When she couldn’t find work as a newly graduated psychotherapist in midlife, Kim chose to combine her training in psychology with her love of Zen meditation to help people struggling with excess weight.
Tell us a little about your background
I am 48 years old and currently live in Scarsdale, NY with my partner Steve (54) and two teenage daughters Chloe and Anna. I’ve spent my entire life in the New York metro area—having grown up in Mahwah, NJ, and then living in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and various parts of Westchester County.
My father owned a small grocery store and my mother worked as a legal secretary. I worked at my dad’s store from the time I was a teenager until beginning college.
I felt a sense of aimlessness the first time I went to college, so I dropped out to work full time. After working at a mind-numbing office job for a few years, I rushed back to college the second time around–this time eager to learn and expand my mind. Having seen the alternative of answering phones for a living, I became the most eager college student ever.
I put myself through state college by working office jobs. My boyfriend at the time (also a student putting himself through school) came up with a clever living arrangement. We completely renovated an old house that his family owned in exchange for living there for free.
It took seven years, but I eventually graduated with a degree in English Literature and a minor in Philosophy. Philosophy was actually my passion (and still is), but English seemed marginally more practical. My boyfriend, who eventually became my first husband, graduated as well. Our young marriage did not survive, however, and we divorced. I briefly moved back in with my family.
Despite living less than an hour from Manhattan, my family never visited the city. New York City had a mystique and an aura of danger. It called to me, but also scared me. Shortly after graduation, I found a job in a New York publishing house as an editorial assistant for medical/scientific books. The company was called Raven Press, but later became Lippincott-Williams & Wilkins.
As a young professional, I experienced many typical New York City housing adventures. I managed to find an apartment share where I rented a bedroom with a curtain dividing it into two sleeping spaces. This was an improvement over my other choice of a three-foot-high “sleeping loft” atop someone’s living room. Professionally, I moved up the publishing ladder to production editor and then to supervising editor before leaving to re-marry and focus on starting a family.
My husband and I adopted our first child from China in 2000 (Chloe), and our second in 2003 (Anna). I have always had a strong desire to adopt. I stayed home full-time to raise our daughters. We started out in Manhattan, but then moved to the suburbs of Westchester County after we adopted Anna.
Raising my young daughters was a magical time for me. It was one of the most creative times in my life. It was like a switch was flipped and I became super-creative. While they were napping or playing, I would write, draw, or paint. Over the years, I wrote hundreds of haiku, and made stacks of small, colorful collages. My kids and I would often make art together.
During this time, I began the practice of Zen meditation and wrote about my Zen practice and motherhood in a blog called This Zen Life (which no longer exists). Many excerpts from that blog live on in a book entitled Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children: Becoming a Mindful Parent by Sarah Naphtali .
As an extension of my Zen practice, I also became interested in the Japanese martial art of Aikido (known as the Art of Peace) around this time. I continue to be a student of Aikido, ten years later, and have achieved a black belt.
When did you start to think about making a change?
The impetus for change came after my divorce from my second husband in 2006. My kids were getting older. The role of “full time stay-at-home-mom” did not fit me anymore. Plus, I needed to start a career and earn an income for the next half of my life.
It took me several years to hone in on what that direction would be. There were a few years of trial and error. I started things that I did not finish because they were not right for me. I could not find any peers who were in the same situation, so it felt very lonely. For a while I criticized myself for being indecisive, but then I realized that I was making a full and sincere effort to use my talents and to do something of value in the world. That my process was not neat or linear did not make it any less legitimate a process.
When I hit my mid-forties, I felt like I was at the top of my game, but could not find anywhere in the work world to be truly useful or valued. This was a horrible feeling. I heard the cultural messages telling me that I should be anxious about aging and that I should try to look and be younger. But I didn’t feel anxious or old. I felt energetic, creative, and ready to make a difference in the world. My “aha” moment was a painful one of knowing my own accumulated wisdom, talent, and energy and not being able to fully actualize it, and not seeing its value reflected in the world of work. I wondered if any other women my age could relate to this.
I had thought my next act was to become a psychotherapist and enrolled in a Master’s degree program at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York. In 2013, I was in my last year of training to be a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) and enjoying my clinical internship. MFT interns generally try to get hired by their internship sites after graduation, so I was looking forward to being asked to work there. Since I had an excellent track record, I thought I was set. I was 46 and thought this was a new beginning.
