Staying hydrated is also a must for optimal health. Our cells need hydration to function optimally. They not only shrivel up when dehydrated (imagine how well a shriveled cell would work compared to a well hydrated one) but they’re also lacking in important nutrients that we get from water. These nutrients help our body carry out their functions optimally. When those nutrients are lacking, you can bet that your body will be working sub par.
Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?
As a part of our series about “What We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laurie Villarreal.
Laurie Villarreal is a certified health coach, functional nutrition practitioner, fitness expert and business mentor specialized in optimizing health and hormones to help women feel & show up their best so they can thrive in life & work with much more ease and a lot less struggle. For more than a decade, Laurie has guided the personal growth and transformation of hundreds of high-achieving, driven clients — from aspiring everyday runners & multi-sport endurance athletes to corporate VPs & entrepreneurs. Her focus lies in building supportive communities while teaching much needed tools and skills to help us better balance our bodies, hormones, work, and lives so we can show up & contribute our best — now and for years to come.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I’d say that my parents, especially my dad, inspired me to choose a career path in health and wellness, specifically lifestyle medicine. Growing up I was very aware and concerned about my parents health.
My mom was a recovering alcoholic with addictive tendencies. It showed up with food, sports and online games. She frequently seemed depressed and stressed, I’d say most of the time, and she’d often choose her addictive outlets over real connection with our family.
Both her and my father had type 2 diabetes from at least my early teens. As a young adult I witnessed my dad go into diabetic shock. I was the only one home at the time and it was incredibly scary to see him like that. In addition, he’d had a heart attack when I was young and with the complications of heart disease and diabetes he was on several different meds.
Health was important to me as a kid and I wanted those I loved and those around me to feel good, be happy, and have the tools and support to do so — beyond needing to depend on a pill for every ill. That same sentiment is what eventually is what sparked my career.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve had so much encouragement throughout my life to be who I wanted to be. My parents and my family have been such great supporters. I’ve had great teachers, coaches and mentors.
The person who stands out most in recent years is my husband, Michael. He’s been incredible.
There was a difficult period in my life just after we’d met. My father was diagnosed with a terminal illness and at the time I was flying back and forth from Europe to the south of Texas. With the travel, the emotions, as well as trying to run a business from afar, it got rough. He was there by my side through it all — supporting me, showing up, cheering me on when I needed, and at other times letting me cry on his shoulder.
About a year later I crashed and became quite ill. I made the tough decision to shut down my business and take time off to prioritize my health and he was right there by my side, encouraging me to put myself first. When I decided to make a shift and start something new, he took on more work around the house so I could focus on my studies.
Just recently he’s taken on a role in my business and is now supporting me full time and he continues to support me and my sometimes insatiable appetite for learning.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
The first that comes to mind was the time that I signed up for a marathon in Davos, Switzerland. I was coaching long-distance runners at the time and had taken on a personal challenge to run 12 marathons in one year, which was sponsored by a big name running watch company.
I wanted each of those marathons to be unique, allow for some travel to beautiful places, and be spaced out by 4 or 5 weeks — so one each month. When doing my planning for that year, I found the Swiss Alpine Marathon in Davos, checked out the course, and it seemed like a perfect fit for my July marathon — plus I love being in the mountains. So I signed up.
A few months into the challenge I received the race packet complete with the event’s elevation profile that I somehow completely missed while doing my research and planning. You’d think I’d have expected that given the event’s name. I had thought we’d be running in the valley around the mountains. Instead we were running from the city center up to an elevation of around 2500 meters (8,202 feet) and then back down, along rocky single track paths complete with snow and ice — none of which I had any experience with in running.
The event included a 1400 meter (4,593 feet) climb for a few extra miles than the usual marathon distance of 26.2 (because apparently trail events, as opposed to road events, could also extend the course length as needed).
Not wanting to risk missing out on a marathon that month but also knowing the risk of not making it to the finish if I was not well prepared, I decided to go for it and make it work. This required stepping up my training in a way that supported running up a mountain.
Come July I felt ready and I did it! To date, it’s become my favorite and most successful event. Not only that, I fell in love with running up and down mountains.
I walked away learning that sometimes by just embracing the mistake and moving forward we’ll actually find ourselves exceeding every expectation of our abilities.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
There are so many and it’s hard to choose just one. Feel the Fear And Do It Anyway, by Susan Jeffers was one I read when I was quite young and remember things really shifting for me in my life at that point. It’s been a while since I’ve read it but I have to give it credit for the significant shifts it brought to my life and courage — moving abroad, starting a business in a foreign country, going from non-runner to endurance athlete, living life by my own terms, and more.
