Health Coach Feature: Clinical Director, Chef, and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach Samantha Elkrief
Our Health Coach Feature series shares the inspiring stories of Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches who are cultivating positive health choices and educating others to live more wholesome lifestyles. Join us twice per month on the IIN Blog to read more about what brought our grads to IIN and what they’re up to now!
Samantha Elkrief is a licensed social worker, chef, educator, and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach in New York City. As a social worker, she’s helped families and individuals deal with all types of stressors. After experiencing personal health concerns and going through multiple specialists in her twenties, she turned to naturopathy, which led to a change in her diet and life. Always having a passion for food and growing up in the kitchen with her family creating meals at a young age, she knew she could make eating healthy taste great. Through her diverse set of tools and knowledge, she is now helping others feel empowered to make their own decisions, whether in the supermarket or kitchen or in any other area of life. Learn more about Samantha on her website and find her on Instagram @simplysamanthanyc.
Q: What were you doing prior to enrolling at Integrative Nutrition?
A: Prior to enrolling at IIN, I was a school director for a culinary arts training program for homeless veterans. As a social worker, I always blended my passion for working with people one-on-one with my love of food, whether it is access to food/food insecurity (running food pantries and doing food stamp advocacy), the connection between food and health, or preparing food as a vocation. I feel like I was gearing up to be a Health Coach before I even knew what a Health Coach was!
Q: What led you to explore the Health Coach Training Program?
A: I went through a number of health challenges in my twenties that really rocked my boat. I felt lost, anxious, and unsupported. It was a very hard time for me, and I spent all my time trying to learn how to help heal myself, especially since the doctors I was seeing weren’t able to offer me much in the way of solutions. At the time, the Internet wasn’t what it is today. I didn’t have access to all these forums, Facebook groups, and webinars/trainings. As I moved through my own healing, I realized I wanted to be able to guide others through similar struggles; I didn’t want anyone to feel alone and lost like I did.
Q: How has your life changed since becoming a Health Coach?
A: Becoming a Health Coach changed my life. It allowed me to connect with other people struggling in similar ways that I struggled. Every time I am able to help someone along his or her path, I heal a part of myself. My mom always said that there was a reason for the health challenges I faced, and helping others heal is that reason.
Being a Health Coach has also helped me meet so many like-minded people. I have amazing colleagues and mentors that I never would have met if I hadn’t changed my career. Some of my best friends are people I met through my work as a coach – fellow chefs, bloggers, coaches, and medical professionals. I can’t imagine my life without them.
Q: Which topics and modules were most beneficial for you?
A: I really liked the modules with Christine Hassler and Mastin Kipp. One of my doctors, Dr. Vincent Pedre, was also a speaker, and I thought that was pretty awesome.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you now?
A: I work full-time in a nutritional psychiatry practice now with Dr. Drew Ramsey. I am the clinical director here, so I speak with all incoming patients and referrals, and I also have my own patient load. Dr. Ramsey and I often collaborate to ensure patients are receiving the best care possible, which looks different for each patient. Sometimes it means going to patients’ homes and teaching them how to cook in a way that supports their brain health; sometimes it means meeting with people weekly as we address their anxiety or depression; and other times I help patients rework their relationship with food – which often uncovers a lot of deep patterns that affect many areas of their lives – food is just the entry point! I also do some fun admin work like keep our website running and manage our online course, Eat to Beat Depression.
Q: What makes you and your practice unique?
A: I think I’m a very unique practitioner. At the most basic level, I have a very unique and complementary set of skills: I am a social worker, a Health Coach, and a chef. I find the blend between coaching and traditional psychotherapy works very well. When we think of therapy, we think of someone sitting on a couch nodding his or her head and saying very little. That’s not me. People leave my office with action items. I engage with them. I ask lots of questions. I look at their blood work, I ask about their food and sleep. I text them. I want to hear from them between sessions if they’re struggling.
Education wise, I’ve done trainings in CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction). I studied at Natural Gourmet Institute, participated in numerous trainings on food as medicine with the Center for Mind Body Medicine, and have taken courses in herbalism. I also work in a medical practice and have more experience than many practitioners with holistic medical practices. I’ve also done, and continue to do, a whole lot of personal work in my life, and I’m always looking to learn more.
I grew up practicing in an ashram from the time I was a child, so meditation and yogic philosophy are second nature to me. I’ve also participated in many modalities of healing work, from various forms of therapy and healers (family constellation therapy, biodanca, energy healers, focusing therapy, various forms of meditation) to the School of Womanly Arts, landmark, and physical practices to release trauma and more. My own personal journey with healing physically also gives me a great sense of empathy and firsthand knowledge in how to navigate certain medical issues.
Q: How do you help your clients be successful? Is there a recent example that stands out for you?
A: I teach them to listen to themselves with curiosity and self-compassion. We all have so many thoughts throughout the day, and many of them are unhelpful. We may not even be aware of them. It’s like white noise – eventually you stop hearing it. Part of my job is to help folks bring those thoughts to the surface and examine what those thoughts are (without judgment). A lot of the time those thoughts sabotage our success, or keep us from even identifying the things we want. With time, self-compassion, and curiosity, you can change those patterns. That’s a big part of what I do.
It’s tough to share examples due to privacy concerns, but one of my favorite recent conversations was with chronic concerns about his weight. He had avoided making an appointment with me for over a year because he was afraid of what I might “make him do.” I actually ended up telling him to eat more. He’s a chef and loves food but also works untraditional hours. We just had to rework when he was eating to make sure he got enough food in so he wasn’t super hungry late at night (when the only thing open is a pizza place). As you all know, healthy food can be incredibly delicious, even for us chefs!
On the mental health side, I have a patient with cyclothymic disorder. His mood often cycles between pretty severe depression and hypomania (not sleeping, eating, spending lots of money, feelings of grandiosity). Over time, we’ve worked together to identify his thoughts and patterns of behavior, and we’ve identified alternative tracks he can play when his thoughts start turning against him. In the past six months, he has not had a depressive or hypomanic episode, and his business and relationships are flourishing as never before. Yes, sometimes he still has anxiety or low mood, but he now has the tools to come out of it and prevent falling into a depressive episode. Watching him grow has been hugely inspiring, and I’m so grateful for the trust that he puts in me and our work together.
Q: What do you love about your work?
A: I love collaborating with other practitioners. I love my clients’ aha moments. I love seeing how my clients change over time and being able to reflect that back to them. I love meeting folks that I look up to, like Rebecca Katz – talk about a celebrity crush. I love working for a doctor who has so much integrity and deeply cares for his patients. I love just being with people and giving them space to be who they are.
Q: How have you seen the need for Health Coaches change over the years?
A: There are definitely so many more coaches now, and it’s becoming more accepted in the mainstream. Here in NY, we have a number of doctors’ offices that employ Health Coaches, and I work in the only psychiatry practice in NY that has a Health Coach (that I know of).
Q: What’s your tip for balancing your family, work, and personal wellness?
A: That’s a tough one! When you love your work, it’s hard to take a break. I think setting boundaries is the key. I recently took my work email off my phone – if it’s an emergency, someone will text me. I can always check my email from my computer when I get home.
I also have a tendency to want to do everything right away. Reminding myself that it’s okay to take my time, to take a day to get back to someone, or even an extra hour. Creating more mental space and less of a sense of urgency helps me balance my personal wellness.
Q: Tell us your favorite way to wake up each day!
A: I love a lazy morning. Waking up slowly, stretching in bed, and watching the sun stream into my room. When I can, I take the time to sit on my comfy couch and journal by my favorite plants while eating a slow breakfast. Other times, I put on some music and dance! I can’t always do all of it, but I do what I can each morning.
Interested in learning more about becoming an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach? Click here for more information!