Episode 17: Calliope Tsoukalas

In our 17thepisode, Lauren brings back a familiar guest: Calliope Tsoukalas, a nutrition and wellness coach based in Los Angeles, CA. Calliope is on the show again not only to go more in-depth about her practice, but also to share her experiences living with one of the most nebulous of invisible illness diagnoses: IBS.

Key links mentioned in this episode:

The Vitality Health Center

The Vitality Health Center – FB

Authentically Calliope – Nutrition and Wellness

Environmental Working Group – EWG.org

Clean Fifteen

Dirty Dozen

Paleo

Whole30

Calliope’s Blog Post on Mindful Eating

Paleo Chreats (including Calliope’s Paleo Pumpkin Pie!)

Vipassana Meditation

Listen in as Calliope reveals…

  • that she felt more connected to her body at a young age because she grew up with digestive problems and gut pain
  • that diet is 75% of IBS management, but exercise and stress are also major factors – and food is the one potential trigger we can most easily control
  • that, like so many of us, her doctors told her she was fine at first when she knew she wasn’t
  • how the apple cider vinegar fad actually made her symptoms worse
  • that changing habits quickly is unsustainable, and fast elimination can sometimes cause more harm than good – moderation and “slow and steady” are key to success
  • that having a support system is an integral part of making lifestyle changes successful
  • that knowing what DOESN’T work is as important as knowing what does work
  • that her current diet isn’t strictly Paleo, but rather a combination of various eating protocols – a unique individual diet she’s designed around her own health
  • that supplements aren’t necessarily a Band-Aid – there is a place for them depending on individual needs, and they can be very beneficial
  • that taking prescription drugs never felt right to her, and she resisted them
  • another key to success: meal prep and having snacks on hand at all times
  • that good quality, healthy food can also be delicious food
  • her endorsement of “mindful eating”, and how promoting relaxation while eating can help remove and reduce stressors, and also assist in discovering food sensitivities
  • that food sensitivities can wreak more havoc on the body over a longer period of time, because they can have a cumulative effect
  • that she usually sees digestive problems in conjunction with depression, anxiety, and insomnia

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calliope tsoukalas

Lauren: Okay, thanks for joining us today, guys. I’ve brought back a familiar guest, Calliope Tsoukalas.  She’s a nutrition and wellness coach at the Vitality Health Center in Santa Monica. And she’s here to talk to us about something real[ly] specific today. Calliope knows all about IBS. Calliope, can you tell us about what IBS is, and how it’s affected you? Because it seems to me it’s kind of a general catch-all. Is it one of those ones that doctors still don’t really have a handle on? 

Calliope: That’s true, yeah. Thanks for having me back! So that’s kind of the frustrating thing … they don’t know a lot about Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Some people suffer from constipation; some people suffer more from diarrhea. It’s categorized as a syndrome, not a disease. There’s a gas bloating that has to do with poor digestion; sometimes it’s sluggish, sometimes it moves too fast through the system. So they’re still studying it. But there’s no real specific handle on the root cause of it. And that’s why, oftentimes when people are struggling with a lot of those bowel issues, it will get categorized that way. So it does feel very general. And it can be very frustrating for that reason. 

Lauren: And certainly when we talk to people who have all different kinds of illnesses, they’re going to have symptoms that are very similar to what you hear about IBS symptoms. And so in terms of root causes, it sounds like it really could be any number of things — depending on who you are, and what you’re experiencing. 

Calliope: Yeah, absolutely. And everyone has different sensitivities that trigger it.

So oftentimes with autoimmune diseases, and IBS specifically, there are these triggers that will cause an episode where it feels like nothing that you do really sets it back on track.

And you’re going through this phase of, ‘What should I eat? What shouldn’t I eat? How much sleep? How do I manage my stress?’ And it can start to feel like you’re doing so many things at once, that it does eventually get back on track — but who knows what was the one thing that really managed it?

Lauren: So did you end up in the health field because of your own experiences with IBS?

Calliope: Most likely. I was always an athlete, so from a very young age I was into athletics. I ran track, I swam, played sports. So that was something that always interested me, and always being really connected to my body. Which probably came from IBS, because I if look back at it now, I can remember having belly aches when I was like three, four years old … when I was having my milk every night, because that was the big thing, to have your warm milk every night. And dairy and I don’t get along, but who knew that back then! So I remember crying and getting belly rubs from my dad, because I was in so much pain. But they didn’t know — milk was supposed to be this good thing that helped you grow and gave you calcium. 

Lauren: And some people are fine with dairy, but some of us are not.

