Interview with Meghan Telpner, Nutritionista (Part 1)

 “I enrolled in nutrition school because it was the only way I could make myself well.”

I first heard of Meghan Telpner as the former nutrition columnist for The National Post. As a bubbly twenty-something with a clear voice and strong opinions, she was just out of nutrition school and already making a name for herself with the Making Love in the Kitchen workshops. Her life was far from perfect, though – she’d turned to holistic nutrition after spending several agonizing years trying to figure out her own debilitating health issues which were eventually diagnosed as Crohn’s disease. After deciding that conventional medicine wasn’t the solution for her, Meghan went to nutrition school, revamped her lifestyle and got healthy. She decided to share her knowledge with others through cooking workshops, which quickly spread into media appearances, retail products and a soon-to-be published book. I caught up with Meghan to ask her about her amazing transformation.

You spent years in the midst of a really tough health crisis – going from doctor to doctor, being unable to work or even function some days. How did you take such a traumatic negative life experience and turned it around for yourself? Did you have a vision of yourself as a success story in the nutrition world?

I didn’t really have a vision – it was borne more out of necessity. There was a moment where I was in a health food store with my mom in the spring of 2006 and I was really sick at the time. The associate was telling my mom the health benefits of this protein powder and it was like this light went off – “This is what I need to know!” I’d been through so many doctors at this point and no one was able to help me; I knew I had to help myself.

I enrolled in nutrition school because it was the only way I could think of to make myself well. I was so sick that I couldn’t imagine being well enough to go to work, so I certainly didn’t think I was going to be a nutritionist. Unfortunately by August of that year I was diagnosed with Crohn’s and became too sick to go to school, so I went to California and spent three months healing myself through meditation, yoga and acupuncture.

I realized then that there was something massive missing in the system because I wasn’t able to find the answers in three years; in fact, I’d been told that there was nothing wrong with me. I thought, these doctors are blatantly wrong – I need to make noise about empowering yourself and making educated decisions about the right treatment choices for your health, whether they involve conventional or alternative treatments. I thought that the best way to do that would be to create a community of what I called ‘cooking parties.’

My focus was on building a community, knowing that anyone who’s gone through a health struggle often feels alone and excluded and it’s scary. Through these cooking parties, we could all cook together and eat together to create a community where people who were trying to change their lifestyles would have a space to come and play and meet people.

 

When did you get the vision to make it bigger?

Again, there wasn’t really a vision – it just evolved.  We’re constantly coming up with new things to try here. My life would be easier if I could just be happy by focusing on the cooking classes, but I get bored easily. So we started stocking products in our space, then we created an online store, and eventually we started branding our own products. Also, I love to write and almost right away I got the opportunity to write for the National Post. That led to some television opportunities, which led to a book deal (for UnDiet, Eat Your Way to Vibrant Health coming out in April 2013)…it happened very holistically.

Our newest adventure is the online courses we’re offering. We realized that we just didn’t have the space in our little school for all the people that wanted to sign up for our courses, so we decided to offer them online, available any time, anywhere. So far it’s going really well!

What’s the biggest thing you did to ensure you success?

I didn’t quit. Things would inevitably happen where I would think, “Maybe I should just get a job that gives me a paycheck every two weeks and not have to worry about this 24/7,” but I think that that my success comes from the fact that I truly love what I’m doing most of the time. I only take on jobs and work with people that I like. I love the creativity of cooking and I love writing – my dream job would be to just cook and photograph and write, and that’s what I’m working towards.

Also, I was adaptable. Nutrition has changed in the last four years. Social media has changed, technology has changed and what people are looking for is growing. I think part of my success was that I started the business in 2008 right before the economic crash, when DIY was becoming cool again – canning and fermenting and traditional cooking methods were becoming popular out of necessity. The awareness around whole foods and farmers markets and CSAs has dramatically grown in the past five years as well. So a little of it was being in the right place at the right time.

 

What has been your biggest challenge?

My biggest challenge has been finding the right people to work with me, to be part of my company and help grow it. At first I didn’t have the finances to pay what I really needed from someone, so I relied a lot on interns. Then it was finding the right people to fill the right roles where everyone was doing what they were awesome at – that’s been one of the biggest challenges in growing the business. It was a huge risk to take people on and pay them on time and manage the cash flow. I’ve been learning business management as I go and that’s been pretty tough because I’m not an administratively minded person; I’m creative and I find spreadsheets tricky, mainly because they are painfully boring!


Stay tuned for Part 2 of my interview with Meghan Telpner later this week.


Have you had your grocery list pimped yet? Read here for the details on how you can get me to give your grocery list a free makeover!

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