“If you don’t have strong emotions about your subject matter then it will be very hard to follow through to the end” with Nicole Magryta and Chaya Weiner

You must have passion. If you don’t have strong emotions about your subject matter then it will be very hard to follow through to the end. As a first time author, there were so many days I just wanted to stop and throw the towel in. I had so much going on in my life […]

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You must have passion. If you don’t have strong emotions about your subject matter then it will be very hard to follow through to the end. As a first time author, there were so many days I just wanted to stop and throw the towel in. I had so much going on in my life with a thousand distractions pulling me away from the finish line. Passion pushed me to persevere. And don’t get discouraged if it takes 5 or even 10 years to finish writing your book. Just stay the course and write when you can. I promise it’s worth it.

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Magryta, MBA, RDN. Nicole is a nutrition consultant, educator, and certified integrative health coach, specializing in integrative and functional medicine therapies for adults and children. She is the bestselling author of Nourish Your Tribe: Empowering Parents to Grow Strong, Smart, Successful Kids. In her private practice today, Nicole changes lives by tackling chronic disease from the root and not the leaves.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

When I first went off to college, I was awarded a business scholarship where I chose to major in finance and marketing. Not many people know this, but the decision to accept the scholarship and live 8 hours away from home was a tough one. At age 18, I had to leave behind my dear father who at age 63 was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. This was incredibly hard as my father and I were deeply connected. Throughout my coursework and watching my father quickly deteriorate, I became very interested in the human form and the development of disease. I soon became enamored with nutrition science and with the tremendous work of Dr. Bruce Ames at Berkley. This led me to study medical nutrition therapy at The University of Virginia, where my eyes were opened to the power of lifestyle medicine. Today, now 20 years later, my instincts have been confirmed by the insights of epigenetics research, that quality food and lifestyle are at the core of thriving health. If only we had Dr. Dale Bredesen’s work on reversing Alzheimer’s Disease when I was a teen. I would like to believe that it would have afforded me a few more quality years with my father.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

During my early years of nutrition training at the University of Virginia, I was exposed to teams of physicians and other healthcare professionals that were exceedingly competent at their craft. What was shocking was the absolute lack of knowledge most healthcare professionals had regarding disease prevention through a nutrition lens. My husband, a general pediatric intern at the time, often challenged me on topics and had little to no understanding of how food effected disease or the biochemistry of nutrients. I recall a heated discussion, early in our relationship, about cholesterol and heart disease. At the time, my dangerously bright doctor boyfriend argued that food had only a minor influence on cardiovascular health and reducing cholesterol. I, on the other hand, firmly believe otherwise. Although our discussion occurred 22 years ago, this mindset and disconnect between allopathic practitioners and nutrition science still persists today. Over the years, our discussions have continued prompting my husband to take a deep dive into nutrition science as it relates to children. The science was clear in his mind which shifted his entire practice model to be significantly based on lifestyle based medicine.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t recall a funny mistake because mistakes in medicine are rarely humorous. As far as mistakes go however, I’ve made a lot of them. Early in my career, I thought we could all be put in the same type of healing box to be fixed. I realized quickly that this way thinking was quite narrow-minded and certainly was not the best approach to patient care. The truth is, each person’s biochemistry is unique and no one lifestyle approach works for everyone. I’ve learned that I have to meet people where they are at on their health journey and customize my approach based on their own personal needs and motivation. I wouldn’t prescribe the same diet and lifestyle approach to a 40 year old, stressed out mother in peri-menopause, as I would for a 25 year old male running triathlons. Moreover, I could spend numerous hours educating and encouraging a patient, but unless that person has made a mental commitment to make changes to their lifestyle, my efforts will be fruitless.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am involved in a very exciting new project at The Standard Process Nutrition Innovation Center in Kannapolis, NC. It’s a brand new state of the art facility set up with a primary goal of impacting and changing healthcare in the United States through nutrition therapy. Our newly designed clinic will be using a functional medicine model to empower patients to achieve their highest expression of health while we, the practitioners and researchers, study and help define the best practices of nutrition and lifestyle medicine.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

