Go easy, you don’t need to change everything at once. People usually fail on their wellness plan if it’s this all or nothing, I’m exercising, I’m going to run a 5k, I’m going to get this much sleep, I’m going to meditate every day, I’m going to eat this every day, I’m going to not eat this every day, the list goes on. If you try to commit to this giant pile of things, then you’re much more likely to get derailed from that. Start slow. Are you already pretty good at drinking water? Great, then up that a little bit, in a way that’s easy for you to do. Are you already being a little bit active? Great, up that a little bit too. Start by improving on one thing you’re already great at. Get that easy win under your belt, then go for the next thing. Once it becomes a habit that you’re easily maintaining, add the next thing and then add the next thing. It should be more of a layered effect, not an all at once thing.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Countryman.
Emily Countryman is the CEO and founder of Ideal Wellness, a Washington State-based chain of weight loss clinics that serve clients in-person locally and across the country virtually. Emily is passionate about educating other women (men too!) on how to lose weight and maintain that goal weight. Emily is a certified weight loss coach and a Board Certified Holistic Health Coach from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I have been in healthcare and wellness nearly all my working life. At age 17, I worked for a chiropractic office and stayed there for a decade. Then, in the summer of 2011, I made it my goal to knock off some of the pregnancy weight I had been holding onto. I thought it’d be as simple as “eat less and move more” and the pounds would miraculously shed. Turns out, that wasn’t working for me. I tried all of the fad diets and then something life-changing happened. I discovered the science behind fat loss, not just weight loss. I implemented changes from what I learned and in just 6 weeks, I was able to shed 20 pounds.
This is part of what fueled me to start my weight loss coaching business, Ideal Wellness. I dreamed of being able to help other women (and men too!) lose excess pounds and maintain their goal weights to keep them healthy! It wasn’t just about obtaining a certain weight, but more about helping people discover the tools to live a healthier and longer life. Since then, my company has expanded exponentially and I’ve opened 6 locations in Washington state (one of those opened shortly before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020). In 2019, I launched ShiftSetGo, my 3-stage program designed to help people not just lose weight, but keep it off for good that we make available to other wellness centers across the country that want to help their clients and patients get healthy too!
I’ve always been interested in the health and wellness field, but I find so much fulfillment in weight loss in particular because you’re able to see such an improvement in people and it has a domino effect on other areas of their lives like high blood pressure, diabetes, blood sugar, cholesterol and basically all other activities of daily living.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
I would say 2020 was one of the most interesting things that have happened to me since starting this career. Prior to 2020, everything was very smooth sailing for the first 9 years of my business, we grew steadily year over year. It wasn’t without challenges because all businesses have those, but there weren’t any huge obstacles.
Weight loss is typically a great business to be in — people are looking for services that will help them reach their goals. Since we provide excellent client results, we would often get a lot of referrals and word-of-mouth marketing.
Then in March 2020, we had to shut down all 5 of our locations, and the 6th one that was under construction set to be open later that year. A curveball like this had never happened before. The biggest takeaway that I learned from this was to be able to adjust and pivot quickly. We had to make our coaching and program virtual within one day basically. We had to get all of our coaches their own Zoom accounts, get them set up and contact every client. We probably had 600 clients that would come in in a week’s time, so it involved contacting every single one of them to get them rebooked, but virtually now. On top of that, we wanted to continue to serve our clients and help keep them on track in the midst of all the chaos that was going on.
We also had to quickly get our online shop up and running within a week’s time. Prior to March 2020, this wasn’t something we had pieced together. It was a very tough couple of weeks but I learned a lot about flexibility, adjusting to things that are out of my control, and the idea that I could run my business in a way that suited my team and our clients.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
My biggest mistake was not hiring soon enough. When I first started, I tried to do everything by myself. It was just me, myself, and I. As I was growing and I could see that this business had legs, that it was going to go somewhere, I just kept going and going with it and trying to figure everything out myself.
For anyone starting out their business, I would say hire before you think you’re ready. Get yourself a great web developer, get yourself a great bookkeeper, a CPA and hire actual help. Maybe it’s an administrative assistant for a few hours a week, or someone to help you with your social media, whatever it may be. Just hire because you can’t do it all by yourself.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My parents are business owners as well, so seeing entrepreneurship my entire childhood growing up was completely normal. I would see their highs, their lows, their challenges, and everything that comes with being an entrepreneur. When I stepped into my own business, I did not have that fear factor hardly at all. They very much framed my mindset to think like this, “Okay, great. We’ll try this. Doesn’t work? We pivot. What’s the worst that could happen?” I am definitely grateful to them for just living an entrepreneurial life so that I could see that and experience that growing up.
And then the other one would be my husband. He helped me with the business for years and years and finally in 2018, I convinced him to quit his full-time job and come join the business full time. Now we run the business together and he has been a huge asset to the business.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Our goal is to end obesity. We are working on that one person, one pound at a time. Unfortunately, statistics show that America especially is getting heavier and more overweight each year. We are doing our part to help combat that and get people back on track with their health. Also, the life expectancy is starting to go down, which is the first time in history that has ever happened.
What we’re trying to do is help people with their preventative wellness. If they are having high blood pressure, type two diabetes, high cholesterol, or cardiovascular disease, so much of that is tied to their weight.