Calliope: Totally. And you know, my older brother was fine. So who knew what the situation was. But I do also feel like that connected me to my body more, because I was just so aware of everything that was going on with me, feeling all those sensations. So originally, it started more on the fitness side, and then it swung back to more of the nutrition.

Although exercise does help with IBS and other diseases like that, and it helps with digestion, I found that diet is really 75% of it.

Balanced with other things … exercise, the stress, the emotional aspect of it … they’re obviously all really major factors. But I think food is the one thing we can control a little bit more. So it’s always good to have a handle on what your food sensitivities are, so that you can eliminate or limit those things and really focus on higher quality products, too, which makes a big difference.

Lauren: And I’m sure, depending on where people live, there’s greater access to high quality, organic, for sure. All that kind of thing … depending on whether you’ve got a local Whole Foods or a farmers’ market.

Calliope:  Yeah, we’re really lucky here in LA to have all the farmers’ markets — every day of the week, multiple times a day. We are really blessed to have a really good selection of high-quality produce, and meats as well. It’s just about knowing what your options are. And I think Clean 15 and the Dirty Dozen lists are really good things. 

Lauren: Tell us about those.

Calliope: At EWG.org, they have lists. The Dirty Dozen is a list of 12 items, that generally speaking, are really high in pesticides and toxins that you want to stay away from. And you should pretty much always buy organic. And then the Clean 15 list is 15 items that are generally grown in a cleaner environment and don’t have the toxic load that you might find in other fruits and vegetables. So if you can’t buy all of your produce organic, or you can’t access it or afford it, those are safer to eat standard. 

Lauren: Oh, very cool. And so, just backtracking, we were talking about being a kid and your dad rubbing your belly. When and how did you first realize that you had an actual digestive problem?

Calliope: It mostly became prevalent in high school. I remember my stomach just blowing up. I would look pregnant and was so uncomfortable, like so much gas and bloating. And mine is with constipation — so none of it would really move out of my body; and I would feel stuck, I would feel heavy. And then I would feel sluggish – I wasn’t sleeping, as well. Of course, I’ve learned so much more about how all these things are connected — much later. But at the time, I started going to the doctor and they would run all these blood tests, and were, like, “No, everything’s fine. Everything’s coming back fine.” And then I would just get frustrated, and give up. 

Lauren: This is part of the narrative also, right? 

Calliope: Right.

It was like, ‘Okay, everyone says everything’s good. Nothing’s wrong with me.’ But I know something’s up. But then, maybe it’s just me.

And there are a lot of things that help a lot of people that can do the opposite for other people. So that’s why it is frustrating with these autoimmune diseases — there really doesn’t seem to be a lot of synchronicity.

Lauren: And there’s no direct protocol. 

Calliope: Exactly.

But that’s one of the things now that I love as a health coach, that everyone’s body is unique.

So we get to tap into our own bodies and find what we need. But that journey there can be obviously frustrating. I remember trying the apple cider vinegar, and doing that regularly, and that just made it so much worse! 

Lauren: You’re the first person I’ve spoken to who doesn’t say apple cider vinegar isn’t a really good thing!

Calliope: I know, everyone loves it! (laughs). But it doesn’t work for me; it makes it worse. And then it’s, like, ‘Oh, well, sometimes it gets worse before it gets better!’ So I just suffered through it for as long as I could before I was like, ‘No, not for me; it’s not worth it.’ And I find out later that I have a higher acidic stomach. So adding more of that wasn’t really helpful.

Lauren: It’s all trial and error, isn’t it?!

Calliope: And then, as I came up in the fitness world, I met more nutritionists and other people in the wellness area who would recommend different things  — enzymes to take, bitters to take. And I was like, ‘I’ll try anything!’ So I went through a lot of that, until I stumbled upon the Paleo diet. I was a CrossFit coach at the time, so that appealed to me. And it actually seemed to work really well for my body. 

Lauren: From what I understand from the trainers and health coaches I speak to, Paleo is kind of the go-to for weight loss, for general nutrition. It’s a very highly regarded way of eating and lifestyle, isn’t it? 

Calliope: Yeah, it is. And I think one of the biggest reasons is that it’s eliminating so many of those high anti-inflammatory foods right away. Whole30 is much more strict, which if you can start with that is beneficial. I started with Whole30, and then swayed way back the other way because it was so frustrating doing that the first time. But then I slowly took things out. Okay, now no more bread. Now, no more rice; now, no more corn. And that worked better. And I think when we do things slowly, like weight loss, when you do it at a slower pace, it lasts longer. 

Lauren: Well, because it’s easier to sustain a habit, isn’t it, when you take more time with it?

