Inspirational Woman: Hala El-Shafie | Nutrition Rocks

Hala El- Shafie is a registered dietitian, and the founder of Nutrition Rocks. She is also a presenter for the BBC, ITV1 and Channel 4. 

Nutrition Rocks

Tell us a bit about yourself?

Well, I’m a Registered Dietitian by profession and hold an Honours Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics – I’ve always loved science and I love cooking and great food…I’m a serious foodie, I love food, I studied food and now I talk write and present about food too ! When I’m not doing that I’ve also made it have made it my mission to help women repair their relationship with food and support them with positive body image  – My back ground is in eating disorders and severe obesity so the psychology of eating is truly where my area of expertise lies.

Sadly I have seen so many people abuse their bodies with food, yoyo diets and deprivation and  severely low self esteem which is why I launched the body image and beauty nutrition workshops and retreats that I run through Nutrition Rocks. It is particularly important with the increase in fad diets having reached epidemic proportions. Supporting people to repair their relationship with food and empowering women to have a better body image is fundamental to the work I do.

In between doing all of that, I have also somehow miraculously found myself presenting on TV – BBC1, ITV1 and Channel 4 to be precise! I’m still trying to get my head around that also.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Ha-ha ! Well, not exactly, it’s been an incredible journey and one I didn’t exactly plan out I was actually meant to study medicine but at the ripe old age of 23 felt I was way too old to defer a year and got offered a place to study Nutrition and Dietetics – I spoke to my father who is a Consultant Anesthetist who said ‘Brilliant Hala. Nutrition is the medicine of the future go grab that degree’ – so I did and actually was the best career choice I ever made – so thanks Dad!

I have a BSc Hons Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics completing my clinical training at University college Hospital in London, graduating in 1999 – so I’ve been doing this a long time, However I never planned to have a career in TV and media – that just happened – quite literally – I used to write for an international medical journal and have been providing expert quotes regularly for magazines for several years.
Seven years ago I launched Nutrition Rocks which again happened by accident! I’ve been featured in pretty much every single women’s magazine you can think of from Cosmopolitan to Harpers Bazaar.
A couple of years ago I took some time out to volunteer on a project in the Sudan for 18 months working with severely disadvantaged women and children with life threatening malnutrition which was incredibly humbling and the most rewarding thing I have ever done – I now work with them to raise awareness and I plan to go back this year to give my time. It’s a beautiful reminder of how blessed and lucky I am and all the opportunities I have been given, the very least I can do is give back.
On my return to London in 2015 I needed to re-group and decide what I was doing with my life. I definitely knew I didn’t want to go back to the way I had been working, but wasn’t exactly sure which direction I wanted to go. In the midst of deciding what was next I got a phone call out of the blue from from one of the Heads of a production company who I had met five years previously who wanted me to come in and have a chat about a programme they were working on – so I did, not thinking anything of it. The next thing, the programme idea has been commissioned and the channel decided they wanted me to co-present. That show was How to Lose Weight Well with the fabulously talented Dr Xand Van Tulleken.
I simultaneously got signed by ROAR Global, a major talent agency who look after some incredibly famous people (leaving me wondering what I am actually doing here) the last 18 months having filmed for ITV1’s The Tonight Programme,  BBC1’S Eat Well For Less with Greg Wallace and Chris Bavin and the hilariously funny Sugar Free Farm which I love. It’s been a mind-blowing unplanned experience but brilliant, I actually love presenting and I am very grateful to be able to utilise my knowledge to reach and help a much wider audience!

Have you faced any challenges along the way and if so, how did you deal with them?
Yes many, both with my health and in my personal life however I either must be either a glutton for punishment or have a serious level of resilience. Joking aside, however bad things have gotten I’ve always had the attitude, ‘well there’s only one way out of this now and that’s upwards and onwards. My experiences never defined me, I have never been a quitter and I’m definitely a fighter – in fact when my backs against the wall that’s when I’ve come out fighting, surprising myself. Sometimes in life when things go drastically wrong, it’s the universe’s way of guiding you to where you’re actually meant to be, there’s always always a silver lining even in the depths of adversity.
Look for the gift, look for the silver lining so if you’re having a bad time keep going as someone up there probably has a plan for you. Out of adversity comes experience and humility – something I have bags of.

