Sometimes it’s the smallest changes that can make a big impact. This rings especially true when it comes to one’s health. In TZR’s series Step-By-Step, tastemakers speak to the minor moves that can lead to mighty changes.
While many of us will make small tweaks and revisions to our daily diets and routines in the name of health as a means to simply improve upon things like sleep, energy, and mood, it’s rare that these changes come about as a result of dire or critical medical circumstances. In fact, for most, healthier living is an option. Yola Robert, however, does not have the luxury of this choice. You see, in spring 2022, just a month before her wedding, the venture capital strategist-turned-holistic nutritionist was hit with a sudden infection that left her otherwise incapacitated.
“It was extremely jarring because prior to this I was completely healthy,” explains Robert to TZR. “I didn't have any underlying diseases, conditions. I was just a healthy 28-year-old woman.” What she thought would be a two- to three-week ordeal became a worsening year-long attack on her immune system.
“So, everything from psoriasis and eczema all over my body — to the point where my face had small little boils — to hair loss, to extreme joint pain and fatigue, to butterfly rashes,” she recalls. “It affected my gastrointestinal system and my liver health, so I was dealing with a lot of digestive issues.” Her previous eating habits (which were generally healthy but not restrictive) seemed to trigger these symptoms and even drinking water would cause extreme bloat and discomfort.
In and out of doctor’s appointments, the wellness guru was given very little insight into a clear solution to her health issues, which she says were impacting her entire life. “It came to a point where I couldn’t get out of bed,” Robert says. “My career, my friendships, my hobbies, [...] my relationship with my family, even my relationship with my husband got affected [not to mention] the relationship with myself — I became someone I didn't recognize.”
As she was undergoing treatment and getting clear diagnoses from specialists, she realized she needed to better understand how to manage her day to day symptoms that could support her healing process.
This essentially led Robert on a path that would inevitably lead to a major career shift. She enrolled in school for holistic nutrition and integrative health. Some three to four months into her education program, Robert was “properly diagnosed” with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto's disease, psoriasis and eczema, Epstein-Barr virus, IBS, SIBO, and “leaky gut” (which is essentially a weakening of the intestinal wall, allowing toxins and bacteria into the bloodstream).
With this knowledge under her belt, she realized that her first client would be herself. Robert waged a crusade of healing that started with her nutrition and eating habits. “Nutrition was number one, understanding what my body was able to digest and didn't have a reaction to,” she says, explaining that she underwent multiple food allergy tests to better understand what was causing flare-ups in her body as well as what was perpetuating her “leaky gut.” She discovered she was allergic to seemingly benign — and healthy! — foods like green beans and pecans.
“So, [I was] understanding what foods my body was reacting to versus being able to digest and then going on a really anti-inflammatory, dairy free, gluten-free diet,” she explains, noting she tried the carnivore diet for a period of time. “[...] We removed a lot of what was causing the inflammation in my body to get my body to settle down a little bit and to heal the gut lining and then balance my microbiome.”
While this season of personal trial and error was certainly extreme, and temporary, it initiated some transformation for Robert, and caused her to see her nutrition habits in a new light. While she reintroduced foods like goat cheese and certain fruits and vegetables back into her diet, she keeps her eating habits pretty clean, focusing on whole foods and cutting the refined sugar. She’s also completely ditched alcohol, as it’s a common culprit of inflammation. But, don’t worry, she’s not depriving herself. In fact, in embracing this new approach, Robert has been taking to social media to share her favorite healthy recipes that do your body good without sacrificing flavor (her pumpkin collagen brownies and strawberry sumac margarita mocktail are musts).
The experience also taught her to how to better listen to her body and be more aware of its responses. “It takes a while to become intuitive with your body to know exactly where that response is coming from,” she says. “But because I really reduced quite a bit with the carnivore diet, I was able to really understand how my body should feel in a normal day of digestion and eating.”
In addition to what she consumes, Robert is also learning that when she consumes things can have a profound impact on her body and mind. For instance, she explains that one of the biggest mistakes one can make first thing in the morning is drink coffee. “When you wake up, your cortisol is still kind of low,” she says. “You drink coffee first thing and it spikes the cortisol all the way up, which then causes your whole metabolism to have a downfall effect. Your hunger hormones aren't able to work that well, so you don't know when you're actually hungry. You don't eat something until 12 p.m. or 1, and by that time you're busy working so you're eating the bare minimum, maybe like a quick salad or a quick sandwich. It's not a balanced plate, so by 2 p.m. or 3 you get a crash because the cortisol is coming back down, way lower than it should be.” To set yourself up for success and optimum energy, Robert suggests starting the day with a big glass of water (about 16 to 32 ounces) and a protein-packed breakfast before caffeine hits your lips.
Along with her nutrition habits, sleep (at least eight hours a night), acupuncture, and supplements like immunoglobulins — which helps strengthen the immune system and gut — physical therapy, Pilates sessions, and targeted medications for her lupus and RA are all a continuous part of her healing journey and, consequently, her new career. In her new role as an integrative health coach, Robert has been able to use her learnings from her own experience and use it to help clients (which include model Molly Simms) navigate their own.
And while things like nutrition and sleep are key parts of Roberts’ guidance and curriculum, she says the mental component is something she also stresses with new clients, as this is where transformation truly starts. “If you don't create a mindset that supports your actions, it's going to be hard to stick to things,” she says. “So you need to create an environment internally that is open and ready to make those changes, even if it's the smallest change.”
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