When a client of Rachel Fine’s contacted us to share her story, we knew we had to connect. We love her story of hard work and dedication and of bringing together her passion for dance and her passion for nutrition in a way that was meaningful and rewarding for her (and those who benefit from her great advice), and with International Dance Day coming up Friday, what a great story to share! Meet Monday Motivator, Rachel Fine, founder of To The Pointe Nutrition:
- Tell us about your transition from dancer to dietitian. What got you interested in nutrition?
Dance has been my life since I was 6 years old. It was at age 16 that I started a more pre-professional track. At 16, I was already considered a late start, however, it took time for my body frame and musculature to mature enough to support Pointe work. The delay, however, didn’t hold me back from pursuing various trainee programs throughout New York. I then started college as a dance major and found myself immersed in 6-hour days of dancing and cross training. Throughout my training, I became increasingly interested in nutrition. I began researching obsessively about how to best optimize my health and fuel my dancing. However, I quickly realized that while there is an overwhelming amount of information out there, most if the information seemed conflicting and misleading. As a dancer, I couldn’t find clear answers about how to best fuel my career. Did anyone know how to “eat healthy?” In hindsight, I laugh at my confusion, which seemed to result from the blurred lines between industry-driven health claims and scientific literature. Either way, I was determined to not only find answers for my own dance career, but also share my knowledge with others.
- My passion for nutrition grew instantly—I wanted to know everything there was to know. Soon enough, I decided to switch gears from 6-hour dance days to 6-hour study periods as a nutrition major. Determined to continue dancing throughout my last years as an undergrad at NYU, I found myself jumping from dance studio to library with little rest between. After another 2 years of grad school and 1 year of clinical practice, I finally completed my degrees and licensure as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I then started working as a full-time acute care dietitian, which made it harder to continue dancing. I desperately tried to keep it up (improvising a ballet barre in my apartment every night was not ideal, but it worked)
- While it was a great 2 years of experience in the clinical world, it was also a wake up call. I realized that while I was achieving everything that I thought I wanted in the world of clinical nutrition, I still felt unsatisfied in my career. I had strayed from the original reason for pursuing a career in nutrition, craving my passion for dance as it continued to build along the sidelines. I knew that something had to change; I needed to find a way to balance these two worlds that I each loved so much. Somewhat impulsively, I dropped my hospital ID badge, gained certification as a specialist in Sports Nutrition, grabbed my Pointe shoes, and opened doors at my own private nutrition counseling practice. I knew it would be a risk, but I was ready to take it. I’d have the flexibility to return to my own dance career, while still practicing nutrition and teaching others how to feel their best. I finally found the balance between dance and nutrition and couldn’t be more ecstatic about the future of my company To The Pointe Nutrition.
- Describe for us what To The Pointe Nutrition does. What do you think is unique about your approach?
- To The Pointe Nutrition focuses on educating dancers, athletes, and even weekend warriors about how to utilize food to best fuel their workouts and/or performances. Our clients are never put on a diet, but rather, they are taught how to maintain practical and sustainable eating habits that help them to achieve their goals, whether that is weight loss, weight maintenance, or simply a healthier lifestyle. While we see many clients in person in New York City and on Long Island, most of our work is done virtually. Many of our clients are either professional dancers, traveling for weeks or months at a time, or students who must balance time between school and pre-professional dance or athletic training. With such busy schedules, we’ve found that most of our clientele appreciate the ability to meet over videoconference. Most importantly, we use an online food-tracking platform that allows us to track our clients’ food intake throughout the day, providing feedback and suggestions to them in real time. This feature has truly been invaluable to our practice, as it cultivates accountability and stimulates motivation on a meal-to-meal basis. Furthermore, our approach to nutrition is not solely about diet, but rather it incorporates the mental and emotional connections needed to rebuild a healthy relationship with food.
- What is it like being an entrepreneur? Is it ever scary? What aspects are the most rewarding?
- I’d say the scariest part was the transition from full time acute care dietitian to creating my own private practice. While that part has passed, I often feel like it’s impossible to shut my brain off “work mode.” Having the complete responsibility to make the decisions is amazing, but it’s also extremely stressful. So far it’s been 2 years of an ongoing, decision-making, process with always much more to do! The most rewarding aspects of my job are the “ah-ha” moments that clients have after realizing that they can have their cake and eat it to. It’s unfortunate how women build unhealthy relationships with both food and with their body, without even realizing it. I love having the opportunity to both teach my younger clients and re-teach my older clients that it’s okay to enjoy their favorite foods.
- Do you ever feel that you aren’t taken seriously as a business person because you are a young woman? If so, what do you do in those situations?
