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Saying you’re going to live a healthy lifestyle is one thing, but actually committing to it is another. Neda Varbanova, creator of wellness brand Healthy with Nedi, is a firm believer that truly living a balanced life starts with your health. Here, she dives into what shaped her philosophy, what her career journey looked like, and the wellness advice that anyone can benefit from.

How did growing up in Bulgaria influence your healthy habits?

I grew up in a household where my mother prepared meals for our family daily with nothing short of simple, wholesome ingredients. No matter how busy she was, she made sure the entire family had healthy options readily available, even if that meant a quick salad or soup.

When I first moved to the United States, I was shocked at the rising rates of type-2 diabetes and obesity this country faces. As silly as it may sound, I had never tried mac and cheese, or even heard of a heard of a Hot Pocket prior to moving here. This complete culture shock influenced me to take initiative at my high school. It was there where I began pursuing my passion for health and nutrition. I developed the school’s first health club, and began integrating healthier options into the cafeteria. I realized my passion was to continue my education in health and nutrition.

What did your career trajectory look like to get to where you are now?

Once I finished my bachelor’s degree, I took some time off before grad school. I had the chance to intern alongside Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, who is a nationally-known dietitian and the creator of the F-Factor diet. This was a tremendous opportunity for me to better understand nutritional counseling and client relationships, which really inspired me to turn my passion into a profession. Shortly after, I became a certified health coach through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. I earned a certificate in Culinary Nutrition from the Natural Gourmet Institute and completed the master’s program in Food Studies at NYU Steinhardt.

What have you learned from your own personal health journey?

I am still learning every day. I love reading studies and books to further my education. I’ve suffered from facial hives for the past two years and have been trying to figure out what is the reason behind them. After seeing many different specialists in the states and in Europe that weren’t able to figure out what is causing them, I have come to the conclusion that sometimes our body reacts to stress in different ways and it is extremely important to know when to slow down. I am a type A person, but I’m slowly learning that it is OK to slow down.

What’s your philosophy on “cheat days”?

I tell my clients all the time not to think of it as a cheat day but rather to be mindful and enjoy things in moderation. The most important thing to remember is that just because you ate a croissant for breakfast or fries for lunch, that doesn’t mean your entire day is ruined. Enjoy that meal to the fullest, but make sure to load up on something healthier like a green soup with a large salad for your next meal. I see this quite often in my practice, where a client will think that they have a free pass for the entire day just because they indulged with the previous meal.

What’s your biggest piece of advice for people who don’t have the best relationship with food?

Don’t stress out too much and try to follow the 80/20 rule. Focus on eating nourishing foods 80 percent of the time and leave the other 20 percent for mindful indulgences. Practice mindful eating and eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes for the brain to register that we are full, so try to chew each bite 15 to 20 times.

Diets like keto, paleo, gluten-free, Mediterranean, intermittent fasting, etc. are continually a part of the healthy eating conversation. Do you think these are good for people who want to be healthier?

In my opinion, each person will respond differently to each of these diets. It is important to work with a nutritionist who is able to guide you and give you the necessary support that is needed during a health journey, especially if the goal is weight loss. I absolutely love the Mediterranean diet and grew up eating this way. For me, out of all the diets mentioned above, this is the most sustainable one. It is not just a diet but a lifestyle. When someone is trying to turn their life around and become healthier, it’s better to focus on making the adjustment into a healthier lifestyle, not just a short-term diet.

Tips for trying to be healthy when eating out?

  • Always skip the bread basket. There is no need for empty carbs when you can fill up on other nutritious foods.
  • Start with a salad and request the dressing on the side, or, even better, simply ask for fresh lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, and chili flakes. This way you have complete control of how much oil to use and the lemon adds so much flavor.
  • Sharing is caring. Get two appetizers and an entrée to share. Most restaurants portion sizes for protein are double or triple the size of what you should be consuming. Women should aim for 3-4 ounces of lean protein and men 6-7 ounces.
  • Don’t be afraid to order half a portion of pasta instead of the full portion. Most establishments will accommodate this request. If not, then ask the waiter to pack half of your meal in a to-go box and save the leftovers for the next day.

What are your current go-to meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?

Breakfast: my low carb, paleo bagels are to die for and I am totally obsessed with them. I love topping them with vegan cream cheese, cucumber, and Trader Joes everything but the bagel seeds.

Lunch: iceberg salad with grilled chicken or cauliflower rice with grilled salmon and mango salsa.

Dinner: zucchini noodles with Bolognese or vegan eggplant boats.

Do you have a nighttime ritual and morning routine you swear by?

My nighttime ritual is to do a face mask using Drunk Elephant’s baby facial or exfoliate with Barbara Sturm Scrub. I always apply Tracie Martyn Firming Serum, La Prairie Caviar Eye Cream, and Barbara Sturm Face Cream. I love taking Epsom salt baths before bed if I am jet-lagged, which helps me ease into sleep easier. When I wake up, I wash my face with Tracie Martyn cleanser, and then I apply Tracie Martyn firming serum and La Prairie SPF 30 Day Cream.

Something else that I do every single morning is start my day with a glass of warm water and half of a lemon juice squeezed into it. This cleanses the digestive system and helps flush out toxins from the liver.

Are there any wellness trends you’re into right now?

I have never really been into trends. My philosophy is to eat a healthy diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, pasture-raised eggs, wild caught seafood, grass fed beef, organic chicken, and Greek yogurt. I did try to get on the celery juice wagon but, to be honest, it didn’t do much for me. I drank celery juice daily for almost a month and didn’t notice any major difference.

What are your favorite types of workouts?

I love Pilates, boxing, and HIIT. It’s important to switch up your workouts so the muscles don’t get used to the same exercises. When I travel, I usually do a 28-minute workout by Kayla Itsines on her Sweat app. Some of my favorite classes in NYC are BK Pilates, SLT, Bodyrok, Switch Playground, Rumble, Solidcore, and Barry’s Bootcamp.

What are your top beauty secrets?

Our skin is a reflection of our health—the nutrients and the food we put inside our bodies. I make sure to eat a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid processed foods. I also drink plenty of water! I encourage all of my clients to aim for 2-3 liters per day. If the water tastes boring, add ginger, lemongrass, cucumber, lemon, and mint for extra flavor. Always remove makeup before going to sleep so your pores don’t get clogged overnight, and wear sunscreen daily.

If you could only give one piece of wellness advice, what would it be?

Start your day with a grateful heart and try meditating for 10 minutes. It may sound boring to some, but there are fantastic guided meditations on the Calm app that can turn around your entire day. Our mental health is so important and I find that if we don’t have that part of our life balanced, it is difficult to have anything else in check.

Follow Neda on Instagram @healthywithnedi and visit her blog at healthywithnedi.com

Photo credit: Oksana Pali Photography