That practice was a big part of what got me there and where I am today.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
One of my favorites and one that I’ve been teaching for years is, “When you listen to your body when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream,” source unknown.
I love this one because it’s such a great reminder to listen to our bodies and trust our inner guide. Too often we develop habits of suppressing that which we don’t want or like only to find bigger problems bubbling up to the surface later on. This quote is a great reminder to listen to those whispers. They’re important and there for a reason.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
At the moment I’m putting together a much-needed community experience for high-achieving women in business where we focus on supporting the most important asset in our business — ourselves & our well-being. Together we’ll support each other in putting ourselves first in a much bigger way, so that we can show up our best and play bigger in the world without burning out.
As women business owners we’re often swayed to put our business growth, achievement and the needs of others before our own well-being. There are so many talented, amazing women out there working hard, hustling, and often burning the candle at both ends. They’re making big things happen but often at the expense of their health and wellbeing.
I wholeheartedly believe this type of community & focus is the missing piece for so many women in business who want to take it to the next level. When we thrive, our work and businesses thrive.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
My top three would be: regular meditation or mindfulness, blood-sugar balancing nutrition and movement.
Mindfulness or meditation can come in so many forms. A technique that I practice was inspired by the Ziva Technique, by Emily Fletcher. Her technique combines meditation, mindfulness and visualization practice. I love the combination of all three. The essential piece is just to find a practice that allows your mind to take a break from busyness of passing thoughts. This could be focusing on breath work, listening to music, going for a walk in nature — whatever works for you.
Blood sugar dysregulation — though rarely discussed in the mainstream health world — can wreak havoc on mental health. Blood sugar highs and lows are associated with anxiety, depression, irritability, sugar or caffeine cravings, energy issues, inflammation, brain fog, and more. It’s not just an issue for diabetics, it impacts all of us.
Keeping stable blood sugar levels can be achieved with regular meals, choosing foods that work well with your body, and opting for foods that help keep your blood sugar in check. That’ll be different for everyone and often starts with more awareness around how your body responds to the foods you choose.
Lastly is daily movement. There’s so much I could say here but I’ll start with how movement supports blood sugar regulation and that right there is enough to have an impact on your mental health. In addition, it helps support a healthy digestive tract and more and more studies show a significant link between the brain, mental health and the gut. Daily movement could be a walk, cycle, run, yoga or Pilates practice, to name a few. I love a blend of them all and the body especially loves variety.
Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.
I love both meditation and yoga — often they go hand in hand. I practice various types of yoga but as of late my preference has been in Yin yoga, a practice that in many ways teaches the art of slowing down, turning in, and valuing the dark as much as the light, the cold as much as the warmth, and the stillness as much as movement, among other things. We need both sides in our lives to be whole.
Like many yoga practices, it also teaches us to find comfort in our discomfort and ease in the challenge. More than just a movement practice, there’s so much to learn about yourself through the practice of yoga, especially a practice such as Yin yoga, and it can be especially valuable to look for the lessons.
Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
Sure. My top three would be: prioritizing sleep, staying adequately hydrated, and building in daily movement. Movement is essential so I’m mentioning it again here.
We need all three to thrive and for optimal health. There’s no way around that.
It’s during our sleep that we repair, renew, and restore — both our mind and our body. There’s so much going on in our sleep such as cell restoration and tissue repair, memory retention, resetting of the nervous system and our stress response, fighting off pathogens, fat burning, and more. When we don’t get adequate, quality sleep we feel it and we even age quicker.
Staying hydrated is also a must for optimal health. Our cells need hydration to function optimally. They not only shrivel up when dehydrated (imagine how well a shrivelled cell would work compared to a well hydrated one) but they’re also lacking in important nutrients that we get from water. These nutrients help our body carry out their functions optimally. When those nutrients are lacking, you can bet that your body will be working sub par.
Lastly is daily movement. When it comes to daily movement there are so many health-supporting benefits.
One of my favorites is how movement & exercise support our body’s transport systems — meaning how the good stuff (i.e. nutrients) gets around our body and how the bad stuff (i.e. pathogens) gets out. Sweat helps this too.
We often hear how exercise benefits the cardiovascular system. However, we have another important system called the lymphatic system that’s part of our immune system and it depends on our body’s movement to circulate. This system is equally important and crucial in keeping us at our best.
Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
A few key things that can prevent us from truly adopting better habits when it comes to diet and nutrition are mindset, environment, inadequate support strategies, and our sticky relationships with certain habits or foods.
I believe it often starts with our mindset. Most of the time, we don’t like to be told what to do or what we can or cannot have (i.e. that delicious, sugary donut).
