maybe start to feel, figure out, or try to find a way to fix it. Maybe you’re scared to go out, because you’re scared people are gonna judge you, and you just feel all of that negativity spiraling. That’s your cue to think about, okay, well, what if this acne is here to help me? What if this is a sign that my body is healing? What if this is a sign that yes, I’m in a healing phase, and I’m still learning to balance my hormones, I’m still battling, still learning to balance my stress, my liver clearly needs a lot of work, my gut still needs a lot of work. And this is a sign that I’m on a journey, you know, and what would it do for me to show up with a sense of confidence and a sense of trust in my body and a sense of love for my body as it’s healing? And you know, that could completely change. Again, that physiological response if all of a sudden we’re, like, yes, body, you’re doing great, get that shit out, and just letting that change how we show up for our lives.

Amanda: And then it’s, like, the acne goes away.

Mid-Episode Ad
Hey, Amanda here, just giving you a quick break, hopefully a break for your brain in the middle of this podcast episode to remind you that if you haven’t gone through our free training, Optimizing Hormone Health Through Mineral Balance, we really do recommend starting there. And the main reason for that is because you’re going to hear us say things like mineral foundation, having a solid foundation, are you putting the foundations in place, especially as we get deeper and deeper into different hormonal topics and specific imbalances in the body. The mineral foundation is always going to be so essential. So if you haven’t watched the free training, you can find it in our show notes or you can go to hormonehealingrd.com and it’s going to be right on that front page there. But we really recommend starting there so that you can understand how is your current mineral status, how do you assess this, and how to get started with all that just so you can get as much as you possibly can out of the rest of the podcast episodes. But that’s it. I hope you enjoy the rest of this episode.

Theresa: It’s amazing what happens just by thinking about, if the liver is handling and processing so many of the stress hormones that we’re creating, and it’s busy trying to detoxify estrogen and endotoxins and the mold that we’re accidentally breathing in from the air conditioner that we don’t even know is releasing mold…all the things. If we can take out a significant load of work for the body, who knows, it might be the thing that’s just tipping the bucket or overflowing the bucket.

Amanda: And one thing that, like, we kind of were touching on that you actually talked about on your Instagram quite a bit is trauma. And I feel like this is a tricky one, because not everyone feels that they relate to this. But I think the more you learn about, like, what is trauma. And I love how you have one post that breaks down, like, capital T trauma versus like micro trauma. So can you talk about how you define trauma? And then how it can, like, differ from person to person?

Theresa: Yeah, really good question. I think we’re starting to realize it’s so much less about the actual event. You know, it doesn’t have to necessarily be, you know, a traumatic car accident or a sexual assault experience or your parent dying when you’re young. Yes, those leave a mark on the body. But we forget that just reacting to a certain situation can shift the brain. It basically heightens the fear centers of the brain.

And we might not even realize that we have reacted in the past or that we are reacting, say to our, even our diet plan or something like that. Something that’s so insignificant that we don’t realize that the body is stuck in this state of fight or flight. So I think when people start to realize that it is so much less about the event and much more about what happened internally, it almost takes the pressure off. Because again, a lot of people are, like, my life, my life is perfect, I, you know, I’ve had supportive parents, I have a wonderful partner, I have access to resources, I live in a beautiful home. And then you start to ask them more questions, and you realize that there’s, so there are so many factors that could have been interpreted as traumatic to the nervous system that might be exacerbating their current state of health.

And just seeing that, yeah, it just provides a sense of freedom, realizing, whoa, it’s not about working harder, it’s not about doing more, it’s not about finding the next protocol—it’s about really honoring that, oh, your nervous system could use some support. And thank goodness, you’re nourishing yourself, because it’s going to work so much better, the body is going to be able to handle so much more stress. Even just having balanced blood sugar completely changes the way the body responds to micro stressors.

Amanda: I think the biggest takeaway of the whole trauma thing is that even if you don’t necessarily feel like you had any, like, really big traumas or even, like, little ones, it’s the reaction. When I read your post, I was like, oh, okay, it’s not necessarily the thing. It’s not about the thing or what happened. It’s about how your body responded to it. And then how that could still be hanging around.

Theresa: You know a wonderful example is the medical trauma I see a lot of clients coming to me with, and I’m sure you do, too, where maybe they got that diagnosis, they were diagnosed with PCOS or they were diagnosed with early onset ovarian failure, or whatever it is…that alone could send, could create this feeling of, oh my gosh, I’m not safe. Oh my gosh, I’m sick. Oh my gosh, I’m broken. What’s the rest of my life going to look like? Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. That alone can change the functioning of our systems.

So, yeah, it’s, it’s, uh…and not to, I never want to, like, bring something up like this and re-traumatize someone where all of a sudden someone’s like, oh, my gosh, this is exactly, you know, all the things I’ve done, all the things I’ve experienced have created this illness. It’s much more about this empowered approach of you’re a human having a human experience. Life throws all sorts of experiences at us. It is challenging in a lot of ways to be a human. And, and honoring yourself in that process, realizing okay, even if you have been through something significant or seemingly insignificant that felt significant to your body, there is a way forward. And we really have to notice how that event, how that situation, how that experience impacted you. And what we can do to start to transform it, shift it, you know, appreciate it, learn from it, so many different ways to move through it.

Amanda: And I think, too, it, it is really nice, because sometimes it just gives you that permission to give yourself a little grace of like, okay, so I have been through a lot. Like, I have clients that have suffered with things like endometriosis, chronic pain, for decades, for decades. And they’re like, why am I not healing as quick as, like, maybe if they’re in a group, it’s like the other women in that group. Or how come I’m, how come it’s

Amanda Montalvo

Amanda Montalvo is a women's health dietitian who helps women find the root cause of hormone imbalances and regain healthy menstrual cycles.

Master Your Minerals

Created by
Hormone Healing RD