We'd like to present this story from Career Contessa, an online platform guiding career-driven women to success. Read how McKel Hill carved a niche for herself in the nutrition market, ultimately turning her daydreams into a reality.
McKel Hill knows that the best things in life should be deliciously simple. A naturally "good eater," the Nashville-based RD and blogger behind Nutrition Stripped found her nutritional niche in college, heeding the call to help others form healthy lifestyle habits, too. But when several rounds of clinically based jobs ended up feeling more like a paycheck than a true passion, McKel found that nothing was clicking with the vision she had in mind. Not wanting to settle for less, she nixed the clinical jobs in order to pursue her dream of building her own practice.
Today, Nutrition Stripped has become a one-stop shop for nutritional counseling, fresh recipes, and smart eating guides with global reach. McKel takes an au natural approach to food, focusing her programs on wholesome, plant-based fare in an effort to strip away the "fluff and confusion" of fad dieting. The nutrition guru also literally practices what she preaches, serving as "guinea pig" for all of her diet programs and meal plans.
While singlehandedly starting a business has come with a lot of sweat and sacrifice, McKel maintains that the rewards are worth it. Being her own boss and making the tough decisions is a daunting yet simultaneously empowering task, and making her own rules comes with its benefits — like work-free weekends! With a cookbook in the works, a recently launched stream of cooking videos, and an expansion of the site on the horizon, McKel can confidently say that, when it comes to the future of her career, the possibilities are endless! Read the full story below.
Her Starting Point
First things first! Where did your interest in nutrition and wellness come from?
Growing up I was always a healthy eater, or what my mother would call a "good eater" (i.e. I LOVED to eat!). We grew up in a health-conscious household where my mother gardened often and both of my parents were very active as well. This environment created lifelong habits from a young age that I kept with me into adulthood. Don't get me wrong though — I was still a kid who enjoyed Pop Tarts, mac and cheese, and all of those "junk" foods; we just had a great balance between those and healthy whole foods.
It wasn't until I was in college that I realized nutrition and healthy living weren't just part of my life, but my calling to help others realize their health potential as well. What first sparked my interest in the nutrition world was when I got into weight lifting and strength training. I was fascinated at my body's capabilities to turn skinny little me into someone who could gradually increase their muscle mass and strength.
It also was a combination of knowing what foods made me feel my best with recovery, energy, and those that kept me progressing towards my goals. I would make mock meal plans for friends and guinea pig everything on myself as a way to learn the body as well. To this day I guinea pig my own diet programs, meal plans, and experiment — I believe to be a great practitioner you must know what it truly feels like on the other end, dieting or changing your eating habits.
What training and education do you have? What is the difference between a dietician and wellness coach? Can you be one and not the other?
Great question, and a very common one at that! A dietitian is someone who has received formal education from an accredited program and school program, passed a national exam and continues to hone in on their skills by keeping up to date with continuing education courses/credits. A dietitian can "call" themselves a health coach, nutritionist, coach, etc., but not the reverse. In other words, a nutritionist can't label him or herself a dietitian or practice as a dietitian if they haven't undergone certain education or certification.
A wellness coach or health coach is someone who has undergone training in coaching. Coaching is more holistic than most training obtained in typical dietetic programs, and you also don't have to be a dietitian to be a "coach." The focus of coaching is rooted in motivational interviewing, listening, and facilitating change in clients versus taking a teaching or educational approach (i.e. listen first, talk second). I find both of the skill sets I've learned from both wellness coach training and my clinical experience with counseling/nutrition invaluable. Both are incredibly important to the way I practice!
What do you do as a dietitian and wellness coach? What are your daily tasks and responsibilities?
Day to day work — although I hesitate to call what I do "work" because I truly love what I do — varies each week. Some days I'm writing blog posts for Nutrition Stripped, or I'm in the kitchen developing recipes for my cookbook or for the blog to share. On other days, I'm testing recipes on my friends, hosting Nutrition Stripped Supper Clubs, freelance writing, doing food photography, and, of course, working with my clients! Most days when I'm simply writing or editing photography, you can find me at any of my favorite local Nashville coffee shops like Barista Parlor, Crema, or Ugly Mugs — caffeine and writing equals a lot of work done!
I'm also in the process of taking on interns to help with the expansion of Nutrition Stripped, which has been a completely gratifying experience. I love being able to teach the next generation of entrepreneurs.
