Anjali Shah is a board-certified health coach, cookbook writer, published author, nutritionist, in-demand speaker, and self-taught chef. She is the owner and creator of The Picky Eater, a blog where she educates individuals and families on how to make healthy choices and pick the right foods at the grocery store for either weight loss or overall wellness and maintenance. Shah’s work has been featured on a number of well-known websites and magazines such as Oprah.com, Women’s Health, Cooking Light, and Reader’s Digest.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like? Did you have any particular experiences/stories that shaped your adult life?

My childhood was really idyllic in a lot of ways. I was lucky to grow up pretty privileged, in a small neighborhood, with a wonderful supportive family. My parents did everything they could to make sure my brother and I developed a strong sense of self-worth, and were always there for us when we needed them. This is why one of the most pivotal / shattering moments in my life was when my mother died when I was 20 years old (my brother was 15). That moment, the strength it took to get through it, and the years following have shaped much of my life and the person I am today.

What is something you wish you would’ve realized earlier in your life?

To take risks and “leaps of faith” more often. One thing I’ve found is that if you put yourself out there just a little more than you feel comfortable, you’ll often find that it opens you up to a whole set of new experiences and helps you grow. I wish that I took a few more calculated risks earlier in my life, and embraced unexpected change with a sense of adventure.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

I don’t know that I typically hear outright bad recommendations in the health/wellness field. But I do think that oftentimes, certain studies get turned into sound bites and taken up by the mainstream as a fact that applies to everyone. For example “dairy is bad.” Or “gluten is bad.” Those are true statements, for some part of the population. But does it apply to everyone? Should everyone in the country stop eating gluten and dairy 100% of the time? Probably not – it’s very dependent on age, diet, health conditions, allergies, digestive symptoms, etc. But that type of nuance can sometimes get lost in the area of health and wellness.

Tell me about one of the darker periods you’ve experienced in life. How you came out of it and what you learned from it?

As I mentioned, my mom’s death was one of the darkest periods in my life. I spent many years wrapped up in grief, anger, fear, and another many years in denial/avoidance. My mom was my best friend, and losing her was heartbreaking and devastating – and required me to reevaluate my own identity in the absence of her, and rebuild who I was from that moment forward. Coming out of it really just took a lot of time, and a lot of introspection, therapy, and reflection. What I learned was the importance of not running from hard emotions and hard situations, and facing them head on while still allowing yourself grace. I learned that you can find strength while still being completely broken down, and I also learned the importance of opening up to other people and allowing them to help. There are so many lessons I learned as a result of my mom’s death I probably can’t cover them all here, but those are some of the bigger themes.

What is one thing that you do that you feel has been the biggest contributor to your success so far?

It might sound simple, but establishing goals, timelines and staying organized enough to stick to them has been one of the biggest contributors to my success. When I want to accomplish something, I’m just very methodical about it – I create a plan, a reasonable timeline, and I hold myself accountable to get it done.

What is your morning routine?

The time I wake up is 100% driven by my kids! I have two young kids, so I typically will wake up anytime between 7 am-8 am depending on when they are up for the day. Most of my morning is also dedicated to getting them ready: I wake up when they do, we all brush our teeth/get ready, and then we head downstairs for breakfast as a family. During the week, my husband and I take them to school and then I’m off to work for the day; on the weekends we have a lazier morning and hang out at home for a while before heading out for the day.

What habit or behavior that you have pursued for a few years has most improved your life?

A few years ago, I started a regular practice of 5-10 minute meditations a day, and actively tried to be more self-aware of my emotions in each moment throughout the day. Both of these practices have really improved my life – they’ve allowed me to be more present, reduce stress, and even communicate better.

What are your strategies for being productive and using your time most efficiently?

I use my Google Calendar to keep myself productive and plan out my entire day! I even add in things like 10-minute breaks, or workout time, or meals during the day. I write down everything I want to accomplish each week and then I schedule it out on my calendar like a meeting schedule, and I indicate which task I’m going to get done in each time block. I also color code the calendar between work time and other times (e.g. meals, breaks, time with the kids) so it’s easy to see when I’m supposed to be working and when I’m supposed to be disconnecting.

What book(s) have influenced your life the most? Why?

Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability has impacted me pretty heavily – her messages about vulnerability as a strength and as one of the main requirements for true human connection has influenced a lot of how I try to approach my own life. So often, I think our world is filled with “perfect social media” images and messages, which create this pressure to be perfect in our society. I want to take a much more realistic approach to my life and to building a connection with others – by sharing the struggles, the triumphs, and the plateaus all at the same time.

Do you have any quotes you live by or think of often?

It might sound a bit cliché, but “Do or do not, there is no try” (Yoda) has been one of those quotes that just stand the test of time and apply to most situations. Trying is great, but it’s really the doing that’s important when you’re wanting to make a change or get something done. I’m very action-oriented, so this quote resonates with me.