THE JARRING STORY BEHIND THE HEADLINES 

I will never forget the day — more than 12 years ago — when I learned that I had stones in my gallbladder. I didn’t fit the prototype of a patient who presents with gallstones: obese, over 40, diabetic.

What was I eating that caused these hard cholesterol deposits to form, unbeknownst to me?

In retrospect, every year of my life leading up to that point, I had absolutely no regard for my nutrition or what I was putting in my body. I was an avid track and field athlete in high school with the good fortune of a fast metabolism, so what did it matter, anyway?

I was given medication to help dissolve the stones, but as the months went on and trips to the ER became a weekend ritual, I could no longer deny the reality that my gallbladder was getting more and more diseased. Before I knew it, I was sitting in the office of two renowned NYU gastroenterologists for a consultation on what to do next. The painful fact of the matter: there was no other option but to remove my gallbladder. I sat there in disbelief.

This entire organ had failed me. One might argue I failed it, with 99% of my diet being comprised of processed foods.

Shortly after the inevitable surgery, I began investigating food tenaciously. With no extra ‘closet space’ for the bile that helps digest fatty foods, I wondered if I would ever be able to eat another burger again. I started being mindful of the ingredients we can’t pronounce; the copious amounts of hidden sugars, food coloring made from petrochemicals, and cancer-causing preservatives.

The more I learned, the more outraged I became. I never gave permission for my body to be used as a toxic waste dump or a science experiment, but my fate had already been sealed. Four, half-inch incisions later, I developed a greater appreciation for how natural, whole foods regulate the bodily processes that we take for granted every day. I wish I could tell you that the story ended there and that I was forever healed, but the pendulum swung in the opposite direction.

FROM UNHEALTHY TO OBSESSIVE

Shortly after my gallbladder removal, my best friend was diagnosed with an unclassified, high-grade bone sarcoma. I entered the beauty pageant circuit and won a local competition where I used my platform to do the important work of raising awareness for the cancer that eventually took his life. That’s when I became a cardio bunny and learned how to restrict calories. I thought to myself: this must be what healthy looks like.

It wasn’t long before I was hooked on competing, signing up for three additional shows that year. Between the 5K runs I participated in with the Sarcoma Foundation of America and my daily sprints on the treadmill, I eventually broke both of my shins and spent 6 months in physical therapy. That was the catalyst for my transition into strength training: out with the old, in with the new.

I got a bunch of fancy certifications, started personal training, fitness modeling, and landed sponsorships with several supplement companies. In short, life was good and I still had a relatively sane relationship with food (all things considered).

But the perfectionist and contender in me led me down a dark path and I decided I wanted to compete in my very first fitness competition. I hired a coach to help me bring my best possible ‘package’ to the stage, and that was when my dieting tactics became more aggressive, with the goal of single-digit body fat percentages. I remember days where my hands were literally shaking from how hungry I was, to which my coach mercilessly replied, “You want a winner’s physique? You’ve got to do whatever it takes. Just stick to the plan.” And so I did.

THERE I WAS… MISERABLE, DESPITE HAVING ACHIEVED THAT SEEMINGLY ‘PERFECT’ BODY.

I could never have projected that the calorie restrictions and mind-numbing cardio sessions would have impacted my overall health long after I hung up my competition heels… but nobody just wakes up one day to find themselves in a bottomless pit.

THE RAMIFICATIONS 

I experienced blood sugar spikes and falls that were off the charts and ran on caffeine whenever my energy stores were depleted (something that was quite routine). My menstrual cycle became more and more irregular and I was eventually diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. I was no longer burning calories efficiently even with an increase in expenditure. And perhaps the most tragic consequence of all: my healthy relationship with food gradually eroded.

I was a metabolic mess.

I sabotaged my relationships so that I could avoid being present in them. I missed out on a lot of birthdays, weddings, and social gatherings because I couldn’t trust myself around the very foods I denied myself on a daily basis. The scale, the food on my plate, and my body image completely dominated my life. In the years that followed, I developed a full-blown eating disorder and debilitating anxiety.

I tried different medications to reduce my eating disorder symptoms. When they didn’t work, I convinced my doctor to prescribe me Phentermine, an appetite suppressant normally given to obese patients. I figured, I can’t binge if I’m not hungry… right? 

I also tried different Benzodiazepines to manage my anxiety attacks; these are a class of drugs which stimulate GABA, the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the brain. All of these manipulations to my brain’s natural chemistry only made me feel more out of touch with reality. 

Chasing the perpetual summer in the latest diet fad, the opinion of competition judges, and trying to conform to unrealistic standards clearly wasn’t working. Neither was the clinical approach.

I hit my emotional rock bottom. I could keep letting life happen to me, or I could change its course. By that point, I was willing to completely die to any form of me that I had ever been, so that I could birth the woman I knew I was capable of becoming.

And then the real work came

I invested over $20,000 working with industry leaders in personal development. While I did benefit from the knowledge I acquired, much of it was too ‘woo-woo’ for me. I wanted to understand the mechanisms that governed human behavior, particularly as it related to the deeply rooted programming I had struggled with for so long.

In many ways, neuroscience proved to be the antidote to my body image woes and metabolic demise.

What the diet industry doesn’t tell you is chronic restriction for many years (even months) creates some pretty deep grooves in the brain. Once this happens, our neural tapestry favors chunking down on incoming data, firing away with a level of automaticity, and disengaging from the brain’s higher, more executive functions. Exploring, and then unpacking all of that, was the most liberating experience of my life.

Today, I live that life unscripted

I finally put my war on food to bed by shifting my focus and have since been able to attract incredible opportunities, for which I am grateful.
I have maintained physical strength and endurance that puts our sinewy, hard-bodied male counterparts on notice (goodbye yo-yo dieting!).
I travel internationally as a serial entrepreneur and mastered two languages in the process — I’m telling you, you can teach an old dog new tricks!
I no longer feel pressed to choose between red bottoms and lipstick OR messy buns and yoga pants. I can have both. You can, too.
I spend more time creating things I’m passionate about and less time weighing, measuring, and carrying around my next meal.
My idea of cardio is lifting heavy things... faster. The only time you’ll ever catch me hitting the pavement is when it’s a breezy 75 degrees and I’ve got errands to run (no pun intended).

AND NOW, I HELP WOMEN LIKE YOU FIND SUPREME STRENGTH IN THEIR BODIES… AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, THEIR MINDS.

My coaching practice is a distillation of years and years of unraveling — strand by elusive strand — the brain’s powerful influence over fat loss and how it can push back against our efforts to ‘control’ or otherwise restrict calories. From my findings, I have inadvertently deduced how we can optimize our brain to achieve high performance — not just in fitness, but in our businesses, our relationships, and quite frankly, in our lives. I have since vowed to keep my finger on the pulse of the latest neuroscience research and deliver it to the mainstream in a way that is relevant and practical.

One thing I would like you to know from my story is that perfection doesn’t exist. I still have moments when my primitive brain bullies my higher cognition, but I have equipped myself with the right kind of armor to make sure those ‘moments’ don’t turn into days, weeks, and months of self-sabotage.

I am here, in this space, to help you transform disempowering stories into stories of achievement. I am so very happy that you’ve joined me. Stay a while.

TO BRILLIANCE, BRAWN + BITE-SIZED NEUROSCIENCE,

Juliette