An Interview with Laura Charelle
Laura Charelle is a Leadership & Wellness Strategist based out of Walnut Creek, California.
You’re from Massachusetts. How did you make your way to California?
I was in New York City for 3 years after college, and New York was always just a detour before California. I always knew I wanted to be here. I had an interview in L.A. and didn't feel like I was going to fit in, then looked in San Diego but the job market was poor. Since I was moving without a job, I found the Bay Area had a lot of job opportunities. So I left my job in New York, packed up my car and left. That was 4 years ago.
Is that a pattern in your life - not knowing how things are going to work out and doing it anyways?
It’s pretty normal. I always follow what my gut is telling me even if I can’t fully explain it. Sometimes it takes me a few years, but I always make the jump. In this case, I was jumping 3000 miles and that’s really hard when you have no network. I started with nothing, so I was constantly asking for help, setting up informational interviews, and had to check my ego at the door. Every ounce of your being tells you exactly what you need and want, you just have to listen to it.
How did you start cultivating this intuition? Was it something you learned from your family or was it inherent in you?
I’m so different from my family. My parents believe that you find a job, and that job becomes your safety net; you spend your whole life doing the thing that gives you a good paycheque and health insurance. My mentality has been completely different. As Millennials, we were told we could be and do anything, so I’m actually going to believe that. There were mixed messages, but I decided to believe that I can do anything I put my mind to. I would say my intuition really came in after my parents' divorce. I was 15 and ended up living with my uncle, my sister went with my grandmother and my brother went with my dad. It was a moment of upheaval and trauma. I didn’t know how to process it. I remember sitting in my room every night and crying. But I remember having these reassuring moments, almost like a voice telling me that I was experiencing this pain in order to, someday, be able to help others. When you go through tough times, that’s when you find out what you’re made of. And it was worth it to me if I could somehow help someone else.
Let’s dig into your family for a bit. What was the reason for all the children being separated?
It was a really ugly custody battle between my parents. My mother struggled with depression and anxiety, and there was a concern that she was not fit to care for us, which I always disagreed with. My dad owns a hardware store and wasn’t able to be home very much, so we were with my mom 24/7. My mom was always there. There was always food on the table, she made sure we were dressed nicely for school, that our homework was done, she drove us to all our extracurricular activities, friends came over to our house...I just didn’t see her as being unfit. If she was, then why were we always left in her care? We eventually knew my mom might not get custody, so the 3 of us, my brother, sister and I, made a plan to leave in order to stay together. There was a pivotal weekend when we were going to have to decide what to do, but because of our ages - my sister was 18, I was 15 and my brother was 13 - only my sister could choose to live with my mom. I had to decide whether or not to stay with my dad, and I felt sick to my stomach even thinking about it. So I went to live with my uncle, and my brother, sadly, stayed with my dad. The hardest part was not being able to be there for my brother. It left me pretty heartbroken.
So you had to make a very adult decision, and then go into self-preservation mode in order to keep moving forward?
Yes. My dad had pulled all financial support when my parents separated the year before, and my mom had been a stay-at-home mom with 3 kids so I couldn’t even ask her for school clothes. I got a job when I was 14 and supported myself from there. Today, I’ve gotten to a place where I will not forget what happened, but I certainly have it in my heart to forgive my dad for what happened. It just took about 10 years!
So, on surrendering and forgiveness, what did that turning point look like?
It wasn’t until my drive out to California that I was ready to let it go. I had spent 25 years on the East coast living a life full of pain and hurt, and now I was leaving all that behind. Moving West was like moving towards a life of happiness. I was making the decision to create the life I always wanted. So I called my dad to on the last leg of that drive. We had a real, honest conversation, and agreed to disagree about what had happened in order to move forward. Now I have the dad back that I had as a kid. He’s actually been one of the most supportive people as I’ve built my business.
You are a Leadership and Wellness Strategist. Let’s talk about your business.
I went to a business school in Rhode Island and studied Marketing and Communications. Afterwards, I moved to Brooklyn and worked in Manhattan. The energy of the city was great, but I had no work-life balance, and I knew there was more out there for me. I started my career in philanthropy, working on large fundraising events. I loved creating memories for people, but I quickly realized that if I continued down the path of event planning I would spend my life watching other people's celebrations. I knew I wanted to own a business, but because of my dad’s experience, I knew I didn’t want to have a storefront. Growing up I always wanted to be a teacher, which is what led me to coaching. I started doing some digging after a friend sent me a link to the website of a health coach, and that’s when I found my coach, Jennifer Jayde.
