Remember your why: Why do you want to lose weight, why do you want to eat clean, why do you want to work out more? I hear all the time, “I can’t have carbs” or “I have to go to the gym”. Why? Keeping your why top of mind will help guide you and put any changes you are making into perspective. For example, eating anti-inflammatory foods doesn’t really mean anything to me, but being able to get on the floor and play cars with my 10 year old because my joints don’t hurt — now that means a lot.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Bucaro.
Jill is an Integrative Health Practitioner and owner of Wellness Riot. She has a degree in Kinesiology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is a graduate of the Naturopathic Doctor program through Trinity School of Natural Health, a Board Certified Doctor of Natural Medicine through the American Naturopathic Medical Certification Board and a certified Health Coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill helps busy men and women who feel stressed, tired and overwhelmed come up with a plan to feel like their joyful, energetic selves again. She also has many tricks up her sleeve for kids, so she loves helping parents who are looking for healthy solutions that include the whole family. Jill’s true desire is to make health and wellness accessible, affordable, and exciting for everyone.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
Absolutely, I appreciate the opportunity to connect with you! It’s been a lifetime of events that guided me to where I am today. I was introduced to the idea of healthy food by my 70s granola mom. We had black strap molasses and wheat germ in everything, no fast food and very little soda. At school, nobody would trade lunches with me, so I had no choice but to eat what she packed! As a teenager and in college, I rebelled a bit (OK, maybe a lot) and ate all sorts of junk…and paid for it. It was during those years that I started to understand what you eat really affects how you feel. At the same time, my mom went through some health issues related to artificial sweeteners, which initiated my skepticism towards “magic bullets”. When I became pregnant at age 35, I was automatically lumped into a high risk category (even the word geriatric was used as a descriptor of me on a doctor’s invoice!). This confused me because I was waaaay healthier at 35 than I was at 25, so I started to question the markers and measures they used to determine health status. Why did the doctors only look at my age to determine risk of pregnancy? Why is 35 considered elderly? If we are supposed to feel worse as we age (because isn’t that what we’re told?), why did I feel better at 35 than 25 and now feel even better at 46? Why didn’t all my friends and family feel better as they aged? Why did some people get diseases and others didn’t? A few years later, I started to experience some difficulty with swallowing and digestion. I was eating pretty healthy at this point (I understand “eating pretty healthy” can mean like a thousand things), but I had an incredibly stressful job and a 3 year old, so I started to understand what an impact stress can have on physical health. On top of that, my doctor (a GI doctor, mind you) never asked me about what I ate, what I drank or any lifestyle questions at all. After an endoscopy showed I had erosions in my stomach, I was given two prescriptions to take indefinitely and a wave goodbye. I decided to do my homework and ended up resolving the issue by adding and subtracting foods and supplements and incorporating some serious stress management strategies. I felt like a superhero! And I thought about how many people I knew that could benefit from this kind of information, yet I was sure they didn’t know any of it. I returned to school so I could add some credentials to my passion and now I help empower people to improve their own health. Anyone can do this, anyone can feel better regardless of starting point.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I was preparing to do a presentation at a local health food store about advocating for your own health. I had reached out to a friend of mine, a medical doctor, because I had wanted to get his thoughts and perspective on what patients could do to help support their own health journey. He replied with “Happy to help, but I would probably learn more from you than you would from me.” It really took me by surprise, a medical doctor thought he could learn from me? I felt humbled and honored and proud, it was definitely a wow moment.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
Well, I always like to try things out before I form an opinion about or recommend them. I had heard about the Master Cleanse and wanted to give it a whirl. Now, I had read up on the program in pretty great detail before embarking, but didn’t realize just how serious my relationship with the loo would become. Oh, and sometimes your breath is less than desirable. And mood fluctuations are not totally uncommon. And the best part? I decided to start it just two weeks after moving in with my boyfriend. Why I decided to turn my digestive world upside down at that particular time still stumps me, but thankfully my now husband found it adorable…or at least not a deal breaker.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
I think being an authority in any field means you are always open to learning more. I love learning, I like seeing and hearing all perspectives. In the health and wellness arena, there are many “sides” and the battles between sides can be fierce. I think it does everyone a disservice when we don’t listen to what others have to say, even if we think we disagree. If you hear the other side and still disagree, fine. But what if you learn something?