The clinic indeed asked several interns, including myself, to work there but offered us all the salary of $0. They wanted us to work for free for the one to two years before full licensure. I said no without even a second thought. I may have even said, “Are you kidding?” and something about the Labor Department. After I left, they increased their offer to minimum wage, but I was still not interested.
This was my “aha” moment—that my worth in the marketplace was zero. This made me see that I really needed to step out of my comfort zone and forge my own way. I let others dictate my value and it was zero. Now it was my turn.
While my desire for change had been brewing for a few years prior as I tried different paths, being asked to work for free crystallized the need for a total reinvention and rethinking of the next chapter of my life. My subsequent experience in the job market only solidified this. Working for myself and creating a totally new path was initially born out of necessity.
I had to work through the disappointment of not being able to work as a psychotherapist. I had spent a number of years in therapy myself, and it was a transformative experience. I dreamed of helping others along the same path. I had to grieve for a lost dream. I also had to work through residual feelings about my difficult yearlong internship, during which at one point I was told that I was “just another warm body.” I felt used and expendable, and needed to let that exit my consciousness.
I took a job as an adjunct instructor of psychology, but the pay worked out to below minimum wage. That certainly wasn’t a long-term option, or even a short-term one. I was left with three years of training from my Master’s degree, plus an entire year’s experience of clinical work with patients. I was not going to let that go to waste, so I was determined to find a way.
What is your next act?
I am the Co-Founder, with my partner Steve Kanney, of Mindful Life Weight Loss. We launched our business in November of 2014, in preparation for the surge in weight loss resolutions around the New Year.
I believe that each of us has our own inner wisdom. Our bodies know what they need. Deep down, we know what is good for us in terms of food, activity, relationships, and habits. If we can only access that inner wisdom—a skill that can be learned—we will be guided by this internal process naturally and effortlessly. Our program teaches that skill. When you truly develop mindful awareness of body and mind, living a healthy life becomes permanently sustainable. Introducing people to this process is the reason why I chose this next act.
Our program consists of group meetings where my partner Steve and I lead people in the skill of mindfulness. We meditate for three minutes. Then we help people apply mindfulness to every area of their lives to gradually change problematic habits from the inside out. The groups are supportive, energizing, and help people get to the root of their weight issues—which often involve emotional eating and addiction to processed foods. Every person is different. Some people gain weight due to work stress. For others it may be divorce, grief, or self-sabotaging behaviors. We work with people in a very customized way.
Our typical member has tried several weight loss programs. One member, Jeff (name has been changed) had tried medically supervised diets, Overeaters Anonymous, shakes, meal delivery programs, Weight Watchers, and more. He lost weight on all of them, but then gained it back—as many do. We worked with Jeff to find out what was driving his eating behavior. Work-related stress was his biggest challenge. He had difficulty letting go of the daily pressures of work as an administrator in a troubled school district. He overate as a way of coping and relaxing.
We believe that there are as many entry points to weight loss as there are individuals. Diet and exercise are two of the most common. However, stress reduction, processing of emotions, time management, sleep regulation, relationship issues, are all valid entry points. For this member, stress management was the key entry point. We worked with him for an entire month on managing stress. We worked in a very detailed way, allowing him to talk about his stress in the group and learn how to train his mind to let go. The group provided support, accountability, and encouragement. Jeff learned meditation, mindful eating, and coping strategies for stress. From these interventions alone, he lost weight. But after he sufficiently conquered the stress, Jeff was ready to change his diet to one of whole, unprocessed foods. From there—only after we built out a solid foundation of stress management—did we target Jeff’s food choices and exercise habits.
Another member, Susan (name has been changed), came to us after several decades of struggling with periodic binges on sweets. She had also “tried everything.” Susan was a medical professional and a highly educated woman. She bristled at the traditional way that weight loss professionals tell their clients what to do. She felt that this insulted her, as she knew exactly what to eat but was not able to do it. We worked with Susan to address the “why” of why she wasn’t able to do what she needed to do.
We developed Susan’s innate motivation, and helped her to nurture it through journaling and through helping others in the group. We believe one of the best ways to help yourself is to help others. Unlike other group settings that discourage “cross talk,” we encourage it under the direction of trained leaders who know how to maintain a respectful and caring dynamic. Susan was very good at motivating others, and was a solid and wise presence in the group.