When we chose it for ourselves, habits can be more likely to stick. On top of that, having a strong reason why we’ve made that choice can help. Are we doing it for ourselves and do we truly believe that it’ll help us realize a bigger vision for ourselves (ie. still going on those long hikes when we’re 75, feeling strong and pain-free when we’re 80)?
Gretchen Rubin has a book called The Four Tendencies, about the different tendencies we have when it comes to adopting new habits. It’s a great read and there are lots of strategies for working with your own natural tendency.
The kind of environment we’re in matters as well and our support strategies for keeping those new habits in place. It’s not about willpower, it’s about smart strategies that help us adopt these new habits and stick with it. Giving up sugar will be pretty hard if everyone around you is drooling over their midday sweet treats while you try to abstain.
Lastly, getting to the root of some of our sticky relationships with food or drinks can help. Sometimes it’s physiological. Candida, blood sugar dysregulation, or other issues can lead to cravings that are tough to turn down without first correcting these issues. It can often be emotional too and getting to the root of our emotional relationship with food can help shift our habits for the better. A great book for better understanding these sticky relationships is When Food is Comfort, by Julie M. Simon.
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
My three would be: writing morning pages, connecting with your support team, and making regular time for things that spark joy & laughter.
Morning pages are a tool I learned from Julia Cameron in her book, The Artist’s Way. It’s a simple practice of spending a few minutes each morning to write three pages of whatever comes to your head — anything. It’s a practice of clearing the noise and acknowledging anything that pops up and then releasing it, such as our emotions. I’d recommend trying it for a few days. With practice you’ll get better and it will likely work even better for you.
Making time for activities and surroundings that spark joy and laughter is another key habit for emotional wellbeing. Experiencing joy and laughter are restorative and help us turn down the body’s natural stress response — balancing our energy and mood while improving our mindset. This could look like taking up a dance or painting class, planning a weekly movie night, a weekly night out with friends, or even trying something like laughing yoga.
Lastly, and one of my favorites: connecting with your support team. We can find support in a variety of ways and having that built into our week and days is key for optimal emotional wellbeing. Oftentimes we need support in a variety of ways, and finding community for not just one but various parts of our lives is essential. Running groups, masterminds, social clubs, mom-groups, Meetups, professional communities, or communities around lifestyle or health topics such as nutrition or yoga, are just a few examples of different ways to connect and find community.
Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.
I believe it’s scientifically proven that smiling can positively influence our wellbeing by turning up our positive emotions. It reminds me of the saying: move a muscle, change a feeling. Often it’s as simple as that.
Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.
I’d start with getting in touch with what’s important to you by setting aside regular time for introspection — asking yourself what’s truly most important to you in this moment and leading from the heart, even when it feels scary or hard. Journaling, a walk or even a guided meditation can be methods of setting aside moments for yourself to check in.
Too often we’re led by others’ expectations of us, or by chasing dreams that are not our own. Getting in touch with what we truly value in our lives can better guide us toward choices that fill us up and better support our health all around.
Second would be remembering to prioritize your own needs. Selflessness has often been celebrated but by continuing to put others first we often lose touch with our own needs & purpose and that which brings us true joy and fulfillment. Showing up for yourself opens doors for developing a deeper relationship with yourself and your spirit, while developing trust in yourself to be your own guide.
Lastly would be a gratitude practice. This can come in all shapes and sizes. Ultimately it’s about recognizing what you have, the gifts in your life and being thankful for what you’ve received. I personally love writing letters to the universe where I regularly thank it for the gifts in my life, providing rich details, and in doing so, allowing myself to deeply feel the emotions that come with this exercise.
Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?
There are so many proven benefits of being in nature. Spiritually, I find being in nature a way to stay connected and grounded. Nature is not only beautiful, it has so many powerful lessons to share as well when we have that awareness and practice of staying open to its teachings.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d love to inspire a movement of lifting each other up, not just here or there, but as a regular practice. There’s lots of work to be done in this area and I believe it starts with recognizing those around us who might need help and making it a point to lift them up — not just because you love what they’re doing, but because you’d love to see others succeed.
My idea is to inspire a concept called Mentor Morning, where chapters exist globally — big or small, to provide regular and accessible gatherings for community and mentorship for other (aspiring) women in business.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them :-)
It’s hard to choose just one here but I’d have to go with Brené Brown. She’s wicked smart, funny, inspiring, an amazing storyteller, and she’s from Texas, like me. I love her work, follow her podcast and have read all of her books. I feel like we could chat for hours, about anything and everything. I just hope I wouldn’t completely freeze up in her presence.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Come follow me over on my new Instagram account @laurievillarrealwellness, connect with me on Facebook or LinkedIn, or visit my website at www.laurievillarreal.com. You can also now connect with me on Clubhouse at @laurievill.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.
Thank you for this opportunity. This has been fun.