Bella Lindemann is the founder of The Functional Gut Clinic and a Certified Practitioner specialising in digestive health. She is also one half of travel blog Me and My Travel Bugs (check out her instagram page for serious travel envy) and a new mum.
We chat to Bella about transitioning your passion into a full-time career, the importance nutrition plays with our work productivity and creativity and not going it alone where possible!
Q1: In your own words, please tell us what you do and how it came to be…
I founded The Functional Gut Health Clinic to help women labelled with IBS actually identify the root cause of their symptoms and overcome these imbalances naturally. It’s an online clinic which means we can help clients from across the world and allows us to work from anywhere with wifi. Travelling frequently and with a long history of travel-related illnesses like Bali Belly and the like, led us to create a travel blog separate to our online clinic that focuses on helping people stay healthy and avoid being sick while they travel.
Q2: You’re obviously very passionate about healthy living. What made you decide to go down the path of nutrition?
My passion for nutrition was born out of necessity really. I had long struggled with IBS but after a really bad case of food poisoning in Zanzibar, my health started to go down hill. So, like all symptom sufferers, I started to work on improving my health. First it was clean-eating and removing trigger foods like gluten and dairy.
But it wasn’t until we moved to London, where I gained over 10kg in three months, didn’t have enough energy to go to work and lost my regular cycle, and gut health symptoms continued unrelentingly, despite eating (almost neurotically) healthy and going to the gym five to six times per week, that I realised there was more to the story than standard diet and exercise recommendations.
Despite many attempts by doctors and other health professionals to identify what was wrong, it wasn’t until a functional nutritionist in London found I had parasites, bacterial pathogens and overgrowths and a few other nasties that needed to be addressed, before things finally started to turn around.
This was really the start of my journey to help women with IBS realise there is an actual cause for their symptoms, and to help travellers from getting many of these gut infections picked up when exploring beautiful parts of the world in the first place. My own health hitting rock bottom kick-started a whole new career and a whole new life.
Q3: We’re focusing on health and wellness this month and we know you’re a big advocate for nourishing your body. How do you feel this can impact your work productivity and creativity?
If your body is out of balance, two of the most common symptoms I see, and experienced first hand, are brain fog and chronically low energy levels. My body was so out of balance and my brain fog so bad that I started struggling to be a part of conversations with friends because I might start a sentence and almost forget completely what I was going to say. There is certainly a spectrum and not nourishing your body with the right foods can contribute to the issue for many people.
The second symptom I mentioned is chronically low energy levels, which for me meant not being able to leave the house or go to work some days. But for others it can mean relying on 4 or more coffees a day or experiencing that crash around 3pm. Again, the wrong nutrition or imbalances within the gut or hormone systems of the body can all play a part, seriously impacting your productivity or creativity.
Q4: What are your top tips for ensuring you move and fuel your body each week when travelling?
This was something I really struggled with when we travelled around a lot - between jet lag, eating out all the time and trying to cram in as many sights and activities as possible, it’s exhausting. I always felt like I needed a holiday after every trip. The actual transport part of travel can really mess with your health and routines.
This is one of the reasons we decided to focus on slow travel, spending weeks or months rather than days in each of the cities we visit. We get an Airbnb with a kitchen, find the local markets and cook at home like we would normally. I also like to venture out on foot where possible to combine exercise with exploring new places. Our goal is to really take as much of our normal routine with us when we travel.
Q5: From your perspective, what does a healthy and balanced lifestyle look like to you?
After trying some pretty strict diets and lifestyle approaches, I’ve really simplified things in recent years. When it comes to eating, I try to embrace JERF (just eat real food) and avoid as many packaged food-like substances where possible - some people call it ‘eating like your great-grandparents’.
Since my London experience, where over-exercise was an added stressor that my body just couldn’t handle, exercise is more about movement than anything too structured or intense. Cutting right back on exercise and losing all the weight I’d gained and regaining my health, really taught me a lot about what my body really needs. Another important piece of the puzzle for me is nourishing the soul. For me this is travel, reading a good book, running a clinic that improves people’s lives and spending time with my family.
