Local entrepreneur Erica Bell’s business history reads like an encyclopedia, traversing from one creative field to another, and then, another. Bell said she discovered her true passion in nutrition, health, well being, fitness and healthy cooking only after she moved to West Virginia from Argentina. In an interview with the Mountain Messenger, she details her transition from a graphic designer and website developer, to corporate marketing manager and mentor, to success as a health and wellness coach.
The remarkable thing is that in the evolving process, she didn’t shed any of her previous skills as designer, mentor, marketing person, or any other creative outlet. Nothing was lost or left behind. All are being resourced in a more fulfilling way in motivating and inspiring clients to get in the best shape of their lives.
Bell initially branded herself as Bell Design, a graphics and web design firm located in Lewisburg, acquiring over 15 years in marketing and design experience. When her largest account, WVSOM, asked her to become their in-house promotional marketing coordinator, it was a first for her to oversee a team of web and graphics designers, with Bell creating the overall marketing concepts.
Though fulfilling, over time, she found herself going home to work out some creative frustrations in eating and cooking for herself, which inspired her to create new dishes. She began to document her recipes in a portfolio called Erica’s Kitchen on Instagram and other social media. It became a way of being present and slowing down to enjoy the simple pleasure of eating a meal of nutritious foods. Curious followers were likewise stimulated.
“I wanted to share the pleasure,” she said. “The bigger, the better!”
Soon she was inviting friends over to dinner parties, which sometimes lasted for hours. A friend was prompted to suggest she offer a dinner party at an auction. That dinner went for $1,800, and the second went for more. Through word of mouth, Bell was soon afloat in requests for custom-crafted dinners from fellow foodies. She said she was in heaven prepping all day in the kitchen and using local organic farm and garden produce. Her menus included dishes from Argentina, and influences from other cultures, as well as paleo cuisine, which focuses on eating whole, unprocessed foods and avoiding grains, legumes, refined sugars and dairy.
She said she realized, through the years of living in the West Virginia, she’d lost track of her Latin roots, which tend to encourage a slower pace at the dining table, where meals are savored and sprinkled with long conversations shared among family and friends. The pace in the U.S. is different; we are a driven culture where fast foods and processed foods rule, she said.
She said she became aware of “the very apparent health disparities and the confusion around people’s relationship with food, and it became something that I couldn’t ignore.” Bell began to focus on the nutritious aspects of eating. She also discovered she had health issues of her own, and that drove her to embark on a personal research dive into health and nutritional care, which, in turn, led her to the Health Coach Institute, where she became a certified health and wellness coach. The satisfaction in helping others grew out of her interest in nutrition and paying attention to how her own health improved with what she learned.
Bell says her breakthrough came when she realized that when the mind is not connected to the body, the foods taken in are not as nutritious. “It’s about mindfulness,” she said. It all comes down to habits formed early in life and changing them into a mindful habits that feed ones entire system, said Bell.
Bell approaches health coaching with curiosity and intuitive listening, habit changing, and finding a healthy lifestyle. She doesn’t teach diets, or focus on food groups or calories. Instead, her approach is to give her clients tools to develop better eating and lifestyle habits, which in turn empower them to respond to the signals and needs of their own bodies.
The health coach’s first task, she said, is to get the client to establish a goal – not just a short-term goal, but something more meaningful. Is there a health threat? Are they always tired, or depressed, or carrying too much weight? The goal must be “deep,” Bell said, in order to be an effective tool.
When you’re eating lunch while checking your phone, you’re not being mindful, she said. When you’re late for work and you stuff down toast and coffee, rushing out the door, you could find yourself stressed out in a traffic jam. That’s not mindful living, she said. In fact, she stated, “It’s not what you eat, it’s how you eat.”
She found that most people already know what is needed to clear up their health issues. Often she’d hear clients say, “I know it but I don’t do it.” Having the support of a coach seems to generate the willpower to take the first step toward achievement. Once that is established, she said, they work together to establish options to choose from and then commit to. Getting the mind engaged is the key to affecting the desired changes in habits and health, said Bell.
That idea percolated into applying what she’d learned to teaching kids to take responsibility for their own health. Bell taught a summer class for Country Roads Cross Fit Kids, introducing them to the idea by showing them how to make right choices. They were already learning to pay attention to their bodies in keeping fit physically. Bell asked them to pay attention to how their bodies react when eating. She asked them to try an experiment for a week and to note what happens when they eat while watching TV and then when not watching TV. How did food taste? How did their body react? Were they tired after eating? Were they energized? The feedback was clearly positive, she said.
She then did three workshops for the sixth, seventh and eighth grade students at Eastern Greenbrier Middle School, and she has approached the school board in hopes of incorporating nutritional education within the local schools curriculum.
“It’s not just a lecture to ‘eat your greens,’” she said, “it’s more about why are you eating what you eat.”
“After my own health discovery path, I found the Health Coach Institute and for the first time in my life, I felt health coaching was not only a calling but the perfect way to use all my strengths and do what I am more passionate about, which is making a difference in life by helping people become better versions of themselves.”
“I have big dreams,” she said.
Erica Bell is also affiliated as a Food Revolution Ambassador and a certified P90X Live! workout instructor and can be reached at 304-646-5969.