Jan. 26. 2018
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped® and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

As I’m writing this, I still can’t believe Nutrition Stripped is 5 years old — what started as a food and nutrition blog has surpassed my dreams in helping millions live whole, eat well, and feel their best.

The reality of leading a business is that it’s insanely hard — emotionally, functionally, physically, logistically, the list goes on — but it’s insanely rewarding and amazing to know that you’re helping people and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I get emails daily about “how NS started” or “how did you get here?” — these questions are often so difficult to answer because there’s so much to it!

I wanted to scratch the surface and share with you key things that I’ve learned the past 5 years in leading a company — a company that I never knew I wanted until it found me. I hope that it helps you if you’re an entrepreneur, if you’re interested in doing your own thing, or if you’re just curious about the reality of what happens behind the scenes.

When I started NS, it was a creative outlet to share my thoughts on nutrition, to make it simple for people to understand, share delicious recipes with beautiful photography (hello food presentation), and develop a great resource to always revisit and learn from. I had no idea what blogs were, let alone what Instagram was when I started!

Fast forward 5 years later and it’s still surprising for me to type the accolades Nutrition Stripped has garnered over the years: a global community of millions, a leading recognized brand in the nutrition and health industry, a cookbook published by HarperCollins, nominated for social media awards and women in business trailblazer category, and a coaching practice. NS has grown into an online resource making it simple to understand the science behind nutrition through delicious recipes, articles, and fun T-shirts with watercolor avocados (NS mascot) — but most importantly helping people feel their best. Here’s what I’ve learned…

Passion First, Skills Second, Hard Work Always.

When I started out, I only read a handful of blogs and was familiar with how they “worked” — I started NS to have a place where I could share my personal thoughts and experiences about nutrition and living well through food and I had about 80 readers who I could name from family to friends. I had to start with the passion of helping others through educating and providing tons of free content. It wasn’t until I had opportunities come to me for a private coaching, that a light bulb went on and everything took a turn for honing in on developing this into a business, into something I would do for life. Passion was the vehicle that got me through the huge learning curve of developing a business — I think it would be really, really hard if passion wasn’t involved.

From writing, creative and branding, designing a website, social media, marketing, learning about the business side of things — all of these were skills I 1) naturally had and built upon, or 2) had no skill and had to learn from scratch — most of them fell into this latter category! I’m grateful for those early days when I had no choice but to do the hard work, teach myself how to run a company and do literally “everything” as a 1-woman show for years. It taught me about grit, my strengths, and my weaknesses. It’s easy to think what you see on the outside all comes in the snap of a finger, but it’s years in the making, it’s who you are as a person, how you operate, how you learn, how you move through failure to get back up again, and your makeup that dictates the trajectory of entrepreneurship. Guess what? I’m always learning, have nothing figured out to a “T”, and am still a student every single day…and I love it.

Community Is The Heart

Remember those first 80 readers? Hey mom, dad, and all my high school friends, I hope you’re still around reading! Our community is everything, literally. Every meeting we have thinking about editorial we need to write, every social media post to educate or inspire, every product we create — it’s all for you, our community. Everything we do at NS is the betterment of you and to be able to chat with you guys 1-1 through Instagram comments, emails, Twitter, and Facebook is amazing. You can reach me all the time literally with the hit of “send” and I respond — it’s been the best and most unique way we’ve grown NS over the years.

Consistency Is Key

Whether it’s consistency in your personal routines (hello Morning Routine) or consistency in business routines, having this be a principle has been deeply helpful. For example, when I first started Nutrition Stripped as a blog, I made a goal to have a blog post on Tuesdays and Fridays and to this day, we’ve stuck to that and surpassed it with sometimes daily posts full of free content. Same with social media like Instagram, I had a goal from the start to post each day sometimes 3x a day which helped me practice food phtotography and get much better (just scroll through my Instagram to see the dramatic evolution and change, so crazy!). It’s pretty amazing to see that goal from the start, maintained 5 years later!

On this note, I’m a huge believer that staying organized is crucial to productivity — planning your week ahead, goal setting, setting boundaries with work time — are key ways to stay focused, energized, and creative.

Write Your Own Story

I get emails daily, from nutrition students, dietitians looking for a career change or aspiring people who are interested in taking the jump into nutrition — each email is a reminder of gratitude and it’s incredibly humbling. When I first started NS, as a Dietitian, unfortunately (yet, fortunately) I didn’t have any mentors or people to look up to that was doing “this”, everyone I met or saw were doing amazing things so far out of my professional experience, skills, and they were doing it mostly online. So, I made my own story and path through a lot of trial and error (still doing so) and by piecing together things I really enjoyed doing, things I was good at, things that had longevity, and foraged my own way to create a business that I would love and that would help people feel their best.

It’s been a daily learning assignment and one I learn from all the time, but I’m so grateful when I read emails from people sharing how NS has inspired and created a way for them to carry out their dreams and do something outside of the box — something unique. In the beginning stages of NS, I wish that I had a template or someone to mentor me in creating a business as a dietitian, so that’s why I’ll be giving back in big ways in the future to help provide a solution to this (more on this later!). So for now, just know that I hear you, and I got you.

