Q&A with Natalie Zises, Chef and NGI Food Therapy Certificate Program Grad

Natalie's experience at NGI inspired her to pursue a career related to "food as healing."

Natalie Zises is a graduate of NGI's Food Therapy Certificate Program. As a professional chef and certified food therapist, she has found her passion in helping people incorporate healthy eating and self-care into their lives. Natalie believes that eating nourishing foods should be simple, fun and long-lasting.

How did you become interested in food and cooking?

Food — that’s an easy one! I’ve always been a food-hound. I come from two major food families—on my dad’s side, the popular family vacation spot Grossinger’s (Kellerman’s in Dirty Dancing is based on it!) and on my mom’s side, the Jewish food producers Horowitz-Margareten (now owned by Manischevitz). My dad grew up at Grossinger’s where food was an all-day activity. Huge buffets were a part of his everyday life, so there was always more than enough food around when I was growing up. It wasn’t until college that I learned to cook. My roommate showed me how to sauté a vegetable, and it was as if the clouds parted to reveal the heavens. I made the same dish every five hours—sautéed veggies with pesto and some cheese on top. I couldn’t get over how delicious and easy it was! After college I moved to San Francisco. I worked two whole hours in my office job before frantically searching my brain for what I could do with my life that didn’t involve sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen (no offense to anyone who does this!). I couldn’t take it. I applied to culinary school that day. ngi-natalie-zises-foodtherapy

What led you to food therapy and diving in to the relationship between food and health?

I ended up going to culinary school (San Francisco Cooking School) — probably the best decision of my life. If I lived in New York I definitely would have attended NGI! I worked in restaurants for three years, and dealt with many health issues along the way. With little time to feed yourself as a line-cook, my diet was 80% carbs, things that I could grab and eat quickly in between moments of chaos. I felt the effects in the form of brain fog, muscle aches, mood swings, weight gain, and constant bouts of viruses. It was bad. When I moved back to NYC last winter and joined the High Street on Hudson opening dinner team, it all came to a head. I was working 12-hour days and truly eating nothing but bread. I remembered not knowing the last time I ate a vegetable. I was more sick than ever and getting out of bed felt like an impossible feat. I had fevers weekly. It was at that point that I realized — it was the industry or me. I never went back to work. I took a few weeks to simply heal myself. Ate nourishing foods and rested. I went to Israel to cook food that I felt would inspire me — full of vegetables and herbs. I knew this was the food of health.

What led you to NGI and taking our Food Therapy Certificate Program? What was your favorite part of the program?

I took the program in July after my complete health breakdown. I already knew the basics of food and healing from my own research, but I loved the idea of coming together with a group of people that were all passionate about the topic and learning about it on a deeper level. That was definitely my favorite part — the connections I made and the bond we all shared in our beliefs of food and self-care translating to all parts of health and happiness in our lives.

Can you explain what you do as a food coach and culinary tutor?

There is so much confusion out there in the food and health world. I would say my main goal is to simplify all of that information for people and make eating healthy and feeling good do-able. I try and make it about putting the good stuff in, and less about cutting the bad stuff out. It has to be practical for you if you’re going to adopt it as a lifestyle and not a one-month diet. My major goal is to work with clients to figure out how to incorporate health and self-care into their lives in an individualized way. I want to know — what does your morning look like? What kind of stresses do you feel daily? How comfortable are you with spending five hours on a Sunday meal prepping? Sometimes I teach cooking lessons and give supermarket tours. Sometimes I provide meal plans or guidebooks. Some clients only need a few small tweaks to their regimen and some need a complete overhaul. There are time constraints, budget constraints, space constraints, picky children and spouses to consider — that is the great thing about this job, it’s always a new challenge!  There is no one size fits all plan, and I’m here to facilitate your own inner discussion on what works for you, giving you the tools to take ownership of your health in a long-lasting way.

How long have you been writing blog and website? What goal are you hoping to accomplish with it?

Not long! I worked with a designer to create a website as a place for people to go to find out a little more about me and how I can be useful if you know you want to feel better, but don’t know where to start. The blog came a bit after that. I have to admit the blog is challenging for me to keep up with because I’m not often in front of a computer. I work from 8am-1pm at two public Middle Schools in Brooklyn through a non-profit called Wellness In The Schools, and I’m cooking A LOT. So to sit down and format and write down my thoughts is something I have to push myself to do. But I love sharing my recipes and health finds with everyone! And I only put things up that I’m super passionate about and find very delicious.

How did your experience at NGI help shape your business and blog?

Well, I soon realized after taking the Food Therapy Program that two weeks wasn’t enough! I wanted more! So I’m now pursuing my MS in Nutrition and Integrative Health at Maryland University of Integrative Health. I start in January and it will probably take me a good 4 years, as I do it part-time. NGI definitely made me realize that I want Food Therapy to be my life’s goal, and that there are many others out there who feel the same.

Can you share your favorite “food as healing” tip for the winter season?

Warming foods! It’s so important for us to be eating seasonally as it gets cold, which can definitely be a challenge! Smoothies seem like an easy breakfast but I find a cold smoothie in the winter chills my body for the rest of the day. Try eating soups for breakfast and poaching an egg in the soup. Miso soup with mushrooms and greens is one of my favorites and easy to make in a rush.

This story was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Learn more about today's Natural Gourmet Center.

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