Q6: What steps did you take to create a business from your passion of healthy living? How did you know when it was time to transition your passion into a full-time career?
The first step was getting the necessary qualification to turn my passion for gut health into a full-time career. Once my husband and I realised we wanted to work online from anywhere, I knew it meant starting my own clinic. As neither of us had any idea about online business or marketing, we bought two business courses; B-School by Marie Forleo and later a more targeted online business course for health practitioners. We saved up enough money to last us a year, and because we were moving back to Australia from London, we thought it was the best time to start full-time instead of trying to find a new job and then transition once our business has grown.
We spent the first year perfecting our website, writing blogs, e-books, social media posts and taking on every client I could find. We used up almost all of the money we had saved in that first year, but things took off just in time for us to both continue full time. As the role of the gut in almost every other aspect of health becomes more widely accepted, and ‘gut health’ continues trending, we’ve continued to grow and grow. That growth allowed us to continue travelling, start our travel blog and a family of our own.
Q7: How do you continue to find motivation for your work while travelling and running multiple businesses?
The success stories of our clients is the biggest motivator for me. Seeing people move from helpless after struggling with IBS for years, to empowered and getting back to living their best life is what makes it all worth it.
Q8: You’ve recently had a new baby, how have you found keeping on track with your nutrition? Do you have any tips for new mums who own their own business?
Time is definitely the biggest challenge. Unfortunately the time we previously spent making foods from scratch, meal prep, etc. is just sucked up with the all-consuming needs of a newborn. Fortunately my husband works from home and my parents-in-law are a short drive away and we’re all passionate about healthy eating so I have managed to leverage their time to help stay (mostly) on track with eating well.
My three observations/learnings so far have been:
1. Listen to your body - if you learn to be really intune with it, your body knows what it needs.
2. Nourishing your body nourishes your baby when breastfeeding and changes in my diet can affect my baby, which helps keep me on track.
3. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I’ve always tried to live by the 80-20 rule: that it’s what you do 80% of the time, day in, day out that makes the difference in the long run and to not beat myself up about the other stuff. This seems even more important at the moment - with everything, not just nutrition.
Q9: What does a typical day look like for you when you’re working (and when you’re not!). Do you have a routine that you stick to?
We’re currently not there yet with routine with an 8 week old! But the year before he was born we focussed a lot on creating space - which involved setting lots of stricter boundaries on work time and allocating times for the things we enjoy outside of work.
Most days we rise early, focus on some form of movement, like walking around a city or park near where we are staying, or yoga, then have breakfast before delving into our first block of work. We love to use 90 minute blocks of focussed work time throughout the day with breaks in between for movement and nutrition. We have a few of these blocks planned for each day we are working and try really hard to have at least 1 day each week where we switch off from work. It’s tricky when you run your own business and you love what you do!
Q10: What are you passionate about?
Gut health - it has changed my life and hundreds of our clients but we still don’t know so much about the complexities of our microbiome, so I’m passionate about keeping up to date with the ever-evolving science of gut health.
Healthy travel - travel offers so much opportunity for personal growth, but too often at the expense of our health. That’s why I’m passionate about giving others the tools to catch the metaphorical travel bug, without the physical nasty kind.
Q11: What are your top 3 superpowers?
Unwavering belief that everything is figure-out-able (I love this concept that you will know from Marie Forleo).
Q12: What advice would you impart on the next generation of women, and women in business?
Don’t go it alone where possible. Find someone who compliments your strengths and weakness but is as committed to the end goal as you. For me, it was my husband - his superpowers in business, technology and design gave us a really well rounded team. And when you’re starting a business, you need so many different skill sets as you can muster because it's almost impossible to be able to cover them all on your own.
Q13: One last thing... share with us a quirky fact about yourself! Something that people might not know about you?
I wear a kids shoe, size 3 - nice heels are hard to come by but my shoes are always cheap!