Helping people achieve and maintain a healthy weight is what we’re doing all day, every day and we’re not going to stop because there are so many people that we have to help. People are being inundated with unhealthy food options. What we often tell our clients is that the minute you walk outside our office store, you can look in any direction and there’s something that’ll derail you. Whether it’s this fast food, that fast food, or this sugar ice cream shop, whatever it may be. Challenges are everywhere for people trying to get healthy so they need us now more than ever.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Drink your water! We always tell our clients that water equals weight loss because if you’re not hydrated, your metabolism won’t be hydrated. Unfortunately, this means you won’t lose the weight that you’re aiming to lose. If you’re not concerned with weight loss, you still need water because it helps with all of the functions in your body. The goal for water is to drink about half of your body weight in water every day. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, you should be getting around 100 ounces of water every day. Also, if you’re drinking any caffeine, you need to replace that with water. So in addition to that hundred ounces, if you had two cups of coffee, you now actually need 116 ounces of water to achieve a hydrated day.
- Go easy, you don’t need to change everything at once. People usually fail on their wellness plan if it’s this all or nothing, I’m exercising, I’m going to run a 5k, I’m going to get this much sleep, I’m going to meditate every day, I’m going to eat this every day, I’m going to not eat this every day, the list goes on. If you try to commit to this giant pile of things, then you’re much more likely to get derailed from that. Start slow. Are you already pretty good at drinking water? Great, then up that a little bit, in a way that’s easy for you to do. Are you already being a little bit active? Great, up that a little bit too. Start by improving on one thing you’re already great at. Get that easy win under your belt, then go for the next thing. Once it becomes a habit that you’re easily maintaining, add the next thing and then add the next thing. It should be more of a layered effect, not an all at once thing.
- Cut down on sugar. Everyone should take a moment to examine how much sugar they’re consuming per day. Look at yesterday, look at today, be 100% honest with yourself, and write it down. It’s pretty astonishing. Americans eat about 150 to 200 pounds of sugar per year which is basically like eating a 5lb bag of sugar every single week per year. Sugar intake is a common denominator in why our country is plagued by obesity.
- Move each day. Get a little bit of activity in each and every day. Monitor your fitness tracker if you wear one and see what your average steps are. With everyone home from COVID, working from home and schooling at home, steps have been down. I know for myself, I noticed my steps went way down, so I actually joined a step bet so that basically, I have to get so many steps based on my own number every day. I didn’t tell myself, I have to go run five miles or I have to go join a gym or do these exercise classes or do a Peloton workout every day…No, just get a little bit more active, it will make a huge difference. It helps with your energy, with your digestion, everything.
- Don’t throw in the towel. If you’re on a mission to become healthier, there’s going to be hurdles, there’s going to be stumbling blocks. We talk to our clients all the time about these things. So many of our clients will say, “Well, I did this in my day, which means I ruined the day, so forget it,” and they go and eat whatever they want to for the rest of the day. In those instances, we like to tell clients, if you got a flat tire, would you pop the other three tires? Of course not. If you missed your exit on the freeway coming home from work, would you say, “Well, forget it. I guess I’m just headed to Canada, to Mexico, to the next state.” Nope, you’d take the next exit, you do the next right thing, turn around, and correct it. So when you come across a hurdle, which you will (we all do!), don’t throw in the towel. Just keep on going, get to those wellness goals. Remember: it’s a lifestyle, it’s not an all-or-nothing type of thing.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’d eliminate the sugar that is put in our foods. All of the products that have processed sugar in them would be gone. I would ban sugar lobbyists and all of the advertising for sugary products out there. Our world would be so much healthier in an instant if this happened and we’d be so much closer to our goal of helping to end obesity.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Hire a coach. I did that a few years into my business and wish I would’ve done it sooner! Just have someone to give you advice. Have that one-on-one person that you can pick up the phone, have a conversation with, and get help. You don’t want to try and figure it all out yourself.
- Hire support. I said this earlier but it’s critical. Hire as soon as you can, even before you think you need to hire. Once you’ve realized you need to hire, it’s usually too late and you’ve already been doing too much on your own, so get ahead of that.
- Invest. Had I invested in a good website at the beginning, I wouldn’t have had to redo it so many times while I was trying to pinch pennies. In the long run, I would have spent less on the website had I just done it right from the get-go. The same goes for hiring a good CPA, a good bookkeeper, a good attorney. Make sure you have everything you need so that you’re set up for success.
- Join a mastermind. I’ve done these a couple of times throughout the last decade and they are fantastic. Make sure you get a mastermind with people at your level or above. You never want to be the smartest person in the room. You want people there that are helping push you forward, and it’s so great to be able to brainstorm on a topic that you might be struggling with. Even if they’re in a different industry than you, that’s often better than being in a mastermind with people only in your industry because people with outside perspectives can have new, innovative ideas that you could apply to your business.
- Go big. I wish we would’ve jumped bigger right away. My first office was maybe 140 square feet, now they’re literally 10X that size. I should have gone bigger right away. I know you have to test it out and see. If you don’t mind it taking a while, go slow, go steady, but if you know you’ve got a winner, that your business is going to do fantastic and you’re not going to give up until it does, then just go big right away!
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health is a dear cause to me. In the last year especially, we have seen so much depression, and unfortunately, suicide. I’ve seen this a lot in my clinics. Clients would come into our office with anxiety and depression that was very much tied to their weight. We find that most of the people who are coming to us who medically need to lose weight will often have some kind of mental health challenges associated with the weight.
This can also show up as addiction. Whether that be overeating, or whether it’s people that were formerly anorexic, there’s so much disordered eating and it all goes together. That’s something that’s really important to us at our clinics. We work to incorporate cognitive behavioral therapy as much as possible in our coaching visits and always recommend that our clients are also seeking the help of a licensed counselor while they’re doing their weight loss as well, it’s so important.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights!