Voices of IIN is our content series where we talk with IIN students, graduates, and staff members who make up our diverse, vibrant, and passionate community ‒ from all over the world! IIN’s commitment to improving health and happiness is what brings us all together, and we aim to celebrate this commitment by sharing the unique stories and backgrounds of IIN change makers. Through this series, we hope to continue working toward creating a more inclusive wellness community, where all feel welcome to create a healthier life.
Maria Paulina Chica Ortega is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach living in Colombia. Learn more about Maria by checking out her Instagram page.
What did health and wellness look like for you growing up?
Growing up, wellness was confined to what the body looked like. However, after years, that changed: Wellness means feeling good in your body. Health is to feel good in all aspects, mind, body, and soul.
Why did you ultimately decide to come to IIN?
I worked for 12 years in a corporate environment as a production engineer, dealing with production planning, manufacturing, logistics. However, six years ago, after my mom died, I felt there were things I needed to change. I wanted to go back to school but didn’t know if I should pursue something related to my current career or a new one. This is how my wellness life started.
I started taking cooking classes, going to wellness retreats, enrolling in entrepreneurship courses. And in some of these programs, I met women who’d studied health coaching. After a retreat in India, I made the decision that becoming a Health Coach was the path for me.
Perspectives on Nutrition and Health Coaching
How are you using your IIN education?
First, I’m using it for me. I coached myself to health first.
After I finished the program, I started offering individual coaching sessions and services around wellness, such as providing supermarket tours and cooking classes. I created my own brand of home-goods products, like soft tortillas and waffles made of real ingredients: green and ripe plantains, yuca (tapioca) and pumpkin. I also work very closely with functional medicine doctors, supporting many people’s wellness journeys.
What about your IIN education inspired you most?
I was inspired to be open-minded, to be open to new opportunities, to be open to life challenges and see them as personal challenges for new ideas, new projects, and big learnings.
What does being a Health Coach mean to you?
Being a Health Coach has been my path to my own wellness and health. It’s been the path of trying, exploring, choosing, and making decisions for my own health and life. And on this path, I‘ve had the opportunity to share my experience with others, to inspire them in how they can create their own path.
How do you apply bio-individuality in your life? Your clients’ lives?
Bio-individuality: This unique IIN concept means that we’re all different and must embrace our uniqueness to best take care of our health, from the food we eat to the environments we thrive in and everything in between.
Making sure my clients know that they’re the only ones who can make the best choices and decisions for their own well-being. I provide them with the space to ask questions and take time to find their own path.
Nutrition, Healthcare and Equity in the Wellness World
If we traveled to your country, what would we find in terms of food, wellness practices, etc.?
Colombia has grown in terms of wellness. In all cities, no matter the size and population, there are many options for people to choose from, such as Pilates, yoga or movement classes, and outdoor activities such as nature expeditions.
In terms of food, we’re in the equatorial zone, meaning that we have an abundance of local fruits and vegetables year-round. There are also many restaurant options and markets to enjoy healthy food.
Is wellness accessible to everyone who wants/needs it in your country, or is there still work to do to make it more accessible?
Good question! I think it’s been accessible. However, I think there’s still room to shift the mindset that wellness must be expensive, and we can change that through education. Showing that whole foods are less expensive than processed foods and health truly starts with healthy and whole foods.
Alternative therapies and treatments may not be accessible for all; however, they’re not something I recommend as the first step to take to achieve wellness; they’re just an option.
We can start doing good things for our own health: walking, moving our bodies, taking deep breaths, connecting with nature, choosing healthy foods, cooking our meals, and enjoying time with family. Sometimes, these simple things are all that we need to heal ‒ no fancy or expensive treatments or supplements necessary.
Personal Goals for Social Impact
What is your “why”?
“Why” – This refers to one’s purpose and the reason(s) behind their chosen work.
Using the tools that made my life happier and healthier to help others.
If you wanted your audience from your country to know one thing about health coaching, what would it be?
It’s the journey that matters, not the destination. Wellness isn’t a specific result or place in life. It’s a path, with all the ups and downs in life that we’re going to face. How we act, how we think, and how we make choices are what allows for continuous growth and improvement.