Conversations: Robyn Chuter, Empower Total Health

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Naturopath Robyn Chuter’s ambition to help people adopt healthy lifestyles was founded in her formative years. Having witnessed the impact of chronic diseases, in particular within the immediate family bringing the topic closer to home, Robyn aims to make ‘Lifestyle Medicine’ the go-to therapy for a healthier and happier Australia.

Tell us about Empower Total Health.

Empower Total Health helps people live their happiest, healthiest lives by mainstreaming ‘Lifestyle Medicine’ in Australia. Lifestyle Medicine’s central premise is that health conditions caused by lifestyle choices – such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and common cancers – should be prevented or treated by addressing lifestyle factors rather than by prescribing medications and performing procedures.

Over 80% of Australia’s healthcare budget goes towards treating chronic diseases, most of which are preventable and reversible using Lifestyle Medicine. I am devoted to bringing its principles and evidence-based practices to people who want this life-changing information now. My audience is anyone who values their quality of life and is prepared to take responsibility for their well-being, from teenagers to 90-year-olds.

What were you doing when the business idea came to you?
I wanted to build a business around helping people live healthier lives since I was a student at a naturopathic college in my late teens. My training focused on prescribing nutritional supplements, herbal medicines and other remedies to treat clients’ symptoms, but this approach didn’t resonate with me. In the early 1990s, the term ‘Lifestyle Medicine’ was not in currency but I was fortunate to work for and receive mentoring from practitioners who followed its principles. After graduating from college, I opened my own practice at the age of 23.

How did the name ‘Empower Total Health’ come about?
Actually, my husband suggested the name! I ran the business under my own name for several years until he recommended ‘Empower Total Health’. It perfectly encapsulates what my business is about: empowering people to take charge of their behaviour that affects their well-being and attain optimal physical and psychological health.

What is the biggest challenge you face when consulting clients?
My message for clients is that the choices they make on what they do with their forks, feet and fingers (i.e. what they eat, how much they move and whether they smoke), along with how much they sleep, stress and love, are primary determinants of their health. This message of personal responsibility is opposed by the culture we’re immersed in, which sells us the message that our genes are to blame for whether or not we get sick; that there’s a pill for every illness; and to indulge in alcohol and unhealthy food because ‘we deserve a treat’.

What is your vision for Empower Total Health?
I see Empower Total Health at the forefront of the Lifestyle Medicine revolution in Australia. In particular, I see us as a prime mover for the promotion of healthy plant-based eating to prevent and treat myriad illnesses that beset both young and old.

While juggling professional and personal commitments, how do you find time for yourself?
In addition to my full-time practice, I’m a mother to two teenage children and currently pursuing an Honours degree in preparation for a PhD in Nutrition Science. Spare time is an unfamiliar concept! I’m a firm believer in Stephen Covey’s principles of ‘first things first’. I have a daily routine of rising early to meditate followed by weight training. I walk my dog for an hour every afternoon, which is a precious wind-down time to spend in nature. Meditation, exercise and healthy eating are non-negotiable as they bring mental clarity, energy and stamina.

What advice would you give to someone who aspires to become an entrepreneur?
First, become damn good at what you do! I see many, especially in healthcare, call themselves ‘experts’ when they have next to no training, qualifications or experience; often harming those naïve enough to take their advice. Invest heavily in education, not just to receive a paper qualification, but also to keep learning on an ongoing basis.

Second, invest in yourself. Running a business requires a skill set of its own. Most education and training courses don’t teach these skills.

Third, be open to changing your vision for your business. Initially, I envisaged conducting in-person one-on-one consultations and group sessions. Then the Internet took off and now over 70% of my consultations are online, enabling me to help people not just in my local area but also across the world.

If you had a magic wand, what is the one thing you would change right here, right now?
I would change the way healthcare services are reimbursed so that practitioners are incentivised to offer genuine preventive measures rather than prescribing pills and performing procedures. It would be a game-changer if practitioners were paid more to conduct therapeutic nutrition consultations or offer healthy cooking classes than to perform a bariatric surgery.

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