Self Starters: Lauren Unger, Rethinking Food as Fuel

Self starters is a series that feature individuals who promote healthy habits through education, food, gardening and more. 

Our first interview is with Lauren Unger, a Nutritionist and Personal chef. 

How did you get started with becoming a health coach and a private chef?

I was sitting at my job at a public relations firm and woke up one day and just knew there was something more for me and that an office job was no longer it. I did some research and found the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and went back and forth on enrolling. Well I was right about one thing, an office job wasn't for me and the universe played a big roll in my change. 

After debate on enrolling I was at a party and broke my foot. It was my foot out the door from my old career. I was forced into a leave of absence so I decided to enroll in the program and I never went back to the office again. 

I had never imagined being a chef, I cooked for myself and coworkers at times, but I never imagined doing it as a career. Well, the universe had other plans. I was introduced to a company with upscale recovery homes and they took a chance on me and I became the chef for there first location. I grew with them to three locations and really taught myself how to be a chef. 

After a year with the company I moved on to work with clients who were recovering from food addiction. Addiction in general has always been near and dear to me and after working with clients recovering from alcohol and drug addictions, i knew I wanted the opportunity to work with food addicts. This was quite possibly the most eye opening experience of my life. To be by someones side as they are on a journey is incredible. A client who I am still very much in contact with was featured in January 2015 people magazine for his weight loss transformation. To be able to see the light back in his eyes and the pep back in his step is the most rewarding feeling and I wouldn't change it for the world. 

After 3 years working in recovery I went out on my own with my company Hint of Greens and worked one on one with clients in recovery as well as actors, actresses, models, dancers, corporate as well as personal trainers.  

It was through my work with one on one clients that the idea was born to make my meals for the masses. In January of 2015 I launched HungeryNYC a farm to table corporate meal delivery service. Our motto is my motto, "It's not a diet, it's a lifestyle". 

How do you see food differently from before? 

For me food became a comfort as it does for many people. When working long hours I would turn to comfort food when I would get home. I felt meals needed to be decedent and treated each as if it was my last. 
Now I treat food as fuel. Your meal needs to get you from point A to point B. The majority of my meals are vegetables with a serving of lean protein and a healthy fat. 
Salads are something I grew up loving and that continue to this day, I have just learned how to make them more interesting and creative, not to mention TASTY!

How do you plan meals for your clients? 

Each client is different, no two individuals are the same. When I work one on one with clients before I cook for them we sit down for 30 minutes to discuss their wants and needs. Are they looking to lose or gain weight, fix overall health, understand balance or in some cases wanting to learn how to cook. 
After our initial conversation I put together menus and a program that is then agreed upon with the client. 

What’s your favorite part about your jobs?

Feeding people. Nothing makes me happier then when a client eats and enjoys a well balanced meal. I steer clear of saying healthy meal because there is a connotation that healthy food does not taste good, but Hint of Greens and HungerNYC only serve food that taste delicious and are packed with flavors and textures that people enjoy. 


How do you see your work fit ecologically?

I try to use all local, organic foods. I shop at the local farmers market of many of my ingredients. With HungeryNYC the packaging is eco friendly recycled materials which is very important to me as we have so much waste in this world. 


What does a healthy lifestyle mean to you? 

To me a healthy lifestyle is a balanced lifestyle. I have learned through much trial and error that when one area of your life is off, everything else loses balance. 
It is key for me to balance my career with regular workouts, time with family and friends and doing things that I enjoy. 


What are some big challenges you think a lot of people face when it comes to food and nutrition?

I think people face the same challenges I faced. We work long hours, we lack time to shop, cook and prepare meals. Every block of this city is filled with restaurants, and we have the ability to order from any of them with the touch of an app on our phones.  We have entered such a digital age that we are disconnected from food and people. We need to get back in grocery stores and shop and learn to take time to prepare meals. 
One thing I have begun to do is walk people through how to shop once and cook for the week in three hours or less. Those clients will reach out to me though out the week with such a positive attitude about how they feel less stressed, healthier and better about themselves not to mention the money they saved ordering in. 


What is your personal healthy habits secret?

Drink lots of water! Before I go to sleep at night I fill a bottle of water and put it next to my bed. Before I even get out of bed in the morning I drink the entire bottle, this gets me hydrated right away and wanting water through the day.
When I don't do this I notice that I drink much less water, so this is key for me.
I also gave up coffee five years ago and switched to green juice for my morning pick me up. 
Some other favorites are rubbing lavender oil on the soles of my feet and my temples, as well as magnesium oil on the soles of my feet and stomach. I had trouble sleeping for years and this dynamic duo literally puts me to sleep naturally. 


What popular food or nutritional myths do you want to clear up?

Healthy fats are HEALTHY! Enjoy your avocados. 


Thank you Lauren for sharing your food wisdom with us! 

For more Self Starters series, click here