My specialty is really sleuthing or getting to the root cause of health issues. Most people know what is going on — can’t sleep, excess weight, low energy, aches and pains, bloating, etc. I help people figure out why it’s going on. Then I help them take small and sustainable steps towards optimal health. I treat everyone as an individual, no one size fits all for me!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
You’re so right! I consider myself fortunate to have had so many amazing people contribute to my vision, journey and success, but I’ll try to pick one to highlight. Angie Ates was one of my instructors at Trinity School of Natural Health, she was dynamic, knowledgeable and so much fun. After I graduated and was knee deep in the job search, I mentioned her name at an interview because she had access to a book that was relevant to the position I was applying for. I got the job (thanks Angie!) and a few weeks later, the company informed me they had reached out to her and she was coming out to help us with some training, so our paths crossed again. We kept in touch over the next few years, mostly through social media. She started her own school for natural health and had posted that she was looking for nutrition experts to teach modules as part of a Family Nutrition Course. I submitted interest and got the gig (thanks again Angie!). She was incredibly helpful, supportive and positive through the process and continues to support me in multiple ways. Much gratitude.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep 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 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
Ah, that’s the good stuff, isn’t it? They say knowledge is power, but it’s truly action that is power. So, here are 3 things that keep us from doing what we know is best:
- We make it too complicated. Do you think hundreds and thousands of years ago people were counting grams of carbs or timing out their protein intake or spending hours reading ingredient labels? Nope. They ate whole, unprocessed foods, drank plenty of water, moved around in functional ways, got some sleep and spent time outside. The end. OK, I might be simplifying it a little bit, but we really do make things more complex than is necessary. And overcomplicating things is a great way to come to a dead stop.
- We think it can’t be fun. Now, I’ll admit that the health and wellness community is not necessarily known for its levity, however you can still enjoy your life while eating healthfully. In fact, I would argue that you can actually have more fun if you eat nutrient dense food and get some regular movement in because you will feel better. And I happen to think feeling great is pretty darn fun.
- If it doesn’t work in 5 minutes, we’re not interested. We have become big fans of instant results, but unfortunately, the quickest solution isn’t always the best. It might help in the short term, but for how long and at what cost?
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
Happy to share! In addition to each tweak, I’ve included a specific action step that you can take today to get started.
1.) Remember your why: Why do you want to lose weight, why do you want to eat clean, why do you want to work out more? I hear all the time, “I can’t have carbs” or “I have to go to the gym”. Why? Keeping your why top of mind will help guide you and put any changes you are making into perspective. For example, eating anti-inflammatory foods doesn’t really mean anything to me, but being able to get on the floor and play cars with my 10 year old because my joints don’t hurt — now that means a lot.
ACTION STEP: Write down your why, keep it handy, keep it visible and always keep it in mind.
2.) Think beyond food: Many times, we don’t consider stress, work, physical activity, relationships, toxin overload or sleep when it comes to health. You can eat all the salads and smoothies you want, but if you are working 80 hours a week, in a toxic relationship, not sleeping or overscheduled, at best you will see some improvements, then plateau, but often you won’t see any changes at all and end up feeling frustrated. So, always take a holistic view.
ACTION STEP: Write these things down and rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10: Stress, work environment, home environment, movement/physical activity, sleep, toxins, relationships and community. Now put some attention on the areas where you scored the lowest.
3.) Remember what our bodies and minds know, love and are familiar with: Some things we see as normal today really aren’t. Sitting all day, being inside, on screens, staying up all or most of the night, driving, drinking out of plastic, taking medication, processed food, pesticides and cleaning with chemicals are all things we see as everyday and not out of the ordinary, but when we think a few thousand or even a few hundred years ago, almost none of that was in place. It’s really a tiny sliver of time that this has been our norm compared to how long humans have been on the planet and our bodies just haven’t had time to adapt. This also applies to getting healthy: Processed “healthy” snack bars, sugar free beverages, counting calories, grams or ounces, invasive procedures like stomach stapling or liposuction are all foreign to our bodies. Our bodies will try to compensate and deal with it (and they are experts at doing so), but it takes energy and causes stress, so it’s always best to stick to what’s in alignment with nature.
ACTION STEP: Go through your day and compare your environment, your actions, your routine, your food to what it might have been like 10,000 years ago.
