Raspberry Interviews: Meghan Telpner, Founder of Academy of Culinary Nutrition
Hi Meghan! Let's jump in. What is your purpose, or reason to be?
My purpose is to be happy.
And what makes me happiest is inspiring those that seek my guidance that everything they dream up is absolutely possible, and this is what guides the work I do.
How did you come to be where you are right now?
I was born in 1979 on a cool fall evening in the Canadian prairie city of Winnipeg, and from there I’ll skip ahead 24 years to 2003 when I graduated from Fashion School and decided to backpack through Africa. While travelling I developed some health issues, which brought me home early.
I got a job in advertising and worked for three years at various agencies while trying to get to bottom of my health issues. In the summer of 2006, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease- an autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease that conventional medicine claims there is no known cause or cure. I decided to take my health into my own hands and through dietary and lifestyle changes, healed from the disease. I was inspired by my experience to go back to school to study nutrition. I gained a lot from this nutrition program, but the best part was meeting Josh- the man I would marry five years later.
In 2008, I started teaching cooking classes in my little loft kitchen in Toronto and as the demand grew, I evolved my work to include online courses. Eventually this developed into what is now the Culinary Nutrition Expert (CNE) Program. In 2014 I launched the Academy of Culinary Nutrition as a home for the CNE program. Somewhere in that time I married Josh, released two bestselling books, UnDiet and The UnDiet Cookbook and built a seriously amazing global community of inspiring, warm, open, and very wise people.
In your wildest dreams, where do you see your business empire going?
Oh my, what a question!
In my absolute wildest dreams, it would be awesome to be out of a job because what I teach is widely accepted on a mainstream level and everyone is living with awesome health and happiness. Short of that happening, I simply continue to work, responding to what my community is asking from me, combined with where I feel inspired to venture.
If you’d asked me this five years ago, I think where I’m at today is beyond what my wildest dreams were, so I’d hate to set a limit. I’ve always taken the slow and steady approach and let things evolve as they need to.
What I do want is for the global tribe of Culinary Nutrition Experts to be dominating the health landscape with their practical and sustainable approach to eating well as a foundation for health.
I hope to continue teaching and speaking, but also offering services (in whatever form technology takes us) to help people fulfil on their potential.
What advice would you give those of us who perhaps feel that their health problems are out of their hands?
Every choice counts and the choices we make will do one of two things—move us towards greater health, or towards disease.
Though few of us want to accept it, our health is up to us.
Yes, we may have genetic weaknesses or predispositions. However, we must also consider epigenetics. This is a branch of science that has demonstrated how the choices we make about the foods we eat, the water we drink, the activities and exercise we do, the amount we sleep, our relationships, our exposure to chemicals, and the work we do everyday will impact how our genes are expressed.
The challenge is that most of us don’t want to do the work or make the changes we know we need to make. We want that prescription—we want dramatic and instantaneous results from aggressive action and that’s just not the way nature works, at least not in the healing capacity.
There is no single smoothie recipe or even dietary regimen that will heal us if we’re unhappy about doing it. Eating that salad while angry won’t heal you.
What’s a rewarding project that stands out for you, from your time in business?
There are two that stand out. The first was opening that very first box of UnDiet books. Writing my books has undoubtedly been the two most challenging projects and so seeing them in print for the first time is always incredible. And to this day, every time I open a box, I get a thrill.
But the absolute most rewarding moment in my work, and it happens annually now, is at the end of the Culinary Nutrition Expert Program. The final assignment for our students is to teach a workshop or cooking class and to also send us a video clip of their class. Seeing their photos and getting to watch their videos filmed all over the world, with their different accents and in different kitchens is truly incredible. My goal has always been to empower people to be their own health gurus, and seeing my students teaching others about the healing benefit of turmeric or how to make their own almond milk is incredibly fulfilling.
What was it like creating such epic projects?
Patience is an ongoing practice for me, which means taking on massive projects like my school or a book is tough. I love being able to think of something, get to work on it, and complete it. With big projects, this isn’t an option (at least not if I want it done well!).
So in order to keep my sanity, I would organise these big projects into smaller components, with milestones and objectives along the way. Celebrating smaller wins helps me keep working towards the big ones.
