Clinical nutritionist and Functional medicine practitioner Filipa Bellette shares her journey with burn out, what worked for her, how she has integrated this into her clinical practice to assist others and juggling motherhood. Tune in here for an engaging conversation.
Jacqui Fahey (0:06): Welcome to Common Ground, a podcast series discussing new research and interesting projects in the field of complementary medicine. Hello, my name is Jacqui Fahey, Head of education at vital.ly
vital.ly is a digital platform, a health professional resource, and a distribution service all in one.
Firstly, I'd like to begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora nation as the traditional custodians on the land on which we gather here. I would also like to pay my respect to their elders both past, present and emerging.
Today on Common Ground I'll be speaking with Filipa Bellette Co-Founder of Chris & Filly Functional Medicine.
Filipa is an accredited Clinical Nutritionist and, Functional Medicine Practitioner. She is also a PhD thought-leader, award-winning writer, and regularly published as a guest blogger and in the media.
Filipa has worked with over 2,000+ busy, burnout clients in the last combined 20+ years, and specialises in supporting healthy, productive and happy Mums & Dads.
Welcome to Common Ground Filipa.
Filipa Bellette (01:08): Thanks so much, Jacqui. It's so exciting to be here talking to you.
Jacqui Fahey (01:12): Filipa, what is your background and what was the light bulb moment that prompted you to start your own business?
Filipa Bellette (01:20): As you mentioned, prior to me getting into natural medicine, I was a bit lost. I'm like, what do I do with my life? So I jumped in and did a Bachelor of Arts as most people do when they don't know what to do with their lives which was great.
I majored in psychology and English, so I already had an interest in human behaviour and mental health and that side of things. Then I went on and did a PhD focusing on human rights. My PhD was actually a lot around creative writing and the way we use stories and words and how we can instigate change through the stories that we share first and foremost, by changing your own self and the way that you see yourself and the world and then making change elsewhere. So, when I got my PhD report back, it was actually on the very day that I had given birth to my first baby and that was a massive turning point for me, probably not yet the light bulb moment, but it was definitely the turning point that then flew me into the direction that I now work in.
Filipa Bellette (02:32): So the birth was quite traumatic. It was a three-day labour. All the interventions were taken except for a C-section, but you know, I had the epidural, then the forceps and the suction cap, and I ended up having a lot of trauma and damage done to my bowel and also to my bladder after the birth. None of the specialists could determine why that happened, but basically I couldn't pee. So I was sitting in the hospital for about two or three days and the midwife said to me, ‘Oh, have you gone to the toilet yet?’ And I thought that they were talking about a poo because I'd heard that you need to poo before you before you go home or wee, or something anyway, I'm like, ‘Oh no, I haven't done a poo’. They didn't really then ask me about wee and then it was a couple of days later and I'm like, I still haven't gone to the toilet at all. It turned out that my bladder had, I don't know, all nerve sensation had kind of like become damaged and I had no feeling to actually urinate. So they put an internal catheter in and I can't remember how many litres of urine was in my very ballooned bladder, but it was like a huge amount. And from there I couldn't pee for about four months. And so I had an internal catheter in after the birth of my first baby, where I was also bleeding everywhere. And I couldn't use my bowels properly because there was damage that way as well. And I ended up going on heaps of antibiotics. So one first is as a preventative from getting a UTI because that's kind of like the measure that the medical specialist recommend when you're using a catheter.
Filipa Bellette (04:13): But I ended up getting UTIs and infections and severe constipation, being in and out of hospital a few times. Then I was on the heavy IV antibiotics in the hospital. So from that time I just started developing a whole heap of different physical body burnout. I call it body burnout symptoms. So first of all, my mental health was not good. After my first baby, I was experiencing, I would say postnatal depression. I actually never went to a GP to get diagnosed, but I got to the point where I had no love for my child. I didn't want my child. I was in quite a dark place. And then later on, when I had my second baby, I actually flipped from that low mood to full on anxiety, but in the middle of all that as well, I had gut issues, chronic heart burn, skin issues and no libido whatsoever, female hormones, all out of whack, I even started developing some chemical sensitivities as well to funny fake smelling candles, cleaning products, even EMFs.