That’s how we met! We were both part of Jennifer Jayde’s group coaching program that helped us launch our businesses. How did you decide to become a health coach?
I began understanding the transformation I had in my own health and started recognizing that I could help other women do the same. Books started falling in my lap. I became really mindful of how I was feeling internally at any given moment, how food made me feel, how literally anything made me feel. It was a rough few years before I finally realized my hormones were directing EVERYTHING. Whether it is food or lifestyle choices, if your inside world isn’t balanced, your whole outside world isn’t going to be balanced. I was working with the group, and working with you, that I really realized that this is something most women don’t know.
I had no clue. Side note for readers - I wrote Laura from my bathroom floor one day, crying. I had had an amazing day with my dogs and my boyfriend, was getting ready to go to a movie when all of a sudden, my whole world went from happy to horrible in a matter of minutes, for no apparent reason. I got a notification saying Laura had posted in our FB group, so I looked at it in hopes of distracting myself away from tears. The post was about the impact of food on our hormones. I reached out to Laura, and she started helping me create a more balanced food plan based on my fluctuating hormones during my period.
We think we don’t need to worry about our hormones outside of that one week each month, or when we are having a baby or menopause, but that’s not true. We need to pay attention to it now! We don’t have to put up with all of these symptoms on a day-to-day basis. We can feel free of negative, sad, or low energy. I would come home after work and just cry, while knowing nothing was actually wrong, it was just my period coming. Once I was able to separate my emotions from my thoughts, I was able to empower myself to know what I needed to do during that time. I knew I needed more space because women become more introverted during this time - we cave inwards. Our hormones dictate how we feel internally, and we notice it far more when they aren’t balanced.
How do you keep track of your cycle?
I put it on my calendar and I usually plan out a week in advance. My boyfriend has even asked that I share those dates with him so he knows when it’s coming. Once I started tracking it and tuning into how I was feeling, when irritability creeps up, I’m much quicker to diffuse it. I wanted to create a holistic approach to food and my lifestyle.
For people looking for more info on this, what book would you recommend?
WomanCode by Alisa Vitti, and her blog at floliving.com. She charts out the 4 cycle’s of a woman’s body and explains what you should be eating and how you should be exercising during the 4 different stages. It's an amazing way to look at the female body!
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned recently?
I’ve been really interested in how a woman’s body eliminates estrogen. Estrogen flows through your large intestine and your liver, and if you don’t eliminate it fully from your body, that buildup leads to mood swings, bloating, hormonal acne…we don’t have to be miserable 2 weeks out of the month, we don’t have to go from feeling like our happy selves, only to plummet and feel miserable the next day.
How can we increase the efficient flow of estrogen through our bodies?
I’ve been doing a lot of research on this and found that cooking with vegetables like asparagus, fennel, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts can help your body process it out. Making them with ginger and garlic helps, as well as increasing your fiber intake. Cilantro can help cleanse your liver and help your large intestine eliminate estrogen. This isn’t just for women either, men can also have trouble processing estrogen. There are external influences too that disrupt your hormones - from the Teflon on your cooking pans to cleaning products, harsh chemicals in makeup, hair products...WomanCode really identifies what changes you can make to cleanse and remove estrogen from your body. I’m taking DIM (Di-Indole Methane) which supports enzyme activity for healthy estrogen metabolism, it’s made out of cruciferous vegetables and is all natural. Calcium D-Glucarate - this helps process hormones in your large intestine where the bloating occurs if estrogen sits there too long. To cleanse your liver, I take Milk Thistle.
Have you always had an interest in your health?
Yes. I started running when my parents got divorced. It was a way to process everything going on. Have you ever noticed that the more you do the thing that releases your emotions, the more solitary it becomes? And the more you do it, the more you want to do it? The more chaotic things got in my life, the more I ran. I became addicted to it. My family and friends had no idea how much I worked out. I hid it from everyone. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I ran a marathon at the end of college and I used it as an excuse for over exercising. I was running over 40 miles a week and going to the gym. I know now that it really became obsessive because I would only run distances in even numbers, and I wouldn’t run anything less than 6 miles. Internally, I would tell myself that I was just stressed out about school and life at the moment. I became so exhausted that something had to change but I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know how to stop. On my drive from New York to California, I started to really check in with myself. I had been feeling a lot of discomfort in my toe, and I just knew it was from running so much for the last 12 years. I knew that if I kept running I’d risk injuring myself and not be able to run at all, but stopping was terrifying to me. I knew I’d have to face so many fears if I stopped.
