Neda Varbanova is an all-encompassing health expert, with knowledge in recipe development, health coaching, and building a brand from the ground up. Here, she details her healthy eating influences and her health journey, and gives helpful tips on how to live a balanced life.

How did growing up in Bulgaria influence your healthy habits?

I grew up in a household in which my mother prepared meals with nothing short of simple, wholesome ingredients. No matter how busy she was, she made sure the entire family had healthy options available, even if that meant a quick salad or soup. When I first moved to the United States, I was shocked at the dietary differences. As silly as it may sound, I had never tried mac and cheese or even heard of a Hot Pocket prior to moving here. This complete culture shock influenced me to take initiative at my high school, where I helped develop the school’s first health club. I soon realized my passion was health and nutrition, and I continued my education in the field post-high school.

How did the trajectory of your career lead to where you are now?

After college, I had the chance to intern alongside nationally known registered dietitian Tanya Zuckerbrot, who is the creator of the F-Factor Diet. It 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. Afterward, I enrolled in the graduate program at NYU Steinhardt, earning a degree in food studies. I then went on to get certified in culinary nutrition from the Natural Gourmet Institute, and I became a health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. I still live in New York City.

What is your philosophy on cheat days?

Do you have advice for eating a balanced diet? I tell my clients all the time to not 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 regret eating something—for example, a croissant for breakfast or fries for lunch—it 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 large salad, for your next meal. I see this quite often in my practice, where clients will think they have a free pass for the entire day just because they indulged in a meal earlier. Try following the 80/20 rule, which entails eating nourishing foods 80 percent of the time and leaving the other 20 percent for mindful indulgences. It’s important to practice mindful eating and eat more slowly because it can take about twenty minutes for the brain to register that you’re full.

Diets like keto, paleo, gluten-free, and Mediterranean are continually a part of the healthy-eating conversation. What’s your take on dieting?

In my opinion, each person will respond differently to each of these diets. It’s 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. But, ultimately, it’s more of a lifestyle choice. When someone is trying to turn his or her life around and become healthier, it’s better to focus on something that’s sustainable and not just a short-term diet.

You develop a lot of your own recipes for your blog, Healthy with Nedi. What’s your process for coming up with new ones?

I get most of my inspiration from my travels and from my mom and grandma. A lot of the recipes I create are family classics with a healthy twist. It’s special to me that these are recipes that have been passed down by three generations, and it’s something that I can pass on to my kids one day.

What is your vision for the future of Healthy with Nedi?

A lot has changed in the past year, and I am so proud of how far my brand has come. My vision includes a lot of product development. I’m working on many exciting projects, but the most important one at the moment is the Nedi Paleo Bagels. I posted a low-carb bagel recipe back in April 2019 without thinking much about it, and it did really well with engagement. People even asked if I would sell them! After months of researching, I am officially working on launching my own bagel product that I will sell throughout New York City (and hopefully nationwide).

What is your motto?

Breathe in courage, breathe out fear.

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 ten minutes. There are fantastic guided-meditation apps that can help start your day on the right foot. Our mental health is so important, and I find that if you don’t have that part of your life balanced, it is difficult to have anything else in check.

For more info, visit healthywithnedi.com. Follow Neda Varbanova on Instagram @healthywithnedi