Calliope: Yeah, absolutely.

And people don’t realize that can be a stressor — when you take something out of your diet that your body’s used to for an energy source.

And we get really quick energy from those carbohydrates …

Lauren: Bread and pasta!

Calliope: And they’re also delicious! But even though they cause that crash, your body’s used to getting its energy from there very quickly.

So to recalibrate your body takes time, and that’s a stressor on the body. And it affects us mentally and emotionally as well. So, doing it step by step helps us adjust to it — not just physically, but on a mental and emotional level as well. 

Lauren: Yeah. And that’s where also working with a health coach … I was talking to you because I’m thinking about trying AIP … it’s one of those things where sometimes you just need someone to sit with you and look really specifically at either the numbers in the blood work or just the sensations that you’re experiencing. And also how that’s affecting your stamina and your irritability throughout the day. Because we’re very sensitive to minor changes in our bodies, aren’t we? And we don’t give ourselves credit for that because we don’t really work within a system that makes room for change. 

Calliope: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s really important.

And the support system, in anything that you do in your life, especially if it’s something new, I think is extremely important. And I would even say it’s an integral part of being successful.

But even if you don’t believe that, it can definitely help sustain you, moving towards your goal.

Lauren: And when you were playing around with these diets and going on to Paleo and Whole 30, were you working with a coach yourself — or were you just using your coach brain? 

Calliope: I was just using my coach brain. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I did it pretty much all by myself. Along the way, I’d pick people’s brains, and they gave me recommendations that I tried. And I am grateful for that.

Even though things didn’t work, knowing what doesn’t work is also part of the process.

It helps you narrow down what’s going on with your body, so that’s always helpful. But I did it myself. I’ve always been pretty disciplined — maybe too disciplined. So that wasn’t an issue for me, because once I got into those habits, the flow pretty much maintained itself. And then I gradually did incorporate other things. My diet is not strictly Paleo [now]; it’s a blend of multiple diets that I’ve tried that I’ve learned work for me.

And that’s the thing about any diet. It’s not actually a protocol that’s in a book. That’s why I think it’s important you always are checking in with yourself, your own body, what works for you, adding different foods, paying attention to how they make you feel, how you perform on those foods, how you’re sleeping on those foods — and then you’re creating your own unique individual diet. 

Lauren: And what about the use of supplements? Do you also use supplements to support that diet and to get the nutrition that you need? 

Calliope: I don’t generally use supplements, unless I’m going through a really high stress period where I know certain vitamins and minerals are depleted more, and I’m kind of feeling what’s going on there. But supplements can be really beneficial. And so I have taken them, but I generally don’t like doing it for a prolonged period of time. But then even with clients, if they obviously have a nutritional deficiency, we’re going to fill that gap with a supplement first. If it has to be ongoing, then that’s fine, but we’re going to try to close the gap with foods first. 

Lauren: Well, and with the idea that a supplement is a Band-Aid. It’s not necessarily the cure, is it?

Calliope: It’s not necessarily a Band-Aid. It can be in some cases if we use it that way. I think there is a place for them; I definitely believe in them, depending on what you have going on with your body. So always I think the best thing is to try to fill it in with your diet with high quality whole foods. And then, different people’s bodies absorb or don’t absorb things. So then we work with that. So supplements can be very beneficial, depending on the circumstance. 

Lauren: That makes sense. And did you discover on your path to healing your gut and working through your IBS symptoms, that you needed a personal advocate along the way? I know your dad used to rub your belly! But did you have anyone looking out for you, or feel that you needed to lean on a community when you were just, like, ‘I really need to poop, but I can’t do it?!’

Calliope: (laughs) I definitely complained to certain people about that! Certain very close people who maybe didn’t want that information!  But they had it!

Lauren: Tough sh*t, literally! (laughs)

Calliope: (laughs) I didn’t have an advocate or a mentor — and I would have loved to. I don’t think I really thought of it at the time. I also was embarrassed about it.  You’re around other people, you go out to dinner …

Lauren: You’re gassy, you’re bloated, you’re uncomfortable …

Calliope: Yeah, and it’s something that I dealt with for so long that I didn’t really talk about it from early on … because I didn’t really know what was going on with me … it was just kind of this embarrassing thing. And even though I wasn’t really embarrassed as I started growing older, it was just something I got used to not talking about. So I never really found that outlet at the time I was really struggling with it. But would have loved to … had I known a little bit better, had I known that so many people suffered from it. And that there were so many health coaches out there. I would have maybe sought that out. 

Lauren: So when were you actually diagnosed with the term, IBS? 

Calliope: That was back in high school after they had run a series of tests. They said, you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. 

