Coach Sarah Maughan
Precision Nutrition Coaching

By John Berardi, Ph.D.

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I work with them every day, so I know how awesome Precision Nutrition’s coaches really are.

Today you get to meet one of them, Sarah Maughan.

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“No boring food allowed,” says Registered Holistic Nutritionist Sarah Maughan.

Forget bland, tasteless, or calorie-restricted. Bring on the vibrant, varied, and downright delicious.

Which means that if your image of a nutritionist is a finger-wagging scold, bent on spoiling all your dietary fun, Sarah will reverse your expectations.

Understanding. Friendly. Supportive. Eye-opening. Sustainable. These are just some of the words that clients have used to describe Sarah’s approach to coaching.

“We start where you’re at, and get you where you want to go,” she says. Step by step. Without pain or misery or deprivation.

Sarah believes that eating well can be fun.

It doesn’t have to be dull, depressing, or stressful.

And a coach can help you understand this and put it into practice in your own life.

Intelligent and articulate, Sarah gives her clients the information they need and the encouragement they crave — together with a hefty serving of enthusiasm and a generous dash of humor.

It’s a winning recipe.

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Warm, blooming with vitality, and capable.

To look at Sarah today, you’d think she was one of those people who has never suffered an unhealthy day in her life.

But the real story is different.

In fact, as young as she is, Sarah views her health as a hard-won gift. Perhaps that’s why she values it so highly and works to extend the gift to others.

As a child and young teen, Sarah was often bothered by mysterious digestive complaints.

Her doctors thought the pain might be stress related and all in her head. After all, she was a mildly anxious child — a bit more “clingy” than average, her parents report. The kind of kid who hangs back a little in unfamiliar situations, the kind whose teachers might describe her as shy.

But that’s not so unusual. And until she completed high school, Sarah managed those feelings well. She had friends, she got good grades, and in general, she enjoyed her life.

Still, her digestive difficulties didn’t go away. Instead, over time, they just got more debilitating.

Bloated and often in pain, she had to make frequent trips to the bathroom. The situation was becoming downright embarrassing.

At the same time, her social anxiety was ramping higher.

In the months that followed her high school graduation, Sarah crossed an invisible line. She turned from a slightly anxious person (who could keep her anxiety under control and even use it to fuel herself at times) to one who was suffering from a full-blown anxiety disorder with daily debilitating panic attacks.

Away from home for her first semester of university, this intelligent, hard-working, and conscientious young woman suddenly found herself unable to remember the simplest things. She struggled to follow through. Learning and retaining information became an unexpected struggle.

She had so looked forward to university life. Like most people her age, she’d been eager to expand her world and grow. Instead, she spent the first few years in and out of doctor’s offices and hospitals, undergoing multiple medical testing, and withdrawing socially.

“Why me? Why now? Why was this happening?”

The panic was overwhelming. “I couldn’t even leave the house to get groceries for a while,” she says. “I couldn’t go to classes.

She almost failed out, and actually had to withdraw from school and return home for a short period to rest, recuperate, and plan her next steps.

When she resumed her studies, she chose to enroll in online courses. Internet-based education was a fairly new experiment at that time, and courses were not terribly well designed. Studying online back then meant a lot of independent learning, she notes.

And for Sarah, it also meant a certain amount of shame about not doing things the “regular” way.

To say that this was a difficult time would be an understatement.

Meanwhile, her gastric difficulties continued.

Eventually, things got so bad that her doctors were forced to investigate.

As in the past, they tended at first to think the problems were “in her head.” In other words, caused by her anxiety. And so, presumably, not worth treating.

But initial blood-testing revealed a different explanation. Sarah was suffering from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine caused by an inflammatory reaction to the proteins contained in gluten.

Tellingly, the minute she removed gluten from her diet, her digestion began to clear.

Previously mysterious nutrient deficiencies disappeared. So did her brain fog, bone pain, and much more.

Within days, she felt such relief, that she could hardly imagine how she’d managed to keep going for all those years, as ill as she had been.

This makes it all sound easy, but actually, Sarah’s diagnosis was complicated. It took two gastroenterologists and three years before she really figured out what was going on. Meanwhile, even after her status was clear, for a while, she hesitated to adopt the label.

“I was a teenager. I was scared of being defined by a disease,” she says now. She preferred simply to think of herself as  “gluten- free,” and leave it at that.

Sarah’s digestion wasn’t the only part of her to heal when she eliminated gluten.

She also felt a lot better mentally. No, her anxiety wasn’t completely gone — but it was much reduced.

As a nutritionist, she now understands that dietary deficiencies can affect the balance of neurotransmitters in our bodies, creating or exacerbating feelings of anxiety or depression — even in people not ordinarily susceptible to those problems.

“When it comes to mental health, we rarely think about diet or nutrition,” she says. “But we should, because it’s crucial.”

In fact, she says, her doctors might have had a point when they claimed that her illness was “in her head” — but not in the sense that they supposed.

