Gut and Mental Health, with Marie Benoit

| Episode 016

I think we’ve all heard the expression, “I’ve just got a gut-feeling about this.” How many of you can relate to having this “gut-feeling” about there being something wrong with what you are feeling in your gut? 

Today’s guest is sharing her journey of how following her intuitive gut-feeling about her own gut health helped her to change her life for the better. Marie Benoit is a LCSW and a trauma coach who helps women reconnect to their bodies and heal from past trauma through community and a multifaceted approach at her private practice at Unbound Women.

Click the play button above to listen to our conversation with Marie Benoit.

Highlights from Today’s Episode

  • Marie’s journey following her intuition to navigate the journey of understanding how her gut health and mental health are connected.
  • What are the three pillars of holistic healing and how do they apply to gut health and healing?
  • Some tools you can use to start creating a regimen to maintain your physical and mental health

Industry Spotlight: Marie Benoit between your Physical and Mental Health

Marie can help you create a regimen to maintain your physical and mental health for a better life!

Colon Health Podcast with Dr. Dac and Ariel Bridges

About the Colon Health Podcast

Co-hosted by Dr. Dac Teoli and Ariel Bridges, the Colon Health Podcast features guest interviews with expert physicians, leading researchers, nutritional scientists, integrative health specialists, and other foremost experts in colon health.

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Episode Transcript

Ariel: Okay. Hello again, everybody. Welcome back to the “Colon Health Podcast,” this is your cohost, Ariel bridges. I’m so excited to be back again this week with another incredible guest. We have Marie Benoit today. Marie is a licensed clinical social worker that has her own private practice within her company that she co-founded, called Unbound Women. And they have a mission to help women with gut pain and anxiety, operate with calm and confidence. Hey, Marie, how’s it going?

Marie: Hi, it’s going well. How are you?

Ariel: I’m well. Thank you for asking, and thank you so much for being here. I shared a little bit about who you are, but I would love to hear more about your journey, and how you got to where you are today. I know, personally, something that stuck out for me when reading your bio was how you talked about your stomach issues that you experienced kind of when you were under a lot of stress. I’ve always talked to everybody about how all of my stress and all of my emotions, I feel like, sits right in my stomach. So I’m excited to hear more about that. But please, share more.

Marie: Well, I grew up with a pretty picture-perfect life. I grew up on a farm, so I had a lot of, like, places to roam and I was outside a lot, and I was a pretty happy kid. But then when I turned around 9, my father got diagnosed with prostate cancer. And he was really that beacon in my life, I was definitely a daddy’s girl. And not too long after, he actually passed away, which was pretty devastating for my whole entire family.

But not only that, I just realized this last year actually what happened as well, my family moved away, and so, not only did I lose my father, but I also lost my community. And what started to happen is I started to feel like, I wasn’t breathing at night, like, I thought I was going to die, so my doctor gave me an inhaler to fix it. That didn’t help. And then I started to get really bad stomachache, particularly, in the morning. And oftentimes, I would actually throw up in the morning. And this lasted pretty badly for about a decade, but probably two decades, if I’m being honest. Just not as bad in the second decade, because I started to put the pieces together a little bit more. So, yeah, I didn’t know what was going on. No doctor actually brought anything up to me about stress or anxiety until I was 17 years old. And by that time, I was pretty vehemently denying that anything mental could be going on with me. Because I think, physical, you just think it’s so easier to fix, like, you just take something and it’s gone, you know, there’s nothing wrong with you.

So I really had felt like something was just so wrong with me and I felt very alone. I didn’t tell anyone about what I was experiencing. The only people that knew really, was my mother and then later, my now-husband, when I went to college. But, yeah, it was very isolating and very debilitating. I lost out on a lot of, I feel like, activities when I was younger because I would just say no, out of fear, that my body would fail me. And it took a long time to put the pieces together. And so, I wanted to help create a space for women that experienced similar gut pains and probably brought on by stress, trauma, anxiety that could heal basically. And I think you can do that through a holistic perspective of mind, body, soul.

Ariel: Man, well, first off, I’m so sorry for your loss. Cancer is, it’s just the worst, which is a total understatement. But I think it’s really great that you bring this up because I think as women, I think a lot of the times, we are very intuitive with our bodies and we can tell that something is off and, like, something feels wrong. But then, we’ll maybe go to the doctor and we’ll have normal tests or things apparently, you know, aren’t supposed to be wrong, but we can just tell that something is there. And that can feel, I think, isolating and confusing on top of the stress of just not feeling well. So having a community and resources to kind of address these things, I think, is awesome.

