On the day of our interview, Neeshan Mehretu slipped on brightly colored rainbow knee socks beneath her black riding boots. As Mehretu flitted around the kitchen preparing a fresh batch of peachy quinoa pudding (recipe on page 21), it seemed befitting that under her polished black wardrobe would lay a pair of funky stockings. Her bright personality shined through her subdued noir sweater and gray khahki pants. Completely at ease in front of the camera lighting and equipment in her kitchen, Mehretu walked us through the legumes and grains on display for her clients. Having built a career for herself as a certified health coach, Mehretu works with clients out her home on improving their overall health and wellness. Contrary to what one might believe a health coach advises on, it’s not simply about diet and exercise, in fact, what Mehretu does has very little to do with dieting at all. “The idea of diets and restrictions and deprivation is that you stay away from all of this stuff, then you boomerang right back,” said Mehretu. “After my second child, I was trying so hard to lose weight. Then I realized when I started adding really good food instead of cutting things out, [weight loss] happened naturally.” Mehretu became a certified health coach in 2009, and began her practice while still attending school in New York City. She focuses on a holistic approach to wellbeing, coaching on aspects of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. During her one-hour consultations with clients, Mehretu focuses on different areas of one’s life and how they impact overall health. “I look at integrated nutrition — it’s not just about nutrition and food. Some people feel like they shouldn’t be talking about their marriage, or their job — but that’s okay. That’s all part of your health, said Mehretu. “One of the things I try to have clients recognize are areas where [they’re] feeling undernourished … that has a huge impact on the way we eat.” Currently, Mehretu works with more than a dozen local clients in addition to folks throughout the U.S. Using tools like Skype, Mehretu is able to coach people across the nation but admits she purposefully chose her hometown of East Lansing to begin her practice. “[Health coaching] felt so right when I was in school that I decided I’m going to take this risk and start my own business,” said Mehretu. “I feel very rooted in this community. I wondered if I was in the right place to be doing this, but my local clientele has grown. It definitely feels like the right place to be.” Formerly employed as a Montessori instructor, Mehretu has been interested in nutrition and wellness for more than a decade. Having always wanted to be a teacher, Mehretu feels like she’s finally found a profession that she could feel satisfied in forever. “You know how we all feel like we have a purpose? I definitely felt that way when I had children — like ‘this was so meant to be.’ I feel the same way about health coaching. This is my work,” said Mehretu. Let it be known that Mehretu is as dedicated to finding a place for individuals in her program as she is about the work itself. Whether it’s a group rate or business done in trade, Mehretu believes she can make coaching work for everyone. If it feels like a frightening feat to sit down and get honest about your health with someone like Mehretu, think again. Her individual coaching comes with a judgment-free policy. Mehretu focuses on bio-individuality; she understands what works for one may not work for another, and she’s prepared to take on clients of any shape, size and health. “The biggest misconception about my work is that people think that they have to be super healthy and in a really good place,” said Mehretu. “Some people might say, ‘I’m not ready to work with you because I need to start eating better or exercising more.’ I meet you exactly where you are — if you’re eating five doughnuts a day and smoking cigarettes, that’s fine! There’s no judging on my part.” Mehretu typically coaches clients in six month installments, meeting two times per month for one hour. For some clients, six months is enough and they’re ready to spread theirnewly acquired set of health-wings and fly. For others it takes more time. Rest assured, Mehretu believes everyone has the ability to take control of their health. “My favorite part of my job is watching people transform … and just guiding them, it’s really within them. To watch that happen, it gives me goosebumps,” said Mehretu. “It feels like a sacred thing; I’m guiding this person along to a deep power they have within themselves … and I don’t get frustrated or discouraged. If they don’t make progress I keep coaching them along.” When she’s not coaching, Mehretu enjoys spending time with her sons Teo, 9, and Luca, 5. She admits that her children aren’t as into the whole grains as she and her clients may be, but it’s all about balance. “My philosophy is about eating well; it’s a gradual process. It’s about introducing things into your life … once you start eating more whole grains and drinking more water, the other things crowd out,” said Mehretu. “I know there are things that people still like, and if I want to go to McDonald’s once in a while, I don’t feel guilty about it.” In the months to come, Mehretu will be begin hosting her own cooking show, Nourished with Neeshan, airing on one of Lansing’s public access channels. Mehretu also hopes to begin collaborating with pediatricians, OBGYNs and general practitioners in the community to develop new health and wellness programs. Her dream is to open a children’s wellness center including a café where clients and the general public can eat. “I’ve been talking about this center for a while, so any time we make a really good recipe we always say, ‘we’re going to add that to the café,’” said Mehretu. And for those who may wonder what a certified health coach resolves for the New Year (since the traditional weight loss resolution isn’t really her shtick): “My resolution for 2011 is to listen more and more to my inner voice,” said Mehretu. With so many people in our community who can benefit from Mehretu’s guidance, here’s hoping that inner voice helps Mehretu take her recipe for health and wellness to the streets — rainbow socks and all. To learn more about Neeshan Mehretu and her work, please visit www.neeshanmehretu.com.