Nicolette “Nic” Graves is a food technologist, nutrition consultant and health education specialist with a background in micronutrient deficiency, agricultural development and food security. Her mission is to help fill the disparity gap by helping communities overcome the obstacles of a healthy diet by refining habits and revamping plates, one indulgence at a time. Through her health and wellness platform, niktrition.com, which is dedicated to empowering women through their pursuit of health by defying the status quo, you can get nutrition coaching and several on-demand programs created to help you nourish yourself, get FLEEKy and snatched while thriving on delicious eats and self-love. Read our interview with Blavity Creative Society member Nicolette below:
Blavity: Tell us more about why you started Niktrition.
Nicolette Graves: Well, Niktrition is really just the brain child of my personal evolution.
I came pre-packaged with an infatuation with food. In fact, my nickname growing up was Gutsy Gloria (thanks, Dad) and obviously, the connotation of “gutsy" wasn’t something that sits well even at the age of 8 — even if I was good for putting away seconds and thirds. For the subsequent 12 years, I dieted. (Yes, at 8 I had my own form of diet food i.e.. butter pasta = gotta lay off that tomato sauce). I was “healthy” and read all the seminal works on being skinny at all costs and how to lose your enthusiasm for food in three days… it was le struggle. The craziest part was I was pre-med, I knew the science behind proper nutrition, but per usual I tried to outsmart the system by using trends instead. When it worked I was obsessed and when it didn’t… I was obsessed. Damned either way. It left me tired and in need for something more sustainable. So instead of trying to beat the system, I opted to work with it and haven’t looked back since. As time progressed, I began to realize the only way I could have ever allowed such treatment to my body despite knowing better was my mental state: The perception I had of what my body represents, my relationship with food and my own sense of self-worth.
Essentially, Niktrition came out of this compilation of experiences, knowledge gained, questions asked, and a desire to optimize it all for better distribution. It’s really gone through several forms. From just learning the scientific foundation of proper nutrition, to understanding the implications of socioeconomic, geographic, cultural, ethnic and historical factors that play a role in our state of health. Once I got to graduate school and started doing my research on food access and development, everything became amassed and began to spiral into all these thoughts I was having, mixed with me always wanting to help, mixed with me feeling a type of way about the unequal focus on “fixing” foreign developing countries but nothing done for the developing communities right here at home. Plus, I was learning and learning a lot and wanted to keep learning, but knew I had a responsibility to the community.
So I had all this knowledge, all these facts, but facts are facts are facts — how do you apply them? How can you really help yourself if people are just throwing out facts and not showing you skills, tips and tricks that can aid you and your situation? More explicitly, how do we get underserved communities to apply the necessary health practices? When it comes to health, we each have a unique experience/struggle/circumstance which either supports or impedes our status.
B: Why, for you, is self-love intertwined with a healthy lifestyle/nutrition?
NG: Self-love is the foundation to living a fulfilled life overall. When you love yourself, you have accepted who you are for who you are. You are making a conscious effort to make your perception of yourself the definitive guide. This then molds self-esteem and body image, which then in a cyclic nature sets the tone for how you feel about yourself. When you have ownership over you, it’s a feeling that can’t be matched. Right now, the trends on the market aren’t embedded in self-love… it’s this "fix yourself because there is something inherently wrong with who you are right now" mentality. It’s "you cool and all, but you could be better if you did this." It’s "bash people for their preferences or side-eye her cause of her eating habits." It’s "make others feel self-conscious in order to lift ourselves up." In all honesty, I think it takes self-love for you to truly achieve, benefit and feel fulfilled by anything.
A photo posted by Nic, Nutritionist/MS 🍍🌿 (@niktrition) on
B: Talk about your passion for empowering women through your site and through one-on-one coaching.
NG: Despite having had the right to vote for some-odd 96 years, “equal rights” for women are still pending and women are still pining at the door to sit at the table. We are still seen and treated as objects, and the worst part is we internalize that sh-t. We internalize it and then shape our reality based on standards, rules, and other BS not even set by us. Empowering women, especially young black professionals who have their sh-t together from an achievement standpoint but struggle to tie together the other ends of their lives (such as their state of wellness) is the least I could do. That incessant grind to the top is ambitious, applause-worthy and poppin'. But as I said, it’s incessant, and in order to shine your brightest, the vessel carrying you needs to have its machinery intact. Black women have been told for forever they can’t have it all. I think our generation is changing that and health shouldn’t be sacrificed or left to the wayside. Your well-being should be just as high a priority as your success, because it ultimately affects it. There are so many barriers standing in our way as far as external factors — health shouldn’t be one of them.
B: What are your thoughts on the relationship between mental wellness and nutrition?
NG: They go hand in hand. Literally, nutrition provides the building blocks your body needs to carry out basic functions, such as existing, while your mental determines everything else. In fact, recently there has been a surge in evidence illuminating the importance of nutrition as a factor in mental wellness from a physiological standpoint… literally nutrients and chemicals in our bodies interact to keep us running. Those same interactions can also determine how we feel, our behavior and our capacity to use our brain. Which is major if you think about the impact your mood, behavior and ability to analyze affect your ability to be a productive member of society.
B: There has been a recent wave of black women empowering themselves via healthy living, what are your thoughts on spreading the importance of wellness throughout our communities?
NG: Wellness has been a topic often forced to hang in the balance in the black community and that can be seen by simply flipping through the CDC’s statistics. The health disparity gap is disrespectful at the least. For a very long time, we didn’t have the resources — time, money, knowledge — to care. That landscape is changing. I could say my background in public health made me aware of the importance of community, but really, that’s common sense for us. What my educational background did allow was for me to have full on access to systematic reviews covering the disparity gap and its causes; the systemic issues that impale our ability to truly live well; the power of community education, especially for minority demographics; and the importance of cultural relativism.
That last one is a huge one. Cultural relativism. It’s something I struggled with on my own health journey, and it’s a complaint I hear time and time again… often in the form of “How can I eat better without eating grass” or “I like my food seasoned” and “do I have to drink green juice?” Let’s be real, nobody cares what Becky has to say about nutrition, she’s just not relatable. But when we found out Bey did the 22-day vegan, it started to look interesting. That’s just the way it is. Having people who can identify with our experiences enlightening us can only make us better as individuals and a community. It’s what has been missing.