Marie: Yeah. I think feeling alone and feeling like nothing is wrong with you, like, the things that are happening are normal, because I was told like, “Well, there’s nothing wrong with you physically, or maybe you have just some acid reflux, but there’s nothing wrong.” But I was like, “Well, why do I get sick every morning then? Why do I feel so bad?”

Ariel: Right. Exactly. You just mentioned something there at the end that I wanted to ask you about. Your website talks about three pillars of holistic healing. So I was wondering if you could explain what those are, and also how they apply to gut health and healing specifically.

Marie: Yeah. Well, I’m definitely somebody that knows, like, I have a lane, right? I have, like, an expertise. So I am a licensed clinical social worker and I love to learn about trauma and how that impacts your body. And so, I really enjoy learning about polyvagal theory, which is the science of connection. It’s kind of about your nervous system. And I do things like tapping that helps release, like, the energy in the body. But that’s my lane. So I’m more like the mind…well, I kind of see myself as the bridge between the mind and body. But I don’t know as much about the physical, like what’s going on in your gut. I just know that there’s a connection between your mind and your gut, because there two brains, right?

And so, I knew I couldn’t do this alone and I needed some help because it’s more than just what’s going on in your mind. And so, my friend, and actually, I kind of solidified a bond with her, she was my health coach when I was pregnant, and my life changed dramatically then. And she said that she would do this journey with me. And at the same time, I met a mutual friend through her, her name was Krysta, and she’s a mindset coach. And so Danya, Krysta, and I decided we could do this together. Danya is a functional health nurse, and Krysta is a mindset coach. And so, Danya is the body piece, and Krysta is the soul piece. And so, I think, altogether, we kind of create this beautiful kind of symphony of how you can receive help for your whole body. It’s not just, like, picking one thing or the other. Because I think we each kind of know, like, what we’re really good at, and how we can help clients in that perspective.

Ariel: That’s awesome. And I always say this to any social worker that I meet, anytime social work is brought up, I’m like, “Social workers are truly angels on earth.” So first, thank you for the work that you do as a social worker. But I think it’s really cool that you and your kind of cofounders are able to come together and create this harmony. And I think it’s…something else that I read that you talk about is how our current health system really leads people to believe that mental health and physical health are just separate things, when really, they’re actually very closely intertwined. And I feel like I’m constantly telling people that they do come together to work in a lot of different ways. And I think what you said too about how you incorporate things like tapping and energy, I studied neuroscience so I’m into what you’re saying. Yeah, like I try and explain to people because there can be a disconnect but when it comes to things like energy, when it comes down to it, like, our physical bodies, it all is energy. But even our mental, the way thoughts happen, it’s literally also energy. Synapses and connections, all the firing of the neurons, all that is energy. So I think it’s so helpful for people to see how those things can come together.

And I wanted to ask you, do you have any tools for our listeners, maybe to start creating a regimen, or helping to form a better understanding, to make sure that they’re maintaining both their physical and mental health with these types of things in mind?

Marie: Right. Yeah, well, my mind always goes to your vagal nerve, because not a lot of people know about this nerve in your body. It’s known as the wandering nerve, because it’s, like, the longest nerve in your body. It goes from your brain all the way down to your gut, and touches pretty much every vital organ in between, like your heart and your lungs. And so it’s pretty darn important because it tells you basically how you’re gonna feel. And so, like, 80% of the neurotransmitters that come from your gut, are going up from your gut to your brain, and then only 20% are going down. So what happens in your gut matters a whole lot.

And so, a lot of people, especially, that have had some trauma in their life and stress, have what’s called low vagal tone. And so that part of your body, you can think about it like a muscle, isn’t very strong. And so, I do a lot of work with kind of, like, helping people strengthen that part of themselves. And it’s really helping yourself getting back to a place where it’s okay to feel calm because, for so many women, it’s not safe to feel calm. And I can understand that. Because I remember when I was 16, and I remember this very specifically, I went to a yoga class and I thought, “Oh, this is what you do when you’re anxious or when you’re stressed, you do yoga.” So I went and it was very activating for me. Because what I realized now, is that I was so activated by the silence and the quiet, that when I finally did quiet down, my body was just, like, screaming at me by that point. And it kind of flooded me with a lot of different emotions that I wasn’t able to handle. So then, I thought, “Well, is, like, yoga not for me?” But that’s not the point. It’s just kinda like easing. What are some things that you could ease into, to do? There are some very simple exercises that you can just do with your body, like even just rubbing your neck, that’s very, very simple. A happy neck means a happy vagal nerve. And so, there are some very simple tools you can use to help strengthen that part of your body and we do a lot of those in our 12-week course. We go over a lot of that kind of stuff.