Her Big Break
Where did you start your career? What did you learn about yourself from those early roles?
The inception of Nutrition Stripped started long before I actually introduced it to the world. I had been working behind the scenes for many months organizing, planning out, and truly asking myself what I wanted to do for my career. It was this time spent that was crucial to my success with Nutrition Stripped. I was able to picture my vision with my "dream" job, think about steps I'd have to take to get there, network, research, research, and research!
I had several jobs that were clinically based when first starting out as a dietitian, which I used as further experience. I knew right away that what I was doing with work was truly just work — it wasn't a calling or a passion of mine. My dream was to wake up every single morning with a desire to work towards my dream "job," but also to make it a lifestyle. I knew what was out there for me as a dietitian if I followed suit and kept working for companies I couldn't completely agree with. I knew it wouldn't live up to what I had envisioned in my head. Thus, I had to make my dream a reality. That's when the wheels started turning, and I began to build my own practice and business.
What does your typical workday consist of? How many hours do you work each week on average? Does your job allow for a good work/life balance?
I set myself a schedule now. When I first starting blogging, I was juggling multiple part-time jobs and working about 60 hours a week! I had no life/work balance and I was clearly burning myself out. But it was a necessary sacrifice at the time. It wasn't until I set boundaries with work that I had more balance. Balance also comes with practice and with the growth of your business. Naturally when you're first starting out and building your business, most of us do it solo, so it does take a lot of time and an incredible amount of sacrifice.
I've always been an early bird, so I'm up most mornings around 5 a.m., going to the gym to get in a great workout, making time for meditation to focus on the day, and then working! I typically will start work around 9 in the morning, break for lunch, and get right back at it till around 3 or 4 p.m. Again, some days vary, especially if I'm coaching international clients — I may be coaching till 8 p.m. at night. I no longer work on the weekends (that was part of my boundary rules!). Those are special and spent enjoying time with friends, my love, and our sweet pup, Zoey. I cherish weekends to be able to re-energize and refocus for the next week. I believe to be a great coach, I have to be "well" and in the right state of being to help others.
Do you have a nutritional focus? Do you think it's good to have a niche?
Yes! My nutritional focus is simple, plant-based whole foods. Going back to basics with food and stripping away all the fluff and confusion when it comes to diets. I practice and preach living and enjoying a lifestyle rather than focusing on fad diets or other nutrition dogmas people may get sucked into. I'm all about refocusing the attention on the simplicity that's been in front of us all along — choosing foods closest to nature, having flexibility, and enjoying every bite of it.
I'm also all about encouraging people to have fun in the kitchen, to get creative, and to branch out of using the same ole ingredients they're used to. I try to expose my readers to ingredients that aren't so common, or using them in classic recipes with a twist or with a global flare. I think it's great to have a niche, if you know what you're passionate about. Then use your unique voice to share it to the world!
Tell us about your blog, Nutrition Stripped. Why did you originally create it, and how has it helped your career?
Nutrition Stripped was a way for me to not only create a future business of my dream job, but also a way for me to express my creative outlet as well as my nutrition knowledge and expertise. I've always loved food, photography, art, writing, and connecting with individuals, so the blog felt completely natural when I started it up. It was like second nature.
Nutrition Stripped has been a fantastic way for me to connect with potential clients, collaborations with work, and in general meeting people all over the world who normally I would've never been able to. I've met some truly amazing friends throughout the process of building Nutrition Stripped. It's an amazing thing.
Through Nutrition Stripped you also offer personalized nutrition counseling. What are the pros and cons of running your own company vs. working for a company?
I do! My nutrition coaching services and programs are at the heart of Nutrition Stripped. It's where I connect with new and potential clients. To be honest, the pros far outweigh the cons at the present moment. When I first started out, I would've said otherwise. Whenever you're starting a business, especially alone, there's a lot of time, labor, sacrifice, and hardships — but that's not to say you're not rewarded if you stick with it! I wouldn't have changed a thing at the start of building Nutrition Stripped — everything I've worked hard to get has come into fruition because of effort. I find it to be much more gratifying than simply working for a company.
I also may be a minority in this regard, but I'm a very independent person. I find that I work best alone, running the show and delegating tasks. For my business, it works perfectly well because I'm able to work a typical eight-hour workday in four to six hours, and be more efficient in comparison to "clocking in" those eight hours just because you have to regardless of your efficiency. To me, that's a waste of time and resources!