Lauren: And it was basically that the tests came back normal …

Calliope: Everything was coming back normal, but I was like, ‘I get constipated way too often. And I feel gassy and bloated most of the time I eat anything.’ And so they prescribed me Zelnorm. 

Lauren: What is that? 

Calliope: It’s not available anymore. They took it off the market, right? I was really happy when that happened! So it was a prescription to help with the constipation and irritable bowel symptoms. And it did alleviate it. Although I think, that if I remember correctly, my prescribed dose was one tablet. They’re very small. It was way too strong for me. I would cut it in quarters, and take a quarter of this teeny, tiny pill. And it did relieve my symptoms. But it was also a crutch. I was relying on this thing to help me pass gases and go to the bathroom. And back then, I wasn’t really holistic, naturopathic. Those weren’t terms I was familiar with. But it just didn’t feel right to me. I never really stayed on any types of prescriptions. That’s the norm for me. When people would prescribe things for me for different things, I generally didn’t take them.

Lauren: So you were already a little wary?

Calliope: Yes, I think just naturally somehow I was a little put off by that. So I just remember I would stop taking it — and then I would have the symptoms again … but I would just try to use it as needed. And then, I don’t know what really happened … I don’t remember … I just stopped taking it. And then I found out years later that they’d totally taken it off the market.

Lauren: What about doing something like Metamucil, or taking fiber shakes? 

Calliope: Oh yeah, I did all those things. 

Lauren: So you’ve experimented?

Calliope: Yeah, like the fiber tablets and the stool softeners. And just drinking lemon water with cayenne. Juice fasts. When it gets really bad and I’m at my absolute max of, ‘Okay, I’m having an episode. Nothing I seem to be doing is working,’ I’ll fast. I’ll strictly do the water fast. 

Lauren: And that’s to get things to just move?

Calliope:  Yeah, it just gives my digestive system a break. So, intermittent fasting does work for me. I’m pregnant now …

Lauren: Yay! Now everyone knows!

Calliope Tsoukalas

Calliope: (laughs) Now everyone knows!  My diet and all that has obviously shifted for that purpose. So there’s no intermittent fasting now, but generally it’s really helpful for me.

Lauren: That’s interesting because I hear a lot of really good things about intermittent fasting. Keto and Paleo diets tend to gravitate in that direction as well, don’t they? 

Calliope: Yeah, they do. And there are a lot of studies that show a wide range of benefits — from weight loss to better cognitive thinking. So it can be really beneficial … but again, it’s on a per-person basis. 

Lauren: Right. Everyone’s different. And isn’t it connected to being hunter-gatherers and how we would literally 

Calliope: Yes, the premise comes from the fact that back in those days, we went days where we didn’t catch anything and there was no food. Or there were just nuts and berries, and you did without. And then, once you caught some food, you were eating again. But again, there are people who never intermittent-fast and they’re …

Lauren: They’re totally fine. And also because, on an evolutionary level, I suppose we’re not quite the same as we were at that point! Every time I hear a justification for Paleo … ‘That’s what they did in the olden days!’ But I’m not in the olden days!

Calliope: Right! I’m not a cavewoman!

Lauren: Yeah, I’m not and I’m really proud not to be! So how do you balance … because, from the sound of it, you’re still dealing with symptoms on a regular basis?

Calliope: Oh, yeah.

Lauren: So how do you balance the demands of work and life with this illness? Obviously, you have a boss who is in the health field, who would say, “Oh, you need to rest … go ahead and rest!” But how have you managed to be a functioning adult human?!

Calliope: Yeah, that’s a great question because it has taken time to develop kind of a strategy that works for me.

And with a lot of people who suffer from IBS, it’s best to have small meals more frequently throughout the day. Not to lie down after meals, not to drink water 30 minutes or before or after the meal. 

Lauren: What if you’re thirsty?

Calliope: You drink a lot between meals!

Lauren: Okay, that was a really naive question! (laughs) But I’m thirsty all the time!

Calliope: You absolutely can drink it, but in general, they’ve found that it does have an effect on your saliva production and digestive enzyme production. And that’s part of the reason that it’s recommended that before I can drink as much as I want — but after a meal. I definitely do wait at least 20 minutes beforehand. And the same thing for me lying down after a meal — can’t do it. Don’t know why. Have no idea!

Lauren: It’s funny, isn’t it? Because it’s such a slight adjustment on your stomach ultimately. Like, why would that affect things? But I suppose it also depends on your intestines. 

Calliope: Yeah. And if I have a sluggish system and it’s not moving …

So for me, a big thing is meal prepping, so that I have snacks on hand.