Invest In You

Take the time to take care of yourself. That’s really my best piece of advice! From experiencing burnout to still working 14 hour days 6 days a week sometimes, just remembering that you have to take care of yourself before you give to others, is the best investment. This may also mean taking breaks from social media, creating firmer boundaries between work/home life (even if running a company is a 24/7 job), and making sure you have the time to show up fully for yourself.

Also, invest in your education and continue to learn and hone in on your skills. It helps to never stop asking questions, continue to learn, and always try to expand out of your comfort zone, seek challenges to get better – everything can always be improved upon whether that’s investing in you or in your company. Morning Routine, check. Eating well, check. Sleep, check. Movement, check. Meditation, check. Learning, check.

Use Your Intensity Wisely

This is one of our core values in how we operate as a team, and I’m sharing it with you because it’s powerful! Use your intensity wisely — from getting caught up in ego, in fears, in lack, comparison, etc. it’s all such wasteful energy to put in check. Using your intensity and passion towards momentum, growth, learning, and team building is the best lens to look through.

Have a problem? Rather than focusing on a problem or viewing it as an insurmountable task, view it as a hurdle, as a challenge or as an opportunity to overcome. Thinking through problems this way has allowed me to learn from mistakes and view them as challenges I was meant to go through, in order to learn and be better next time.

Be A Fearless Optimist

It’s really easy to stay positive until you’re faced with challenges, this is where the fearless optimism comes into play. The only way I can explain it, it’s like the mindset of “faking it until you make it come true” and sometimes that has to happen to get over those bumps in the road.

When faced with challenges, instead of thinking or spiraling downward into negativity, fear, or helplessness, shake it up and turn it around by asking yourself “what are the possible solutions?”, “If X happens, how can the problem be prevented and if not, what are my solutions to the problem?”.

I’ve learned to be a problem solver and solution seeker, not a failure or fear entertainer.

Never Give Up On Yourself

Having your own business might seem like sunshine and rainbows on the outside, especially with a pretty Instagram feed picking the highlight reel of life, but it’s not. As much of an optimist I am, there have been so many times the past 5 years where I’ve had crippling self-doubt, insecurities, fears, and questioning myself like “wtf am I doing?”. At the end of the day, leading a company is always on you even when it’s not about you, it’s about the people you’re serving and helping — so I had to learn resilience.

The moment comes where you have to ask yourself “Am I willing to put a bet on myself?” and to this day, even in the most challenging times, I’ve always said “hell yes.” If I’m not willing to put a bet on myself, then who else would? I say this, because there’s a level of self-confidence, knowing your self-worth, and maybe, call it blind naivety, that you need in order to walk through those really challenging times.

Let Go Of Control

When I first started NS, I was doing everything from social media, email campaigns, writing, researching, recipe development, photography, editing, coaching, setting up clients, answering emails, working with partners, creating products — oh and trying to have a life, ha! The first couple of years were hard, to say the least, but that’s the sacrifice of entrepreneurship and you have to move on. It’s a 24/7 gig and sometimes (most of the time) you’re the one who needs to be present to fix things or keep them moving along with the vision.

That 24/7 mentality is always a juggling act, even when you have a team to help you out. At first, delegating was really hard for me to do especially because this started as me, a 1-woman show. But letting go of control with key areas of running NS was not only a necessity professionally but also personally. We have big goals in the future for NS and with that, comes getting the right people on your team who are in it for the same reason — that’s where you get the magic of momentum towards reaching those goals and I feel like we’re just getting started!

Have An A+ Team

A mentor gave me amazing advice on delegating and it’s always stuck with me, “Always be the one in the room who needs to learn more — and hire people who are better than you to do XYZ so you can do what you do best and do it fully.” I feel grateful to have the ability to have a team that’s working so hard to make this small business filled with heart, passion, and mission-driven.

Hiring the best people that you can is key! What helps, along with “letting go of control”,  is making sure they have experience, expertise, and skills in the areas that you have the biggest gaps in. Let them do their thing, be autonomous, and build the business with you in ways you might not have thought about before. You’re not superhuman and as they say, “you’re only as good as the 5 people closest to you”, so find them, invest in them.

Focus On The Future

As much as I love a good reflection and sharing what I’ve learned the past 5 years — nothing gets me more excited than thinking about the work we still have left to do to improve the health of our community. There’s so much untapped in this industry, products we can create to help people eat well, ways to connect with you deeper, and it’s insanely exciting!

So, thank you. I know I gave a big ole’ speech in the 2017 Annual Letter, but I can’t thank you enough for all your support. You make Nutrition Stripped the amazing, strong community it is today! I would love to hear from you — I know you’re reading (hey, we can see the stats), and I know sometimes it seems odd commenting or taking a step into the light in the comment section below, but I’d love to hear from you! What do you want to see us accomplish in the next 5 years? Even if it’s just to say hey, share your story, how NS has helped you, just say hi below! I read and comment on each of these!

xx McKel

Giveaway time

It wouldn’t be a birthday without a giveaway to thank you guys for being part of Nutrition Stripped’s journey! Join us in celebrating 5 years and head over to Instagram to enter our birthday giveaway with some of our favorite brands including bkr, Herbivore Botanicals, Sakara, RMS Beauty, Stasher Bag and Pearl Butter — plus some of our bestselling merch by NS.