The Art of Metabolism is a collective of top experts in nutrition and wellness who are passionate about helping people heal from the inside out.
It started as the brainchild of Dr. Erika La Vella, a board certified metabolic surgeon, who started researching the gut-brain-axis after her own health issues inspired her to help others. She envisioned creating a collaborative group of strong women in science to work together and deliver high caliber health education to the public. Soon after, she enlisted Bonnie Buckingham Cavanagh, MS, RDN, CDCES, a dietitian passionate about helping people heal their relationship with food.
We believe at the Art of Metabolism that the best medicine is a blend of traditional western science and holistic care. And even deeper, that the root of many illness starts in the gut. Healing our gut and our bodies need a multifactorial approach that includes our food, mental health, the body’s ability to move freely, and our environment.
Hi! I’m Bonnie Buckingham Cavanagh, a registered dietitian and a certified diabetes care and education specialist.
My interest in health started when I was younger and active playing sports. I was curious about how the foods we eat could impact our performance. Around the time I was 16, I found yoga in a small studio above a coffee shop in my small town and read about Ayurveda. It was then that I first became fascinated with the relationship humans have had with food over the centuries and how different cultures each have their own ideas about how the food we eat impacts our health. At the same time, I was struggling with a different demon, one I wasn’t even fully cognizant of at the time. I had an unhealthy relationship with food and body dysmorphia. Food was both a source of emotional comfort and the enemy. I craved it so much to soothe my feelings, but constantly hated myself for not having the self-control to restrict so I could be “thin.”
I’ll come back to that point above in a bit.
Many of you may not know this, but becoming a registered dietitian is a lengthy process. I had to complete 4 years of a bachelor’s degree from Oregon State University (which I made 5 years since I also studied exercise physiology). Then I completed a year-long clinical internship at Oregon Health and Science University and took a national exam to practice medical nutrition therapy in clinical settings. Soon after, I completed my Master’s degree at Colorado State University. In total, I spent 8 years learning about nutrition!
When you spend that long learning about nutrition and health, you can’t help but start examining your own life. While I have known many colleagues who have striven for masterful clean eating and a diligent exercise routine, I started wondering if this was really all there was to our food. Is that all it is for us? A tool to shame ourselves and each other, a constant source of stress and anxiety?
And I knew that anxiety all too well.
In fact, my anxiety led me to start having terrible stomach pain and digestive problems that felt debilitating. I was under so much pressure to perform, to be perfect. In the medical field, you are told that you need to be the best at everything, or all your hard work will go to waste because you won’t get accepted into a good program. I was so stressed that these chronic digestive issues eventually led me to a gastroenterologist at the age of 22. As you can imagine, for someone with body image and food issues, all of this stress led me to eat emotionally, then restrict, then emotionally eat again.
I was stuck in a spiral of having too much knowledge, but not enough wisdom. I couldn’t reconcile that I needed comfort, and I needed health.
I didn’t solve this overnight. It took seeing a counselor and years of practicing intuitive eating before I finally felt in control of my health. I had to give myself permission to eat food because I truly enjoy it, and eat food because I respect and care for my body. I had to look in the mirror and know that choosing to eat those tacos might mean that I always keep a couple extra rolls around my stomach, but it’s ok because I have a strong, healthy body.
There has to be a balance between eating foods you truly love and enjoy the comfort food brings and choosing foods that nourish and heal your body. We need to strive for balance. To find peace and joy with food, there must be respect and love in what we eat. I choose to eat healthy foods because I respect my body, and I choose to eat foods I love because I respect my needs as a human being.
Comfort and health.
You deserve both.
I’m Dr. Erika La Vella, DO, FASMBS
I’m a board-certified metabolic surgeon, wife, and mother who is passionate about health in the most preventative and holistic ways.
Through staying up-to-date with the latest research and healing my gut, I have become an expert in the Gut-Brain-Axis and am passionate about teaching others the impact they have over their own health.
My workshops go way beyond diet and nutrition to get to the root cause of gut dysfunction. Keep in mind; gut dysfunction is often the root cause of many ailments. Science calls this phenomenon “bi-directional.”
And guess what, there is no magic diet or pill to undo gut problems.
There is an emergent understanding that many simultaneous inputs collectively organize to create our experiences. And this is true for your health.
When it comes to an understanding of how your gut microbiome affects your health, it’s equally important to understand how your nervous system state affects your gut microbiome via the vagus nerve. My workshops teach you all you need to know about the vagus nerve.
Your stress physiology can set your guts on high alert and dysfunction.
You see, when I was in medical school, I had a plethora of gut problems. I had abdominal pain, constipation, intermittent diarrhea, inability to digest certain foods, and I couldn’t even have one glass of wine without my entire body aching for days.
I was also very stressed and fearful at this time. Not believing in myself, I had a fear of failure.
My relationships were not manifesting unconditional love. I sometimes felt hopeless and apathetic. I often created drama to match how I was feeling inside. I was also only 23.
I thought about seeking help from a medical doctor but feared I would be labeled depressed and given an antidepressant. I honestly didn’t feel like my emotional experiences were my own. I felt like a sieve, and I was taking on everyone’s fear and anxiety also.
Then, something serendipitous occurred.
I found functional medicine and found I had a gut parasite.
I took blood tests, urine tests, and saliva. I looked at my Kreb’s cycle (any biochemistry nerds?), my amino acid pathways, my neurotransmitter pathways, cortisol, and thyroid hormones. I discovered that this gut parasite was eating up precious amino acid precursors necessary for creating serotonin, melatonin, and thyroid hormone.
So there I was under tremendous amounts of pressure to study 100 hours a week and pass 13 exams every two weeks. I had a GI parasite stealing my ability to make any serotonin, melatonin, and thyroid hormone?! WTF. The effect of enteric pathogens and amino acid deficiencies wasn’t in our textbooks!
The parasite wasn’t the only pathology, though; I also had SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) and yeast overgrowth.
Long story short, my guts were a mess. And so was I.
What happened next, I took albendazole to kill the parasite, ciprofloxacin, to treat the SIBO and fluconazole to treat the yeast. I stopped taking oral contraceptive pills because they wouldn’t be effective anyway. (More thoughts on this particular protocol later!)
I already understood and followed a mostly whole foods diet, and it didn’t take me more than two months before I felt like myself again. I had energy, I could eat without abdominal pain, and I started waking up to the real work I needed to do to heal my relationship with my stress, my body, and my self-worth.
I have learned oh so many valuable lessons during this process. Going through surgical residency was a whole other level of stress at times that challenged me again and again. This time, not from the gut parasite level (gut to brain) but from a psychology and brain level (brain to gut).
I moved three times, I fell in love, got married to an Australian (he’s the best), I had a miscarriage, I had a baby, my little brother died, and I was working 80 hours a week and taking 24 hours of call up to 3 times a week.
When we are grieving, excited, sleep-deprived, not eating well, not drinking enough water, triggered to situations of stress physiology, our guts and digestion is directly impacted.
I now use heart-rate variability, mindfulness, and neurosensory exercises to keep my stress response primed for action. I eat lots of fresh food with a focus on fiber to feed the beneficial microbes in my gut.
These aren’t “hacks,” either. This is how humans are developed, and in the age of “we know-how,” I know how to teach you how to regulate your gut and nervous system on your own.
Let’s make something together.