In her early 20s, Catherine Perez was faced with developing health issues and decided to take the reins in her own life by shifting her lifestyle.
"I already knew that my own health was suffering. I had high cholesterol, I was on the verge to get high blood pressure, and I knew that those things also ran in my family," says Perez, whose family medical history also includes heart disease and diabetes.
To get ahead of health problems on the horizon, Perez sought out preventative measures like healthier food choices. That journey led the then 23-year-old to dietetics.
"I looked into some of the research, mainly because I was already in science at the time," she says. Perez was a medical technologist, testing patient samples and performing blood tests in hospitals.
Her decision to focus on veganism soon followed.
"I saw a lot of compelling evidence in terms of plant-based diets and veganism in general," and decided to switch to a vegan diet in 2009, she says.
While removing animal-based products from one's diet might be difficult for some, it was a seamless transition for Perez: "I didn't feel like I was missing anything. After doing it, I just felt so good that I wanted to continue."
Within six years, Perez earned her master's degree in Human Nutrition, passed her Registered Dietitian Exam and became a full-time dietitian.
"I was able to become a grocery store dietitian," she says, "and that helped open more doors and opportunities because I was able to interact with the public more."
Initially, Perez was meeting with people one-on-one, and in small groups occasionally, to share dietary information. But eventually, she felt her reach was too small and wanted to share the advice with more people.
"As great as it was spreading that information, it felt kind of limited. There's only so many people you can meet in a day," she notes.
"Over time, I realized the power of being able to spread all of this preventative information online."
Perez started an Instagram account and began posting pictures of her meals here and there. Overtime, she noticed that people were curious and wanted to know more about the cooking process.
"So, I would share the recipe and then also share some nutrition information. And slowly, the number of people that were viewing that increased exponentially," she says.
Now, at 37, Perez is a very popular vegan dietitian who offers tips to her followers on social media for free, including advice on how to pair foods for optimal nutrient absorption.
On a weekly basis, Perez juggles running a blog and her accounts on Instagram and TikTok with research, recipe-testing and editing content. She also still counsels a small number of people, one-on-one.
Prior to her success on social media, she was making $65,000 a year as a dietitian, but now she earns a healthy six-figure salary of above $125,000.
"The number of people I can reach today versus what I was reaching before is just crazy to me," she says.
Perez attributes her ability to grow a following of 600,000 people to transparency.
"I feel very lucky that I've been able to get to this point so early on. I think a lot of it comes down to being very open," she says.
"We have a lot people that are spreading fear-mongering [information] about specific foods, really making people confused about what they should be eating. And I wanted to at least try to be a voice of reason online [and] encourage people to take power in [what] they were eating."
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