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Ruth Elnekave: “Learn to listen to your gut”

How incredible would it be if people would stop for just a few minutes a couple of times a day to truly savor and appreciate something that brings them joy — a hug, a view, the sunshine or fresh air, a steamy and delicious latte. I’d bet that the effects would be so impactful that people would […]

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How incredible would it be if people would stop for just a few minutes a couple of times a day to truly savor and appreciate something that brings them joy — a hug, a view, the sunshine or fresh air, a steamy and delicious latte. I’d bet that the effects would be so impactful that people would find themselves practicing ‘joyous savoring’ more and more until it became a habit.


As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ruth Elnekave.

Ruth Elnekave is Founder of JOYÀ, the wellness brand creating plant-based and meticulously crafted functional foods which include adaptogenic elixir blends, herbal teas and single-origin handcrafted chocolate. Elnekave, a former lawyer and classically trained chef turned holistic nutritionist, healed her severe adrenal fatigue with whole foods and potent botanicals and was impassioned to bring her nutrient-dense snack and beverages to consumers everywhere.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Creating and sharing food has been a key part of my life as far back as I can remember. In fact, I’m quite sure that a passion for all things culinary is in my DNA. My other lifelong passion is wellness. Athletic from a young age, the way the body and mind function and the role of nutrition have always intrigued me.

Until my 20’s, these were driving forces in my life that you would have thought would inspire my career choice. Yet, I found myself studying business and law and burning the candle at both ends as a corporate lawyer. Long days and nights at a desk, little sleep, rushed meals — far from what ignites me.

And then I realized that I wanted to pour my energy into making people happy, not making them money. I left the law at a time when holistic health was gaining attention, and it drew me in, originally as a way to reconnect with food and wellness. My studies in holistic nutrition introduced me to various forms of traditional treatment and the healing and invigorating power of food. These modalities not only captivated me, but following my studies, also helped me heal through my own debilitating health issues. Experiencing these challenges were a blessing in disguise, as being reunited with food in such a powerful way made me realize that I was meant to bring people joy through food.

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?

Definitely not easy to pick one — it sometimes feels like all careers, and life in general, is really a sum of many stories!

One recent story happened just as we were kicking off our wholesale business development efforts for JOYÀ. I was days away from sending an introductory email to a particular retailer who was one of the top partners we were targeting in a particular region, when one of their foragers beat me to the punch. I had mentally prepared myself for a period of persistent and hard work just to get their attention, so having that eliminated from the pitching process was a very welcome surprise. It turned out that this particular forager had tried our products at a very small local event that we had recently sponsored (and for a number of reasons, almost did not).

With a tight start-up marketing budget, it’s easy to want to take the “bigger bang for your buck” approach when choosing how to allocate sponsorship dollars, focusing your limited time and money on larger scale opportunities that give you exposure to a substantial audience. But this taught me that the success of an event or other opportunity is not always about size or profile. You have to be open-minded, as you never know who you will meet or what door might open.

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?

I have made many mistakes! They’ve all been some of the best learning experiences I’ve had, and have helped steer JOYÀ in the right direction.

In the early days of building the business, I already had a long-term vision for JOYÀ and wanted to do too much too fast. I didn’t go narrow and focused enough with the concept, and that made for far too many variables and moving pieces to execute well. I had to pull back and refocus, which cost time and money.

I learned that what’s meant to be will come when the time is right, but you need to be strategic and methodical. You can’t build a large, secure building on a weak foundation.

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?

I’ve been blessed to have met numerous people who have supported me along the JOYÀ journey. We would never have come so far in a few short months without all of their help. But there’s one particular person without whom I don’t know if — or when — I would have even discovered this incredible entrepreneurial path.

A few years into my legal career, I worked with an incredible career coach. At the time, the goal was not necessarily to switch careers, but rather to forge the most fulfilling path, whether that be in law or another field. This brilliantly talented coach pushed and prodded me, and helped me uncover things about my passions and true essence that were right there, but I was living too much of a go-go-go existence to see.

My work with her made me realize that nothing gets me more energized and excited than helping people in ways that bring them fulfillment and joy. And negotiating deals was not accomplishing that! Yet, without the help of this coach, who remains a dear friend, I may very well have still been churning through the years as a lawyer today.

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?

JOYÀ’s foremost reason for being is to bring people everyday joy, and we strive to achieve that on multiple levels.

Our products are deeply nourishing and support health, but they also support another key aspect of wellness: joy. The sensory experience around food — one of the ultimate pleasures in life — is so important. When we reluctantly consume food only because we know it’s good for us, but have to mask the unpalatable flavor, or feel like we’re sacrificing the things we love to achieve health, that is not true wellness. That’s why even though our products are medicinal in their effect, we’re equally focused on crafting products that are delicious and indulgent.