Because another thing is, once I’ve started my digestive system going, if I wait too long before I eat my next meal and then I eat, then I’ll have more issues and symptoms as well. 

Lauren: You’re being really ladylike about all this!

Calliope: (laughs) I’m like … wait, I’m gassy and bloated but it’s not going anywhere. I almost would rather … but of course, I’m sure both sides would say they’d rather be the other kind, right?! 

Lauren: The grass is always greener!

Calliope: Of course! So it’s really about eating on a schedule. Having snacks and food on hand, especially stuff that’s healthy, so that I’m not trying to source healthy food while I’m running around the city — because that makes it harder. And also, for anybody if you’re hungry, and you’re looking for food, you’re more likely to come up with an unhealthy option. 

Lauren: This is where mommy-ing is going to be a really easy transition for you. You’ll be, like, “I already have the snacks!”

Calliope: I’ve got everything! So just being prepared on a daily basis is the biggest thing. 

Lauren: Do you have a meal prep day every week? 

Calliope: I actually don’t, and I never have. And I talk to people about meal prepping … I usually either tell them once a week or twice a week, where they can prep everything and have it on hand. I do it daily. 

Lauren: And that’s what works for you.

Calliope: It works for me. I make a dinner at night, and I try to make enough so that there’s some leftovers. If anything is going to go for more than two days, I put it in the freezer. It generally doesn’t — I love leftovers!

Lauren: They taste better!

Calliope: They do, especially soups and stews. And then that morning, because I always have at least one salad a day, that’s when I’ll do all my veggie chopping for the salad — because what I want changes, and I do listen to the cravings of my body. Recently I went through a period where I just wanted beets, beets and arugula — and I wanted them a lot. So I let myself have that.

Lauren: They go well together.

Calliope: They do, they go very well together. So I like to listen to those things. And I know it’s just a week in advance, but I don’t know on Sunday what I want to eat on Thursday. And I really enjoy eating. So that’s one thing that if I really want something, I’m going to give it to myself. 

Lauren: So this whole process, going through all of these symptoms and using your meal prep food to control your symptoms in the only way that you really can … how has it changed your relationship to food? Because you say you love eating.  Have you always loved eating? Have you gone through periods where you’ve been, like, ‘I can’t eat this stuff and it’s my favorite!’?

Calliope: Well, my father was a chef, and my mother’s Italian. So we always ate really well! I’ve always loved food, maybe even just got spoiled about always eating really good food. So that’s kind of been one of the reasons why I make sure that I give myself good quality food and healthy food, which can also be really delicious food. And so I think it’s important for me that I combine all of those together. I think I’ve generally had a healthy relationship to food. I think now I’m more grateful for all the fresh options we have. And also grateful to my mom forcing me to eat my vegetables when I was younger, because I love them. One of the common misconceptions about Paleo is that it’s meat, meat, meat. It’s actually not, at its root; it was mostly vegetable-based, a lot of dark leafy greens, and not a huge percentage of protein. And that is harder on the digestive system, too. So that’s important to know. Especially when I’m having an episode. It’s more like eggs and fish, than meat at all. 

Lauren: So, lighter. 

Calliope: Absolutely.

I pay more attention to the food I eat. And that awareness, I think, makes me more grateful. And it’s also an opportunity to be more grounded because I’m really big into mindful eating.

Vitality Center actually has a recent blog post on that. So I think it’s actually helped me build not just a better relationship to food, but to the earth — and all that it really provides for us, and being grateful for the animals that give their life to us. And when you’re more focused on that, I think, for me anyway – it helps to ground me and balance me and bring me more peace so that I can enjoy my meal more — which helps with digestion when you’re more relaxed. So that’s another thing that I talk about to clients — about mindful eating, sitting at a table chewing really thoroughly, giving thanks for your food, little things like that. And we’re eating so often throughout the day. It’s something we do on a regular basis. So if you can incorporate mindful eating, it’s a really nice way to pause.

And it’s not just about the food; it’s also about connecting to your body and recognizing how the food nourishes you. And that’s also how you find out what your triggers are. When I’m in touch with my body while I’m eating, then I know, ‘Okay, this doesn’t sit right with me. Every time I eat this thing, I feel a little more bloated than usual, or I get really tired afterwards.’ And that’s really important to know those food sensitivities, and you can figure them out without [necessarily] getting tested for them. 

Lauren: Right. Although, are there specific tests that you would recommend to clients and anyone who’s, like, “I think I have a sensitivity to dairy, but I’m not sure”? Are there specific companies or tests that you would recommend? 