And my immune system was shot as well. So every two or three weeks, you know, I would catch a new cold or a flu or an infection, get over it. The next week I'd have something new. So anyway, that was a big turning point in terms of what I was doing from a career point of view. But I remember when Poppy turned one, my big light bulb moment was I was given a book called ‘Deep Nutrition’, amazing book. It talks all about Weston A Price’s philosophy around eating real foods that our ancestor ate when like, you know, pretty much getting back to our traditional diets and that our processed foods were killing us and making us very sick and that, ‘Hey, you can heal your body with real food’. I think about that now, I'm like, how did I not know that?
Filipa Bellette (06:11): But at the time when I read that book, it was a huge light bulb moment for me. And I'm like, ‘holy smokes!’. I could actually start physically and mentally healing my body and mind by changing the way that I ate. So that's where my big ‘aha’ moment started. I jumped onto the healthy, ]
clean eating band wagon. I started sprouting everything in my kitchen, it looks like a lab, I had things sprouting. I was making my own Jesus bread, like dehydrating sprouted grains, fermenting foods, all that sort of stuff, ditched all the cardboard cereals and white bread, the things that I thought were healthy.
I changed and transformed what I was eating. So that was really cool.
And I would definitely say that there were some pretty cool experiences with inflammation, reducing it from my body, feeling so much better and well enough to have a second baby, which I did.
And then I thought that my second birth and experience with having a second child would be so much better because I was eating well. But I found out that or what happened was that all these underlying symptoms that I originally had just exploded again. So that was another light bulb moment because I'm like, ‘okay, well I'm eating really well. You know, what else can I do?’ And that's what then led me more into looking at deep healing of the body systems and functional medicine and studying nutritional medicine to really look at those root causes because while nutrition is a huge part of health, there was so much more going on inside my system and around my body and in my life that was affecting my health.
Jacqui Fahey (07:55): Yeah. Wow. Thank you for sharing that. That's quite the journey, you mentioned body burnout, what is body burnout? This is a part of what you work with in your practice. What is body burnout for our audience?
Filipa Bellette (08:14): Yeah. So we're on a mission to end body burnout and we coined ‘body burnout’ because we wanted to differentiate just the usual, what people think about burnout. So burnout is often a thing that, you know, it's very much in workplaces. You're working too hard. You're not having enough breaks. You're feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. And then, you know, you start getting tired or anxious or depressed. And so while they're all signs of burnout, what we specialise in and what we're experts in is looking at what burnout does to the body. And so looking specifically at when you reach that point of burnout and I can talk a little bit more about what that can look like soon. There’s areas in the body like your gut health, your hormones, your detox pathways, your neurotransmitters that literally become burnt out, when you're burning the candle at both ends, whether that's through having babies and health issues and stress and overwhelm of trying to learn how to cope with a new baby or juggling businesses or working and kids like there's so much, so many ways that we try to do too much. And then we burn the candle out both ends, if that makes sense.
Jacqui Fahey (09:33): Yeah, absolutely. And you work with functional medicine. What is functional medicine and what is a holistic approach to health? If you could cover that for our audience listening today.