Ariel: Awesome. Would you mind elaborating more on your 12-week course, what it’s for, what can people expect, or just any information about people that may be curious about what it may be like to be a part of your community?

Marie: Yeah, for sure. So we go through those three different perspectives. So it’s pretty evenly spaced between the three of us. But my perspective is talking a lot about the brain-gut connection, and specifically, the nervous system. Not a lot of people understand how much the nervous system plays in gut health and anxiety, and so, I do a lot of education around that and a lot of bodywork. It’s a lot of just getting in touch with yourself, and being able to read the messages that your body is sending you, and listening to them. And so, it’s not like regular, like, talk, if you were to call it therapy, it’s a lot of just bodywork, like listening to what your body…because your body is constantly sending you messages all the time, but most of the time, we don’t know how to key into them, or we ignore them. And so then, they just come out louder in a different way, like nausea, or stomach cramps, or whatever. And so that’s a big part of what I do. I help women kind of reshape their nervous system so that they can feel calm.

And Danya, she comes at it, obviously, from the health perspective. So she teaches about food as medicine. So a lot of what we could take out from nutrition to see if we can heal the gut in three months, and then start to put things back in kind of, like, an elimination nutrition plan. And she also focuses largely on hormones, those are her jam. Because there is so much magic that your body has as a woman but sometimes, we don’t know how to tap into that, and things are obstructing that. She talks a lot about the gut microbiome and things that you can use to help kinda balance that out.

And Krysta’s perspective is the sole piece. So she comes at it from more of thoughts, feelings perspective. And kind of like, figuring out, like, what lights you up as a person, you know? And what are the limiting beliefs that are getting in your way from actually doing what you need to do? Because a lot of times, women that have serious gut issues like IBS or SIBO, there’s a lot of fear around, like, is my body gonna do what it’s going to do? And so that also holds you back. It’s just your thoughts that you repetitively have, and the way that makes you feel.

Ariel: What a comprehensive program. You guys really cover every piece of the puzzle, which I think is really cool. And is there any sort of…? You three, bring community…I was thinking, in my head, what you mentioned about you realized recently the importance of community after your family moved away. You and your cofounders, obviously, bring a sense of community to these women, are they able to also be in community with each other within this program?

Marie: Yeah. So, we have a Facebook group and it’s for all women, so it’s called Anxiety and Gut Pain Support through Facebook. And that’s really a place where we share community, and we share resources, and we’re just kind of, you know, ask silly questions to try to, like, engage with each other and learn each other’s stories, and how we could help. Yeah, that’s the main place. And as well as we have an Instagram, of course, where we just share a lot of different ways. I share a lot of silly ways, basically, that you can help yourself when you have gut pain and you have anxiety, and kind of the education piece behind what’s happening there, because I feel like knowledge is power. And when I first realized what was actually going on in my body, it made me feel not so, like, abnormal because everyone has a nervous system, and most people have dysregulation going on. I think it’s a pretty dysregulated world. And if you heal yourself, right, I think that’s a way that you can heal the world because you impact the people that you’re around. So I think it’s a beautiful place that women can come and just be themselves.

I’d actually read a study not too long ago that said, I think it was done in 2016, around 72% of women in America, said that they experienced some kind of digestive issue. And of those women, I think, like, two out of three, said they never told their friends about their issue. And so, I think there’s a lot of women just living in, like, kind of hiding secrets, and it’s very isolating and alone, and I don’t think it has to be that way.

Ariel: Oh, I love so much of what you just said. I feel exactly the same way. And it’s one of the reasons that I wanted to do this podcast. Because I feel like there’s a lot of stigma for some reason around talking about digestive dysfunction and things that we feel relating to GI health, but so many people are struggling in silence. And, like, we could all come together and, yes, laugh sometimes just to ease the pain but also, just to feel like you’re not by yourself suffering through this. And the more that we can feel educated about what’s going on, I feel like exactly what you said, the more empowered that you feel to take control of your situation and trying to make things better for yourself. So that’s amazing. I’m definitely going to be looking up your Facebook group as soon as we finish.

Marie: Awesome.

Ariel: Would love to join.

Marie: Yeah. We’d love to have you. Another thing I forgot to add is that, so our program, we offer three different tiers basically because we’re trying to reach all different women who want different things. And so we have like a do-it-yourself, which is just the modules basically. And then the next few tiers are with coaching and, like, kind of more coaching is at the highest level because you get to work one on one with us throughout the program, which is pretty awesome. And the highest tier, actually, we are ongoingly trying to find experts in kind of the holistic health field that will touch on what we’re touching on but in a different perspective.