For the mind and the body are one. And the nerves in our gut can influence our emotions and even our cognitive performance.

Failure to absorb key nutrients wasn’t just wreaking havoc with Sarah’s digestion. Her poor nutritional status was also hurting her mood and her mental function. Going gluten free improved her emotional state — and dissipated the brain fog she’d been battling unknowingly for years.

“Suddenly, I could think a lot more clearly and remember better,” she says. “And I noticed a significant improvement in my grades. It was almost as if I became a completely different person.”

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Bit by bit, Sarah’s life began to improve.

Her persistence and willingness to seek help kept her going.

She found a therapist to help her develop strategies for handling her anxiety and for dealing with its legacy. She taught herself to eat gluten-free, and eventually also to cook and even bake without gluten. And slowly but surely, through small steps, hard work, and devotion, she came out stronger than before.

It wasn’t an easy time. But today, she believes that her breakdown, illness, and recovery launched her into adulthood.

“I’m proud of myself for coming through that,” she says. “It made me who I am today. I’m not sure I’d be as mature or aware of myself if I hadn’t had that experience.”

Sarah had learned from the inside how diet can affect our mental and physical health.

No wonder, as she came to the end of her undergraduate degree, she felt herself increasingly drawn to the study of nutrition. She just knew that other people must be suffering the way she had suffered — waiting for diagnoses, being told their problems were imaginary, struggling with mysterious weight gains or losses, or feeling drained of energy and in enormous pain. Wouldn’t it be great to help these people — to give them a source of help and practical guidance?

There was just one little problem.

Nobody as young as she was at the time had ever enrolled in the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition (CSNN) — the program she’d chosen for furthering her education. In fact, the school initially rejected her because of her age.

But Sarah isn’t one to give up easily when she’s set herself a goal. Instead, she assembled her arguments and marched into the school’s offices with a “binder full of reasons why they should admit me,” she laughs.

They did, and she turned out to be one of their most successful graduates, earning an award of excellence from her school and going to become Board Certified.

Since then, there have been a lot of younger faces around CSNN, she notes with a grin. “I guess I was a bit of a trailblazer.”

In the years following her graduation from the CSNN, Sarah has worked with more than four hundred clients.

Her writing has been featured on numerous blogs, including the Huffington Post, and she’s appeared on television to talk about healthy eating.

Specializing in sports nutrition, eating for mental health, and helping clients adapt to gluten free lifestyles, she has also helped those suffering from diabetes, those who want to lose weight or gain weight, those who are pregnant or nursing, and many more.

“It’s so gratifying to see positive change,” she says. Whether that means improved performance on the track or greater productivity at work, she loves to know that she has made a difference in someone’s life.

“Oftentimes, the change is something that looks small on the surface. They don’t have to sneak out to the bathroom all the time,” she says. “They don’t have to cancel activities. Those ones really hit home with me,” she adds, with empathy.

Maybe their race times get faster after a long plateau, as happened for some of her endurance runner clients.

Or maybe the transformation is less visible, but deeper — like recovery from premature bone loss — something Sarah herself experienced, when she changed her diet and took up weightlifting.

Whatever kind of change a client is seeking, “when you help someone feel better — it’s priceless,” Sarah says.

Now that she has regained her health, Sarah treasures it, and fitness is a big priority.

Building activity into her life is key. “I like to make it fun, so I change things up,” she says. Whether she’s hitting some tennis balls, practicing yoga or Pilates, hiking, skiing, or just taking long walks or jogging with her boyfriend, she loves to move, especially outdoors. It’s a lifestyle.

And when she’s not outside, you can often find her in the kitchen. Ever since going gluten-free, she’s become an avid baker, who loves to take pictures of her creations.

“Showing the food really seems to motivate people to get into the kitchen to make it,” she explains. “When you see how tasty it looks, how can you not want to make it?”

That’s why you’ll often find Sarah at the stove with a camera on her back. “That way it won’t hit anything,” she laughs.

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“Healthy eating is a process,” Sarah says. “Change doesn’t come overnight.”

That was true even for her; when she first went gluten-free, she thought she had to replace the bread and pasta and baked goods she was used to with gluten free versions. So while going gluten free immediately improved her digestion, her energy levels remained suspiciously low.

“It wasn’t until I got to nutrition school that I really realized — oh, yeah… nutrients!” she laughs.

Enter protein and colorful veggies. And new cooking adventures.

Sarah’s learned from experience that gradual change is most sustainable. It’s what worked for her — and it’s what she teaches her clients, today.

She’s been there. She gets it. And she’s eager to help.

Whatever your goals — be they weight loss, improved performance, increased energy, better health, “you deserve to feel great mentally and physically all the time,” she says.

“There are endless healthy food options out there.”

Warmth, energy, information, enthusiasm and a practical, can-do approach — what more could you ask for, from a coach?  Let’s play, let’s have fun, let’s do this together, Sarah’s whole attitude suggests. You don’t have to suffer and you don’t have to go it alone.

“Let’s empower your body with food!”

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