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New podcast episodes are aired weekly, and about a couple weeks ago, TSC Him & Her Podcast featured one of the most up and coming, but wildly intelligent Holistic Chef and Health & Nutrition Counselor, Niki Connor. *Find the episode here and here.
The LA-based badass had me so locked in and informed every second of the TSC podcast, so much so that I felt the need to reach out to her myself. I just loved every bit of what she had to say and I hadn’t had enough.
I reached out to her and naturally, she’s just as proactive, pleasant, and caring as she is smart and beautiful.
Thanks to TSC for introducing me and inspiring me to conduct my own one-on-one interview with this amazing woman.
Here it is kittens. Get your notepads ready. Soak this A1 information in. Learn something and enjoy!
Tell us a little about who you are and what you do.
I’m a certified health and nutrition counselor and professional chef specializing in plant-based cuisine. I combine both jobs as well as keep them separate, it depends on the work required. When a client needs a chef to prepare health and delicious meals, I’m right for the job! But, when a client needs a chef who is well educated in cooking for numerous health conditions and can prepare them meals for their specific needs, I’m right for that job, too! I’ve had nutrition clients who cannot hire me for my chef services additionally, so I provide recipes in their programs, and even cooking lessons when requested.
What exactly is holistic living?
I firmly believe in treating ourselves as a whole – mind, body, and spirit. 90% of the cases I’ve dealt with have been emotionally connected, because though we must heal ourselves with a health lifestyle, a healthy mindset is just as important! I’m highly intuitive and apply it to my work, so I’m able to see past the outside issue. I do my best to be there as a life coach, not just a health coach. Finding love and happiness within makes reaching health and fitness goals part of a healthy lifestyle, not a quick fix diet.
What events led up to where you are today/what made you want to be a holistic chef?
I was born and raised in an environment where health and fitness are important, but didn’t take it seriously. I thought it was annoying that I was only allowed to drink soda and eat pizza once a week, but now I’m grateful! In learning so much about my own body and what helps it function at its best, I committed to a career where I’m able to assist others in becoming their best selves as well. I’m a total health nut in my everyday life, but believe in balance in order to maintain a health social life as well. I certainly don’t surround myself with people who have a problem with the fact that I love and respect my body and treat it with care, but I do believe in enjoying dessert and other treats every now and then to have a balanced, happy life.
What are some of your main tasks/responsibilities in your job? What’s your day-to-day look like?
When working as a personal chef, I go to the farmer’s market, grocery store, and other specialty stores (I get reimbursed for this, of course). I also do menu planning, and always send the client the menu in advance to ensure that all dishes and ingredients are approved. Prior to working for a client, I am well informed on allergies, food sensitivities, etc. I only use fresh, organic and gluten-free ingredients and only prepare non-vegan dishes when hired to do so for work.
When working as a health and nutrition counselor, I’m on call 24/7 by phone and e-mail. When working locally, I meet with the client on a weekly basis, and when working remotely we do a phone or Skype meeting once a week. I consistently send shopping lists, share recipes, share health and fitness tips, do nutritional analysis on their current eating habits, there is so much that goes with what I do. I even have clients texting me from around the country asking which brand to buy at the grocery store, I make sure that I’m there for them whenever they need me. But, while I’m doing my part, they need to do theirs to reach the goals they want to attain!
Describe your philosophy. What’s your life mantra?
Clean body, clear mind, charming spirit.
Have you always had a good relationship with food? What advice can you give those who haven’t/struggled to find a balance with food?
The reason I’m not a personal trainer and focus on the health aspect is because I’ve never had to work that hard to get in shape, with good genetics and a healthy lifestyle, it’s never been a problem for me. I also don’t like yelling at people, I prefer to be yelled at in the gym or a class (haha). I know what workouts work best for the goals my clients want to achieve, and it comes down to 80% diet and 20% fitness. You can’t out-exercise a bad lifestyle! I’ve had periods in the past where I ate my feelings, I’ve been through some dark depression in my life and got myself out of it. But, my weight didn’t change more than 10 pounds, so I hid the inner turmoil well.
