Try to eat as many things your great-grandparents would understand as food as you can (no nutrition labels, just 1 ingredient foods like cucumber, lentils, apples), doing your best to avoid things in packages and anything that seems too good to be true (zero calorie anything) because it definitely is!
Ihad the pleasure to interview Adrienne Nolan-Smith, founder of WellBe. In her personal and professional experience, Adrienne has seen how integrative health and wellness are key to preventing and reversing disease. When she was 11, Adrienne was diagnosed with Lyme disease. Her conventional doctor prescribed antibiotics to no avail; her mother was subsequently told there were no other options. Two years and multiple integrative therapies later, Adrienne was Lyme-free. Over the years, other health issues came up and each time it became clear that conventional doctors had tools to treat her symptoms, but they never got to the root of the problems, nor did they really try to cure them. In 2010, Adrienne lost her mother to suicide while she was on antipsychotic and antidepressant medications to treat schizoaffective disorder. At that point, Adrienne knew she needed to completely switch careers and began working for a healthcare technology company, hoping to fix the system from the inside. After several years working with hospitals, she realized that, until wellness became part of the standard of care, the current chronic disease crisis would only continue to rise. She also realized that until people demand wellness from their doctors, their brands, their employers, their governments and ultimately, from themselves, nothing will change. Adrienne founded WellBe to facilitate this change by helping people prevent and reverse chronic health issues naturally. Adrienne received her BA from Johns Hopkins University, her MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University, and is a board-certified patient advocate (BCPA). She lives in New York City, where she was born and raised.
Thank you so much for joining us Adrienne. What is your “backstory”?
Myjourney into integrative health and wellness began when I was 11 and diagnosed with Lyme disease. My conventional doctor prescribed antibiotics, but my symptoms persisted. My mother was basically told that we could try more and more antibiotics or “you’re on your own”. My mother decided we needed to chart our own path. Two years and multiple integrative therapies later, I was Lyme-symptom free. Then, five years later when I went away to college, I had two years of amenorrhea. Once again I visited many conventional doctors and was not given any answers about how to get my menstrual cycle back naturally. I was just given the birth control pill, which I knew wouldn’t help me heal the root cause so I didn’t take it. I then worked with a naturopath and was able to get my menstrual cycle back within six months on her program. It has been normal for 14 years. These two experiences really taught me about the power of integrative medicine and how much your diet and lifestyle play a role in healing chronic health issues.
The biggest catalyst in my life came in 2010 when I lost my mother to suicide while she was on antipsychotic medications and mood stabilizers to treat schizoaffective disorder. At that point, I was applying to business school and knew I needed to completely switch careers to help others to not experience what I had gone through. After business school I began working for a healthcare technology company, hoping to fix the system from the inside. After several years working with hospitals, I realized that, until wellness is the standard of care, the current chronic disease crisis would only continue to rise. In 2017 I left to found WellBe to build something that would help people prevent and reverse chronic health issues naturally. I also became a board certified patient advocate in 2018 so I could also help support and navigate people as they went through healthcare experiences, helping them find the right care and resources to get to the root of chronic health issues and actually heal them, rather than just putting a band-aid over the symptoms.
Can you share your top three “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing?
- When you start thinking about the 100 choices you make a day as your true healthcare, taking the stairs or opting for fresh greens rather than processed crackers or choosing nontoxic shampoo over some generic drugstore brand all become much easier changes to make.
- Try to eat as many things your great-grandparents would understand as food as you can (no nutrition labels, just 1 ingredient foods like cucumber, lentils, apples), doing your best to avoid things in packages and anything that seems too good to be true (zero calorie anything) because it definitely is!
- Think of your health as a retirement account, the more things you can do each day (i.e. the more dollars you can put in there and let grow) the better, whether that’s taking a few extra steps, getting up from your desk every thirty minutes, a five-minute yoga sequence if you don’t have time to attend a full class, extra greens with dinner, more water, a few moments of deep breathes if you don’t have time to do a formal meditation. It ALL helps, and can be the difference between a long, disease-free life and one riddled with health issues.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and connecting with so many people since I founded WellBe, from readers who reach out to the website or on Instagram and tell me their stories of health recovery through integrative medicine or things that have happened to them or their families in the conventional healthcare system, or those who simply write to me “I filter my water now because of you!”,to fans who have attended our panel events, to listeners of our podcast. Because I have shared my story about what happened to my mom and care deeply about a holistic approach to treating and healing mental health issues, I’ve been able to tell some incredible stories of mental health recovery. One of the most amazing was a girl I had been friends with as a child from age 11–14. She went away for high school and we lost touch so we didn’t see each other for nearly twenty years.
