I’m a native of the Englewood community located on Chicago’s South Side, raised in a large family long plagued by poverty, poor housing, and poor health.
In my early teens, I watched my mother suffer through a debilitating work-related injury that led to permanent joint damage, excess weight gain, and eventually a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes, all before the age of 45. My maternal grandmother succumbed to the second of two strokes just shy of her 60th birthday.
I also witnessed over a dozen other family members die prematurely from preventable lifestyle diseases ranging from high blood pressure to heart disease to cancer.
In the midst of it all, I lost my home and everything I owned to a fire.
Living in a nearly constant state of anxiety and stress, I personally struggled with food addiction that led to weight gain and eventually obesity. Since obesity is linked to just about every lifestyle-related disease and I already had familial risk factors, this could have easily caused serious problems in the future. But, I was determined not to suffer the same fate as my many loved ones.
With continued encouragement and support from my mother, who too was fighting obesity and battling her unstable and debilitating health, I was able to distance myself from negative family and peer influences and embrace a healthier lifestyle that ultimately resulted in a 65-pound weight loss in less than six months.
It was a life-changing experience that instilled an unwavering appreciation for health and fitness—A level of appreciation that would eventually unearth my passion and path to professional fulfillment.
A few years later, I eagerly left Englewood as a first-generation college student. I had no money and no plan but I did have lofty ambitions of changing people’s lives in healthy ways.
Solely motivated by my own ambitions, I earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Kinesiology and Movement (Exercise) Science, and simultaneously completed a Clinical Massage Therapy Sciences diploma program. I also earned professional certifications in exercise physiology and group exercise after which I launched my first health and wellness coaching and consulting company.
I was in the business of changing lives and business was booming!
Barely in my 20’s, I had a large client base, ranging from 30 to 100 years of age. They represented all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds. Honestly, the experience of working hands-on with these ladies, day in and day out, was far more valuable than any of the academic training I’d accumulated up to that point.
Many opened up about their personal and professional lives, needs, values, wants, and unique pursuits of happiness, which always kept me thinking of new and more innovative ways to better tailor my programs and services to meet their individual needs. In fact, this was the point at which I began to design my own personalized coaching system to support healthy lifestyle behaviors among people with various goals ranging from weight loss to disease management.
Unfortunately, this was also the point at which my mother developed a life-threatening infection after a routine knee replacement and had to have her lower leg amputated. During this time, she was also diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a result of long-term prescription steroid use. My mother was only 53 years old.
In the back of my mind, having an ability to help so many people while being unable to positively influence my mother made me an utter failure. But, hindsight being 20/20, this perceived “failure” actually made me a better and more knowledgeable coach and consultant. The experience, however, also made me somewhat skeptical about America’s healthcare system, particularly the lack of emphasis on self-care and lifestyle interventions for disease management.
I began to explore more impactful opportunities to contribute to the advancement of people’s health within the self-care arena.
Seeking specifically to advance scientific knowledge, I pursued a Research Doctorate (PhD) in Kinesiology, Nutrition and Rehabilitation for which I largely examined the impact of various lifestyle interventions (diet, exercise, and massage therapy) on heart disease and stroke-related risk factors among people who were overweight and obese.
I also expanded my health advocacy and outreach efforts on a more global level by launching my very first blog.
Six years later I completed my PhD followed by an additional two years of postdoctoral training and then accepted a full-time academic research faculty position—All while continuing to moonlight as a health and wellness coach, industry-level consultant, and expert blogger.
Being a junior scientist working in a competitive research environment was rough, as there was very little collaboration or meaningful action. Nevertheless, I published regularly and worked tirelessly to further my research pursuits towards the advancement of people’s health.
But, just two years in, I realized I wasn’t staying true to my early ambitions of changing peoples’ lives. I was merely vetting scientific theories and mechanisms for potential grant funding, even though they had little-to-no real-life application or impact.
Adding insult to injury, I had begun battling depression after having suffered through three consecutive miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy over the span of three years.
At this point in my life I realized something needed to change. While channeling all my energies to research, consulting and outreach, I had begun to neglect my own mental health needs.
I wasn’t happy inside.
I didn’t feel content.
Truth was, I actually found the most solace in the coaching and consulting I performed in a limited capacity. The continued successes of my clients were, to me, both ‘significant’ and meaningful, regardless of the relatively limited ‘sample’ sizes.
Ironically enough, after having completed one of my research studies, a participant pulled me aside to thank me.
Her exact words to me were, “Aside from all the fat biopsies and blood draws I had to go through, you changed my life. I didn’t realize it was your study and I almost dropped out until I met you and you took the time to talk to me about my personal health. People like you should work directly with the people, not behind the scenes.” Over time, other participants shared similar sentiments.
Looking back, I always knew I could have more of an impact on the ground than I ever could as an academic researcher. Up to this point, I’d already helped hundreds of people transform their lives through strategic self-care.
Coming to grips with the fact that I’d invested over a decade of schooling into an unproductive and unfulfilling career path, I was faced with the difficult decision of having to permanently leave academia and take my life back.
Though frustrated, I refused to dwell on my past decisions. I instead embraced my present situation and, ultimately, decided to permanently transition out of academia.
But, not before asking myself, “What do I want to do with my life?”
It didn’t take long for me to figure it out!
I remained motivated by the same passion and purpose that’s fueled my personal and professional efforts for over 20 years: Changing people’s lives in healthy ways.
My personal philosophy is simple: Self-care is medicine and an enabler of good health. This might sound a bit cliché, but, for better or for worse, by taking good care of ourselves, we can have tremendous sway over our health and longevity.
Through my consulting, advising and advocacy efforts, I now work directly with people, academic institutions, healthcare organizations and businesses to develop better quality programs, products and services that effectively improve self-care practices and, ultimately, lead to better health outcomes.
In addition, I provide coaching, mentoring and educational services, to help people navigate through the maze of health gimmicks, fads, and mainstream quackery, equipping them with the tools they need to lead happier, healthier, more productive lives.
The information I provide in articles and blogs is solely for educational purposes and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you’re concerned about your health, contact a physician for medical advice.