Finally, I accepted that I had moved out to California for balance and that I had no choice but to face these fears if I wanted to pursue a balanced life. I made the commitment to myself to stop and really take care of myself. For the next six months, I went on my last run on Thanksgiving of 2012. For the next few weeks, I went on hikes, barre classes, and lost 10 lbs! My mind was blown! Since then I became fascinated with the female body. I was so curious on how our daily habits impacted our mental, physical and spiritual health. My body had built up so much muscle from running a marathon, and it was so stressed out that it hung on to everything it could. When I stopped running, the importance of rest and balance became so clear to me. Once I internally calmed down, my body stopped holding onto the extra weight. It literally just fell off.
I had no idea I had an eating disorder. You hear ‘eating disorder’ and you think about anorexia or bulimia, I had no idea that my behaviour would have been considered a disorder. I remember Googling it one night when a voice in my head told me to, and I found a website that talked about compulsive overexercising being an eating disorder and what signs to look for. Reading that, I just started crying. It explained all my habits and how I was feeling. And once I recognized that it brought up all these emotions of shame and guilt because I considered myself an intelligent person, why would I treat myself so badly? It was because I was literally running away from all my fears - my past, present and future. I realized I needed to deal with all this stuff because it was hindering me and holding me back from the happy, joyful, balanced life I craved.
How do you turn this disorder around - what sort of things did you change mentally, spiritually, emotionally? And how do you use this new-found balance when working with other women?
Once I recognized the compulsion and made the decision to focus on balance, I began to work out one hour a day instead of four. My mind felt so much clearer. I was no longer masking how I was feeling and began to exercise the muscle of recognizing when I felt stressed out, instead of burying it. I started noticing how food affected me, for example, I noticed my body couldn’t process gluten or dairy well. I was able to wake up in the morning and not be obsessed about when I was going to work out. I became more excited about other things, whereas before, my obsession with exercising was all I could think about. I started getting out of my comfort zone and trying new things outside of fitness. Instead of joining another physical activity, I signed up for an art class. I started journaling, I picked up some of Gabrielle Bernstein’s books and started meditating. At this point, I started realizing that running had been meditative for me on many levels. I became obsessed with running because I really was looking for a way to process things - anytime I had a problem or needed to think through something, I’d go out for a run. When I took that to the extreme, I lost the ability to feel anything at all. We get in the habit of doing the same thing over and over again, and then eventually you don’t know who you are without those habits and it becomes scarier to face who we are without it than to maintain it. That’s the excuse we tell ourselves.
Do you still run?
Yes, but I have to limit myself a lot. I run about once a month around or right before my period because the endorphins help with cramps. I find that the more I do it, the more I want to do it, so I'm now quick to catch those obsessive and compulsive thoughts. I love it and my body loves it. Balance has become everything.
The same thought patterns, emotions, and the way of thinking seem to exist in all addictions. Once you have that compulsion, does it ever really change? Or is it always there? Or are there some things we can moderate?
Today, I’ll go weeks without running, but a few years ago I couldn’t even fathom that. For me, the thoughts have always been there, it's just becoming more mindful and aware of them. Honoring my emotions and recognizing what fears I'm trying to avoid, are the root cause of the compulsion. Making the connection to what triggers the compulsion was the first step in recovery.
So what would you tell women who are wanting to become more in tune with their bodies? How can we develop that self-understanding?
I would start with journaling and meditation. Through journaling, I really got to know what my fears were. Sometimes it’s like something else takes over the pen, it’s like my heart or my higher power starts writing to me. When I go back and read it, there are all these messages that someone was trying to tell me. It allowed me to really recognize how I had been feeling, sit and honor my emotions, and then gave me the power to change the habit. That’s been the most powerful transformation for me. Connecting with nature also helps a lot. It allows you to connect with something bigger than you and puts you in a meditative state.
Talk to us about the leadership component of your coaching practice.
Yes! I’m really excited about how this fits together. When you are rising in your career, the one thing that falls off is your health and your balance. You might not even have a house yet, a family, so what’s going to happen when you have all those things? Women in our generation want it all, but can we actually have it all if we are too exhausted and burnt out? I teach women about balance - how to recognize stress, re-prioritize, and what kinds of foods they can eat to create internal balance. We look at lifestyle habits that might not be serving them. I help women get over their fears of articulating what they think they’re worth. I see so many women working crazy hours, gaining weight because they have no free time to exercise or cook, and then they overcompensate on the weekends with a 10-mile run and go for a hike. I used to be exactly like that. We can live in an entirely different way where we're happy, healthy and have time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We can find and maintain balance!