Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in health and wellness but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Zahra Tromsness, Founder of The Gut Loving Dietitian, located in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

My name is Zahra Tromsness; I am an accredited practicing dietitian and an active member of the College of Dietitians of British Columbia. I graduated as a dietitian and nutritionist over a decade ago. After I graduated, I started working in the hospital setting so with a range of different types of diseases, whether people had diabetes, kidney disease, autoimmune disorders, hormonal imbalances, thyroid complications, and of course, gastrointestinal disorders. that gave me a really broad range of experience in the different areas where dietitians can really help now. I've also been involved in teaching since 2005; I have taught @ OC, VCC, and CSNN, conducted clinical research, and presented at various nutrition workshops. The focus of my online/private practice is digestive health, Functional Gut Disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, gluten-related disorders, and inflammatory bowel disease. However, I have recent experience working with patients living with cancer and undergoing surgery @ an organization called IH.

I consider myself a medical nutrition therapist, and I am convinced that there is no cookie-cutter approach when it comes to nutrition. This foundational belief informs and guides the way I support my clients. At "The Gut Loving Dietitian," I try to offer personalized nutrition care. I try to get to know the specific needs of my clients and ensure they feel empowered each step of the way through a holistic and integrative process. I use the "Biopsychosocial Model" (BPS). Basically, considering biological, psychological (thoughts, emotions, and behaviors), and social factors that play a role in human development and functioning & ultimately, their well-being. I find this approach very helpful in evaluating the interactions among environmental and lifestyle factors to develop a personalized nutrition intervention to support the unique expression of health and well-being.

Tell us about yourself

After a few years of working with cancer patients and a wide range of other diseases, I realized that gut issues are very common among all different diagnoses and also with various treatments. I think all of the different experiences, both in the hospital setting and the private practice world, really led me to the gut. I just found it so fascinating that even people without gut diseases often had gut issues. Just to give you an example, in working with cancer patients, I realized that it didn't really matter where the tumour was; all patients experienced some sort of gut complications. Then considering the stats, 1 out of 2 Canadians get a cancer dx in their lifetime, and specifically, when it comes to our gut, bowel cancer is actually the third biggest cancer killer in the world, so I started thinking about how to manage the gut symptoms but also and even more important than that how can we prevent the general population from getting there. The stats are kind of scary. I think it is so important that we talk about it, knowing that a lot of people, when they start to see changes in their stools, they're embarrassed to go to their clinician, and they wait until it gets really bad. If people catch their bowel cancer quite early, then they've got relatively better success rates and, as I mentioned, even more important than that, taking preventative measures. Watching these individuals suffering through surgery, chemo, radiation, and working as a clinical dietitian, these patients were coming to me saying I've got a lot of gut issues when the tumour wasn't always in their digestive system. I knew that if I was really going to have an impact on people's health and well-being, it was going to be the gut.

So, I decided to dig deeper. A friend of mine introduced me to Monash university in Australia. Of course, they offer great programs for gut health, IBS, and other bowel issues. Along with that, I did my own research to really understand the link between our gut health and other organs and started implementing a range of different diet-based therapies that target gut health in my patients and was amazed by the results. I also had experience working in a research lab learning about gut health which opened my eyes to a whole new world of the human microbiome and the importance of gut health. As you may know, we have trillions of microorganisms, including mostly bacteria but also things like parasites or viruses, which actually synergistically work together to have a benefit. Today, we know our gut health is literally connected to not only our physical health but also our mental health. We see those with better gut health experience less anxiety and depression. We've known about this relationship between the gut and the brain for ages. If you've ever felt "butterflies" in your stomach, then you've felt the effects of the gut-brain connection! Millions of nerves and neurons run between your gut and brain. The brain sends signals to the gut, and the gut sends nerve signals back. Each affects what the other one does and feels. So there's always been a connection there, but now, we see that there's a new player to that connection, and that is the gut microbiome.

Over the past two years, I have been involved in translating research into a more accessible format for the general public. As I began explaining the findings to my patients, friends, and family who didn't have a science background, I realized that people want to make a change and improve their health. They just don't know where to start. I sometimes think, as clinicians, we forget that not all that knowledge is available to the public. Then I thought that I wasn't really sharing all the amazing stuff being done in the clinical and research world. So, in a way, I felt it was my duty to get out there, get involved in the community, and become vocal on social media to hopefully help those struggling to find long-lasting relief from their often-times debilitating symptoms. So that was the birth of The Gut Loving Dietitian, where I can now witness the transformative power that a happy gut brings. I am passionate about integrating healthy dietary habits into our lifestyle so we can function at our best! I got very excited when Lindsay invited me to the Collective because I would LOVE to be part of a team that educates healthy individuals to avoid a lot of preventative chronic diseases. You might have heard this, that soon chronic diseases will become a matter of choice vs. the destiny of our genes, and I think I agree with that. Meaning that if we bring more awareness and pave the way for personalized, customized nutrition and holistic care, then people will be empowered and prepared to make the right choice for themselves, their children, and their families. I don't think chronic diseases will go away anytime soon since we will still have a choice, but at least we will be able to make a decision to choose certain foods and lifestyles or not.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

I have had the privilege of working with some of the most wonderful people whose lives have been disrupted by cancer. Every day at work, I am humbled by the strength, courage, and perseverance of my fellow humans. Supporting those navigating the uncertainty of how much time is left to spend with loved ones and pursue what matters most, their journey of hope and survivorship has been a huge inspiration. And a constant reminder to be grateful for every moment and celebrate the gift of life. With them, I've started to think about "taking a fresh look at the concept of happiness, tolerating ambiguity, and embracing and acknowledging the shadow of mortality" while pursuing hopes and dreams. Caring for patients with serious, life-limiting illnesses has led me to a deeper journey of my own: discovering what it means to truly live life to its fullest, to focus on the here and now, and to be thankful for every day, every hour, every minute, every second...

Maybe, it's the ability to enjoy the simple pleasures of life that makes it worth living... Right now, Noticing the leaves changing colour in the Fall! The sensation of wind on my face! The ability to taste a fully ripened peach! Smiling back at a stranger on my lunch walk! Truly, The gift of the moment! The gift of connecting with people! May we never take this fragile gift-life- for granted.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

Getting referrals is hard. You have to make up for it by working hard at marketing yourself. You have to meet and contact as many doctors as you can to find one that cares. Then you get many referrals. Dealing with insurance is probably one of the biggest challenges that those in private practice face these days. Even just the decision on whether or not to take insurance can be challenging.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Be a specialist, not a generalist.
    It's important to remember that you can't be everything to everyone – but you can be the perfect solution for some people at some point in their lives. If you know the broad area you want to work in and some of the people you want to target, you can start narrowing that broad category to something more specific. It's also much simpler for you to market yourself as you can have one clear message that you use across all your marketing channels.
  2. Do what you do best.
    When it comes to finding your niche, focus on what you'll be able to do well and what you're passionate about. What do you enjoy doing the most? What types of customers do you connect with the best? What are your core values? If you can identify what you do best, then you can direct your efforts and attention toward doing more of that! That's where your biggest opportunity for success is, and that's the key to finding a niche that you can throw your heart and soul into.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.