There is no drug, drink or food that can make you feel the way a consistent healthy lifestyle can! When you treat your body with love and care, you get your mind “right” as well, and then your health and happiness becomes a priority. I have Hashimotos Hypothyroidism and refuse to take nasty medications for it, I monitor it with diet alone. People often ask me how I’m able to do it, and my answer is this: Because I care. I care about my body and want to give it the love and respect it deserves. There is no junk food that’s “worth it” to feel like crap to me. No one is perfect and I get a few thyroid flare-ups a year, but so far this year I’ve only had one!
Do you plan each meal or do you eat intuitively? How important is each?
I understand meal prep for bodybuilders, but I personally would never do that. I don’t plan my meals in that much detail, I eat intuitively. I’m so in tune with my body, I know what it needs and when, and I don’t just do nutritional analysis on my clients, I do it on myself too so that I know if I’m missing something. I also don’t plan that far ahead because often times I’m so busy on-the-go with work, I also eat on-the-go with snacks I carry with me or healthy stops. When I have a chef job in the evening, I eat dinner in the afternoon before work. It’s important to get enough goodies in a meal, and that’s what I look out for. If a dish at a restaurant doesn’t contain enough greens, I add them on the side, etc.
Do you think a holistic diet & lifestyle is especially important for a woman in her twenties? How so?
A healthy lifestyle is important for everyone! The sooner you make it second-nature, the easier it will be to maintain for the rest of your life. And, the sooner you get to your best health and happiness, the longer you’ll look and feel your best!
You were a professional athlete, so you know a little about transitioning from an athlete to non-athlete. I played volleyball in college and it’s been well over a year since I’ve retired. I’m still finding it hard to figure out how to properly fit my diet with my new lifestyle without gaining weight and losing muscle.
Did you have similar experiences? What advice can you give former athletes regarding their diet?
I definitely don’t eat the same way I did when I was in nationally competitive horse shows and playing full-tackle football. When I quit football, I took a nice break from weight-lifting and stuck to yoga and cardio until I felt ready to lift some more. But, different people gain and lose muscle in different ways, I gain muscle very easily and avoid certain exercises because of it. When playing football, I was training 4 1/2 hours a day 4-5 days a week, so I stopped eating that much since I don’t train as hard anymore. I eat differently after workouts than on days when I don’t workout. I don’t believe in “counting calories”, I believe in paying attention. Instead of mindless eating, taking note of what you ate and how much you ate will help determine what you have in your next meal. Sometimes I do football drills for fun, and I don’t run more than 3-40 minutes tops, preferably outdoors. I like to mix it up, sometimes I’ll take a spin class, sometimes I do pilates, sometimes yoga, but I make sure to move my body in a workout at least 5 days a week. I listen to my body, after having bone reconstructive surgery in my foot, when it hurts, I need rest.
What’s some advice for someone making the transition to a clean eating lifestyle?
The more good stuff you add in, the less bad stuff you’ll crave! Instead of making a huge change overnight, add more organic and plant-based foods to your daily diet, and it’ll get easier every day!
I love to drink. What advice do you have for someone who wants a healthy lifestyle but doesn’t want to sacrifice going out?
I don’t drink, but most of my clients do, so I know what you mean! Here’s a friendly reminder: 1 beer= 7 slices of bread (seriously). When it comes to liquor, clear and low or zero sugar is best. As for wine, red is a better choice. You can’t out-exercise or out-eat an unhealthy lifestyle though, so make sure to keep it balanced. Many people think they can “detox the liver”, when in fact, the liver detoxes itself. When you maintain a healthy lifestyle, the liver and other organs function at their best.
How would you approach a client who wanted to lose weight? What’s a simple plan they should follow or some tips/guidelines to help them lose weight?
I work based on bio-individuality, there isn’t one specific diet that works for everyone, we all have different needs to be met in order to reach our goals. But, a lifestyle that benefits everyone is gluten-free and vegan. Many of my clients are not vegan and I don’t try to change them, I just have them add more plant-based foods to their diet. The quickest way to reach your goals is by eliminating dairy, gluten, and refined sugar from the diet.
What’s some tips you have when dining out?
