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With summer around the corner and more emphasis than ever placed on healthy living, we interviewed nutritionist and entrepreneur Catherine Burns about her work relating to diet and exercise, and her experiences of being a woman in business.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what inspired you to set up Natural Nutrition?

I grew up with an absolutely massive sweet tooth and ate tons of junk when I was a teenager. Nutrition isn’t the field I imagined myself being in! But I got very ill when I was 18 and working in Uganda (I got Giardia and Amoebic Dysentary) which left me extremely underweight and with all sorts of stomach problems. The aftermath was a huge struggle and the fatigue, dizziness and pain meant that I would have done anything to get better. I saw doctor after doctor, all of whom did their best but the upshot was I had to “learn to live with it.” Then I saw a nutritionist who literally turned my life around in two weeks with probiotics, liquid supplements and a dietary plan. It took another year to completely recover but I was so much better so quickly that I became incredibly motivated to follow a good nutrition plan. The more reading and research I did, the more I knew I wanted to do the same for other people. I am by no means anti traditional medicine, but I believe Nutritional Therapy as an adjunct offers huge benefits.

After completing my degree and then doing 4 years of training with the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London,  I moved to Bermuda in 2004 and began working with Argus, helping them launch the first insurance-led wellness programme here. It was a great job and I owe a huge amount to Argus for kick-starting my career. I still have good relationships there! However I wasn’t doing enough hands-on nutrition (either clinical practice or teaching – which I loved.) I wrote a nutrition programme called Nutrifit and began teaching it in my lunch hour and in the evenings. It grew and grew, and eventually I got to that “now-or-never” point. I jumped ship and set up Natural full-time in 2012. I do one-to-one consulting, teach group nutrition classes and run the Beat the Couch beginner running programme as well. It’s been scary and exhilarating and unbelievably hard work, but I am lucky and grateful for the opportunity to do what I love.

What do you feel is the biggest issue currently faced in Bermuda as far as health and nutrition are concerned?

Obviously we have incredibly high rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. But I think our biggest actual problem is the same as in most other developed countries – which is how hard it is to navigate your way through an unsupportive food environment, especially when your human bio-chemistry is still in hunter-gatherer mode. Let me explain! In terms of our evolutionary history, we’ve been hunter-gatherers for 99% of the time. As an HG, we would ricochet between food scarcity and food abundance. To help with that, one of the mechanisms we developed was our tendency to crave energy-dense carbs, be able to overeat them and to store the excess as fat. Brilliant for if you experience food scarcity – except we don’t. There’s a source of energy-dense carbs everywhere (in every store, at every check out and just think how many restaurants, yoghurt shops and bakeries we have around us too) and it’s hard to resist them. Human willpower is only good for so much (and varies anyway depending on a number of things, but including genetics.) The people who do best are the people who have established good habits that set a rhythm for their lives and the people who have their environment set up in such a way, that they simply need less willpower (i.e. if you don’t have ice-cream in the freezer then you can’t eat it.) Now let’s compound that with unethical junk-food marketing and the price of fresh produce here, and we have a huge problem.

What are your top health and exercise tips?

Set up your environment so that you’re more likely to succeed. Firstly, set specific training goals (a race, a time you want to run, a distance you want to do, a weight you want to lift – anything that’s measurable) and find yourself an accountability partner – someone who will train with you or at least monitor you. Secondly, get some nutrition advice that’s specific to YOU (that’s where I come in) and be prepared to restructure your home and working environments so they are supportive.

What are some of the business obstacles you have had to overcome?

Breaking into the local market was a challenge for me, but after ten years of proven results I was able to get insurance coverage from Argus, BF&M and Colonial which has made my services a lot more accessible. That took a lot of perseverance! I now work with a really wide cross-section of companies and individuals which I absolutely love. I’m now Bermudian and my kids were born in Bermuda so it means a lot to me to be able to make a local impact. However, by far, my biggest obstacle is the behind the scenes admin. Making sure I am on top of emails, marketing, accounts and day to day logistics as well as the clinical commitments, is a struggle alongside being a working mom! I’ve got some things in the pipeline that are making that easier, but it’s a process.

Catherine in her office

Catherine in her office

Do you feel there are different challenges that you have personally faced being a woman in business?

Other than the stress of the work/family juggle, I don’t think being female has held me back in any way. When it comes to the juggle, I just had to give up the idea of doing everything perfectly. I don’t compromise on my professional guidance or the love I give my kids, but my admin can be hit or miss and my house can be a wreck. That’s the reality. I’m working on it! Being a working mom is the reality for the vast majority of women my age in Bermuda. I have an amazing network of brilliant women (and men) who help me do what I do, and I hope I help them too. It’s a group effort – it takes a village.

How do you see yourself and Natural Nutrition inspiring the next generation as far as healthy eating and a balanced lifestyle is concerned?

Hmm this is hard to answer! I try to be a walking, talking example that shows my kids and others that healthy eating contributes to living a fun, full and happy life. Eating well certainly contributes (in a major way) to me getting the most out of my days, because it affects my mood and energy so significantly. Kids don’t respond well to threats of disease or weight gain, so at our kids camp and in our kids classes, we try and place most of the emphasis on the fact that healthy eating simply makes you feel good. It makes your body stronger and makes it easier to learn, sleep and play. We do teach them an awful lot about sugar – where it’s hidden, how it’s hidden, so hopefully we’re helping to raise some savvy consumers, who can see beyond the marketing hype. We also encourage kids to support local farmers too, which is best for Bermuda and reduces our carbon footprint.

What’s your favourite meal to make at home for your daughters?

Spaghetti bolognese and broccoli. That’s been their favourite forever!

What one ingredient in your kitchen cabinet could you not live without?

Wine? Chocolate? You mean aside from those?! It’s either apple cider vinegar (which I use for dressings and to make anything tart) or the grass-fed collagen I stir into my herbal tea!

When it comes to food, would you prioritise organic or local?

I prioritise organic meat/dairy/grain but local eggs and fresh produce.

What one food is your guilty pleasure?

Is wine a food? Sorry there is a theme here…..haha. Chocolate, but I don’t really feel guilty about it – it’s usually dark and organic. Probably chips, just plain, regular potato chips with salsa. I probably do that once a week or so. But I do have (a little) dark chocolate every day.

Where do you go out for dinner in Bermuda?

I love the sushi at Pearl. They have some great salads to help you dilute the rice rolls. I think 1609 has a brilliant menu right now with some really good, healthy options. The Loren has some great things on their menu too (er skip the ice cream sandwich!) I like Bistro J for the cosy vibe, Devil’s Isle for their farm-table approach, Barracuda if you’re getting fancy. I love going out for dinner! But my absolute favourite thing is a bottle of wine and a picnic on the beach at sunset.

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