So we actually have a course on movement, and it’s by a primal movement coach, who teaches you how to move your body in the way that it’s supposed to move. Because when you’re about 7 or 8, your body kind of changes because of going to school and sitting in chairs, and chairs kind of ruin our bodies in a way. And what I’ve learned, because I’ve actually worked with this movement coach myself, is that the way you move through the world is the way you feel. So most of us are actually kind of walking in a way that’s telling our system to be in fight or flight, even if we don’t wanna be there. And so, there’s a way to flow in this world that can bring calm to your system as well. And it’s definitely made a huge impact in my life just to be able to reset kind of how I walk through this world. And it’s definitely made a big impact for me because I thought the way that my body moved was just that’s how it’s gonna be, and it could never change. What I’ve actually learned is that I can reshape and change the way I move, and that has been pretty pivotal for me. It’s helped me let go of some limiting beliefs.

Ariel: That’s really resonating with me because I’m in New York City, where, literally, everyone is just hustling and bustling on to the next thing. It’s very much quick-paced. And I think that a lot of that, what you said about feeling like you’re in fight or flight, just kind of naturally occurs just from a regular commute to work every day. And I think a lot of people don’t realize how much that can wear down on you. So, that’s another great resource to have.

Marie: Yeah, I never knew. And the other expert we have is a pelvic floor specialist. So she gets to the bottom of a lot of the things that as women, we just don’t talk about, you know, like, about sex and about, you know, what’s going on with your period. And just like that pelvic floor muscle, I had no idea what a pelvic floor specialist was until I made a friend that was one a few years ago, which I think is absurd. I know that I think in Europe, they offer that to women as soon as they get pregnant, but that was never anything brought up to me when I was pregnant with my first child. But I know it’s a very important part of your body and I don’t think we touch on it enough, so we don’t know about how important it is.

Ariel: Yeah. There’s so many things like this where, we as women, I feel like we don’t have the space to openly discuss without, you know, fear of judgment or anything like that, and then just to be educated properly and in an environment in a way that feels comfortable and makes sense to us. Which is another reason why I think Unbound Women is so cool and so such a great resource for everybody out there that may be listening that identifies as a woman.

We are just about finishing up, but did you have any other kind of parting words or ideas that you want to share with the listeners about the brain-gut connection, or anything else that you at Unbound Women may have coming up or anything like that?

Marie: Let’s see. I think it’s just for any kind of woman that just wants to feel safe in her own body again, and I think that’s something that we don’t recognize enough, what safety is. Like, when I used to think about safety, it’d be like, “Stop, drop, and roll,” or like, “Get under your desk,” for like a school, you know, drill, you know. But safety is so much more and it dictates everything in our life, and we don’t even realize it. Like, it’s part of what’s called neuroception, is that your unconscious awareness, your system is always scanning for what’s a threat or what’s safe. And a lot of us are shaped, because of what our experience is, to look for threat. And so, that really impacts how we feel, like that’s the whole narrative. And so my goal is to help women, really, all of our goal is to help women feel safe, that’s number one for us, so that they can get past…there’s no ceiling anymore, you can just be whatever you wanna be. I never thought that I would be here today just even talking to you. I lacked a lot of confidence in my life. People would call me shy, all these things that I just knew weren’t me. And so we really just wanna unleash kind of the inner beast in every woman and just know that they can thrive in who they are and be authentic, and have joy in their life.

Ariel: Yes. I love that so much. I’m snapping over here, you all can’t hear that I’m snapping.

Marie: Yeah.

Ariel: Yeah. That’s incredible. Wow. I honestly never would have guessed that people would say that about you, you’re so confident-seeming.

Marie: I really appreciate that. Yeah. No, I went through years of emotional bullying when I was a teenager. So really harping like, people don’t like me. And so I really had to start to come out of my shell in college because I was like, “Oh, people like me, this is crazy.” And I was like, “Oh, well, I guess I have some things to offer the world.” And I realized, like, if you don’t ever say anything, nobody is ever gonna listen, you know. So even if what I have to say isn’t perfect or I make mistakes sometimes, just get your message out there. Because somebody, even if one person from this podcast listens and hears the message, like, I will have felt like I’ve contributed something to this world, and that’s all I want. I’m trying to carry out kind of the legacy of my father in a way because he was very ambitious himself, but he never got to live past the age of 43. And I hope to live much longer and help a lot of people just kinda like he did.