I never really enjoyed writing as a kid. I was very math-science minded and preferred the use of bullet points and brevity. As I grew older, I became interested in creative writing and joined a couple of writing groups. I became very enamored with the beauty of descriptive language to describe the mundane. But my growth mostly came from being vulnerable enough to share my writing with other writers who would then critique it in an open group. This turned out to be an invaluable experience that greatly expanded my skills. Writing is a beautiful process that takes a lot of practice. Feedback and letting go of fear is key.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

The new discoveries of epigenetics have transformed nutrition science over the past 20 years. We once thought we lived in a world where our DNA determined our fate. We now know that we have the ability to influence our DNA’s voice, tinker if you will, with its on/off switch and control its volume. We’ve now learned that it’s our environment — diet, exercise, chemical exposures, stress, and other lifestyle behaviors that determine our gene’s expression.

I grew up witnessing this phenomenon of epigenetics firsthand. My father was an identical twin which means he and his twin shared the exact same genetic material. Based on the myth the our genes determine our fate, one may assume that identical twins should eventually develop similar diseases. This was far from the truth with my father and his twin. At first glance, you would think their DNA expression was identical because, of course, they looked identical. They were also exceedingly close and did everything in life together. They went to the same college, bunked together in the navy, and started a business together. They were essentially the male version of the Doublemint twins. They ate lunch almost every day together and lived 10 miles away from each other their entire lives. They even had the same social habits. They drank the same gin, drove the same kind of car, played the same sports, and started and stopped smoking cigars at the same time in their lives. Two big differences between the twins were their levels of stress and their food choices.

My father passed away 17 years ago in what I like to call “perfect” health at the age of 71. He had no signs of the most common age-related illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, and his physical form was incredible. He unfortunately had only one problem at 63 years of age: dementia, which doctors labeled as early onset Alzheimer’s disease. This disease robbed him of his mind and eventually his life. His twin, on the other hand, lived 10 years longer with no signs of Alzheimer’s disease. His twin’s greatest health challenge over his last 25 years had been heart disease, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

The twins were born with the exact same genetic code. How is it possible that they shared not one common symptom of disease? The answer lies in the epigenome. Your epigenome tells your genes to turn on or off, speak loudly or whisper. It’s through epigenetic expression that environmental factors like diet, stress, prenatal and childhood nutrition can dictate the activity of genes. This, then, explains how lifestyle factors affected the twins’ susceptibility to diseases. The lifetime health of my father and his twin was not predetermined at conception — and neither is yours.

Over the last 15 years, epigenetics has elevated the importance of optimal nutrition to rock star status. It finally proves the profound reality that our diets can turn our genes on and off. It teaches us that our cells’ DNA responds quite differently to an apple versus a donut, which is why it’s so critical to teach our children how to make proper food choices. There truly hasn’t been a more exciting time to be in the field of nutrition science. We have finally moved away from singling out and demonizing specific macronutrients like fats and moved toward individualized nutrition. Nourishment looks at what’s right for you and your body with regard to your genome and health. We are finally realizing that we are all dynamically evolving beings.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

Quality nourishment profoundly affects a child’s well-being and is a critical ingredient to helping our children grow to their full potential — biologically, physically, mentally, and emotionally. One of the greatest gifts that we can give our families is to adopt a healthy culture at home and empower our children to listen to their body’s voice.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