Another core aspect of our mission is to inspire and empower people on their lifelong wellness journey, and we do this largely through our content: recipes and articles in our online magazine, The JOYÀ Life (found on our website), content on our social media channels, podcasts, participation at events… really any opportunity that we have to make wellness accessible and fun. While our products are currently available only in North America, we’re excited that through content, our reach extends much farther.

Finally, our health is directly tied to the health of the planet. We aim to not only leave the smallest footprint possible but also nurture our Earth across our activities, from continuously seeking out ingredient suppliers and other partners who share our values, to creating a “reuse/compost” product packaging solution that is truly sustainable.

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.

My approach to everything wellness-related comes down to balance (and I don’t think it’s because my astrological sign is Libra). When you think about it, the optimal condition for our bodies (just about everything in nature) to function, is to be in homeostasis — when all conditions are in balance.

Stress: I find the most useful way to think about balance as it relates to our lifestyle is through the lens of stress: stress causes chemical and hormonal imbalances in our bodies — a major obstacle to achieving well-being — and it’s largely our lifestyle choices that cause our stress. This is why implementing practices aimed at balance that in turn reduce our levels of stress is my #1 over-arching lifestyle tweak.

Some specific examples of reducing stress in our lifestyle are:

Food: as I touched on earlier, we’re not truly living well if we’re always longing for foods we enjoy and eating only “healthy” foods that bring us no pleasure. Also, if we’re too extreme in our diet, worried about the way that everything we eat is going to impact our health, then we end up working so hard to promote wellness through food, only to have our stress detract from those efforts. The key is to build your diet around real foods that support your health AND excite you, and not worry about the odd empty calories that won’t nourish your body, but will very probably nourish your soul.

Exercise: there’s no doubt that regular movement is key to maintaining good health. But there are some important things to remember. Exercise by its very nature puts stress on the body. A balanced amount (of the right activities for you) is good stress to which the body adapts and strengthens in response. But too much results in excessive wear and tear, not allowing the body to properly recover. If you find activities you enjoy, you’ll want to do them regularly. On days where your body says “I can’t move today” or “I’m craving a Netflix binge,” listen to it and enjoy the equally important rest and relaxation, rather than allowing yourself to get stressed about missing a workout.

Sleep: when we’re awake we put stress on our body, and when we sleep it recovers — this balance is absolutely crucial. Most of us need enough sleep to feel sharp and alert, but whether lack of sleep makes you feel tired or not, it’s during this important downtime that many important functions occur, including tissue repair and growth, release of hormones crucial to all bodily systems, and more.

Fun: Chances are that when you’re immersed in doing something joyful, you’re not stressed. Plus, having pure fun releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that contributes to functions including mood, motivation and reward (and things that are rewarding make us feel good!).

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’ve discussed joy a number of times. That’s because I believe deeply that one of the easiest and most significant opportunities for increased wellness is the emotional and psychological wellness derived from experiencing many moments of joy throughout the day.

How incredible would it be if people would stop for just a few minutes a couple of times a day to truly savor and appreciate something that brings them joy — a hug, a view, the sunshine or fresh air, a steamy and delicious latte. I’d bet that the effects would be so impactful that people would find themselves practicing ‘joyous savoring’ more and more until it became a habit.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Learn to listen to your gut. It’s easy to want to rationalize and substantiate everything, especially when every decision has a cost. But the only way to develop a truly authentic brand is to let the voice that created that brand guide your decisions.
  2. Keep questioning and iterating. There’s no such thing as “right” or “perfect”. Something might be good enough for the moment, but there’s always room for improvement, and if you don’t stay inquisitive and open-minded, you’ll likely miss out on great opportunities.
  3. Focus on the long game. Nothing great comes quickly. Sure, you can see short-term and even immediate successes, but anything real and lasting takes time to build. Roots don’t grow overnight.
  4. But don’t forget to enjoy the journey. While your future goals should guide your decisions and actions, don’t get so caught up in planning that you forget to savor and enjoy the ride.
  5. The entrepreneurial journey doesn’t get easier. No matter how much you learn, new (and often more difficult) challenges continuously arise. But if you’re on the path you’re meant to be on, it gets more fun.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Sustainability/environmental health and mental health are both massively important to me, and are causes I continuously look for ways to support both personally and through JOYÀ. Not only is there grave concern around the planet that future generations will inherit, but the state of the air, water, soil and climate directly and significantly impact our health, economies and existence today. Damage is done daily, so everything that we do right now, big or small, is important.

Mental health issues are increasingly prevalent. As the pace of life and financial challenges continue to increase, so do levels of stress and anxiety. In a recent national (U.S.) survey, over 70% of respondents indicated that stress and anxiety have a moderate to severe impact on their life. Increased social pressures and bullying via social media and the internet are affecting teens and even young kids in ways that could impact them for life. Mental health affects both individuals and society on so many levels. We have to remove the stigma and make support and treatment more accessible.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

https://www.instagram.com/thejoyalife/

Thank you for these fantastic insights!

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