I have experienced though that no matter how big or small a project is, when it’s what I want to be doing, the process flows and evolves. And if it’s something I don’t love doing or am not passionate about, the entire process will be sticky, and wrought with mishaps.
When we take on projects in our personal life or our business life there will be challenges. It’s just the way it is. However, if we can commit to see them through with discipline and consistency we get to experience the reward of our effort. And this reward must be celebrated!
What does your current business model look like?
My business model has evolved with my business needs. I have a small, efficient support team and love it this way.
I have played with having a bigger team, and yes that can help increase revenue and diversify what I do, but when I tried it, it kind of killed my quality of life and enjoyment of my work. I spent so much time reviewing things and managing everyone that there was no time left for me to do what I love: create.
I have elected to put quality of life and enjoyment of my work above profit, and the funny thing is that once I made the decision, the profitability of my business increased.
I have two incredible full-timers and one woman who works remotely and focuses mostly on the Academy of Culinary Nutrition blog and managing our program coaches. When school is in session, we ramp it up and have anywhere from 15-20 program coaches to support our students through the program. I also have my go-to contractors that I love to bits: a designer, a developer, and a videographer along with someone who does digital production on the various things that come up with an online business.
In terms of what I offer, at this point my products are mostly all online educational programs and a few lifestyle programs. I also offer an annual business course and work with about 20 people each year for one-on-one business coaching.
That is the core of my business. Additionally I do a lot of public speaking, which I love. I speak both on topics that support my books, as well as conscious business, branding and community building.
Talk us through what typical day (or week!) in the Meghan Telpner world might look like.
Thankfully, every day is different, which keeps it interesting. As I always have a lot of projects on the go, I live by my team’s project management portal.
A typical day starts just before 7am with cuddles, meditation, and some form of exercise- a bike ride, walk in the park, or yoga at home. I enjoy a fat-fuelled breakfast and then walk or bike to work, a short ten minutes away from our house.
When I get to work, the first thing I do is review my schedule for the day. I rarely have meetings (I hate them), so any appointments are typically planning meetings for programs, interviews or consults with my biz students.
The second thing I do is check my project management task list so I know what I need to get done that day and prioritise the work that relies on me to complete so that others can do their part of the project.
I aim to do the harder work first thing when I get started. This might be writing a proposal, outlining a program, writing a research-driven blog post, some sales emails. The stuff that requires creative thinking and really what I love to do the most.
We always break for lunch and eat together. We have one weekly meeting on Monday afternoon to review the week before and get on the same page for this week’s priorities.
I am to leave work by about 6:30pm and be home to enjoy dinner and wind down before bed. I do most of my cooking for the week on the weekends when I have more energy to create, rather than at the end of the day. I love coming home to a delicious meal ready for me, that I’ve already made, and that I only need to pop in the oven.
I’m usually in bed after ten, reading fiction, and lights out by eleven.
How do you manage work/life balance?
With what I do, my work is my life and vice versa. In my early days I would stress about finding the balance, which was really working against the goal of balance!
I have come to learn that for me, work and life are synergistic and that’s a good thing. I find that it’s a lot less stressful to be on holidays and check in for 45 minutes every morning, and then go and enjoy the day than not do it at all. The longer I have had my business, the better I have gotten at both disconnecting and not freaking out when things go sideways, which they do, often! None of it matters that much.
Over the eight years since I started my business, I have found a rhythm that works. I know that I can go away for a week and not check in at all, and that I can go away for six weeks and do the daily 45 minutes. I will work really, really, hard for stretches, and then relax to the max for stretches. This works for me and also follows the seasonal tendencies of my business.
In my opinion, the work/life balance thing is individual and unique. Find a way to work and live that enhances both aspects of your life, and supports those that you have chosen to spend your life with.
What three key lessons have you learnt in your entrepreneurial path, which continue to carry you forward?
1. Let go of the outcome
The first few years of running a business, or embarking on any big mission, is a bit like throwing a boomerang when you have no clue how to throw a boomerang. Sometimes it may get lost in the forest and sometimes, often when you least expect it, it comes flying back at you with a trail of unicorns, blaring horns, fireworks and flowered bicycle parades.
