Diane Sanfilippo balances a lot of different roles—and at least from our perspective (and that of her 100k+ fans), she does it pretty seamlessly too. It’s unsurprising given that the basis of her brand is all about helping people to find balance in their wellness journeys, eat better-seasoned food and set healthy boundaries along the way. Sanfilippo is the owner and founder of Balanced Bites, one of the most well-developed, nutrition-oriented blogs in the world that features everything from recipes to purchasable products, testimonials, and so much more.
Thanks to her work as a certified Nutrition Consultant, she’s managed to cultivate an audience that’s as dedicated to her products as they are obsessed with her refreshing honesty about developing positive relationships with food and rejecting the toxicity of diet culture.
Beyond Balanced Bites, Sanfilippo is also the two-time New York Times best-selling author of Practical Paleo and The 21-Day Sugar Detox series, and she’s also a co-author of Mediterranean Paleo Cooking. Diane holds a BS from Syracuse University and is certified in holistic nutrition, holistic lifestyle coaching, and Poliquin BioSignature Modulation. And she’s also the co-host of the top-rated health podcast The Balanced Bites Podcast.
We had the chance to interview Sanfilippo about the beginnings of Balanced Bites, the value in growing your business organically, and the importance of acknowledging the ties between modern wellness and privilege. This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Green Living: To start, would you mind walking me through the beginnings of Balanced Bites?
Diane Sanfilippo: With the inception of Balanced Bites, the name came into play when I was creating meals for people around me like my friends or my personal trainer. I had studied nutrition a bit, and I already had a holistic lifestyle coaching certification. I had been loosely blogging about health and mindful health. At that point, I was making meals in my own kitchen for about four to six friends, and I was balancing their macronutrients to certain levels—some people needed more protein, more carbs, etc. And so while brainstorming with a friend of mine, we came up with the name ‘Balanced Bites,’ because I was really balancing these meals for people.
Originally, Balanced Bites was a meal delivery service based in San Francisco, where I had started delivering meals and I think I only ran the business for somewhere between three and four months because I had quickly burned out doing it. I eventually went back to school for nutrition and went to study over in Berkeley. It was a two year program and about a year into the two years that I did, I had the first half of the certification, which was as a holistic certified nutrition educator. So, this had to be around somewhere in like the 2009/2010 timeframe. I started teaching nutrition in CrossFit gyms and found there was this wide open space for people to come in and say, ‘We’re going to teach nutrition for people who are really trying to learn how to optimize their health.’ And so the foundation for my platform was really born in that community of like CrossFit and Paleo [movements].
Fast forward, and my first book, Practical Paleo, came out in 2012 and that’s what really catapulted my platform. The book was on The New York Times-bestseller list for almost two years straight and it was right at the height of the Paleo movement. Then in 2016, I released an updated, expanded second edition. At that time, a lot of people who went Paleo didn’t know how to cook without having to pull a million ingredients and jars out of their pantries. So then I created the Balanced Bites product line in 2016—we started with eight spice blends and from there, I just continued to develop more as the brand has grew.
GL: One of the biggest pillars or missions that you have through Balanced Bites is this goal of really helping people to create a life that they love which can be achieved through making the healthiest, most effective choices for their mind, body and spirit. What would you say that your brand—and even you, yourself as an entrepreneur—get right about health and wellness, that other brands or influencers might be getting wrong?
DS: I definitely don’t want the way that I make decisions to be a criticism of the way that other people make decisions when it comes to health. And as I’ve come to realize, when I reflect on being able to make decisions that feel in alignment with myself and that are made with integrity, they’re not driven by money. And while I’m not motivated by that, I will say that what I’ve come to learn in the last several years, more so than ever before, is just how much of a privilege it is to say that, and that not everyone is in that position. So, I do think having a business that’s not only rooted in integrity, but that is also being managed with a certain level of social awareness, is actually a very important factor that maybe sets Balanced Bites apart from other companies.
GL: Sure. And I’m curious, because so much of social media is engrained in business these days, that form of marketing or connection can often kind of dilute a company’s ability to maintain its authenticity. Or it can feel “too big” to be deliberate. For you, have you found that to be a setback at all?
DS: I think I’m not really in a place yet where I’m facing that down yet because I’m building everything organically. I don’t grow beyond what I can afford to grow at a given time. And that doesn’t mean that there might not be a little bit of a stretch from time to time, but I’m not taking on investors. And to date, I’ve managed to handle things. So, I kind of just can’t imagine things growing at a pace that is out of my control, because there’s no one else driving the ship than me. I don’t have a plan to build a giant company that I can then sell off. I want to build my own company and my business on my terms, and I just want to enjoy it and treat people well along the way and make great products.
GL: Obviously so much of your passion is about empowering people to live better, healthier lives. And clean eating can often feel like an act of love or self-care. Why do you think there’s still such a disconnect with it for so many people though?
DS: I do think that for those of us who carry certain privileges in our life, it’s very accessible for us and not very accessible for many others. There is a divide in this idea of what wellness is and what certain things feed into wellness. Even reflecting on things that I taught in the past decade or so, I now look at those things really differently. Does that mean that what I taught was wrong? No, but it means it maybe wasn’t as culturally aware. You know, as an example, some people try to say that butter isn’t healthy—but there are probably many people who actually can afford butter and cannot afford certain oils. Through this idea of what health is supposed to look like, we’ve instead created this divide. And so I think the wellness industry has made it inaccessible for a lot of people to achieve wellness of any kind because the mainstream one is frankly very whitewashed. So, why do some people value it more than others? Well, why do some people value the status of the inside of how clean their car is more than others? We just have different values and we, as people, prioritize different things that contribute to health.
GL: That’s a great segue into the next question which is, for you personally, how would you say that your relationship with food has evolved?
DS: I would say over my life, I’ve gone through cycles of total unawareness to awareness and action—sometimes based on information or science or things that I’d heard, and then most times based on having gained weight and just trying to lose it. Now I’m in a place where I’m paying more attention to how much diet culture and pro-fitness culture has influenced my nutritional decisions—most times probably more than it should have. I think that’s a really interesting conversation. And I think my philosophy on it has just come to a place where I don’t want there to be any kind of morality assigned to these food or diet choices. But there is—I think for women especially. So, I’ve found myself asking more: Do I really want to accept this idea of what society expects of me more than I want the mental or emotional freedom of just eating healthy? I’m still figuring it out and my relationship with it all is still evolving. But now, more than anything, I think it’s important that I share some of these thoughts and lessons about things like abandoning diet culture, especially as someone working in the health space.
GL: And since your approach to business management is less about expectations or feeling like you need to “be somewhere,” I’ll rephrase this last question: Where do you want to be in terms of how you feel in five years? And what do you want your relationship with your company to look like?
DS: I want to feel like the people who are building this business with me have their arms linked with mine. I want to feel like we’re building something that we all care about. And it’s nearly impossible to have people who work under someone that all care about the business just as much as the person who owns it or has founded it. But I do think that we can all enjoy the work that we do. And I don’t want it to be everything in their [employees] lives—I want them to really have that balance of, “I live my life, and I do this work.” And I think that maybe the whole name of Balanced Bites is really about the fact that this balance extends beyond food, it’s about finding a healthy balance in our lives too.
For more information on Diane and Balanced Bites, visit www.balancedbites.com.