When you’re young, it’s more likely that you’ll be involved in a regular sporting activity, or have a pastime that’ll give you plenty of exercise throughout the week. So, though you’ll eat lots of convenient, tasty and cheap junk food; your body will still burn more calories than you take in. Unfortunately, this type of fast food when combined with other white, starchy [and delicious] processed foods begin to take their toll on your body and overall health, the older you get.
But when we get older, everything everyone ever said about eating healthily comes true. If the number of your daily steps is less than 10,000; if your diet is influenced by the first printed menu you find in the drawer, or you have regular digestive problems and can’t lose any weight – then maybe it’s the time to get help.
Nutritionist, Cathriona Hodgins, who is based at the Circle of Life, Roscommon Road, Athlone, sees lots of people who have been referred to her by their GP.
“Generally, doctors don’t have the time to give patients personalised guidance on the types of food that should or shouldn’t be eaten, or create a tailored food plan to help with weight loss. A person could have underlying food intolerances that are only detected once appropriate testing is carried out. I always ask a person to provide me with as much information as possible so that I can build a complete picture to analyse what might be going on. Then I will provide practical help and insight. What you eat is so important in aiding a healthy lifestyle, but it’s also about developing a relationship with food, no matter what life throws your way.”
Cathriona grew up in Nenagh, Tipperary with her parents and brother, and had what she describes as a “very traditional upbringing” that involved lots of Irish dancing. She has always been fascinated by science and how things work, and had decided that she wanted to work in a laboratory. So, after leaving school, she studied for a diploma in chemistry at Waterford Institute of Technology. After completing that, and aged 21, Cathriona went to the UK on a student placement with Smith Kline (Glaxo) a major pharmaceutical company. She then went to Kingston University to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Analytical Chemistry. “There was a big affiliation between Glaxo and Kingston University, which was why I chose that institution. After I graduated from Kingston University, I got a job working as an analyst within a research team that were developing new drugs at Glaxo. I gained great experience.” After a few career moves, Cathriona ended up moving to Athlone in 2000 when she was hired by Elan (Alkermes) “I thoroughly enjoyed working there for about five years.”
Nudging to Nutrition
Although she was very well qualified with great experience, Cathriona was always interested in food and nutrition and the healing powers of food.
“In 2005, I went with some friends to a Tony Robbins’ seminar on personal development in London. There were probably 10,000 people there, and it was amazing. I came away from their understanding that I needed to study nutrition.” In 2006, Cathriona studied part-time for her post-graduate diploma in nutrition and health. In the middle of that course, she got married and had her first child.
“I was due to return to work after my maternity leave but was unexpectedly made redundant. That was the kick that I needed to change career direction from pharmaceuticals to nutrition.”
Self-Employment and Services
Cathriona did a Start Your Own Business course, which helped her plan her new business as a qualified nutritional therapist. She had some leaflets and business cards printed and began to see people in the front room of her home. Also, she joined her industry association, Nutritional Therapists of Ireland, which provided her with lots of support, credibility and helped to ensure that she was up-to-date with new developments in the industry.
“I’m very focused on weight loss; thyroid health and diabetes. As a Nutritionist I provide a complimentary service, so I see my role as helping people with their health issues to understand the power of the diet, and how food can fuel the body.” Cathriona has a full-time consulting room at the Circle of Life since February 2020. Previously, she was based within the Honey Pot health in Athlone for a few years.
“Having a strong science background and a thorough understanding of biochemistry really helps me to understand the complexities of food and nutrition. It was an easy jump from science to nutrition because I’m still looking very closely at how organs in the body function.”
Covid-19 and Zoom
When Ireland went into lockdown in March 2020, Cathriona’s phone stopped ringing. Her clients were reluctant to come in to see her, so she decided not to meet anyone face-to-face. Instead, she began to offer consultations using Zoom. During the first lockdown, people weren’t as keen to go online to have a consultation as they were doing the second one. “Now half my week is on Zoom, and it could be with people on the other side of Athlone who just jump on Zoom rather than get into the car! I now have online sessions with clients across Ireland and some based overseas.”
Cathriona used the period between the lockdowns to develop her website: “My new website at www.cathrionahodgins.com is a great marketing tool. I get a lot of business from Google searches thanks to the search engine optimisation (SEO) part. People find me online and book Zoom sessions to chat with me. Also, I get new customers through referrals, which still is a huge thing in Ireland. You can have the best website in the world, pay a fortune in Google Ads, but you can’t beat referrals. Ireland is big for that.”
Making the Difference
Cathriona has had lots of positive feedback from clients who have felt better after seeing her. They have more energy; experience less pain, and/or have better digestion. “When I hear that somebody feels great, I’m so happy that my work is making a difference.” Sometimes, it’s the small things that make a difference to people because they forget that the food they eat can have a huge impact on their everyday wellbeing.
“I don’t count calories, there’s no points or anything like that with the diets I create for my clients. I get people to understand their appetite when they’re hungry, and when they’re not.” Nutritional health is a growing area, and Cathriona wants to focus on the thyroid side because it’s not currently being supported. Thyroid is a very common condition in Ireland, and more common in women than men. “Thyroid affects your metabolism, so low energy is a huge symptom. Low energy can affect hair, skin, digestive system and even cognitive functions at times. GP’s are giving out standard medication and that’s it. A lot of women may start and feel a little better with medication, but not hugely. I can really help.”
Cathriona is on a personal mission to change the entire way you relate to food, and you will feel much healthier for it. She is very passionate about the science of human nutrition and should be your go-to expert when you need help that is rooted in medical research. In her own words, “Nutrition is for life.”
This article was published in the Westmeath Independent 18/08/21.