Focus on one goal at time, start with the easiest one. Setting overly ambitious and unrealistic goals is one of the biggest reasons why people fail at achieving their lifestyle goals — hello New Years Resolutions. If you want to be successful with really changing your lifestyle in the long term, we recommend starting with one goal that you feel confident you can achieve in a shorter period of time. This helps you build the confidence to add more challenging goals and build on a solid foundation of healthy habits.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Rissetto and Tamar Samuels, registered dietitians and co-founders of Culina Health, offering nutritional coaching and a science-based health and wellness education. Taking the complicated diets, numbers, and more out of nutrition, Vanessa and Tamar simplify healthy eating ideals and plans in order to stop stressing about food and start living life. Vanessa has over ten years of experience as a RD, and currently serves as the dietetic intern director at New York University. Tamar is a RD and National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach, with a unique and holistic approach that integrates functional medicine, positive psychology, and behavioral change techniques.
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?
Interestingly enough, Tamar did her dietetic internship at Mount Sinai Hospital where I was her preceptor. We both completed our dietetic internships through New York University at Mount Sinai, but somehow our paths hadn’t crossed until then. As women of color in a predominantly caucasion profession, we instantly clicked and had a strong mutual respect for one another. Fast forward 7 years later and both of us have successful private practices, but felt that something was missing. A coffee date turned into a two hour long conversation and the birth of Culina Health. Now almost a year later we have 5 employees and a lot brewing for 2021.
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?
Vanessa: If you told me ten years ago that I would have a thriving private practice and be the Director of the Dietetic Internship at New York University, I might not believe you, but that’s where I’m at right now. I think the main lesson is to always push ahead, and say yes to as many things as possible. I’ve always been one to rise to every challenge, help out where I can so that I can learn, and take every coffee date. I believe that because of this, I’ve been able to make strong connections and been able to showcase my talents to others.
Tamar: I think being an entrepreneur is the most interesting thing that’s happened to me. I’m someone who loves guidance, structure, and knowing what to expect from life and entrepreneurship is kind of the opposite of all of those things. Through my journey, I’ve learned to lean into the discomfort and use any sign of unhappiness as an opportunity to learn, grow, and make changes. Getting outside of your comfort zone is tough, but usually leads to huge, positive changes. Stay positive and enjoy the ride, it always works out!
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you each made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Vanessa: Biggest mistake would be trying to DIY everything. You know you’re capable and able to do a lot yourself, but it’s important to be able to delegate to professionals so it’s done correctly the first time and you aren’t left doing double work and spending more money and time than you needed to.
Tamar: If I could go back to when I first started my private practice, I think my biggest mistake I made was not connecting with more entrepreneurs in my field or mentors. I’m really independent, but that can be a weakness because I tend to just do everything myself when I could have saved a lot of time reaching out to others for information, resources and support. Private practice is also a really solitary and lonely business so having a strong community of like-minded, experienced women in business that I can relate to would have helped build community early on. Thankfully, both Vanessa and I have used what we learned on our own and applied those invaluable lessons when we founded Culina Health.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you two are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Vanessa: Honestly for me, I believe that the success I have achieved is due to my husband who supports me in all my crazy endeavors — he believes in me and lets me run with whatever no matter how outlandish it might seem to be. Also, our staff is hands down the best in the business, supportive, intelligent, motivated RDs who are forward thinkers and can make real changes in the industry. Finally, I wouldn’t be here without Tamar believing that it was the right time for us to make a big move. I was able to feed off that energy and here we are doing more than I ever imagined we could.
Tamar: I second all of what Vanessa said! My husband has been an entrepreneur for 15 years and he’s always been my biggest cheerleader, believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself and challenging me to do things I never thought I wanted to do. He’s been a source of unwavering support emotionally and professionally. Our team or RDs and our administrative support staff are such empowered, driven, loving, and thorough women who are damn good at their jobs and truly love nutrition. Starting this business with Vanessa is truly one of the best personal and business decisions I’ve ever made. She’s an amazing mentor and friend and we have a natural ability to push one another to be better with grace and compassion.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you both are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
We want to make health and wellness accessible to everyone — that’s one of the main reasons we take insurance. We want everyone who wants to make a life change have the ability to do so and we want to be there to support that journey. We also want to be a trusted source of nutrition and health information. So many people are confused about conflicting diet advice from influencers, diet books, and even doctors and we want to clear up the confusion and make it easier for people to understand what the science says and also advocate for personalized medicine. Everyone’s needs are different, and we want to help people understand what their unique needs are to feel healthy mentally and physically. We believe that feeling physically and mentally well opens up opportunities for everyone to live life to the fullest, which of course impacts society as a whole. Health is wealth!
