Plan your time wisely. Every day, I write down all the actions I absolutely have to get done that day. These get first priority. I then fill in the gaps with actions that would be nice to get done, but aren’t first priority. Creating a time plan of what I will do hour by hour has been huge for making sure my time is being used effectively. This has helped enormously with focus.
As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Danckers.
Emily Danckers is a registered dietitian and nutrition coach with a background in sports nutrition. She has worked with collegiate and professional athletes and now owns a virtual private practice, “Emily RD Nutrition Coaching.” She helps people ditch diets and learn how to eat in a way that is personalized, sustainable, and gives them the results they’ve always wanted.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
It’s a pleasure to be a part of your interview series! Thanks for having me. I grew up in Avon Lake, Ohio on the west side of Cleveland. My two younger sisters and I grew up in a household where cooking and food was a big focus. My family is German, so we would always be making dishes like wiener schnitzel and spaetzle. We love to travel; my parents started giving us trips as Christmas/birthday gifts instead of toys and cell phones like our other friends. This opened me up to the cuisine of different parts of the world including Icelandic, Bahamian, Austrian, and South African. I lived in Ohio until attending college at Syracuse University to study nutrition, and upon graduation I found myself back in Ohio for graduate school at the Ohio State University to study sports nutrition.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
As a kid, I would go to the library to pick out cookbooks from different countries (France, Spain, you name it) and make my family a 3 course meal from the cookbooks. Food has always been a passion of mine, and this led to an interest in studying nutrition. While at Syracuse University, I gained an interest in exercise science as well and decided to add it on as a minor. I truly believe that to be healthy, one must pair nutrition with exercise. This led to a sports nutrition focused internship and masters program at the Ohio State University upon my graduation from Syracuse. I then went on to work as a sports dietitian with the Chicago Cubs and University of Illinois for 3 years until I decided to start my own private practice in May 2020.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My mom is a huge part of my success. As kids, she would sit us down and tell us that we can be whatever we want to be, no matter what anyone else says. These words came from personal experience; my mom was one of the first girls to attend her high school which had been an all male high school for decades. She also majored in the male-dominated field of computer science in the 80s and is now a successful risk manager at a bank. My mom’s story and her encouragement fostered in me a mindset that no dream is too big.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
My first job out of grad school was with a Chicago Cubs minor league baseball team as their sports dietitian. I showed up ready to wow all of these athletes and make them the healthiest team that baseball had ever seen. I did all the prep and set up the first month’s worth of meals before even meeting one athlete. When I arrived, I realized that I had my work cut out for me. The athletes were young (around 18–20 years old), and they came from many different countries including the Dominican Republic and Mexico.They weren’t used to eating things like chicken salad and cold vegetables. My mistake was getting over excited and assuming they would eat whatever food I gave them just because it would make them better athletes. I was feeding them food that was completely out of their comfort zone, and that was my mistake. I learned the importance of getting to know a situation first before doing all of the planning. This is a lesson that I’ve taken with me throughout my career: there is such a thing as over-planning.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
For anyone hoping to start their own business, my advice would be that you don’t have to do it alone. I have a private practice and I am the only employee in my business, but I did not get here on my own. As soon as I knew I wanted to start a business, I hired a business coach. This is a scary thing to do when you’re not making any income, but it’s the single most important thing I did that led to my success today. I don’t think I would have been able to push through the tough times without the guidance and support of my business coach.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
When I decided to start my business, a colleague suggested I read “You Are A Badass” by Jen Sincero. This book resonated with me because it made me realize how mindset is the most important thing in life and in business. The mindset work I learned through this book kept me in a positive and abundant mindset throughout the difficult first few months of starting my business. It has also made a huge impact on my life, as I feel much more equipped to deal with all different types of situations I face.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite quote is “comparison is the thief of joy.” I don’t know who this quote is attributed to, but it has become a daily mantra for me. I used to spend a lot of my time and effort comparing my actions and successes to those of others. This quote helps me refocus and realize that everyone is on their own path, and comparison will do nothing to move me forward.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I have recently paired up with a mindset and life coach to create a coaching program focused on improving physical wellbeing through focusing on nutrition as well as mindset. The title of the program is pretty epic: “The Food Lover’s Guide to a Healthy Mentality. A nutrition and mindset program to end all diets.” This program is designed for people who want a fresh start and know the importance of focusing not just on their nutrition but their mindset as well. The program is meant to teach people how to eat and think for life.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?
Creating good habits leads to a life of success and happiness. It’s as simple as that. When it comes to nutrition, good habits can lead to a longer life, more energy, and the ability to be active throughout your entire life. I work with my clients to help them create healthy, lifelong habits that help them reach their goals, but I embrace this philosophy in my own life as well.
A couple years ago, I was working as a sports dietitian for a college. I was working hard and trying to prove myself, and this was leading to burnout. I ignored the healthy habits I had built up throughout my life like working out, eating balanced meals, and choosing nutritious foods (most of the time). I was a dietitian and I was skipping meals, eating junk food, and not taking time out of my day to move my body. I felt awful, run down, tired, and lethargic. When I transitioned to starting my own business, I knew it was time for a change. One at a time, I worked on implementing these healthy habits that I’d previously embraced in my life. It took months, but after a while I started feeling like myself again. I had more energy, was able to get more done in a day, and I felt better about myself. This is the power of good habits.
