Meet Dawn Parker, a member of Practice Better community and an amazing Functional Medicine Health Coach. Dawn is a chocolate lover, and she turned her passion into The Healthy Chocoholic — a cookbook full of delicious, healthy chocolate recipes. Dawn‘s sharing with us her personal and professional journey to health coaching as well as some of the challenges she faced while writing her first cookbook.
Hi Dawn, thanks so much for agreeing to share your story with us! Would you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and who you work with?
I’m a Functional Medicine Health Coach and author of The Healthy Chocoholic cookbook. I work with men and women with a variety of health conditions and came to functional medicine that way most do — dealing with personal and family health challenges. I live in Indiana with my husband and two sons and have been health coaching since 2013.
What was it that led to health, wellness, and nutrition?
One interesting thing about me is that I actually used to be in the pharmaceutical industry. I loved the science, anatomy and physiology, learning how various disease states develop, the medicines to treat them, the labs associated with them and working with doctors. As a sales manager I also really loved helping people develop their skills and achieve their career goals.
But as I started to learn about and become passionate about nutrition, I realized that conventional doctors weren’t really trained in nutrition. Recommending a medication as the only option when it didn’t address the root cause gave me pause. As my team was selling medications where diet and lifestyle played a huge role (an anti-hypertensive, a diabetes medication and a PPI to name a few), I decided to retire from Pharma after 17 years.
Around that same time, my son, who was in preschool at the time, started having significant digestive issues and conventional doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. In my search for answers, I found a functional medicine doctor who diagnosed him with celiac disease. With dietary changes and careful supplementation, he has been symptom-free ever since.
Soon after this I enrolled in IIN and graduated in 2013. I started health coaching right away and within 3 years I was consistently full. Then a few years later I found SAFM and became certified in the summer of 2108. The knowledge I learned at SAFM has helped me grow my practice even more to where I consistently have a waiting list. I’m still enrolled in the master’s program there and am also a huddle facilitator.
Since meeting many other practitioners at SAFM, I have started to coach other health coaches throughout the world, which is so much fun. Organization and planning is my happy place, so I love to teach others how to get organized with the massive amount of resources we accumulate as health coaches. I’ve also noticed that so many coaches have the training and the knowledge to be terrific health coaches, but struggle with the marketing aspect to get clients. I have a BS in marketing, so I am also enjoying helping coaches with strategies and tactics to build their businesses.
You help women, couples, and families learn how to use nutrition to improve their health, what was your process for identifying your ideal client?
Due to my pharmaceutical background, I represented medications in well over a dozen different disease states. For each one, we had a significant home study and up to a week of in-person training on all aspects of the disease state and treatment options. Due to this background, I work with a diverse mix of clients, men and women, with a variety of health conditions. However, I do have some particular areas of passion/expertise. Due to autoimmune disease running in my family, I have a particular passion there. Having Hashimoto’s myself, I have worked with dozens of women with thyroid issues and can really appreciate what they are going through and how to get to feeling great again. The majority of my clients have digestive disorders, and I also see a large number of clients with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, allergies, headaches, arthritis and other kinds of pain.
Now let’s get into chocolate! We love chocolate and how it can really help bring people together. Where did your love for chocolate start?
Ever since I was a little girl, I have always loved chocolate. Not milk chocolate, not white chocolate, but dark chocolate! Certainly, I didn’t know the health benefits back then, but boy was I happy when I found out. I eat it every day and it is probably the only food I could never give up.
What made you decide to write The Healthy Chocoholic?
Well, I love to bake and I love to create recipes. When I first started my practice I only had enough clients to be part-time so I spent a lot of my free time creating recipes. Since chocolate is my favorite food I created a lot of chocolate recipes. I shared them with my clients and they loved them. They brought them to parties and said their families and friends enjoyed them and didn’t know they were healthy. Several of them asked for more and encouraged me to write a cookbook. I had created recipes of all kinds, but I thought what would be most fun was a chocolate cookbook. My Facebook followers actually helped me choose the title and The Healthy Chocoholic perfectly describes me.
Since most of my clients have food intolerances, I made the book friendly for food intolerances of all kinds. All recipes are gluten-free, dairy-free, legume-free (including soy and peanuts) and corn-free. Most recipes are also paleo and/or vegan so it’s a great choice for those who avoid eggs or grains as well. And of course, being a healthy cookbook, the recipes are lower in sugar and use more natural sweeteners like dates, coconut sugar, and coconut nectar. Each recipe is full of healthy ingredients like cacao, coconut, nuts, and seeds. And since everyone is busy, I aimed to create recipes with short ingredients lists and simple to make.
Check out Dawn’s cookbook here!
Was the process easier or harder than you expected? Do you have any advice for other coaches/practitioners looking to write a cookbook?
One thing I didn’t expect was how much work it was going to be and how long the process was from start to finish. I signed up for a book writing course through IIN and I really wanted to stick to the 6-month timeline they laid out. The top 10 books earned their tuition back, but a finished book from the printer had to be submitted by the end of the course. Even though I had several recipes already created, I still had so much work to do. Recipe creation is just one step, which can take a lot of time in the kitchen. But then each recipe needs to be replicated over and over to ensure accuracy and consistency. And then I had to do taste tests with friends and family to make sure a wide variety of people thought they tasted great (that part was easy — most people love chocolate!).
There is also a big learning curve when writing your first book, so the course was super helpful. Learning about the writing process is one thing, but choosing where to publish, designing your cover and back cover, finding an editor, working with a book designer, food photography…there are a lot of steps and I recommend either taking a course or at least working with someone who has gone through the process.
But all the work was definitely worth it. I love my book and all my hard work paid off…I did get my book submitted on time and won top 10 book!
That’s amazing! Having shared with us some of the surprises/challenges you faced when creating your cookbook, did you have any specific challenges when you first started your business?
As soon as I decided to leave the pharmaceutical industry, we moved from Massachusetts to Indiana for my husband’s job. I had lived in Massachusetts my whole life, so I didn’t know a single person in Indiana. So although I was getting clients that I knew from Massachusetts, my first big challenge was meeting people in my new community and building a name for myself as a health coach.
So I signed up for the local tennis league, went to Pilates classes, boot camp classes and other places where I could both get my exercise and also meet new people. Since these are all healthy activities, the people I met were interested in what I had to offer. My first several local clients were actually people I played tennis with or met at an exercise class.
What are you working on now?
One of my passions is reducing exposure to toxins. Let’s face it, they are all around us, especially here in America, where our regulations are sorely lacking. So I created a course to teach others on this important topic. My Reducing Toxins program is 30 days of emails on the various toxins we are exposed to in food, air, water, personal hygiene, cleaning products, food storage, pots and pans, paint, dryer sheets, candles, shower curtains and more. And more importantly how to find the toxins that are in your home, how to remove them, and many alternative products to replace them!
Find out more here!
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us, Dawn.
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