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Published: June 8, 2024

The IIN Community of Well BeIINgs: Chef Carla Contreras, on What Wellness Means in Real Life

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Name: Carla Contreras
Location: New Jersey, United States


Instagram: @chefcarla_c

Q: What inspired you to enroll at IIN?

A: I was a personal chef in New York City and working as a pasta maker for Chef Daniel Boulud at DBGB. I’d worked for restaurants and hotels, at that point, for 10 years. I was mentally and physically exhausted from the demands of 12- to 16-hour days as a chef (and living the party lifestyle that often comes with being a chef, especially in NYC).

I met an IIN student in one of my classes during my master’s program in food management at New York University. She gave me a Health History consultation while she was doing the program. I was fascinated by her work, and I wanted to learn more for myself.

At the time, I was on the fence about becoming a registered dietitian and wasn’t ready to commit to another degree. I was also looking for something deeper than just the food aspect, which is what brought me to IIN. I’m so happy I chose IIN, because of the incredible people I’ve met over the years.

Q: How are you using your Health Coach Training Program education?

A: I signed up for IIN with the intention of being able to cook with more nutrition knowledge for my personal chef clients, and I ended up starting my journey of personal healing and growth over the past 11 years. I use my IIN tools daily, and I’m still part of the communities I was introduced to during my training.

Q: How did your understanding of food and nutrition expand upon taking the program?

A: I was exposed to a world of new ideas. Learning about the different dietary theories gave me permission to explore and find what worked for myself (and back then, what worked for my personal-chef clients). I discovered IIN’s core concept of bio-individuality, which was life-changing for me. Now it’s about always being open to new ideas.

Q: Did IIN help you find a way of eating that works for you? If so, tell us more about that journey.

A: This could be a book (and might be)! My eating has shifted so much over the years. The one thing that’s constant is, I do what works for me. This is such a gift I’ve learned from IIN, that no two people are the same.

Q: How are you living a life you love? How did the program help you achieve this?

A: I’m living a life that I’d have never even imagined. I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing: food styling, recipe testing, creating online courses, writing for publications, working with brands I love, and creating my podcast. It’s taken me 11 years to get here, but it all started with my first step in investing in myself by enrolling at IIN. I took my last bit of savings and trusted my intuition. It’s a lesson that I use every single day: I’m always willing to bet on myself.

Q: Health is not a destination; it's an evolution and a journey—how does this resonate with you?

A: In my journey of personal healing and growth over the past 11 years, I’ve had to learn what I need in each moment, each day, each month, etc. This constant listening to and understanding of my true needs and desires is what propels me forward.

Q: If you could tell your pre-IIN self one thing, what would it be?

A: Get ready for the ride. This isn’t just a program you take and are done with ‒ this is a lifelong journey.

Q: What is your morning routine?

A: I have a serious self-care routine, and it varies day by day.

I developed the 5/5 method in 2018 when my kiddos were 2 and 3 years old. I had a total health meltdown from working for six months without a day off while mothering and doing all the things!

In January of 2019, I chose rest and deep nourishment as my North Stars. As the year progressed, I added more words: movement, mindfulness, and water. These are my five non-negotiables.

When most people see the 5/5, they think they must do “all the things,” which sets them up for failure before they even begin. That is not the intention. The 5/5 is all about the quick win. Take a deep breath, winning. Fill up your water bottle, winning. That’s how I start my mornings: I look for the quick win that fits into my day.

Lately, this looks like taking a deep breath before I hop out of bed, chugging my water that I set out the night before, doing 20 minutes of exercise, then maybe having a 5-minute journaling session (if the stars align with my two kiddos).

Q: How do you nourish yourself beyond your plate, with primary food?

A: Deep nourishment is one of my 5/5. Sometimes things that we call self-care don’t work, like bubble baths or lighting candles. We’re individuals and need to define how we want to feel and what self-care means to us.

In 2020, I wasn’t feeling grounded by my morning pages, meditation, and movement practices. I had to dig deeper, which meant working on healing trauma, relationships, and old patterns. It’s the deep, ugly-cry work that’s grounded me, and that’s what deep nourishment means today.

Q: What music do you play to get out of a funk?

A: Music is my life. I played clarinet in a concert band until I was 15. I also had turntables in college and loved going to underground raves. I love everything from EDM to classic rock.

Q: What's your favorite on-the-go snack?

A: Lately, I’ve been drinking bone broth with spinach, coconut milk, and freshly grated ginger, blended, instead of my afternoon matcha.

Q: What's one thing you can't run your business without?

A: I can’t do anything without the support of my community: social media, newsletter subscribers, podcast listeners, my online course subscribers, my food-styling clients, publications, and brands. This is the engine that drives my work, and I’m so grateful for each and every person who’s on this journey with me.

Q: We’re calling our IIN graduates and community members Well BeIINgs. How do you embody well-being?

A: My work and life are centered on making what I call accessible wellness. This is why I created my podcast, Show Up Fully. I ask the important questions “How do you define showing up?” and “What do you do when you don’t want to show up?” This, to me, is what wellness looks like in real life ‒ and the answers are different for every single person.


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