I Want To Be… A Health Counsellor!

Rachel Katz

iCiNG reader & super-sweet girl Rachel Katz tells us what’s it like to be in the world of health counselling!

Tell us about what you do.
As a Certified Health Counselor I help many different people achieve many different goals. The main mission of my business, Natural Zest, is to help people live a long, healthy life and love every minute of it. Clients come to me looking for help with weight, energy, stress and other life issues. Right now I’m focusing on corporate wellness, with individuals and group programs. Corporate programs allow me to help many people at one time. The best thing about what I do is that it’s about more than food, it’s about everything in life that nourishes us – our relationships, spirituality, career and life itself.

How long ago did you start on this path?
I officially decided to go into nutrition in December 2006. I was burned out by my previous career and wanted to find something that met my needs and also allowed me to provide a great service to people around me. What really pushed me into nutrition was my own journey with anxiety and depression. For years I just thought that’s how I was, and who I was. I started changing things about 5 years ago. And three years ago discovered just how important food was in maintaining a good mood. This realization literally changed my life and prompted me to go into nutrition. I enrolled in a Masters in Human Nutrition program as well as a program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I found the school trained me well and set me up to run my business and make this my career.

How long were you doing it before you made it into your career or primary form of income?
It was a year after I decided to work in nutrition when I officially launched Natural Zest and started seeing clients. Natural Zest became my full time job in May of this year.

Did anything significant happen to get you to that point, or was it a series of small steps?
For me, the key in switching to health counseling full time was my training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I realized that I have the knowledge and skills to really make a difference for people. When I realized this, I went out there, worked connections that I already had, talked to people, taught classes and really tried to increase my visibility.

Do you think official qualifications are important for someone entering your industry?
I think the two most important things are common sense and a bit of humility. We all know that we should eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and eat less processed food, meat, dairy and alcohol. And no single person knows everything, or can tell everyone exactly what to do. I think official qualifications can be helpful, but I know “qualified” people who give less than ideal advice, and people with no qualifications who are very successful at helping people. Ideally there needs to be accountability. If you are irresponsible and create problems for someone, you should be held accountable. But I do not think that one needs to be a certified nutritionist or registered dietitian to talk about food and wellness.

What do you think is the best thing about working for yourself?
Making my own hours! If I want to take a vacation, I can reschedule appointments. No appointments are ever really missed. I also get to choose the people that I work with. It’s important to love what you do, and for me that means loving the people that I work with. I won’t take on a client that isn’t a good fit for me and my personality. At some point I want to start a family. Setting my own schedule will allow me to spend all the time that I want with my children and family without sacrificing my career.

What’s the worst thing?
I’m only accountable to myself and my clients – there are no real deadlines. So sometimes it’s hard to stay on track and get things done. It really takes a great deal of discipline to keep things running.

Rate how happy you are with what you do out of 100 (100 being the best, 0 being devastatingly awful) on an average day.
I’d have to say 80. I love what I do but I know that there’s more that I could be doing with my business. There’s definitely room for me to grow and expand.

Would you call yourself a workaholic, & if so, are you alright with that? Do you think that’s normal for your industry?
I am not a workaholic, in fact I could use a bit more of that! Within counseling, yes, there are many workaholics. But for health counselors, it is so important to find that balance between work and personal life. We have to take care of ourselves if we are going to help others. I can’t see how a severe workaholic could really be the best health counselor possible.

What would your number one suggestion be for someone who wants to do what you do?
Be passionate! Passion is what moves this world!

…How about number two?
Find the training that best suits your personality, whether it is traditional or less so.

What do you wish you had known when you first started out?
My niche. I wish that I had known that group programs and corporate programs were the way for me to go when I started. It took me many months of trying to work in different populations before I found my niche in corporate wellness.

Are there any major misconceptions about your job or industry?
YES! People still think that being healthy with food is all about eating like a rabbit and forbidding your favorite foods from ever entering your mouth again. There are so many delicious foods that are also healthy. My program focuses on crowding out less healthy choices by introducing people to a whole range of yummy alternatives. And no single food is the devil! I still eat cupcakes now and then 😉

What is the best thing that’s happened to you as a consequence of the work you do?
I’m happy and healthy. In the process of starting this business I have learned so much more about myself, what I need, what I want. This has helped me move to what is definitely the best time of my life so far. I couldn’t do that if I didn’t love my career.

What motivates you to keep doing what you’re doing?
Seeing the changes in my clients. I get to watch people that I genuinely care about lose weight, realize new things about themselves, let go of old destructive habits, learn to love themselves, improve their relationships and more. It’s very rewarding! I see so many people, every day, in every walk of life, that appear unhealthy and unhappy. It doesn’t have to be like that! Yes, it takes time, and effort, but it is possible to change! I like being a part of that engine for change.

Do you think you’ll continue doing this for the rest of your life?
In some form or another, yes. I loved my last career, but it was hard to picture myself doing it 20 years down the road. Health counseling is something that I see in my future for many, many years.

What are your next big steps?
In the near future I just want to keep building my momentum with corporate wellness programs. Down the road I would love to have my own wellness center offering a variety of services. Everyone likes one-stop shopping. To have a center with medical professionals, health counselors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, yoga and more is a dream of mine. Maybe even an organic garden!

Who do you look up to within your industry & why?
There are so many people! Joshua Rosenthal, the founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, really pulled together so many ideas and theories on nutrition and wellness and put them into a philosophy which he’s taking to the world. Michael Pollan is doing brilliant work in teaching the world about what’s really going on with food. Marion Nestle works every day to educate people and change the policies that affect what we eat. There are so many great people out there working on issues around food – from how it’s grown, to production, to ingestion – and we need some big changes in this country!