Philosophers say that if a friendship lasts longer than 7 years, it will probably last forever. Maria Maranova and I have been friends for the past 16 years, so apparently we were meant to be together for a lifetime.  We’ve grown together from fragile teenagers that were just getting into nutrition and healthy, and balanced way of living, carrying our boxes with home-cooked meals around school, to the confident young women that we are today, building careers in the health and nutrition industry as IIN coaches-to-be, and pursuing our dreams and purpose in life. We are still carrying boxes with healthy meals in our bags, but this time we really know what we are doing!


Maria is one of the few IIN (Institute for integrative Nutrition) holistic health coaches in Bulgaria (graduating in January 2019), and the founder and creator of Fit Me: an online health, wellness and nutrition service that aims to help people become lean, happy and healthy through embracing the magic of balanced nutrition, joyful life filled with happy vibes, and working out regularly. Maria is also a certified Tabata and HIIT instructor, and is currently teaching classes in Sofia, Bulgaria. In this interview we talk about Maria’s regime, Fit Me’s mission and future, the IIN and how nowadays sports and technology blend in one. 


2HB: Judging from FitMe’s Instgram account, my first question should probably be: what type of training did you do today?


M: That's a tough question :). It really depends on the day. I workout everyday so I need diversity. My program for the week includes tennis, boxing, HIIT and Tabata, fitness, swimming and hiking in the mountain, and of course, stretching after each session. Every sport and activity brings different benefits for the condition of the body and the state of the mind.


2HB: How do you manage to do a full time job, study at the IIN, train and coach people to become healthier and happier, and workout every single day? Is it a matter of motivation or it’s just a habit? Or maybe a bit of both?


M: To be honest, it's not an easy job but with motivation and discipline everything is possible. I am a full-time marketing manager, after work I do my daily training session and in the rest of the time I am devoted to the IIN health coaching program and the health and wellness of the people that I work with. Time management is essential but I am happy with my healthy habits and choices and I don't see them as an obligation because they bring me so much pleasure! But for sure, motivation, habit in the good sense and discipline are essential and make all of these possible.


2HB: Does the perfect, universal workout exist; something that works for everybody?


M: Unfortunately, there is no universal secret. There's bio-individuality both in nutrition and exercise. A person has to find what works for him/ her. Because, as one of the IIN principles says, "one person's food is another person's poison". The same applies to exercise - for some people yoga and pilates are their stress reliever, for others it is intensity training, and a third group enjoys working out in nature. I have clients who get motivated only by group training and others who want to workout at the peace of their home without any people around. The physical activity should be enjoyable and should suit your personality and lifestyle, so it's up to the person - type of exercise, time of the day, place. Just try! I advise people not to be afraid to try new things. The only universal secret that applies to working out is just to move - it might be as simple as walking but no matter of your preferences and choice, move! Find time to exercise at least 3-4 days weekly. The bare minimum is 150 minutes a week, which could be easily divided in 30 minutes 5 days a week!


2HB: What’s the key to being lean? And can you be super lean and still be healthy, and live a happy life in which food is joy, and not a constant restriction?


M: Being lean is only in our heads. Being lean actually should be understood as feeling comfortable in our bodies. The ideal weight is the one that we feel best at and we safely maintain. On the first place, we need to love our bodies. By doing healthy choices a person can be lean, healthy and happy but all those healthy choices should be realized, wanted and should become a way of life. If you are struggling with them, then you are not going to be happy and forsure, being lean won't last long. Healthy life doesn't happen overnight. A lot of the foods that we eat bring us fake joy because they act like opiates, cause hormonal imbalances and lead to diseases. Do you know that sugar is a proven opiate and it's effect is stronger than coccaine? Well, once we manage to get rid of such food addictions that make us dependent and put us into a viscious cycle, than we won't see our healthy choices as restrictions. Food is joy, food is fuel and food is medicine, but if the process of quitting some of your food addictions is hard, you can look for the support of a Health Coach to make things easier and more pleasant for you. However, life is balance and you can still keep 10% of the time to binge from time to time ;)


2HB: Let’s talk sports and technology. I know that you are a fan of Fitbit. How important do you think tracking activity is to improving fitness?


