Interview with Tatiana, founder of Eating Behaviour Coach
A personal journey to healthier happier life &
the story about growing business out of passion
Tell us about yourself
I was born and grew up in Russia and moved to Hong Kong 9 years ago together with my husband. I absolutely love this city. It’s a very special place for me, many wonderful things happened to me here, and one of the main ones is that I found my purpose and be-came an Eating Behavior and Habit Change Coach.
Tell us more about your business and your industry
3 years ago I made a career change. I left sales and business development and stepped into health coaching. As a result I now run my own practice offering private coaching programs to people who are unhappy in their relationship with food, struggle to change stubborn bad habits, trapped in a vicious yo-yo dieting circle, often engage in stress eating, comfort eating, overeating and other types of emotional eating, procrastinate or self-sabotage their attempts to eat and live healthier.
Talking about the industry, Health Coaching is a fast-growing emerging industry, which brings its opportunities and challenges. Opportunities are obvious, as for challenges one of the biggest is that the majority of people still don’t know what health coaches do and why they might need one.
In short, health coaches are masters of habit change; they are knowledgeable advisors who provide ongoing guidance and support in the process of adopting a healthier diet and lifestyle. They help to turn knowledge about healthy living into actions and sustainable results.
Why I choose to be a Health Coach and focus on eating behaviour and psychology? My passion for this health, wellness and eating psychology was born out of my own struggle with food and body. At the age of 16, when I found myself overweight and I started looking for the ways to lose weight and get my eating behaviour under control.
Oh you were overweight? (looking at Tatiana it’s something hard to believe)
Yes. If you look at my childhood pictures you will see a quite chubby kid. I remember I was teased in a kinder garden and school quite often. Then there were a few teenage years when I grew tall fast and I slimmed down, but those years were followed by rapid weight gain. I clearly remember that moment when I bumped into someone I knew on a street, that person looked at me in a disbelief and said – “oh my gosh, you gained so much weight!” That was the moment when I realized that something had to change and I started looking for the ways to lose weight. I started my journey to become a healthier me and in a few months I started falling in love with healthy food and how it made me feel. How it supports our bodies and gives us energy for the things we want to do in our lives. It’s just so wonderful to wake up in the morning and feel light, energized, free from aches and pains, ready to meet your day. And when you feel great, you want to share it with others. So since then I really wanted to have a job that has something to do with health and wellness, but it took me very long time to get to where I am now.
Friends and acquaintances often came to me with questions about how to improve their diets, lose weight, deal with some lifestyle related health issues, etc. I really enjoyed shar-ing my knowledge, so the idea of having an occupation where I would be helping people to improve their eating habit and health was popping up all the time, but I didn’t know how to turn it into reality. I knew my first step had to be getting relevant education and certification, but at the time in Hong Kong I couldn’t find any serious courses of that kind in English language. But, luckily, in August 2013 I found what I was looking for. I came across the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN), one of the first and most recognized school for health coaches. I’ve never heard about health coaching before, but it sounded exactly what I wanted to do. At the time I had a full time job, but I signed up for the course and started my journey of creating the job of my dreams. After getting certified as a Holistic Health Coach with IIN I continued my education, obtaining additional coaching skills and qualifications in the area of Eating Behavior and Psychology. On top of coach-ing education I had to take multiple courses on marketing and business development courses for coaches and the wellness business. I can’t say it was an easy journey, but I loved it and wouldn't change it for anything.
That sounds very inspiring. If you would have to explain to a five-year-old what you do, what would you say?
I help people to fall in love with healthy eating. Do you thing 5-year-old would under-stand that?
How was the idea born?
In my case, I can’t tell that I come up with an idea. I would say, I found a perfect match to my vision. I finally found people (health coaches) who were successfully doing what I wanted to do. I simply decided to become one of them and later got the courage to start working towards becoming my own boss.
I remember, before I discovered health coaching, I considered studying to be a Dietitian or Nutritionist, but I always had a nagging thought in my head: “But this is not exactly what I would like to be doing. Just telling people what to do is often not enough, many people need so much more; they need more guidance and support in the process of change”. I had so much evidence that knowledge very often doesn’t make any difference. I saw many people who knew what they should or shouldn’t eat and do, but for different reasons, they couldn’t apply all that knowledge in their lives. They would really try to follow given recommendations, but couldn’t maintain changes long-term, bouncing back to their old unwanted habits. I knew that I wanted to be able to help people to change their behaviour and needed knowledge and skills that would allow me to do that. If I didn’t find Health Coaching, I think I would more likely to become a psychologist, rather than a dietitian or a nutritionist. But I am thrilled, that I have actually found health coaching and created an occupation that combines elements of the both worlds. I truly believe that Eating Behavior and Habit Change Coaching is my perfect place.