- Story of my life! For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been “the young one.” I look particularly young for my age, which yes—I guess will be a good thing one day—but, for now, it has created challenges along the way. That said, it’s an obstacle that taught me that sometimes I have to actively take the “longer path” in order to successfully achieve what I want. In other words, I make sure to always go to meetings and networking events well prepared so that I can physically show others my work at To The Pointe Nutrition. Not to brag, but my insane Microsoft office and organization skills usually help win them over.
- What is the difference between the mindset of focusing on “healthy food” and that of focusing on “healthy eating”?
- This was something that I learned (and continue to learn) over time through my years of studying and counseling. It’s common for us to fixate on what we feel is the definition of a “health food” or a “healthy diet.” We forget that health is related to much more than just food. Without sounding too cliché, “health” is rather an interconnection between our mental, physical, and emotional wellbeing. Therefore, a great deal of my focus when counseling clients is actually the opposite of what most may think a nutritionist does. I spend a great deal of time encouraging my clients to forget about these pre-conceived notions of “health” and subsequent “perfection.” For many, I literally teach them that there is no such thing as a “good” food and a “bad” food. Instead, I have them brainstorm the foods that they truly love so that together we can figure out a way to incorporate them into their meal plan without any misconstrued feelings of resent, guilt, fear, etc. Society’s obsession with health has created a silent distress and anxiety over certain foods that are meant to be joyful. While these feelings are much stronger for some than for others, it’s the overall impact that continues to fill social media, which is worryingly accessed from kids at very young ages. I’ve seen clients as young as nine years old thinking that gluten is the enemy or that chocolate is a “bad” food. My goal is to not only educate about the benefits of a whole food approach to eating, but to also help my clients manage the negative feelings towards themselves from food. These are the negative feelings that cause many to struggle with body distortion and yo-yo dieting from unsustainable methods of weight loss/weight maintenance. Confidence starts with self-acceptance, which is an ultimate goal for all women!
- Juice cleanse. Yes or no? Why?
- Oy, please no! Your stomach is made of muscle… use it! Why let a juicer or blender do the work for you? Aside from the vitamins and minerals, vegetables are high in fiber. Fiber has major functional benefits to the health of our gut. These functional benefits vanish when a juicer digests the veggies for us.
What is your favorite breakfast?
- I usually alternate between two favorites, one being: 2 slices of Ezekiel bread, toasted and topped with Siggi’s 4% Greek yogurt (strawberry & rhubarb) with a sprinkle of 2 Tbsp. flaxseeds and a drizzle of honey. It’s super easy, balanced, and keeps me satiated through a morning of running between clients and ballet class.
- How do you feel about food instagrams? Do you think we are overly focused on food these days?
- Yes and no… Food instagrams don’t generally phase me. I think they’re fun and can be inspiring in regards to recipe creativity. I can only give my clients so many suggestions when it comes to specific recipes, so curating great food pictures on my own page (follow me @tothepointenutrition!) allows me to give clients ideas and point them to other potentially great recipe blogs. With that said, there are many instagram accounts that I encourage my clients not to follow. These are generally the more body-obsessed feeds. While I think it’s critical to maintain a healthy body weight, I don’t appreciate the underlying image that emanates from media feeds highly focused on body type.
- You provide nutritional counseling to a lot of dancers who are training intensely. What is your advice for the mega athlete?
- Balance! Athletes need to understand the importance of what I call the “nutrient mix.” It’s crucial to provide the body with a balance of carbs, protein, and fat to keep energy levels maintained throughout daily training regimens and performances. Complex carbohydrates like those found in whole grains (oatmeal, quinoa, bulgur, whole grain barley) are the best sources for energy. For protein, I encourage my clients to choose those with a “high biological value,” as these contain the essential components needed for the recovery and repairing of active muscles. Protein sources with high biological value generally include those from animal sources (fish, chicken, eggs, low fat cheese, low fat milk, and Greek yogurt) and some grains like quinoa. While this may be difficult for vegetarians, a diet that includes a variety of whole grains (as mentioned above), nuts, seeds, and legumes can provide adequate protein. Fat is the last part of the equation, but it is certainly not the least! With such high levels of physical activity, a dancer’s body undergoes a great deal of “wear and tear.” Aside from the protein needed to repair muscles, healthy fats are essential to lessening the natural inflammation that arises from such intense activity. Unsaturated fats found in oils (olive and canola), fatty fish (salmon, tuna), avocados, nuts and nut butters (my favorite!) are key.
- What does “She’s Fit To Lead” mean to you? How does someone show they are “Fit To Lead”?
- “She’s Fit To Lead” may not mean that we have it all figured out, but rather that we’re actively working towards achieving the goals we set out to accomplish. As a dancer, I’ve learned that one cannot achieve true success without hard work. If you don’t practice your pirouettes, you’ll never hit that triple turn. To show you’re “Fit To Lead,” you must stay motivated even when the road ahead seems long and your goals seem intangible. Sooner or later, you’ll find what you’ve been looking for.