Having goals is important, but never be too attached to the outcome. Don't worry so much. Just go with it, pay attention, and learn along the way.
2. This isn't a race. This is your life.
Slow down and pay attention. Love is always in the details and if we spend too much energy rushing to our imagined finish line, we're likely arrive totally nauseated from over-exertion and miss out on the important details (which also includes enjoying life outside of biz). There are going to be times when things move quickly, and there will be times when things trudge along. But there is no finish line - no race to win. Our goal should simply be to do our best work as often as possible, put that work out into the world, and then do it again tomorrow, and the next day until we decide it's time to hit the beach (or the slopes, or the forest, as the case may be).
3. This is really, really, really hard work. And that's not a bad thing.
There is nothing wrong or bad about working hard. It teaches us stuff. It teaches us about what we're truly capable of. It teaches us the value of what we create and put out in the world. It teaches us about what matters and what doesn't. Working hard invites us to fulfil on our greatest potential and I'm all for that. I work a lot. I play a lot and at the end of each day, if I'm happy about how the day went, then I'm good. If I'm not happy about it, then that's okay too. I can just strive to be more awesome tomorrow.
What doubts or fears have you had to face through running a business?
The fear I faced when I started my business is the same fear I face today, over eight years later—What if this doesn’t work and no one shows up?
For the first couple of years this may have been founded, at least in part. But the truth is, people have consistently shown up, picked up what I’ve been throwing down, were cheerleaders for it and all evidence points to the fact that this is working.
And still that is my fear. I have come to embrace it and to use it. When it stops being scary, and I stop worrying about whether this is working, I think would be the time when it actually would stop working. It would mean I had stopped pushing my own boundaries, moving beyond what I think is possible. My reality is that absolutely everything is totally and completely possible. Have I had what some might call failures? You bet. I just never take it personally, and continue on.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?
1. Congratulations! That’s amazing. You have braved the unknown and cartwheeled over all the people who questioned whether this was a responsible/wise/mature/reliable decision.
2. Be patient and don’t quit when it gets hard. It will get ridiculously more difficult before it becomes fun.
3. Ignore every Facebook ad or podcast that tells you, that if you’re not making six figures in your first six months than you’re missing out. I call false. If you’re not trying new things and learning from what works and what doesn’t work, then you are missing out. The money comes when your business is built on authenticity, integrity and a solid purpose that will inspire engagement with your audience, clients and/or customers.
4. Be you. Seriously. This is maybe the most important part. Don’t waste your time trying to copy or emulate other people out there you deem to be successful. Get comfortable with who you are: your own uniqueness, your own weirdness, and what is resonating with you to do. Find your voice and use it.
5. Harness the two most important qualities of any entrepreneur: resourcefulness and discipline. Beyond any special skills or magical powers, you will need to be resourceful enough to know that everything is figure-outable and you need the discipline to show up to work every day like it’s your job, because it is.
What's next for you?
I like to keep the summers quiet as we gear up for what will be our largest cohort of Culinary Nutrition Students this fall.
I have begun working on my third book, which is not food related, and am having loads of fun with it. I am developing a more in-depth awesome life biz rocking program to help further support those that seek my guidance on evolving the work they are doing.
My mission has been, from day one, to empower people to take control of their health to live their most optimal life. This is what I continue to do; it’s the method and delivery that continues to evolve.
Please tell us your favourite:
Book:The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin and Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Ramen
Website: Etsy and Treehugger.com
Early morning activity: Walk in the park
Late night activity: Baking
Meghan Telpner is a Toronto-based author, speaker, nutritionist, and founder of the Academy of Culinary Nutrition. Her humorous, engaging and real approach to living an awesome, healthy life has garnered her a world-wide following and extensive media attention. Meghan’s Academy of Culinary Nutrition, is growing a global tribe of vibrant living advocates and her bestselling and award-winning books UnDiet: Eat Your Way to Vibrant Health and The UnDiet Cookbook, are creating a revolution in how people think about their health. With an equal passion for both vibrant living and good karma business, Meghan works with health focused independent practitioners and small businesses to find their unique voice in a crowded marketplace, stay ahead of the curve, cultivate community and convert passion into profitable conscious business. For more visit MeghanTelpner.com.
Photographs by Catherine Farquharson.