Actually, you said something incredibly important. Often people struggle with “what can I do?”. And actually, the big part of it is to get out there and learn what is that that you don't know that at all exists! Maybe that is exactly what you are looking for! Something which might sound like a random information might become a pass to the bright future. Was there a turning point, when you were like, that’s it, I am doing it as a business?
Yes, there was such a moment. Towards the end of my Health Coaching certification course, I was absolutely certain that there is a big market for Health Coaches out there.
Despite tons of readily available information about how to eat and live healthily, the number of people suffering from lifestyle illnesses and obesity is growing at an alarming rate. This fact clearly shows a big gap between knowing and doing. The world needs Health Coaches who would help people to turn knowledge into action and sustainable results. That was the moment. But at the same time, I realized that I’ve got a lot to learn and a long way to go in order to turn my coaching into a business. So I decided to focus and channel my time and energy into developing myself further as a coach and learning about the business of coaching.
What was your biggest motivation and inspiration when you decided to start your business?
Well, to be honest, I didn’t have a choice. At the time, health coaching was so new, hardly anyone in Hong Kong knew what it’s about, and no one was hiring health coaches. If I wanted to be a Health Coach, there was no other way but to build my own practice.
Of course, together with this fact, I had some other powerful motivating factors.
Living my life doing things I love and truly passionate about. Helping other people and making a difference in this world with my gifts and talents. At that time I realized that I want to start putting my precious time and energy into creating something in my life, rather than helping someone else to build their businesses and chase their dreams.
So what helped you to turn your mindset from an employee into a business owner? What are the tricks and triggers?
For me, it was a combination of finding what I love, connecting to a sense of purpose, see-ing a real need on the market, and choosing to commit to the process and success.
Committing to turning my choice into success, this is where I really had to do some work in order to shift my mindset and open up to the idea of creating my own Health Coaching practice. I was trapped in a cognitive bias that made it appear that there were some business ideas that are bound to be successful and some that were bound to fail, recreating a strong resistance and fairs about starting my health coaching business. I was able to move forward only when I replaced it with a more realistic perspective, that business success or a failure is hardly ever a result of one decision. It’s about giving all you have to the choice you made, rather than trying to make a perfect one. That commitment, hard work and persistence are much better predictors of success.
Tricks and triggers…. I don’t think I have any, I arrived at that point by working on getting to know myself better, exploring my desires and fears, etc.
Very profound and inspiring! What was the most challenging part of starting your business?
Oh, there were so many personal and business challenges. At the very beginning, one of the biggest challenges for me was actually getting comfortable with telling people that I’ve decided to change my career, and swap my business development role for health coaching. I was excited about becoming a health coach, but not everyone I met had the same reaction. It’s a fact that wellness is often perceived as not a very serious industry, not like for example banking or the luxury goods market. So I had learned not to pay attention to opinions of those who don’t matter. Someone’s scepticism about my occupation doesn’t bother me now because I am not trying to impress everyone, I simply do what I love and I am here to help those who deal with food, weight and health challenges. Do you think a Japanese chef would get upset if a pizza and pasta lover wasn’t impressed with his sashimi or a seaweed salad? Of course not. So I learned not to worry about the opinions of others who are not in need of my help and can’t understand importance and value of my work, and instead focus on people who really need me.
The second biggest struggle was and still is learning how to build, market and run a health coaching practice. I had to learn it all from scratch, which is a lot of time and effort.
Very good point, it is you and the outside world which have to find each other, so the development would go 2 ways. So tell us, who were your first clients?
The very first clients were my friends and acquaintances. Then I started getting referrals, giving health talks going to networking events, establishing some partnerships with fitness studios.
Which marketing tools did you find to be the most successful? Which methods worked the best for you to acquire new clients?
Offline marketing strategies, like the ones I mentioned above, are still the best way for me to meet my potential clients. I am a people’s person, I like meeting people and establishing connections in real life. I will probably never completely switch to online marketing strategies. I understand the importance of online marketing tools and I know how powerful they can be. I definitely would love to start utilizing more of them. I’m working in that direction but unfortunately, as I am not an Internet and social media savvy person, it is not happening as fast as I would like it to.