Calliope: Yeah, we do them at Vitality Health Center. We run different labs. We prefer to do them through blood instead of through the skin, just because we’ve found it’s more accurate, so that’s beneficial. And also, oftentimes I find that people get food allergy tests, but not food sensitivity tests. 

Lauren: Which are different.

Calliope: They are.

With allergy tests, you find out if you ate that food, you would get sick very quickly, you’d have symptoms. But sensitivities can actually wreak havoc on your body over a longer period of time without you even knowing it.

Because at first, it might just cause a little inflammation in the body. You might not even feel that at all the first few times. But it has a cumulative effect — which can cause discomfort and sometimes it is just mild bloating. And you don’t know … oh, I ate too much, or I ate too fast.

So the food sensitivity tests, I think, are actually more important. Because with food allergies, I feel we learn pretty quickly in life that we’re allergic to that food.

Lauren: Yeah, if you go into anaphylactic shock, it’s pretty hard to miss!

Calliope: So I think food sensitivities actually have a cumulative effect that we’re not aware of. So that’s really beneficial to get those sensitivity tests done. 

Lauren: Right. We talked a little bit about balancing work and life, trying to function with all of these symptoms going on. Have you ever been forced to justify that you’ve got something going on? Aside from doctors who run tests and say, “Everything looks great!”

Calliope: You know, it’s funny you say that because I feel like for so long I suffered with it, that I just suffered through it. School was so difficult for me when I look back on it, because you had breakfast before you went to school, and then you didn’t have anything until lunchtime. And then you didn’t have anything till you went home. So you literally just had those three meals, and I was a grazer. I still am a grazer. So I eat small portions because I get full very quickly. But then I also get hungry again very quickly. So I was hungry a lot, and even the hunger would make me gassy and bloated. And then once you eat, the gas and bloating is even worse. So I generally feel like, for most of my life, I just kind of suffered through it. 

Lauren: And you’re very lucky because you managed to escape ending up with an eating disorder to try to control all of these symptoms. Because I imagine that’s quite a common thing for anyone who has a gut issue.

Calliope: Yeah, I think part of that probably came from eating such good food and eating with my family was such a big part of the culture … you know, Greek and Italian! So it’s a lot of community and family happening around a table of food. So I think for me, maybe I was lucky that way. I definitely experimented a lot with diets, and like I said, the juice fasts. For me, not eating would just be too difficult. I did it. Like I said, I’ve done water fasts for a time to get the symptoms under control.

Lauren: But that was a short-term thing, not a lifestyle choice to just have water.

Calliope: Exactly. I get it, though, with people who struggle …

Lauren: Well, I imagine you have clients who have struggled with eating disorders, across the board. 

Calliope: Yeah, definitely. Because it does change your relationship to food; it changes your relationship with yourself, with your body. I’ll admit that when I was fasting, that’s when my stomach felt the best — other than the hunger pains. Because I wasn’t bloated, so in a way I felt lighter. So that is a frustrating part. I can see why people would do that just for the comfort, for the break from it. 

Lauren: The relief.

Calliope: Yeah, exactly. 

Lauren: You’re a health coach. What about further advocacy in terms of IBS and gut issues, digestive problems? I imagine your experiences informed a lot of what you do now. 

Calliope: For sure. I feel for me, the biggest pull has been …

I usually see digestive problems coupled with depression, anxiety, insomnia.

Lauren: And don’t those things start in your gut?!

Calliope: Exactly.

I used to think of things as like a tree, where we need to get to the root of the problem to dig it out. But the more I practice, I feel like it’s a circle. And really, if any one of those things is out of balance, it can trigger a whole series of events.

So it’s not really one thing. If you have IBS, and you’re eating everything “right”, if you go a few nights where you have a lot of stress so you don’t sleep well, that can trigger a whole episode.  So that part needs to be … I don’t want to say managed … but we need to be made aware of that, and how those other factors are affecting the whole cycle.

Lauren: And that’s what you’re doing with your clients, helping them through that.

Calliope: Yes, so if they have really bad anxiety, we need to address that, too. We don’t just want to address your food, because your anxiety is going to affect your digestion — regardless of what you eat.

Lauren: Now, do you find that specific stressors tend to be more prevalent in women than in men? Or specific eating issues or gut issues … is there a gender divide?

Calliope: There is, and in autoimmune diseases in general, primarily women are the ones who suffer. And women tend to be more aware of their emotions. I mean, some of these are generalizations now! I’ll admit I’m a woman, and I know that I am more emotional and sensitive and aware of my feelings — and I can feel when that affects my digestion. And I know when that’s affecting my sleep. And I know when my stress level is affecting my digestion; I can feel how they’re all related.