How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
As a business owner, habits and routine are extremely important for continued success. I have had to create habits that I never had before in order to move my business forward. These include meditating daily, taking time for myself so I can best serve others, and networking. The last one was most difficult for me; I was never a big networker in my past career. Now, it is essential to growing my business, so I decided to do some form of networking every week and this has become a habit.
Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?
The best way to develop good habits and stop bad habits is to first take a step back and know why you’re wanting to make these changes. Really get into your “why,” as this will help keep you motivated to stick with it when things get tough (as they inevitably will). Next, set a big goal for yourself. Finally, make a list of actions that will get you closer to this goal. Choose one or two actions per week to focus on that will challenge you but are also doable. Keep adding on one or two actions every week, and before you know it they will become habits. Same goes for stopping bad habits. Focus on one small action every week, and go from there. Repetition and consistency will create habits.
Let’s talk about creating good habits in three areas, Wellness, Performance, and Focus. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum wellness. Please share a story or example for each.
- Drink enough water. This is the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to improve your wellness, starting today. Aim to drink half of your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water per day and see how you feel.
- Use the plate method. This means filling your plate up half with veggies, one quarter with whole grains, and one quarter with lean protein. This is an easy way to know that you’re giving your body what it needs without having to measure out all of your food. (This recommendation is for the general population. Those who have other goals such as muscle gain will require different amounts of food. Ask a registered dietitian if you have specific goals you’d like to achieve).
- Find balance: 80/20. It’s not all about eating perfectly every single day. Balance the healthy foods with fun foods that bring you joy. Aim for making healthy choices 80% of the time and choosing fun foods/drinks the other 20% of the time.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Drinking more water — if you don’t like plain water, try flavored sparkling water or add a splash of juice or some cut up fruit to your water bottle for some added flavor.
Plate method — follow this guide for as many meals as possible. If you’re eating a food that is a combination of carbs and protein (such as pasta and meatballs), fill half your plate with the carb and protein food and the other half with veggies. It’s important to have flexibility with the plate method.
Find balance: 80/20 — Don’t beat yourself up for days you drink wine and eat cookies. Look at this as a 20% kind of day, and focus on making your other days that week full of healthy choices (80% foods).
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal performance at work or sport? Please share a story or example for each.
- Get enough sleep. Aim for at least 7 hours per night. This has been shown to help improve performance in work as well as sport.
- Write it all down. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by thoughts, questions, or concerns, write them down in a notebook as the thoughts pop up. I started doing this recently and it has made a huge difference in my productivity at work. When I am able to let the thoughts out of my brain and see them on paper, they don’t seem as huge and impossible to address.
- Take care of your entire self. This includes mind, body, and spirit (emotions). Focusing on the body but ignoring the mind and/or spirit will not make you a productive worker, and vice versa.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
- Get enough sleep: even if you can’t fall asleep, try to be relaxing in bed with enough time to allow for 8 hours of sleep. Relaxing can be helpful as well.
- Write it all down: have a notebook with you at all times. As soon as a thought pops up that’s been bothering you, write it down. Reflect on your notes at the end of every week.
- Take care of your entire self — Do something every day to ensure optimal performance by taking care of your mind (meditation), body (nutritious choices), and spirit (doing something that calms you and/or brings you joy).
Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimal focus? Please share a story or example for each.
- Meditate. I started this practice as I was launching my business, and it has made all the difference. Meditating is food for your brain, just like doing something you love is food for your soul. It can be as little as 5 minutes a day, but this is a powerful practice that enables you to have better focus..
- Plan your time wisely. Every day, I write down all the actions I absolutely have to get done that day. These get first priority. I then fill in the gaps with actions that would be nice to get done, but aren’t first priority. Creating a time plan of what I will do hour by hour has been huge for making sure my time is being used effectively. This has helped enormously with focus.
- Eat something every 3–4 hours. Food is energy. If you go much longer than 3–4 hours without eating, you may be low on energy and focus. Eating frequently throughout the day helps you stay focused throughout the day and helps your metabolism be revved up all day long.
Can you help explain some practices that can be used to develop those habits?
Meditate: if meditation is difficult for you, start small with taking 5 deep breaths. Even doing this small action has been shown to help improve a sense of calm and focus. Work your way up from there.
Plan your time wisely — if you don’t stick to your plan perfectly, don’t beat yourself up. If seeing all the actions you have to do in a day stresses you out, focus on your next step and keep pushing forward.
Eat something every 3–4 hours — always have healthy, portable snacks available to make this goal a possibility. Some examples include nuts, dried edamame, beef jerky, and fruit.
As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
To get to a state of flow, follow your passions. Do you ever look at what someone is doing and wish you were doing that? That’s a sign of a potential passion. The key is to turn your passion into a part of your daily life and work. Figure out your passion, and figure out ways to do more of that in your life.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My biggest goal in life is to inspire people to ditch the diet culture. So many people struggle with comparison, food choices, and thinking that they aren’t good enough. I want each person to know that they are beautiful just the way they are, and that they don’t have to change for anyone. We can all improve our health, but the way to do this isn’t by trying new diets and self deprecation.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would love to have a conversation with Jen Sincero, the author of my favorite book “You Are A Badass.” She completely changed my life with this book, and I would be so honored to be given the opportunity to speak with her about her approach to life and how she puts her teachings into practice.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can check out my website at www.emilyzorn.com. I am also on Instagram @emily_rd_.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.