She’s a bestselling author, a celebrated speaker, and a hustling entrepreneur with a booming health coaching practice. Her expertise has been spotlighted on The View, The Today Show, in the pages of Cosmopolitan and People, and she has graced dozens of podcasts with her language of wisdom. Wellness is her arena, straightforward is her style, and the connection between digestive health and the intuitive hemisphere is her beloved niche—one she is most fascinated by and continues to study earnestly.

In this thoughtful interview, Youkilis stands atop her most passionate soapbox to answer questions about every facet of wellness—from the most buzzed-about trends, to common misconceptions about nutrition, to the hidden trap doors of emotional eating, as well as the modes of healthy living that most often elude our attention. Continue reading for her guidance on how you can clean up your gut, turn on your intuition and create your most luminous life in the coming New Year. Living well, she promises, begins with simply dialing down the world’s chatter and tuning in to what is most true.

Johnson: Morning routines are all the rage in the realm of wellness right now. Do you have a morning practice that has been instrumental in your most successful days?

Youkilis: I believe taking a moment to connect with yourself is the foundation to wellness, so I do support morning routines in that sense. I always have my matcha and my power parfait, which are important rituals for me. I think it’s great if you can devote 20 or more minutes to yourself first thing every morning, whether it’s journaling or meditating, but that doesn’t always work for busy parents with young children.

For my most recent book, Thin From Within, I came up with the idea of a morning minute. Not everyone has the time to spend an hour, but it’s important to begin your day connecting with yourself. A morning minute could literally look like putting your hand over your heart, taking a deep breath and saying, “Hi, Good morning. I’m here for you. I acknowledge you. I honor you. Let’s do this.” I do try to meditate every morning, but even if I’m only able to manage one minute or five minutes, I tell myself, “Look, it was valuable. It isn’t a waste because I couldn’t do a full 20 minutes. My body still got something out of it.”

Johnson: What has surprised you in the process of supporting others along their wellness journeys—perhaps the less-obvious subtleties that you took note of and ushered into your practice?

Photo by Caitlin Mitchell Studio

Youkilis: Beyond what you put into your mouth, so much of wellness is about honing in on what you want more of in your life and what you want less of in your life. It’s important to make that connection with food, yes, but also the connection with all of our life’s choices. You’ll never be happy or feel well if you continue eating food that makes you feel bad in your body, or engaging in activities that you don’t really enjoy.

Johnson: There is so much conflicting information out there about diet and exercise; what have you found to ring the most true?

Youkilis: I learned early on that it’s not about just eating the kale or the brown rice and doing the workouts for all of that to equal health. We’re essentially bacteria, so I’m all about fermented foods, and probiotics, and microbiome. If you have a history of antibiotics or chronic illness in your life, you may need to start with working on your microbiome. This can have a huge effect on your weight, too. This is why I incorporate a lot of gut-friendly foods into the recipes in my books.

Johnson: Your following has grown exponentially in recent years. Was there a moment or particular season in your life when you knew that studying to become a health coach had to be your next move?

Youkilis: My impulse to go to school was very much from my intuition. It was a hit of inspiration—a thought of, “I have to do this.” There was no big wowzer moment exactly, but more like a lot of little moments that made it clear what needed to happen next.

It started after I met my now-husband and moved to Los Angeles. I began going to the Farmer’s Market and getting involved in the food scene there, which helped me understand food in a new way. Before that, food for me had been a game of, “How much can I manipulate this? Am I being good? Am I being bad? How much can I have of this?” I was working at a non-profit at the time, and one day while talking with a colleague, I was telling her about this sandwich I had made. She said, “You should check out this nutrition school.” I later enrolled, but had no idea what I was going to do with it, so I decided to just do what my instructors were telling me to do. I did the lectures, I built the website, I recruited the clients. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and, slowly, things started happening.

For years, I thought everybody was doing it better than I was, but I just kept going and learning. Now, a decade later, it has morphed into my life’s passion and work. I started letting my intuition be at the heart of it, which is what led me to school, and this industry, in the first place.

Johnson: While on the subject of intuition, in my research I came upon an interesting statement you made while promoting your first book, Go With Your Gut. You said, “Cleaning up your gut is essential so that you can live from your gut.” What is the correlation exactly, and how do we distinguish between the voice of our intuition and the noise of living?

Photo by Caitlin Mitchell Studio

Youkilis: We all have an intuitive voice. It comes from the center of who we are—and I mean that energetically as well as the physical point, which is your digestive system. They are one and the same. I recommend to everyone, whether it’s regarding what they should eat for lunch or whether or not they should take a particular opportunity, to ask that place inside of you what is going to be best for you. It’s really all the same conversation, and it’s the most important conversation you can have.

Johnson: How can one exercise that voice more often—so that it strengthens itself and increases in volume, thereby allowing one to make more intentional decisions in every aspect of their lives?

Youkilis: The more we talk to it and the more we listen to it, the more it will be there for us. This goes for all areas of our lives—when planning meals, when choosing relationships, when choosing the right time to make a move for something, when starting a business. Listening to your intuition is so crucial to your health.

Johnson: Are there any personal revelations you’ve had along the way—perhaps epiphanies you’ve been smacked with in regard to your own health?

Youkilis: One of them was the moment I realized that overeating was a way of connecting to my father who passed away when I was 17. He was a chronic overeater and a conspirator with me. We would always eat all of these unhealthy treats together, and I remember my mom hiding cookies and baked goods from him. When I became an adult, I realized I was doing the same thing. I had a sort of tie to my dad by having that unhealthy relationship with food. That really changed things for me because I gave myself permission to connect with him in other ways—ways that didn’t threaten to harm my health.

Johnson: Do you find emotional eating to be a universal epidemic?

Youkilis: Yes, it’s extremely common, but it’s also a powerful tool if you look at your patterns. We need to understand what our habits of emotional eating are trying to teach us. It doesn’t matter if you’re switching from greasy potato chips to organic kale chips in an effort to be healthier, you’re still using food to avoid something, and that isn’t wellness. In my coaching practice, I’ve found that when people are not doing the things that both excite them and scare them—the things they most need to be going for, it can often manifest itself through unhealthy eating patterns.

Johnson: Beyond eating, are there any final thoughts you wish to leave with readers about how they may become better stewards of their health in the year ahead?

Youkilis: I’m a big believer in allowing ourselves the freedom to change our minds—whether it’s about food, or exercise, or lifestyle practices, or goals—literally about everything. What worked for you two years ago may not work for you anymore, so it’s important to not get stuck in that mindset of trying to revert back to what may have worked for you before. The same thing can’t keep working if you’re growing. Don’t be afraid to shift and change. You owe that to your future self.

This exclusive feature is available in The Connect’s Holiday 2018 issue. You may purchase the full issue here, or download the digital version here.