This is the easiest question for me to answer on this list. The biggest challenge for me was constantly trying to achieve life balance. I think many working moms feel this way. It’s that make-believe vision that we can be a rockstar in all things family-work-writing-friends-and home. We learn quickly that time is precious and every minute counts. We also learn that when a ball drops, and it invariably will, we can’t judge ourselves to harshly for it. I have always strived and sometimes struggled with how to be the best mom, wife and friend and at the same time produce meaningful quality work. For me, writing my book often occupied 4–5 hour chunks of time that consequently sacrificed quality family time, an activity that is extremely important to me. I thankfully had a lot of support from my husband, but what ultimately pushed me through was my mindset. As I approached closer to the endpoint, I also noticed that a bigger unspoken lesson was unfolding. I realized that although I missed out on a few memorable moments, I was also nonverbally modeling for my kids some very important virtues of hard work and success. First, when you start a project, finish it. Second, when it gets hard, boring, scary, or painful, push through. Third, if the message is important enough, it’s worth your time and effort. Lastly, never stop striving to help others. My kids, now 13 and 15, will often parrot back to me these lessons in their own words, and the best part is, I didn’t even have to open my mouth to teach them. And if you are a parent, you know what a blessing that is.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I read a lot of scientific literature particularly in the functional and integrative medicine realms, but I also enjoy biographical historical fiction and anything by Pat Conroy whose command of language is remarkable. While the best prose or poetry offer a blueprint for creativity, I find that I draw inspiration from all facets of life. I get ideas from the places I travel, walks in nature, listening to podcasts, and from being a silent observer of human interaction. To me, observation is one of the most important skills of an innovator and writer. I also tap into my own human emotion. Whether its recalling a hurtful incident or reliving a profoundly moving experience, I find that I often write best when I completely engulf myself in the recollection of a deeply raw moment.

How do you think your writing makes an impact in the world?

My hope is that it inspires and empowers others to improve their health. I also hope that my book resonates with parents at their core so that they have the courage to not only make changes in their homes but in their communities. We need more collaborative efforts to foster healthier cultural models. Let’s face it, we all need help on our health journeys and raising kids is tough. We all have stress. We all get sick at some point in our lives. We all get tempted by the gravitational pull of junk food. If my writing has impacted a person in a time of struggle, or elevates another person’s health journey to the next level, then I’ve done my job. If my book changes the health trajectory of a child or parent’s life, then I can’t ask for anything more. Some of the feedback I have received thus far has been quite profound and very heartwarming. It’s not easy being a parent in today’s world. I hope my book can enrich the experience.

What advice would you give to someone considering becoming an author like you?

You must have passion. If you don’t have strong emotions about your subject matter then it will be very hard to follow through to the end. As a first time author, there were so many days I just wanted to stop and throw the towel in. I had so much going on in my life with a thousand distractions pulling me away from the finish line. Passion pushed me to persevere. And don’t get discouraged if it takes 5 or even 10 years to finish writing your book. Just stay the course and write when you can. I promise it’s worth it.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Be prepared to spend some coin on publicizing and marketing your book. Whether you are self-publishing or have a contract with a traditional publisher, you still will need to plan on doing your own promotion.

2. Learn about the different types of editing such as substantive vs. copy editing. This will help in selecting the best fit for your needs. A good editor is worth their weight in gold.

3. If you are writing non-fiction science, make sure you diligently keep track of your sources and put them in their proper format as you write each chapter. It will save you a world of time in the end.

4. Make sure your writing environment is ergonomically sound. I developed a bad neck injury from hours at my desk in bad form. Set a timer and take frequent stretch breaks if you are planning to sit for long periods of time. My editor said to me, “Didn’t you know sitting is the new smoking?” She was spot on!

5. Plug into a community of writers. It is extremely helpful to throw out questions along the way and have a resource of seasoned writers at your fingertips. I found a great community called “Hope Writers” that gave me publishing guidance and connected me to a wonderful proofreader. I only wish I have found this community earlier in my writing process.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We need to look to the next generation for change. Achieving a healthy school food lunch program would go a long way to improving our society nutritionally. Sixty six percent of our students meals occur at school. Our federal nutritional guidelines are outdated because they maximize calories over micro and macronutrient quality. This unfortunately promotes obesity and disease in an effort to prevent caloric malnourishment which is a long gone problem. If we could begin to change the children’s food quality in school, I believe that we would see a dramatic reduction in childhood illness and a dramatic increase in learning ability not to mention the long term ramifications of good early health.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram @nicolemagryta

Facebook @nicolemagrytardn

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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