Keep in mind that restaurants will do anything to make their food taste better. If it’s not an organic and vegan restaurant, that means they’ll use butter, canola oil (garbage), cream, and wheat in any way they can. I love the challenge of being a plant-based chef because I don’t have the crutch of meat and dairy to make my dishes work, I use herbs, spices, and plant-based foods to make dishes come together. Don’t order anything with the word “cream” in it unless you’re having an occasional cheat meal, and steamed is a healthier option than sautéed or grilled. Requesting that your meal is prepared in olive oil instead of butter is easy, and if you worry that the waiter will judge you, say that you have an allergy. When you tell a restaurant that you have an allergy, there’s a better chance that your meal will be prepared leaner and cleaner!
What are 3 ingredients you can’t live without? What’s your 3 favorite meals?
That’s a tough one! I prepare so many different dishes all the time! My 2 favorite foods are chocolate (as in real cacao, chocolate in its pure form) and truffles. Pasta is my comfort dish for sure!
What’s your favorite nutrition resources?
I use my information from nutrition schools.
If readers can leave with one piece of nutrition advice from you, what would it be?
Treat yourself with the love and respect it deserves. Your body works so hard for you every day, you’ve got to keep it functioning at its best!
HEALTHY SMOOTHIE & JUICE COMBOS:
The only fruits that should be mixed with veggies in a juice or smoothie are bananas, apples, and cucumbers.
+ Spinach, raw cacao, banana, 2-3 dates
+ Acai, banana, spinach
+ Parsley, celery, cucumber, dandelion root
+ Beet, Apple, carrot, celery
+ Kale, romaine, celery, ginger, apple, cucumber, lemon (squeeze lemon on top of the juice or smoothie at the end)
+ Spinach and banana
+ Coconut water, acai, banana
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BEST SMOOTHIE BOOSTERS:
+ Mushroom Matrix (use Niki’s name at check-out on the website for 20% off)
+ Raw cacao powder/raw cacao nibs
+ Chia seeds
+ Ground flaxseeds
+ Goji berries
+ Tiger nuts
+ Maca root
+ Golden berries
+ Camu camu powder
+ Pine pollen
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Holistic Chef Niki’s Super Smoothie Recipe (from TSC)
+ 1 handful of baby spinach
+ 1 banana
+ 1 tbsp ground flax seeds
+ 1 tbsp liquid aloe
+ 1 tbsp raw cacao powder
+ 3 Medjool dates, pits removed.
+ 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
+ Filtered water ( to thin as needed )
+ 1 pinch cinnamon
+ Directions: combine all ingredients in high-powdered blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into glass & enjoy.
++ This is the base I like to work with, but I don’t consume the same smoothie every day. I mix it up.
Holistic Chef Niki’s Kale Salad (from TSC)
1 1/2 cups raw cashews, soaked for at least 4 hours.
1 tbsp + 1 tsp Dijon mustard
Zest & juice of 2 small or 1 large lemon
3 cloves garlic
Water (to thin as needed)
Himalayan pink salt (to taste)
Ground black pepper (to taste)
2 sprigs of fresh herbs (rosemary, sage or thyme)
+ Directions: Blend ingredients together in a food processor. Store unused dressing in a glass mason jar in the refrigerator.
1 can organic chickpeas
Himalayan pink salt (to taste)
Ground black pepper (to taste)
herbs & spices you enjoy (cumin & cayenne for me!)
+ Directions: Preheat oven to 400F. Drain and rinse can of chickpeas. Add chickpeas to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Top with ground pepper, Himalayan pink salt, and herbs & spices of choice. Toss and roast for 15-20 minutes until crispy. These are a great alternative to croutons!
+ Take washed curly kale & remove the leaves from the tough spine.
+ Add dressing and massage through with clean hands, making sure to cover the lettuce and massage until it’s softened.
+ Add toasted pine nuts or chickpea croutons & enjoy!
There you have it kids. Isn’t she cool?!?!? Like the definition of the ultimate cool girl. (fan girl much? I don’t even care though!)
Hope you enjoyed the interviewed, learned as much, and loved Niki as much as I did!
Or if you’re extra like me, email her yourself at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love and light forever and always y’all.
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