M: Deciding whether to buy an activity tracker or not, depends on the person and his/her motivation. Some people really need some further motivation - it can come from a friend, husband or wife, Health Coach and even a sports tracker. I know people who really started walking a lot more because of trying to reach their daily step goals. In my point of view, no matter the source of the motivation, the effect that trackers have on people is positive. Working out is actually about becoming better - not than someone else, better than you were yesterday, one month ago, one year ago. Sports trackers give you the opportunity to track your progress and results. I am addicted to my Fitbit because I am a result-oriented person and I love seeing the results of my activities. It also helps me not to forget to drink water, gives me details about my sleep and heart rate. With or without a tracker, my workout program won't change but it helps me see the details. For instance, a person might feel tired, without energy some days - the reason might be a particular workout, lack of enough sleep, dehydratation or eating specific foods. I would suggest people to see it as an assistant in their healthy life, an extra that keeps them informed and makes things fun and easy.


2HB: What is the FitMe’s mission?


M: One year ago "Fit Me - Happy Vibes, Happy Body" was created as a health supporter leading people to healthier changes in the fields of nutrition and exercise. Now it is something much bigger. With the start of the new Health Coaching programs, it is about helping and inspiring people to lead a healthy and happy lifestyle as a whole. I am there to support people to find the root causes of a problem and last but not least, give them personal example that health and happiness can be achieved by anyoneby simple lifestyle changes.


2HB: How are you planning to combine your holistic IIN education with your background and experience as a training coach on your path of helping people?


M: Nutrition and training are really important but they are only a part of the puzzle. What matters is not about our food intake as calories and our workouts as a way to burn those calories. Health coaching is a holistic approach to encourage treating the whole person in regard to health and wellness. Nutrition and training help to build the foundations for wellness, but we need to go far beyond them to all things that nourish the body, the mind and the soul.So both things are cumulative and complement perfectly.


2HB: Why did you choose IIN for your health coach education?


M: The Institute of Integrative Nutrition has worked for more than 25 years to develop a holistic program which trains its Health Coaches to promote core, foundational health concepts to individuals all over the world and to support them in making sustainable lifestyle changes. There is a strong focus on behavioral choices along with the basic understanding of dietary patterns and overall health. IIN offers a very wide curriculum program and a comprehensive approach with a lot of information, dietary theories, medical researches, case studies, experts, practice, coaching knowledge and much more. 

Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches are trained to help clients nourish themselves with the primary foods of life, including spirituality, career, physical activity, and relationships. Research continues to support the use of lifestyle change involving exercise, spiritual practice, diet, and other behaviors for conditions such as chronic stress, weight loss, migraine, headaches, digestion, skin problems, arthritis, as well as many others.

2HB: What would you say to all the sceptical people out there who have no idea what a holistic health coach is? 


M: We are facing a healthcare crisis as the current system fails to address the epidemic of chronic diseases. Nutritionists give you a list of foods to eat and a list of foods to avoid. Most people already know this, but they haven’t been able to actually do it. Doctors, on the other hand, don’t generally address the root cause of the symptoms but instead prescribe a pill or other quick fix. Therapists don’t typically provide clear action steps or address food in relation to mood and other problematic conditions.


Here comes the role of Health Coaches. Health Coaches address the root cause and guide clients in holistic healing, addressing all areas of life. While traditional medical professionals play specific roles in contributing to an individual’s overall health, the current healthcare model fails to bring about lasting, healthy lifestyle changes.


Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches are not competition of the other healthcare providers; rather, they complement each other, including dietitians, nutritionists, doctors, and mental health professionals. Health Coaches from IIN help clients develop target goals and a viable plan for carrying out regimens prescribed by their medical professionals as well as enacting basic, health-supportive modifications and habits. By supporting real-world lifestyle and behavioral changes, Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches play a crucial part in health maintenance, disease prevention, and even disease reversal. So if people are skeptical, I suggest them to try one time and see whether it’s for them. I am convinced that they will like it!


2HB: What’s next for Fit Me? What other projects have you got on the horizon? 


M: Currently, Fit Me is offering nutrition and training programs. The next and most important project for Fit Me is introducing its Health Coaching programs to the people in Bulgaria. On a world level, this is not something new, it is widely spread and there are Health Coaches in schools, big companies, spa centers, gyms and hospitals. I really want to show  the Bulgarian society that being healthy and happy is simple and it will save them a lot of health problems, doctor's visits, medications, money and time. The sooner people realize it, the better. Very soon interested people will be able to try a free health coaching consultation, workshops, healthy shopping tours, cooking sessions and much more! Together with the Health Coaching programs of Iveta and 2 Health app we hope to be able to to delight the audience with collaborative projects, interesting events and together to make people’s lives healthier and happier!

To learn more about IIN and what the IIN Health Coaches do, read also our interview with Velina Hristova. 

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