Filipa Bellette (09:44): Yeah. So functional medicine combines natural medicine. So for me that's nutritional medicine or clinical nutrition is what I am accredited in. So when I studied, it was very much all about taking a really good case history and getting a really good understanding of what's going on in your client or patient's life looking at their diet and all that sort of stuff. And then, like for me, when I first started practicing, it was kind of like, I just felt like I was taking an educated guess in terms of, what is actually wrong? I mean, it sounds like they might have adrenal fatigue or gut issues, but how can I actually know? That was the big thing for me as well. I was trying different protocols and supplements and diets. While some of them helped, they weren't really helping me to get the resolution that I wanted for my health. And so functional medicine combines what we know about natural medicine with evidence based functional lab testing that goes beyond what GP’s and medical specialists test for. So it's looking at pathogens in the gut, it's looking at your beneficial microbiome. Some things that I look at specifically in our clinic are your neurotransmitters, your adrenal stress, hormones, leaky, gut, detox pathways, methylation, all that sort of stuff that, you know, a lot of us probably have heard about or know about or if you Dr. Google, like’ what's causing my fatigue?’, some of this stuff might show up. Functional medicine can actually determine if that's a thing which then makes treatment so much more effective because you're treating what is imbalanced, not what might be imbalanced. So, yeah, I'm a massive lab geek, but also I would say, functional medicine and natural therapies in general. It's root cause medicine as well. So it's not just trying to bandaid, you know, even leaky gut, it's not just kind of like bandaiding that with taking bone broth or glutamine, it's also looking at, okay, well why has this happened in the first place? What do we need to change so that these therapeutic protocols that we are using are not just going to give you short term benefits, but it's actually going to heal you for life because you're fixing the underlying root causes.
Jacqui Fahey (12:04): You mentioned earlier, your mission is to end body burnout for high achieving parents. How does body burnout show up? What are the symptoms? What does a clinical picture look like?
Filipa Bellette (12:16): I would say the three big things that we see time and time, again, almost all our clients have at least one, two or three of these issues are energy issues, mood issues or gut issues. Energy issues could look like, it could be chronic fatigue or sometimes people have high functioning body burnout where it's like, ‘well, you know, I can still work and I can still look after the kids, but oh, every time I have lunch, I just need to go down and have a nap’. Or ‘when I wake up, I want to sleep for another hour because I'm not feeling perky’ or it could be showing up as brain fog, forgetting words, you know, that sort of stuff. And then mood, so mood, if it's at the extreme, that would be, you know, full blown anxiety, depression disorders.
But again, sometimes it can just be that you're feeling irritable or snappy or those small things that you used to brush off are now triggering you. You're feeling more overwhelmed and stressed. It's also what I used to call myself the ‘dragon mom’, because when I had anxiety, I was snapping and crabby all the time. A lot of moms relate to that. They're like, ‘yes, I feel like a dragon mom and I don't want to anymore’ but that's how mood issues can show up because your stress bucket just gets so high that you just snap. It can show anger as well. And then that last symptom is gut issues, but I'd also combine in that last sign as inflammatory conditions. So it could be like specific gut symptoms, like heartburn, bloating, constipation. And they're also the things that people don't think about when they just think about burnout.
Filipa Bellette (13:59): You know, it's like, sometimes I'll have a new client. I'm like, ‘how are your stress levels?’ And they're like, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. stress is fine. I'm not stressed’. I mean, you know, I don't get anxious or anything like that, but then they'll have, you know, heartburn or bloating or PMS or their skin is erupting and it's like you’re stressed out. They might not feel like they're mentally stressed out, but that stress is showing up in their body. And you know, there are also some signs that you may be going down the track of body burnout.
Jacqui Fahey (14:34):Yeah. Right. So what's your working experience to end body burnout? What makes your method different then?
Filipa Bellette (14:39): Yeah. So from my own personal experience and trialing many things and getting results, but then some things not lasting or some symptoms popping up again, this is why, my whole energy and my husband, we are both the co-founders of Chris and Philly Functional Medicine. Our whole energy and focus is how can we not just help people get symptomatic relief or short term relief, but how can we help them not just heal their body systems, but have health for life. And something recent that happened as well. It was two years ago at the start of the COVID pandemic. I was feeling really good health wise before that. And, you know, I'd done a lot of work. I'd done my own functional medicine work and all that sort of stuff. And I was eating well and focusing on sleep and trying to find more work life balance.