She read about WellBe’s mission and my focus on getting to the root cause of mental illness and she told me how she had been misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, put into a mental hospital, and put on one of the antipsychotics my mom was taking at the time of her death. Through the strength and determination of her and her parents, she was able to get off the meds and eventually find an integrative doctor who discovered she was having a toxic drug reaction to Synthroid, a commonly prescribed Thyroid medication she had been on for her Hashimoto’s for the whole time she had been experiencing bipolar symptoms. Once she switched to a natural thyroid medication, the bipolar symptoms she’d been having for nearly three years disappeared, nearly overnight. I remember sitting across from her as she told her story on camera, bewildered, and thinking about what could have been had my mother seen a more integrative doctor.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was first starting WellBe, I hired someone and turned over a few big and important parts of the business. It wasn’t until half a year went by that I realized we were doing a lot of things wrong but because I didn’t know how it worked and felt intimidated to try to change it or experiment, I had let it go on for too long. After that person stopped working with me, I made sure I understood how everything worked in my business and experimented with things to see if they could work better, and sure enough, our growth started to take off in certain areas. While outsourcing things is important for every founder, having a full understanding of everything in your business and instilling a culture that is willing and excited to change how you are doing things to make them better is critical.
When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
My mission is to help people see that the 100 choices they make a day are their true healthcare, and help them find providers who look at their body holistically and want to help them figure out the root cause of chronic health issues when they do need formal healthcare. When I think back to all that went wrong with my mom’s care before her death, the biggest issues were a lack of interest in healing the root causes of her mental illness from her doctors and the mental hospitals she was in. She had several other chronic health issues that I believe all contributed to her eventual mental illness diagnosis at the age of 58 but none of them were discussed and worked on as part of her treatment.
The stories we tell of health recovery through integrative medicine, integrative health experts we interview, the health and wellness news and research wrap-ups we produce, the personal health experiences I document, as well as the guides we make on various health and wellness topics, I believe they all help people see that there is a different way of thinking, and that their lifestyle choices, environments, and the kind of medicine they choose to use all play a major role in preventing and reversing the chronic health issues and illnesses that are taking the lives (prematurely) of more Americans than anything else. I am also working on some services for my community (to be announced in September 2019 via my newsletter!) that will help make the process of setting up a life that prevents chronic health issues, and accessing excellent holistic care when things come up, much easier and less overwhelming.
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?
Originally a summer intern, Vanessa on my team has shared my mission and helped me build WellBe for more than two years now! I have a few other wonderful team members who have come to WellBe since then but she has really been my rock through thick and thin and continuously reminds me of how important it is to keep charging forward to help our community and make the changes we know are needed in the world. Of course lots of other people have helped me over the past two years, I would be nowhere without the help of others!
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
There are numerous problems with our food, environment and healthcare systems that prevent many people from being well and accessing wellness. If I had to choose one, I would say changing conventional medical school education so that doctors are trained to think holistically about a person’s mind and body, rather than a sum of disconnected parts, would be one of the most important movements I could start. Because true wellness and wellbeing is not about just one thing, a holistically minded doctor would be able to help a person who is unwell or hadn’t thought about wellness before to see that the 100 choices they make a day are their true healthcare and start to help change them, one by one, until that person’s day actually encourages health, rather than disease.
What are your “3 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- No one knows what they are doing, you just have to teach yourself, continue learning and find wonderful people willing to help guide you along the way.
- The people you hire to help you build your dream are the most important decisions you will make.
- Taking action helps you figure things out, rather than thinking you will figure everything out first and then take action.
Do you have a “girl-crush” in this industry? If you could take one person to brunch, who would it be? (Let another “woman in wellness” know that you respect her as a teacher and guide! )
I really admire how Kris Carr took her cancer diagnosis and used it to create an even healthier, richer life for herself. Her positivity and gratitude at having another shot at life is infectious!
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Because of losing my mom to suicide and her 3+ year battle with schizoaffective disorder before her death, mental health is an incredibly important cause to me. My take on it is that we need to think more holistically about mental health and get to the root cause of mental health issues. A lot of new research has shown the connection between mental health and gut health, viruses and bacterial infections, sleep disorders, lack of movement, thyroid disorders, micronutrient deficiencies, repressed traumas, loneliness, and a lack of exposure to nature. When we figure out the root cause or root causes and reduce or eliminate them, we can allow the body and mind (because really they are one) to heal itself.
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