Lauren:  Do you think it’s easier to talk about it because you’re female, too, because we seek a group to sort of unload on … whereas, maybe it’s not quite the same for men?

Calliope: Maybe. I feel like I’ve actually struggled with some of that myself, maybe because of the way I was raised.

Lauren: Or through dealing with invisible symptoms, and stigma?

Calliope: Right. When you’re a teenager and you have IBS and you’re dating, it’s not like, “Oh, by the way … “ I’ll tell a funny story, with my very first boyfriend. I remember he’d always want me to stay longer, and I was, like, “No, no, no, I have to go.” And it was because I would get to my car and finally release all the gas that I was holding in. “No, I gotta go, I’ve been holding it enough, I’m at my max! Peace out.”

Lauren: Gotta see you later! Did he know?!

Calliope: No, I don’t think he ever knew! (laughs). He does now!

Lauren: So we’re talking about these invisible symptoms and the stigma attached to them. How important is it that we talk about invisible illness? Is talking part of fixing it? Culturally, at the very least?

Calliope: I’m a little hesitant to say ‘fix’ because I feel like that can create a mental block towards a solution. It’s really just how we respond to what’s happening. I think talking about it is extremely important. And it can be really significant in creating a support system. Because like I said …

I didn’t even know I could reach out to an advocate or have someone support me through the process. And having that is can be a huge help — and just a relief. And I think knowing that you’re not alone is always really helpful with anything that you’re going through.

And because so little is known about this stuff, it can be so frustrating — and I think venting that is helpful.

Lauren: We’ve talked about how you’re on pretty much a Paleo diet with some alterations here and there. Do you cheat?

Calliope: Absolutely.

Lauren: And do you have some favorite cheats? Give me your top three favorite indulgences!

Calliope: Right. Okay. I’ll give you what’s now because I know we talked about it a little bit last time. Let’s see … the latest cheat I had was a Sidecar, a gourmet donut.

Lauren: Are they on Abbot Kinney?

Calliope: They’re on Wilshire.  In downtown Santa Monica. A little plug for Sidecar … you’re welcome!

Lauren: Was it worth it?

Calliope: (pauses)

Lauren: This is interesting. Calliope is pausing…

Calliope: No, it wasn’t worth it — and I usually feel that way after a cheat. So this is actually … I was gonna mention this before … this is actually how Paleo Chreats was born, the Paleo dessert company that I have, that’s sort of in a jumpstart-y place! For lack of a better term!

Lauren: Spell it.

Calliope: It’s Paleo Chreats, so it’s sort of like a “cheat” and a “treat”. I’m so creative! (both laugh) I get a kick out of it. So I’m really glad you enjoy it. That’s how that came about. Because I figured, I can have delicious food and I don’t have to suffer for it. And it can be healthy. Yes, it’s sweetened with dates or maple syrup sometimes, but it’s mostly sweetened with fruit. And yes, there are nuts that are cooked, so you want to limit them still. But I don’t feel heavy or bloated. And even people who have eaten them who don’t follow a specific diet … love them because they’re good, and they say that they don’t feel as heavy, they don’t feel as “gross”. So that’s what I mean when I say people have sensitivities … to these saturated fats, bad cooking oils, the starches and simple carbs that we eat. People have reactions to those, whether they have IBS or an autoimmune disease. It’s just to a varying degree. So, I would prefer to have a Paleo pumpkin pie. Because it doesn’t make me feel like garbage afterwards and I’m actually getting some nutrition from it.

Lauren: And in terms of those CHREATS treats, do you have some favorites, some favorite recipes you make? 

Calliope: My pumpkin pie is absolutely my favorite. It has a pecan crust, which I think pairs much better with pumpkin. And I love pumpkin. And then I have a gingerbread muffin that I really love. 

Lauren: So it sounds like they’re sort of warm fall treats.

Calliope: Those are the ones I’m thinking of now. I have a fruit tart that I love doing that is more spring/summer, because you can always alter the fruits to make it seasonal. I have a plum upside down cake. And then of course, the classic chocolate chip cookie. Gotta have those. 

Lauren: Do you have any other secret indulgences, comfort activities? If you’re having a flare-up, what do you do to make yourself feel better?

Calliope: I will lessen my physical activity intensity. So I’ll go for leisurely walks at the beach, or through a garden. Because usually I’ll push myself a little more in the workout arena. Because I do HIIT workouts. 

Lauren: And that’s High Intensity Interval Training?