But the moment the COVID pandemic hit and extra stress was added onto my plate. Again, I had some of these symptoms start popping up again and I'm like, holy smokes. What is like, yes, I understand that stress can cause issues to pop up again, but can I get to a point and can I help others get to a point where no matter what happens in your life, you can still maintain beautiful health. And so our method is again a holistic approach. So it's not just about, you know, doing the lab testing and taking a supplement or a diet, although that's all really important. It's also peeling back the deepest layers of why someone's burnt out in the first place. And, you know, we have, we've matched this out on whiteboard and, you know, we're like looking at all the root causes, like why does someone have candida or detox issues or adrenal fatigue.
Filipa Bellette (16:33): And almost always, it comes back to the way that someone thinks and feels about themselves, which then dictates their behaviour, which then creates habits, which then creates a lifestyle. And so for me, I can share a personal story around, what this actually looks like, is that if I look back as to why my body burned out in the first place, it was nothing to do with having babies. And I actually don't think it was all to do with the antibiotics. Although both of those were an extra stress on my plate. It was the fact that I was an addicted doer. So I was the high achiever, the perfectionist, I think I was the youngest person at Macquarie university at the time, at least to have to have done a PhD. You know, I was, looking back, I'm like, why did I do this, I was passionate about what I did but I was almost doing it out of a sense to prove myself, to prove that I was capable, and I was worthy and I was good.
And I didn't realise any of that at the time, but now I'm sort of like, I've done the work looking back at, okay, what caused that behavioural problem to happen in the first place? And it got to a point when I was doing my PhD, that I had no fun, for four years I was just stuck to the computer and put so much pressure on myself. And there was a lot of imposter syndrome going on, which meant that I had to work harder and harder and harder in order to become or like to prove myself to other people. And so I've done a lot of work on that, but even when I was thinking back to the COVID pandemic popping up, it's like, oh, all of a sudden you know, there's all this stress that I just went into the work mode, again, like the adept doing, it's like, okay, how are we going pivot our business?
How are we going to survive?...Rather than just seeing this actual blessing of having a lockdown and having space to breathe and to be with my children I just went straight back into that addicted doer behavioural tendency. And so, I mean, and we find that a lot of our clients have, you know, especially if they're at that state of body burnout and they're high achievers and they're working and you know, they're doing wonderful things in the world, but there's often like stuff going on internally, that's causing these issues in the first place. And so we're helping people to actually become aware of those, review what's going on, deconstruct what's going on and then rewrite healthy self-limiting beliefs or sorry, health beliefs about yourself.
Jacqui Fahey (19:16): Reframing it isn't it. And so for you now, how do you juggle motherhood business and your health? How's it going for you?
Filipa Bellette (19:25):
Yeah look, I'm still not perfect. I think the big one for me is listening to the messages my body is sending me because it's always going tell me if I'm just doing a little bit too much.
Jacqui Fahey (19:39): Yes.
Filipa Bellette (19:40): And so paying attention to those tiny little cues as well. So it's like, ‘oh, I didn't go to sleep that well last night. Well, why is that happening?’ So I can kind of recalibrate myself really quickly when I'm in tune with what my body's telling me, but it's also again, it's acknowledging and accepting that I am enough as I am and I don't need to finish my to-do list and although I have big goals in our business and, you know, I want to be the best mom that I can be. I also want to provide myself self-care. It's like, I don't have to do everything and then see parents where I can. At the moment I'm writing a book. So I am very much book, book, book, book, book, but still giving my space to, be a mom and support my health. But the book will be finished soon. And then I can focus, more on whatever is needed. So it's putting on the hat at the season that I need, becoming aware. And then also just staying in tune with my body and the messages it's sending to me.
Jacqui Fahey (20:44): Yeah, well said. You've received media coverage for your entrepreneurial endeavours. Tell us a little bit about that.
Filipa Bellette (20:51): Yeah. So, like I said before, our big mission is to end burnout and I love, I absolutely love working with the clients that we have, but I also just, I'm a storyteller and I love sharing my own story and I love sharing the possibility of what can come, that you can end your body burn out. And also that there's a process that you can do that. And so last year I am like, okay, well, how can I share my message in a bigger, broader way? And so I just started reaching out to like journalists and stuff. There was no kinda like a door. What is it they say, if you have a behind the door you can get into the stage or something, I don't know. So I actually, if this might be helpful too, if there's any other practitioners that are like, ‘oh, I'd actually like to get some media features.’