4.) Stop being everyone (or anyone) else: We are all different and while there are some things that are generally good for all of us like eating more vegetables and drinking plenty of clean water, there is a lot that can vary from one person to another. Have you ever started a diet or eating plan with a friend, family member or co-worker and one of you does great and one, not so much? Or have you ever bought a book, started to follow the plan, but you don’t actually feel any better? In fact, you feel even worse? Then what happens? We think it must be something we did wrong. So on top of not seeing the improvements we want, we feel terrible about it and start questioning our integrity, our ability to commit, our knowledge. Nothing is for everyone. Some of our bodies tolerate dairy, some don’t, some do well with grains, some like to go longer between meals, some thrive on raw foods. When we tune into our bodies and really feel what works and what doesn’t, it’s amazing what we can do and how great we can feel.
ACTION STEP: Track what you eat and how you feel for a few weeks. Consider not only tummy issues, but how you sleep, your energy levels in the afternoon, mood fluctuations, aches and pains and mental clarity. Then use this information to make decisions about what to continue doing and what to change.
5.) Don’t make 50 changes overnight: I, too, have done 7 day health challenges and 21 day challenges. And even if they went well, I’ll tell you what happened on day 8 or day 22: Back to the routine I was used to and back to the health issues I was used to. Of course, because these were unsustainable changes that were not meant for the long term. Making small, but impactful changes over time may not seem glamorous or thrilling, but small changes work and they last…without turning your world upside down. Changes should push you outside of your comfort zone, but they shouldn’t add stress to your life because honestly, don’t we have plenty of that already?
ACTION STEP: Think of ONE thing you can do to step towards health. Implement that for a couple weeks or until you are comfy with it, then add on.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
Three things my clients (and most people) are concerned about are energy, mood and sleep. Studies have shown that exercise can positively impact all three areas! In addition to having a direct effect on energy, mood and sleep, the 3 areas impact each other. When you’re less stressed, you may have an easier time falling asleep and when you get quality sleep, your energy is more balanced. Win-win-win!
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
What’s most critical is choosing an activity that you enjoy and will actually do. Do you like dancing? Dance! If you find joy in running, run. If yoga is your jam, then om and namaste to you. With that said, something that increases your heart rate (walk, swim, run, bike, hike) a few times a week has been shown to benefit your cardiovascular system. Strength training, which can look like lifting weights or exercises that use your own body weight, has been shown to help support bone health and improve muscle mass, which can give your metabolism a boost. And don’t forget to stretch! Stretching helps improve flexibility, posture, range of motion and can help decrease the risk of injury…and it just feels so darn good.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Only one?? There are countless, but one that sticks out is In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. I loved reading it and I really loved sharing it. I bought it for every person I knew for any and every holiday that year. I believe health is much simpler than we make it out to be and this book just nails that concept. It also is full of aha moments with regards to how food is processed, just how much food is processed, how food companies get to put questionable foods on the shelves (Olestra, anyone?), farming practices and who actually benefits when we eat a certain way.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well first of all, thank you for the compliment! My movement would focus on increasing the availability, accessibility and affordability of proactive and preventative health solutions. At this time, very few of these modalities are available through or covered by insurance, which puts them out of reach for many that need them most. We need to connect medical doctors and health coaches. Every medical doctor — general or specialized — has a coach to support their patients post appointment. The average doctor’s appointment is 12 minutes, this is not nearly enough time to address the root cause of symptoms, discuss a thorough health history or provide detail regarding approachable and sustainable solutions. The doctor and coach work together to ensure their patients succeed in feeling better, and not just by masking symptoms, but by getting to the root cause of the issue and supporting the patient as they make diet and lifestyle changes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Growing up, my dad would regularly ask my brother and I to help with chores around the house (as dads tend to do). We usually replied with a groan or grumble, to which he would say “I’m not asking you to cut your finger off, I’m asking you to [fill in chore]”. We hated when he said that, but it makes me laugh now for a couple reasons. First, he was right, he never once asked us to cut off our finger. And second, we most certainly and positively overreacted to his simple requests. I think of this saying often when I’m faced with a task or work I don’t want to do because in some weird way, it puts things in perspective. I have not yet needed to cut off my finger, and for that I’m grateful.
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 if we tag them 🙂
Dr. Zach Bush, hands down. I don’t know of another human that is so captivating, so heart and humanity focused and so in alignment with nature. He’s what we need in the world. If you have not heard him speak, I urge you to do so, you’ll walk away changed.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Jill Bucaro of Wellness Riot: 5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Can Dramatically Improve Your Wellbeing was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.