Calliope: Correct. I think you get more bang for your buck, which is also helpful. But I’ll make time to just go for a really nice walk instead of pushing it. That’s one of the biggest things; I just love being surrounded by trees or nature, so it’s also like very comforting. Another … I will chew gum more when I’m having a flare-up. I never chew gum, but for some reason …

Lauren: What’s that about? Does that help you feel like you’re digesting better?

Calliope: I don’t know. I wonder if it’s because chewing promotes digestion; I don’t know if it has something to do with that? And resting more is really important because I will get flare-ups when I’m not sleeping as much. That’s definitely a trigger for me if I’ve gone a few nights in a row where I haven’t gotten a full night’s rest. I’ll start feeling that in my digestion right away. Even without eating, I’ll be more bloated if I’m not well rested. 

Lauren: And what would your Top Three Tips be for someone who suspects they might have a digestive issue like IBS?

Calliope: Always go to your doctor first. Get all the proper tests done. Just to rule out anything else really serious.

Lauren: And doctors are pretty good, at least with IBS at this point, right?

Calliope: Yeah, most people know by now. And if something more serious is going on, you can get referred to a gastro[enterologist]. So, get the medical attention you need. I obviously always promote holistic/homeopathic options, but you have to rule out the serious stuff. Other than that, start looking into food sensitivities; eating more mindfully so that you can identify your own, whether you’re getting lab tested or not. But I think that’s really important, to identify what foods work for you and don’t work for you — because, as I said, it’s cumulative. And the other thing would be personal care.

Lauren: What does that look like to you?

Calliope: Getting plenty of rest. Managing your relationships … which ones make you feel good, which ones don’t make you feel good.

Lauren: And when you really look at it that way … this makes me feel good, this makes me feel bad … is sometimes a simpler way to figure it out than it [may] seem. 

Calliope: Absolutely. And we know that. If we really just sit and think about that person, we know instantly that’s not really good for me.

Lauren: Like, that’s stressing me out.

Calliope: Right.

And that’s part of managing our stress … so realistically, does your schedule work for you? Does your social life work for you? Does your work life work for you? And if you know the answer is ‘no’, it’s, like, ‘Okay, what’s the first step I can take?’  Because it’s going to be baby steps. And then making time to pamper yourself, whatever that is.

It doesn’t have to be an expensive luxury spa day; it could be, ‘I’m gonna have a bubble bath. I’m going to paint my nails. I’m going to set aside 30 minutes to read my favorite book. I’m going to journal.’ Whatever it is that makes you feel: aaaaah.

Lauren: And you’re a big proponent of meditation, aren’t you?

Calliope: I am. Meditation is very grounding, and it feels like a hug for me. Focusing on my breath, I just feel like it brings me home. 

Lauren: Do you have a favorite form of meditation?

Calliope: Vipassanā is my favorite. It’s a mindfulness technique that was what the Buddha practiced and taught. The meaning of the word that ‘vipassana’ is seeing things as they really are. And it’s sitting in silence with your eyes closed. There’s a whole technique to it; they have a website —  dhamma.org — that people can check out for information and they do courses. So I really love it.

Lauren: If anyone wants to find you and your work, what’s the best way to find you?

Calliope:  They can pop on over to Vitality Health Center in Santa Monica if they are in the area — or if they want to fly in! They can visit us at TheVitalityHealthCenter.com. They can also find us on Facebook; they can also find me on Facebook under “Authentically Calliope”. They can get Paleo treats recipes on Facebook as well … The Paleo Chreats Facebook page. 

Lauren: That’s awesome. And do you ship all over the country? 

Calliope: We don’t. It’s just local right now. But you never know. 

Lauren: And if you know someone locally, you can have it sent to them and they can tell you how it is!

Calliope: Sure! They can fly it to you … or, if you have a friend here who’s coming home for the holidays … get creative! Think of it. And there’s a lot of recipes on there, so if you like to bake …

Lauren: So you’re not just hoarding all these recipes for yourself!

Calliope: No! Well, that’s how it started. I just started a recipe page because I was baking and experimenting in the kitchen. And I had a couple of my friends post on the page: “Um, I don’t want to bake anything. Why don’t you bring us some?!”  And I was, like, “Okay, I can bring you some!” And then I was thinking, ‘Wait a second, the holidays are coming. You can pay me to make your pie!’

Lauren: And we all need those multiple streams of income! Well Calliope, thank you so much for being on the show again with us today. 

Calliope: Of course, my pleasure!

Lauren: And I’m sure if this is any indication, we will be having you on again very soon. 

Calliope: Oh, I would love that. It’s always a pleasure to see you. 

Lauren: Thank you. Have a good one, guys!

Calliope Tsoukalas Lauren Freedman

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