So there were a couple of things, I actually did a very awesome business accelerator program last year with my husband called the ‘Key Person of Influence’. And so a lot of that is about raising your profile and how to get into the media. But the two ways that I did it as well was there's a website called HARO ‘H-A-R-O’, and there's also a website called ‘SourceBottle’. And if you sign up to those, you get emails every day and they will call out to people, you know, if they need an expert commentary on something, or if they want you to write a blog post or an article. And so I just started pitching to journalists and anyway, got picked up by quite a few people. So I had an article published in ‘Body and Soul’, and that was all about my journey as a mom and my body burnout that happened after becoming a mom. And the steps I took to overcoming that.
We also love like supporting business owners as well. Because they're the type of people that are often juggling all the things as well as a family. So I also had a feature in Forbes all about what was the title? ‘Seven signs your productivity is a real problem’. Because again, sometimes people who are still in that state where they can work, work, work, and do do, do, and are not in tune with themselves to actually realise that, ‘oh, if I think, and if I look to see for some of these signs and if I have them, then, you know, I might actually need to start addressing my body burnout’.
Jacqui Fahey (23:21): Fantastic. Wow. Go you.. And so what's your long term vision and what steps are you doing towards that?
Filipa Bellette (23:28): Yeah, so a big vision is like, I see a world. This is a huge vision and I can't do it on my own. My husband and I can't do our own, but the big world vision is that we see a world full of healthy, happy parents, leading healthy, happy children. And so while our focus is on helping parents or adults I mean, we work with children as well, but if you can get yourself sorted, then it's going to just like, it's naturally going to have this beautiful follow on effect with your children. One, you'll have the capacity and the energy and the mental space to be the type of parent that you want to be, and also have the tools and resources to be able to teach your children why it is important to be healthy, not to just to say here, eat your meat and veg. It's actually being able to, you're teaching the why, because that's what then creates change.
Jacqui Fahey (24:23):Yes.
Filipa Bellette (24:25): So we are doing that like, through our clinic and through our ‘Ending Body Burnout’ method, I'm also currently writing a book called ‘Mama shine’. So that's all about the four steps to ending your body burnout. And again, it's a way that, you know, because not everyone can afford our services, but it will be a way that everyone is going to have the opportunity very cheaply to have our method in a book.
Jacqui Fahey (24:49): I like the title ‘Mama shine’. That's beautiful.
Filipa Bellette (24:52):Thank you.
Jacqui Fahey (24:53):And so you have some resources that can help. How could people access them?
Filipa Bellette (24:59):Yeah. Awesome. So we have an ending body burnout assessment. This is a scorecard or quiz that we created that looks at your body burnout symptoms and it gives you a rate out of a hundred percent. So a hundred is like, you are awesome. You're doing great. And then we've also in the assessment, it breaks down root causes from a body mind and environment level. So when you take that scorecard, you can actually see, okay, am I in a state of body burnout because of my symptoms? And then where are the contributors happening? What do I need to focus my attention on? So that's a really good one. I mean, I know that your listeners are both clinicians or practitioners as well as the general public. I would say both would be beneficial to taking it. And then for people who want to learn a bit more about functional medicine and lab testing and the ways that, you know, we treat people, we have a course called a 10-part minicourse, it's all about hormonal and gut burnout. So that's kind of like a handy little resource as well.
Jacqui Fahey (26:06): Great
Filipa Bellete (26:07): It looks at this a little bit of this a bit deeper.
Jacqui Fahey (26:09): Great. Well Filipa thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and experience today on Common Ground.
Filipa Bellette (26:15): Thank you so much for having me.
Jacqui Fahey (26:17):Thank you, and thanks for tuning into this episode today. We appreciate your support and feel free to leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you. Thank you.