Is there a question people ask you all the time when they hear that you are a health coach?
Usually, it is not a question, but some sort of confession. “Oh, I need you! I am addicted to sugar, drink too much alcohol, I stress eat, I overeat at night…”.
(Laughs) Sugar and alcohol disturbed Hong Kong life.
Once the business is established, what did you find to be the most difficult part of running your own business? Which challenges did you come across?
Well, I can’t really say that my practice is fully established. There are still so many moving bits and pieces. I am still in the process of learning, trying and testing, changing and improving things.
It was difficult to work on tuning and polishing things, because I was continuing my education, evolving as a health coach, adjusting my niche, updating my program, etc. Now I feel very strong and confident about my niche but I still need to develop a few more clients’ programs of a different length, price points and focuses.
I am still figuring out some of my marketing strategies. This part is quite challenging in a way of picking from the sea of marketing strategies and tools the ones that work well for my market, my niche and me as a person. And I still got so many things to streamline and automate. So yes, I am still in the process of establishing my practice.
It’s not easy to juggle all these things together, and I must admit, I look forward to the point when I will be able to delegate some parts of it and focus most of my time on my work with clients.
I am getting even more curious about your product! Tell us more about your product. How many sessions do you usually do?
I always start with an initial consultation that helps me and my potential client to identify if we are a good match to work together. This session helps me to get an idea of what food and health challenges the person who is sitting in front of me is dealing with, possible causes of their challenges, contributing factors and the person’s readiness for change. I run an eating behaviour assessment in a conversational form and then share with the potential client my perspective on what drives and shapes their unwanted eating behaviour, together with information about my coaching program and how it can help them.
Number and frequency of my meetings with clients depend on the number and nature of their diet and lifestyle challenges. Behind each eating challenge is a combination of internal and external factors, like limiting beliefs and mindset, unworkable attitude, lack of knowledge and skills, challenging physical and social environment, etc.). Some people already know a lot about healthy eating, they know what to do but for some reason not doing it, or they might be good at starting but can’t follow through and bounce back to their old behaviours. With such clients I don’t need to spend time educating them about the importance of healthy eating and how to make healthy choices, we can move straight to working on what’s actually is getting in the way of a sustainable change. With those who don't know much about healthy eating or are confused about what’s actually healthy and what’s not, I will add sessions helping them to learn main principles of healthy eating and understanding their bio-individuality.
I don’t do quick fixes and shortcuts because my goal is to help my clients to create lasting changes and results. The most important thing for people to get is that habits that took us years to build do not change in a few days. Healthy Eating is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced in order for it to become your second nature. You don’t expect to turn into a masterful dancer or a tennis player or be fluent in a foreign language just with a decision to do so. Right? Just the same you will not lose your bad habits and become a healthy eater just because you decided to do so a few minutes ago.
Sustainable habit change usually takes 3 to 6 months. This time is necessary to unlearn old habits, learn and practice new behaviours, deal with things that get in the way and for our brain to rewire itself to support new habits.
It must be a very interesting journey
But going back to business part what are the advantages and disadvantages of having your own business?
In short, the advantages are about doing what you love the way you love. I really enjoy having some flexibility with my working schedule. Another great thing is that I can choose my partners and clients, and surround myself with people I actually really enjoy working with. Moreover, working for myself allows me to create my own path. I am the one who chooses where to take this business. Whether I decide to focus on of private or group coaching, personal or corporate, offline or online, stay small or grow bigger. It is great to have this flexibility and freedom to adapt your business to your needs.
As for disadvantages, the main ones for me are much higher levels and volumes of responsibilities, and the inconsistent income. At the moment I don’t have an assistant, so I have to take care of all aspects of my business by myself (marketing, coaching, admin, customer service, etc.). Being an employee is much easier in this sense.
What would you recommend to someone who is debating whether to start their own business tomorrow, especially in the lifestyle and health domain?
As with any business, I would recommend doing a market research, writing a business plan and asking yourself if you have skills you need to run this business and be your own boss. It’s incredibly rewarding to work in health and wellness, but as any business, it’s not all easy and fun.
What an honest and spiritual story about finding your calling and conscious learning.
Thank you for your interview and I am sure that your story has empowered many inspiring female entrepreneurs to try even harder to make their dream come true.
You can learn more about what Tatiana does at
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