On the logistic side of things, working for a large company has its perks with benefits, health insurance, etc., but I'd give that up any day for complete freedom and flexibility. Added bonus: it's beautiful to be able to look back on a project you've grown from the ground up.
What is your favorite part of your job? What are some of the drawbacks?
My favorite part of my job is that I don't view it as a job. It's a lifestyle. It's a way of being. I wake up every morning grateful and happy I'm able to live out my passion, have a voice, and share it with the world. What I do on a daily basis is such a great mesh between my left and right brain that it keeps me focused and happy, both creatively and intellectually.
The biggest drawbacks I've experienced surround the times when a big decision needs to be made — things like declining projects, the website, quitting part-time jobs, etc. I'm incredibly grateful that I have a great support system around me to bounce ideas off of, but ultimately when you're the business owner, you make the final decision. It can be intimidating and incredibly empowering at the same time. It's not that working is always rainbows and butterflies, because it isn't. There are times of highs and lows with business, but I make a conscious effort to focus on the good that I do and that keeps me going full force.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring dietitian? (ie. shadow a dietitian, take classes, etc.)
This has actually been one of the most frequently asked questions I receive. I have weekly emails from aspiring RDs and nutritionists asking me about my career and wanting help. I've written a couple of blog posts about this to answer some questions. I enjoy sharing what I've learned throughout my process, and I've received great feedback on how it has helped shape their path in deciding whether or not the nutrition field is truly a passion of theirs or whether they were in love with the "idea" of being in nutrition — there's a big difference. Passion > identifying with a label.
I think it's always important to know your niche, have your own unique voice and perspective, and own it. But most importantly, you must have passion. If you don't eat, breathe, sleep nutrition (or your potential dream career), then during those hard times I mention, it's going to be even more challenging to stick to it.
And finally, what do you wake up looking forward to? What's next for your career?
The future of my career is full of endless possibilities, as cliché as that may sound. I truly believe that there are so many outlets for me to reach out to, and I'm ready for all of it! One of the most exciting projects I'm currently working on and recently launched is the cooking-video side of Nutrition Stripped! Also new, I have Nutrition Stripped Supper Clubs, which are incredibly fun. It's a way for me to connect with all the foodies in Nashville and friends to share recipes, cook, and enjoy food over great conversation.
The biggest project to happen is my cookbook deal with Harlequin Publishing! I'm beyond excited to shift my focus more on developing the cookbook, testing recipes, writing, and photographing all my new creations to share in Spring of 2016. The Nutrition Stripped cookbook will be an expansion of my blog, rooted in plant-based whole foods made deliciously simple and flexible for everyone — it's all about global eating! I'm thrilled to start this new chapter in my life and to be able to share it with the Nutrition Stripped community every step of the way.
This is always such a hard question because I'm a foodie at heart and love everything! I'm not just saying this because I live and preach a healthy lifestyle, but my favorite meals are smoothies or huge Nourish Bowls filled with things like sweet potatoes, roasted veggies, beans, and avocado. My sweet tooth has me answering this question with my Flourless Blackberry Chocolate Cake though — so decadent yet made with whole food ingredients.
Latest splurge item?
It was most likely a piece of photography equipment! Those are always splurges, but in terms of fun stuff I'd have to say a shopping trip at Madewell. I'm a sucker for great denim and shoes.
Weight lifting! I love weight lifting and have since high school. I like combining strength workouts with high-intensity plyometrics and volume workouts. I also love boxing, yoga, and simple walks with my sweet and our pup Zoey around the neighborhood or at beautiful parks here in Nashville — we're spoiled!
I'm a fan of myfitnesspal.com. It's incredibly useful to not only learn about food on the quantitative side of things (i.e. calories and macronutrients), but also to use it as a tool to reach a specific goal and to track your behaviors in reaction to food. Other nonfoodie-related apps I love are zen timer for my morning meditation sessions and good ole Pandora for jammin' while working out or editing photography.
McKel Hill, MS, RD, LDN, is the creator of Nutrition Stripped, a plant-based whole foods blog focusing on nourishing recipes. McKel offers one-on-one nutrition coaching services, programs, and plans in the US and internationally.
Source: Crystal K. Martel