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Cambridge woman helps clients with nutrition goals

Laura Onyeneho
Cambridge woman helps clients with nutrition goals
Katia Powell (sitting, at right) lost 200 pounds and now serves as director of Health Equity and Multicultural Initiatives at the American Heart Association. (Photo: Photo by Laura Onyeneho)

Katia Powell realized she needed to change her life one day a decade ago when she walked into her Roxbury apartment, stared at her reflection in the mirror and asked, “Who is that?”

Today Powell is a holistic health practitioner who helps clients with weight and nutrition goals.

Once morbidly obese, she tipped the scale at 350 pounds at the age of 26. Her reflection in the mirror was a defining moment for her.

“Food was comfort for me,” she said. “I had dropped out of school and lost my job. I was becoming one of those statistics.”

At the time, she wanted to be become a medical doctor, but soon began to realize that her health did not reflect her goals and educational pursuits.

Her first plan was to head to the Roxbury YMCA. She bought a membership, and gradually trained up to 4-5 days a week for 60-90 minutes. Within six months she lost 100 pounds. About a year and a half later, she lost another 100 pounds.

“Right now I’m at 175 and I’m in the best shape of my life,” Powell said.

Powell faced many challenges on her journey to weight loss, including criticism from family members. Her family lives in both the South and the Caribbean, and their perception of her weight loss was seen as negative.

“They thought I was too skinny,” she said. They tried to feed me, and plates used to show up at my house on Sundays.”

Powell recalled being told that “big-boned and curvy” was in. “I let others’ definition of me be my stopping point, and I had to change my mindset. I cannot keep digging my grave with my fork.”

Powell then changed her eating habits, and kept adding workouts. She replaced calorie-dense sugared sweets with fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers’ markets. Although eating healthy got expensive at first, she found ways to do so while staying on a small budget. She prepared more meals at home, clipped coupons and made her own snacks.

“Not many people understand the 80/20 rule,” said Powell. “It’s 80 percent nutrition, 20 percent fitness and 100 percent mindset.”

She noted that rule is often misconstrued when people want a healthier lifestyle. “I used to think it was more fitness and less nutrition, but I was wrong.”

As director of Health Equity and Multicultural Initiatives at the American Heart Association, she uses her position as a means to properly educate people on cardiovascular disease, and other obesity-related ailments.

“Throughout our health programs, we have to move millions of people and encourage them to make these changes in their community,” Powell said. “We can’t do that without multicultural populations.”

Fit for purpose

In 2013, Powell started Fit Body Squad, a company that provides fitness programs, health coaching and nutrition education. The free fitness programs are hosted at Madison Park Village every Tuesday and Thursday for everyone of all ages.

“It’s very easy for me to charge $10 a workout, but I want to give people no excuse to not come workout,” she said.

She trains between 10-25 participants at a time during her fit camps. Powell takes pride in the physical results and overall changes in food choices her clients make. Though the numbers may be small, she says her client testimonials are what encourages her to find ways to improve participation in her classes.

“We are building our fit camps to have 100 people,” Powell said.

She also is the co-founder of Techtrition, along with her partner Brandon Ransom. Techtrition is a health education company that helps individuals optimize their health through the use of technology.

“People have an amazing tool in their pocket called the smart phone,” said Ransom. ”We use Facebook and Twitter, but we never think of using our phones for health.”

The company launched in February when the business development program Smarter in the City incubator opened its doors in Dudley Square. Powell and Ransom joined forces to help individuals organize and set health goals through better time management. Powell also helped start Techtrition’s Connected Nutrition Program, in which both she and Ransom are wellness coaches.

“Katia plays a very instrumental role in getting the word out there about our start up,” said Ransom.

Powell has since expanded her work with other community leaders and organizations in Boston.

“She has done workshops for me in the past and women really appreciate her love, joy and passion,” said Rica Elysee, founder of Boston Naturals. Powell partnered with Boston Naturals to create workout videos for women who struggle with time management. “We are hoping that these video become more accessible to women that do not have the conventional hours, like nurses, doctors, or lawyers,” Elysee said.

Boston Congolese poet and community activist Leonard Tshitenge also collaborated with Powell this year in one of his community education series called “Consciously Exposed Café,” a monthly forum featuring panels of experts discussing topics of interest to the African American community. Powell was a panelist.

“I wanted to focus on health disparities and create an environment where we can elevate the dialogue,” he said. “I wanted her to be there to talk to the audience about staying active, to be educated, to be informed, and to ask questions.”

Powell said she is working on new ways to keep the community engaged and educated on staying healthy. She hopes that with efforts she can change the lives of others who were once in her shoes.

“No matter where they are with their health, whether they are overweight or underweight, have diabetes or cardiovascular disease, just take the time to know that they can transform their health, but it all starts off with a decision.”