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Meet Alex Westphal

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alex Westphal.

Alex, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Growing up, I thought everybody’s family sat down to eat dinner together every night. Mealtime was our time for chatting, teasing, telling stories—and yes, eating. Maybe that’s when I started to understand that food is about more than probiotics, vitamins, or any chemical reaction. At its best, every meal is an occasion for joy. The joy of that nightly ritual followed me as I worked every restaurant job I could weasel my way into for twenty-five years. Front of house, back of the house, fine dining, catering, you name it—I worked my way across America, from the deep Southeast of Florida to the food haven of Portland, Oregon, as well as my travels through Europe.

As a chef, I established close relationships with farmers and producers. I came to know and really love my kitchen families —as crazy as they could be. But something was missing: The further up the restaurant ladder I climbed, the farther away I got from seeing each diner as an individual, complete human. I knew it was time for a change. When I first found out about health coaching, I was on my own personal path to maintaining my health. I had just turned 42 and realized that if I wanted to keep surfing and being active at 50, 60, and beyond, it was time to really focus on my health. So, when I found out about coaching it really seemed like a good step considering my experience with food. I thought that after getting certified, I would be doing something like providing meal prep or cooking classes based on holistic nutrition. Much to my surprise and delight during my studies I realized that being “healthy” isn’t just what you eat, it’s more about the psychology of eating (how we eat, why we eat, who we are being when we eat, etc.). That aspect was and continues to be the most intriguing part of my process. It’s in the awareness of our habits and beliefs that we create the motivating factors for big changes in our well-being.

The fact is, most of us can barely afford a therapist much less personal nutritionist, and/or a personal chef. And even if we could afford all of these professionals, they’d probably fight with each other half the time and still not address our own personal challenges that keep us from healthy living. My role, as a Certified Health Coach, offers me the chance to bring the best of all of these worlds to those who are ready for a change.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Working with clients has been so good for my personal growth. Because my approach with health coaching varies with each individual, and their unique body type, since everyone has specific needs I tend to alter my process with each client and in doing so it promotes growth within my program and the way I approach it. Plus, I get so much out of just talking to people. That being said, I am admittedly an awful self-promoter/marketer, so I will say that my biggest challenge is actually finding clients. Marketing is difficult for me because with tools like social media being one of the best ways to promote oneself, it doesn’t feel like a natural way to connect and reach out to people. I have been so fortunate to have an amazing graphic designer in my brother, Christian Westphal. He has created a beautiful website and my cards and continues to coach me in marketing methods utilizing social media instead of using it begrudgingly. I just have to keep pushing myself to get my name out there so that I can serve all types of people and eventually focus more on serving lower-income communities in more of a non-profit modality.

The process that has led me to health coaching has of course had its ups and downs. I think about the long hours and low pay of working in kitchens and all that comes with it. The struggle of doing something you love that doesn’t pay much back in return, be it financial or personal, can really be confusing to your professional outlook. I often wondered, “why the fuck am I doing this?!” but then I would make a great pie or cook a piece of meat or a vegetable to perfection and realize it’s a labour of love and it can feel vindicating. Unfortunately, love can’t pay the bills and when the risks outweigh the rewards, eventually there had to be a change. When I stopped working in restaurants to pursue other avenues, it was a very difficult time for me. Here I was after 20+ years working to become a chef with my own kitchen and once I got there, realizing that it really wasn’t what I wanted. So when I quit, I was very confused and felt like I had failed at my chosen profession. When the dust settled, I decided that what I wanted to do was to use my experience to help people in some way. So, when I discovered health coaching, it was a perfect fit. Guiding people to find the power that is within them to make a healthy change for their well being is such a positive energy boost for me, and it really makes me appreciate the long and difficult road it took to get here.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
After years of passionate research in food, nutrition, psychology, and optimal performance, I’ve realized that it’s time to turn this passion into practical knowledge for the real world. Sometimes people don’t know what to do to change their health and/or bodies, but more often it’s that we’re stuck in a rut and don’t know how to get out of it. 95% of our behavior occurs out of habit, either unconsciously or in reaction to external demands. That’s why some of us struggle to make changes that last. Even when the need for change is obvious and our intentions are strong, we often fall short.

That’s a problem, and all the diet industry can offer is “Eat fewer calories and exercise more.” Doctors, dietitians and other practitioners either don’t have the time or the skills to help people stay motivated and follow through to get a lasting result. So people default to their set habits, even when they know those habits make them feel bad. Without the right support and accountability, this dysfunctional cycle will continue and in many cases, get worse. That’s where health coaches like me come in, to provide the right system, support and accountability so one can – finally – center themselves around their own unique body awareness. There are so many benefits to my program: learning how to shop for food, boosting self-esteem, being more present with friends and family, losing weight, lowering cholesterol, learning to relax (that’s a huge one), gaining more energy, learning how to get the most out of what we put into our bodies, and so much more.

The one thing that I have gotten most of my clients to do, which I am most proud of, is getting them to a place where they end up cutting back on (or stop taking all together) medications they have been on for things like high blood pressure and anxiety. It is so empowering for them and it creates fuel to keep building on what they have learned with me so that they can be accountable to themselves after our time is up. Creating a positive change in a person’s well-being and helping them to realize that they themselves have the power to change their own life’s trajectory gives me inspiration to keep learning and growing within myself so that I can do more to help others.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
The biggest thing I am planning for is starting a family! I married the love of my life last year and we are both so excited to learn, grow, and evolve into this next stage of life and I couldn’t be happier to do it with my wife, the most amazing person I know! I think learning, growing and evolving is very important during all stages of life. When we experience stagnation, we become too set in our ways and this creates anger and dissatisfaction. It’s important to look at things from a new perspective, to be open, and to stay malleable. So when I think about the future, I try to stay open-minded. We can plan all we want, but we all know that anything can happen in this fast-growing and ever-changing world we live.

As society evolves, we are finally starting to break free from antiquated gender-specific norms, and in this new age of non-binary empowerment, we are coming to the realization that these gender designated norms are no longer relevant. Many of us didn’t grow up learning basic life skills because so much of society has told us to focus our energy mainly in the public sphere, and so when it comes to taking care of ourselves, physically and emotionally, we feel lost. Often, men I talk to have no idea how to cook a healthy meal for themselves or their family. For instance, if their partner is out of the picture, for any number of reasons, this means the kids get to eat junk! While fun on occasion, this is not a sustainable way to raise healthy adults. We should all know how to create wholesome eating habits and a positive lifestyle regardless of our gender. As we come to this place of deconstructing gender norms on a societal level it is so important to pass on these positive changes and lessons to our friends and families. Going forward, I want to cultivate this ethos within my practice.

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