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.
1 — Sleep is just as important, if not more important, than nutrition and exercise. Having a healthy sleep routine makes eating healthy and exercising easier. Sleep deprivation causes insulin resistance, which can increase cravings for sweets and carbohydrates, it also affects mood, motivation, and energy, making it harder to exercise.
2 — Don’t skip meals. For the vast majority of people, skipping meals leads to poor decisions about food, overeating, and even mood changes and anxiety. You should eat a meal or snack about every 3–4 hours to help stabilize appetite, blood sugar, and stress hormones.
3 — Self monitor something! You don’t need to weigh yourself every day to be successful with your goals, but when you’re trying to make a lifestyle change, it’s important to collect data about your habits and have some way of checking in with yourself to bring more awareness to your decisions. People who track their food, fitness, mood, symptoms, sleep or really any target lifestyle they want to change are more tuned in to those habits and are better able to learn from and change them. Tracking makes the experience less emotional and more data driven, which can be helpful for people who have feelings of guilt and shame around their wellness habits.
4 — Focus on one goal at time, start with the easiest one. Setting overly ambitious and unrealistic goals is one of the biggest reasons why people fail at achieving their lifestyle goals — hello New Years Resolutions. If you want to be successful with really changing your lifestyle in the long term, we recommend starting with one goal that you feel confident you can achieve in a shorter period of time. This helps you build the confidence to add more challenging goals and build on a solid foundation of healthy habits.
5 — There’s no way around eating vegetables. No tea or pill or exercise will replace the health benefits of eating vegetables. It’s simply a non-negotiable. If you’re not eating veggies with every meal, then that should be your number one wellness focus for health and longevity. Have trouble hitting this goal, get help from a professional, look for some hidden veggie recipes, keep a food journal, have a salad with at least 4 different kinds of vegetables for lunch every day. There are too many resources to make excuses for this one. Make it happen.
If you could start a movement as partners that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
We think the current wellness movement is seriously lacking in diversity and inclusion. We love seeing the progress that’s being made around body positivity and health at every size, but there’s not much conversation happening around personalized medicine or wellness that is accessible to people with different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. We created Culina Health to help people understand how their body works and what it needs to be well. That looks different for everyone. Our movement is not about one size fits all for the masses, it’s about empowering all people to learn about their unique bodies, and feeling confident in their ability to take care of them.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Us Before I Started” and why?
1 — More work doesn’t always equal more money, give yourself space to rest so you can be more efficient when you are working.
2 — Don’t be afraid to mess up, it’s the best way to learn, grow and hit your goals
3 — Don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. Social media makes it easy to think that people wake up looking fabulous, eating perfectly, exercising, meditating, and all while running successful businesses. Wrong — everyone has help and for most people it takes them years and a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get where they are. If you’re just staring out it’s ok to be motivated by people who are more successful than you, but keep in mind that they didn’t get there overnight and they had a lot of help to get there.
4 — You don’t have to do everything. Focus on your strengths and interests and hire out everywhere else. It may be more expensive upfront, but it saves you a lot of time and mental health in the long run, which is invaluable.
5 — You’re unique even in an industry that’s oversaturated. Don’t get hung up on the competition, instead focus on what makes you different and how you can attract people who you want to serve. You don’t need to be everyone’s cup of tea, find your people and serve them well.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you as partners, and why?
Mental Health and Sustainability.
What’s the point of sacrificing really anything for your mental health? It’s going to be really tough to get anything done well if you’re not mentally sound. How can you enjoy the fruits of your labor if you follow a diet that makes you miserable? What’s the point of doing something that won’t give you lasting results? We want people to achieve their goals in a sustainable way without losing their minds, or feeling inadequate through that journey. Why else do it?
What is the best way our readers can follow you guys on social media? @culinahealth @vanessarissettord @tamarsamules.rd