Ariel: Wow, Marie, that’s so beautiful. And I think it’s clear, it’s very clear that you are well on your way to doing that, and really carrying on his legacy in an incredible and impactful way. We’re so happy and feel so fortunate to be a small part of it here at “The Colon Health Podcast.” Thank you so much for being here and chatting with me today.

Marie: Thank you so much. It was really so much fun to talk to you today.

Ariel: Oh, love it. Love it so much. And everybody, I always say this at the end of the podcast, remember, we all have colons, so let’s take care of them. Don’t be afraid. Reach out for help. Get those resources. Ask those questions. We all have colons. All right, everybody, see you next time. Bye. Awesome, Marie. Thank you so, so much.

Marie: Yeah. That was super fun. I wanna learn more about you and your neuroscience, that’s amazing.

Ariel: Yeah. I studied neuroscience and I was working in health for, like, five years thinking I was going to be going into PA school, and I shifted life paths. But I’m still very passionate about health advocacy, especially for women, because like you were saying in so many different ways today, we’re so underrepresented in a lot of ways, and a lot of women are scared to speak up and ask questions. And I’m like, “Oh, this is terrible, this is so bad, like, we need to all help each other out.”

Marie: Exactly. Yeah. I feel the same way. That’s amazing. I love New York City by the way. I lived in [inaudible 00:28:26] in Boston for a while. I miss…

Ariel: Oh, no way.

Marie: Yeah.

Ariel: Wait, were you…

Marie: I live in Portland.

Ariel: Okay. You’re in Portland. Also, I mean, I…

Marie: Yes. Portland, Oregon.

Ariel: Yeah. I was gonna say I’ve never been but I’ve just heard the most amazing things about Portland.

Marie: Yeah. It’s a cool place. We like it a lot. It’s definitely home.

Ariel: Love that. That feeling is, like, irreplaceable when you find your place.

Marie: Yeah. We definitely love to travel and be in different places in the world, but this will always be kind of a home base for sure, yeah.

Ariel: Super, super cool. We will be in touch with you about when this is going to be released. I’m also gonna send you our release form to fill out, I think it’s pretty simple and straightforward.

Marie: Okay.

Ariel: I’m trying to think if there’s anything else. I feel like that’s it. Did you have any other questions or things for me before we go?

Marie: Is there a timeframe of the release? I was just curious.

Ariel: Let me see if I actually have one on my phone. Let me see what their plans are. I think it’s probably likely going to be within the next, like, couple of weeks.

Marie: Oh, cool.

Ariel: Like pretty soon, I think.

Marie: Okay.

Ariel: I am not finding it right now on my phone.

Marie: Cool. Okay. Are you mainly working with this podcast or what else are you doing right now? So you use your neuroscientist degree or? You said you shifted, I was just curious.

Ariel: Oh, yeah. So, I am an artist, I’ve always been an artist and well, a lot of things…

Marie: Oh, that’s amazing.

Ariel: …a lot of things at one time.

Marie: That’s so cool.

Ariel: Yeah. I use my neuroscience degree in different ways. I would say I use it, like, every day in a different way, not how I originally thought I was going to use it. But I’m thankful for opportunities like this where I can still, you know, talk about things from time to time, and then, like, I have a goal of trying to bring it back even if it’s just on social media, but just helping people understand, you know, what’s going on.

Marie: Awesome. Are you on social media by the way? How can I find you?

Ariel: Yes, I am. Let me see.

Marie: Awesome. Well, I really…

Ariel: Because you… Okay. Yes. What is your…because I wanted to follow as well. Is it Unbound Health or just Unbound Health?

Marie: So it’s Unbound_women_. That’s our main account that I typically operate mainly.

Ariel: Okay, perfect. Followed. And then let me see. I’m sure you are…Oh, I think I found you. Are you also a photographer?

Marie: Oh, that’s my kinda personal account. Yeah, it’s a side, like, sometimes hustle. Sometimes I do weddings for friends and stuff, and just like a passion. Yeah, for sure.

Ariel: Oh, that’s so cool. Amazing. I love that.

Marie: Yeah.

Ariel: Okay. I’m following all of your accounts.

Marie: Okay, awesome. I’ll find you.

Ariel: Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Marie, for chatting again, and I’m gonna send you an email, like, super soon.

Marie: Awesome. Yeah, I really loved connecting. Thanks so much. Have a great day.

Ariel: Yes. Thanks, you too. Bye.

Marie: All right. Bye-bye.