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How the power of listening changed this entrepreneur's business model for the better

Noreen Okarter, founder of the health coaching company Food Sitch, explains how the Covid-19 pandemic challenged her to shift her methods in unexpected ways.
Noreen Okarter, founder of Food Sitch.
Noreen Okarter, founder of Food Sitch.Vlasta Pilot

Renewed and resilient were the two words I heard most when discussing the past 15 months with Noreen Okarter, a certified health and integrative nutrition coach. She is the founder of Food Sitch, a health coaching company that focuses on helping people with food allergies and autoimmune diseases, including weight management challenges.

Having worked remotely with her clients for years, Noreen didn’t face the same obstacles that so many of her friends and clients did during the pandemic. Yet, she still found herself adapting to a new environment as her clients were facing new challenges.

“In business you often have to be agile, there are shifting needs, yours and the clients,” Noreen explained. In her case, since her clients’ needs dramatically changed, so did her coaching. Noreen deals with a lot of professionals, and while staying safe at a restaurant was less of an issue, it was the fact that the refrigerator was only 10 feet away, all day, that became the new hurdle for these individuals working from home.

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Noreen was intimately familiar with personal nutrition challenges like these. Suffering from debilitating food allergies all her life, she resolved in her 20s to take control after multiple emergency room visits. She began working out, eating healthier foods and making adjustments to stay safe. These lifestyle changes led to a 40-pound weight loss, where she became a 5-time marathon runner with no more food allergy reactions and decided to launch her business.

When the pandemic hit, she knew her clients were about to face sudden and difficult lifestyle changes as well. They were not only dealing with new economic, education and health-care fears, but also the increasing lack of control and discipline they normally had in their daily lives. Their rationale for bad food choices or skipping workouts was based on managing multiple Zoom calls for work with their children’s virtual class schedule.

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Noreen had to adjust her methods of listening and coaching to meet her clients needs, which required flexibility, but also keeping their goals within reach. “It was important to be open to new challenges that my clients and people in the food allergy and autoimmune communities were facing. So I really had to listen to understand their pandemic needs and experiences,” Noreen said.

But as she continued to work with her clients, at a certain point, food became the easy part. The coaching sessions revealed deep-rooted reasons for unbalanced eating. “I began to learn just how much my clients were putting self-care on the back-burner,” she said. “Yes, they are busy every minute of the day, but often they also needed a good cry or emotional release, especially when that fight or flight mentality took over.”

During this time Noreen realized just how resilient her clients were and how they began to focus on the integration of mind, body and soul in order to live a healthier lifestyle. “Good nutrition is one way to do exactly that, but we must also identify our real reasons behind our food choices,” Noreen explained. “Use discipline, but also use self-love.”

As the fog of the pandemic began to lift, she found, like her clients, a sense of renewal.

Here are Noreen’s biggest takeaways from the last 15 months:

First, be agile and willing to make adjustments, even to your proven methods. That means being aware that under the extreme circumstances, people change and you have to change the way you listen and respond.

Second, be grateful not for what you have, but for who you are. In other words, take good care and value yourself!