Shiru Macharia, a certified culinary nutrition expert at ‘My Planted Kitchen’, turned her passion into a successful business. She speaks to Tricia Wanjala.
I had just given birth to my second born three years ago. This, plus the stress of balancing career and motherhood, led me to a dangerous level of obesity. I was only 29 yet I weighed 108 kgs. I was tired, sluggish and sedentary.
I had tried diets and exercise regimes in the past, but none delivered real results because the feeling of deprivation would invariably send me back to my old eating habits. But I knew there had to be a better way. I decided I would lose 30 kgs by the time I turned 30 the following year. I called it “30 by 30.”
I researched online and read books, but somehow I could not figure out how to achieve my goal. The turning point in my life came when I decided to take an online culinary nutrition course. I have always loved to cook so I wanted to learn how to lose weight while still enjoying yummy food. What I learnt was revolutionary. The course was based in Canada, where harsh winter conditions create challenges for sourcing fresh produce.
My appreciation for our healthy, fresh Kenyan produce really grew. With new eyes, I began to test new recipes at home. Who would have thought there are so many ways to prepare kales? Turning it into kale chips, putting it in delicious smoothies and making it a tasty salad. Indeed, I had learnt so much and I felt it was time to share the knowledge.
And then a food business was born. My business is called ‘My Planted Kitchen’ to reflect my love for vegetables and plant foods. In fact, some people mistakenly think I am vegetarian or vegan. I also enjoy eating meat, but when the majority of what we consume is from plants, the health benefits are amazing.
Growing up, we only knew cabbage, spinach and kales, and they were mostly prepared the same way. But I now utilise our diverse spectrum of plants foods, and make them taste amazing! My passion is to encourage women and families to eat a more plant-based diet. Women are the custodians of their families’ health.
Switching to eating fresh, seasonal, and organic plants helped me steadily lose the kilos. I experienced renewed energy, a glowing skin and even thicker and longer hair. My husband has also reported improvement of health, and my children rarely catch colds. Achieving my goal of losing 36 kgs was not a walk in the park but with commitment, I managed to beat the deadline. In fact, I dropped six more kilogrammes on top.
I learnt that losing weight is a long-term undertaking. I knew that since it had taken me a long time to put on the weight, shedding it would involve a complete lifestyle change. I also incorporated common sense changes like drinking a lot of water, and scheduling time to move my body. Exercise should not be painful — it should be fun! Choose an activity you love, whether it is dance, weightlifting, swimming or running.
For me, I started slowly with regular walking, and today I am able to do gym workouts. The transformation I experienced spurred my zeal to share my experiences with others.
I started sharing on social media, posting recipes and blogging about what we ate. At first, I expected that my social media community would probably grow as large as 1,000 people. But to my surprise, people kept coming, and they stayed! Today we have over 21,000 loyal followers.
I look back to the days when I worked for the NGO world in administration. I enjoyed my work but every two years I would change jobs. Sometimes I found such short gigs quite frustrating. I kept wondering: ‘What is my purpose? When will I find my thing?’ My university degree was in business administration and since graduating, I held five to six jobs in 10 years.
But after starting ‘My Planted Kitchen’, everything started to make sense. I started to realise I had gifts that I could offer people. People started to approach me asking me to coach them on weight loss. Indeed, my online 21-day challenges were helping people.
I have learnt that life is never a straight line. After I completed my course in January 2018, I had all this information and experience but I didn’t have the clarity that I have now. I also had to overcome my own fears and mental barriers because of not being a professional nutritionist by trade. So I decided to take on a full time job while I figured out how to turn my passion into profit.
That year, I kept reading and learning. I blogged consistently, and listened to podcasts. I cooked, experimented, and persisted. During this time, I realised that I had an entire lifetime of experience and knowledge. I established myself as an expert in the field, and took every opportunity that came my way.
I used to be extremely shy but my passion has transformed me. I challenged myself to speak publicly whenever I could, and recently I even did a radio interview in my rusty Kikuyu. Now I am excited about rolling out live cooking classes so that people can experience for themselves how amazing plants can taste.
I also learnt that when you make the sacrifice to turn your passion into a business, it will cost you. 2018 was a tough year. You don’t have time for building your relationship with your spouse. I am thankful that mine was supportive and understanding, but you feel it. Your children will also see much less of you. It even takes a toll on your energy levels.
Some entrepreneurs are able to quit employment and jump straight into the deep end. But with age and responsibilities, it is not always possible. You must plan a sustainable exit. A good recommendation is to have six months’ salary saved up and to get a headstart building and growing your thing before you take the plunge. This way, you can determine whether it’s a hobby or whether it can make money. Test your product or method and when they are ready, no one will need to tell you you’re ready.