On a typical workday, how does you start your day and how does it end?
No two days are the same which is something I love, variety in my work is key for me. I’m an early riser (but only because I have to be, I’m actually a night owl by nature !) and I usually start my day with a cup of licorice tea or ginger and lemon followed by 10 – 15 minutes of meditation. I need this time to and it totally sets me up for the day ahead and ensures I get some quiet time, just to be.

I frequently have breakfast meetings right through to dinner which are usually very long days and non-stop but always with amazing food in between. I get to eat in some incredible restaurants and sample a lot of the amazing food that London has to offer just through my work. Generally I’m either tied up in meetings, writing for magazines, TV meetings and the work for Nutrition Rocks is never ending.

If I am having a Nutrition Rocks day the majority of the time is spent meeting with the team discussing the site, recipe development and our ongoing projects. In the evenings I can be out for dinner 3-4 times a week – this could be for a restaurant review or dinner with clients, journalists or the Nutrition Rocks team and if I’m not eating out I’m cooking and, believe it or not, it’s the best form if meditation for me. I love it, as it’s the one time I truly get to switch off.
I am often working in the evening but I wouldn’t change this, it’s effortless – when you love what you do it’s not like work at all. I am so fortunate that I get to work with some of the most incredible people, some of who have now become friends. I always try and get eight hours sleep and I try to get to bed before midnight if not earlier. I have a routine, I need it – I like to have a bath, light some candles – I end the day how I start. I need to have that ‘me’ time just to process, reflect and offload. I’ll wind down by lighting some candles, having a bath and reading something easy to help me unwind.

Have you ever had a mentor or a sponsor or anyone who has helped your career?

So many mentors. My Dad was my greatest and first mentor, my amazing lectures at Leeds and my amazing Aunty Eileen who sadly past away a few years ago – I spent hours with her – she was an incredible home economics teacher and actually encouraged me to write and follow my passion doing what I love – I actually love cooking and she’d always save recipes for me and encourage me – she was and still is a huge inspiration to me – I still can’t bake anywhere near as good as she can so I won’t be making any surprise appearances on bake off sadly! But what I lack in technique I definitely make up for in effort – I usually get away with Eton Mess unsurprisingly.

If you could change one thing for women in the workplace, what would it be?

Equality, equal pay and free childcare. We women are 50% of the workforce are as educated as men and we’re tough – we need to see more female CEO’s, MPs, scientists, in the roles not only that they deserve but also being rewarded and credited for the work that they do. Let’s just say I’m NOT a Trump fan.

If you were to look back in five years, what would you see in terms of your achievements?
Achieving what I have achieved in spite of the incredible personal challenges I have had to face. However because of that I want to be able to do whatever I can to help others believe that they can to – anyone can realise their dreams with enough perseverance and belief in their own abilities – don’t be fooled by what you see and a persons’ accomplishments. Sometimes the most successful and kindest people have the saddest of stories but you know what? If I can do it anyone can .. perseverance, courage and some amazing friends who have literally been life lines – also tenacity, a great sense of humour and seizing an opportunity when it comes your way.
My biggest achievements are yet to come and that involves really pursuing the philanthropic element of my work – really giving back and creating awareness for others – I support the Eating Disorders Charity, Sweet Cavanagh which is an incredible initiative which supports and empowers women with eating disorders to be able to come together and find support whilst making incredible jewellery.  Beautiful, semi-precious jewellery with a story. As an Eating Disorders Specialist this is an area very close to my heart and sadly the resources available on the NHS are severely lacking.

Tell us about your plans for the future?
To continue supporting the charities I’m involved in and hosting the various on the work shops and day retreats retreats I host both in London and internationally. They focus on female empowerment, positive body image and the secrets of eating well for health without deprivation! We have a really exclusive retreat in Ibiza which will be happening in October which I am particularly excited about and lots more TV work and charity work lined up – I’ve got an incredibly exciting year ahead in 2017 and one that I am very grateful for!