Susan lost weight at a healthy pace until she had a family crisis that she had to attend to. We knew that this extreme stress might be a trigger for binge eating, so we helped Susan to manage the stress and to allow herself a “plateau” where she maintained rather than lost weight. We worked on cultivating patience through this plateau. Susan indeed handled the crisis without binge eating, coming to the conclusion that sweets do not solve anything. She declared: “candy bars are not magic.” She had the occasional Snickers bar, but most of her diet was whole, unprocessed foods. Susan said at one point “this program works but I can’t put my finger on why.” We suggested that it works because it isn’t a program that is imposed from the outside, but comes from the inside.
We work primarily in groups at our center, but also have group conference calls for people who cannot make it to our location, as well as individual sessions. We stay in close contact with our members through email and social media.
I love what I do. When I am leading a group, time stands still. I feel that sense of “flow.” And most importantly I feel that I am able to take what I have learned up until midlife and use it to help others. That horrible feeling of not being able to contribute or make a difference is gone. When I get emails from clients telling me that I am a blessing to them, or that they are so glad they found our group, I know that I am on the right track.
How did you decide to focus on the field of weight loss?
As I was sorting through the rubble of my post-Master’s degree experience, I asked myself what the world really needed. What is the most compelling issue facing people today, and one that I could realistically help to solve? That ruled out some of the more major issues like the economy and world peace. Everywhere I looked people were struggling with their weight. And everywhere I looked there was mindless consumption of addictive processed food. Many years ago, my own issues with food were resolved when I took up Zen meditation. Living a life centered in mindfulness helped me to reduce stress, make food choices that were wholesome, and eat with greater awareness to the point where my weight was not an issue.
A couple years prior to this, I had already set the wheels in motion with a mindful eating group at the Aikido dojo where I trained. We had a small group of “mindful eaters” going on since 2012, but had never thought to formalize or expand it. The idea was simply to help our dojo members lose weight by applying the principles of mindfulness to their lifestyle habits, particularly eating. The group was informal, and free of charge, but it was extremely successful. Everyone who participated lost weight in a way that was gentle and sustainable. Then it hit me: I will build upon these groups and create a weight loss program that is totally different from what is out there (diets, pills, shakes, bars, etc.). My next act was already in my back yard. It just needed to be developed.How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?
It was very hard to take the plunge. I had just invested tens of thousands of dollars in a graduate degree. I was supposed to “use” the degree in a specific way. I stepped outside of the box and into the great unknown. I had no guarantee of a salary. I had no road map. I don’t even have a community of peers who are doing the same thing.
I prepared by getting a partner with a skill set that makes up for my deficits–my longtime boyfriend Steve. He has a background in finance, and has experience reinventing himself at midlife when he left his career in finance to pursue his passion of teaching Aikido.
I also prepared by continuing to work in other areas that are less risky and unknown. Starting a business is a risk, so I didn’t totally quit my “day job.” In the span of five or so years that I was formulating my next act, I tried some other things: teaching yoga, teaching pre-K, attending one semester of graduate school for teaching, and teaching briefly as an adjunct instructor of psychology. I continue to teach yoga to adults and kids, as well as work on other projects and income streams.
I sat down and summed up what we had done over the past two years with the mindful eating group. I embarked upon several intense months of formulating our program into a book, Mindful Life Weight Loss: Mindful Eating – Holistic, Sustainable Weight Loss. Steve and I created a website, sent out press releases, and embarked upon a “guerrilla marketing” campaign. We didn’t have investors or money, so we pretty much found any and every free avenue for publicizing our weight loss program and made the best of what we had.
In the beginning, we didn’t even have a proper space to meet so we gathered in the corner of the dojo. I remember one day, just an hour before the group, running out to Wal-Mart to buy extra chairs for two new members. Another day, we needed to meet with a new client but the dojo was in use so we met in an unoccupied—and unheated—office that was for rent next door. But we made it work, and people responded because we were a different and refreshing voice in the tiresome world of weight loss. Eventually, we changed locations and carved out a proper space for our weight loss groups.
How supportive have your family and friends been?
My family and friends are very supportive. My kids are the best—always positive and upbeat. I’m lucky in that there really hasn’t been a single person in my life who hasn’t been positive about my next act. Our first few members of the mindful eating group were fellow Aikido students. We bounced a lot of ideas off of them, and were able to refine our program through their help and participation. One Aikido student lost about 70 pounds and has kept it off for two years. Another member of the Aikido community, a chef, helped us to brainstorm ideas for meal delivery. And still another member, an experienced crowdfunder, has provided insight in that area, although we haven’t gone the crowdfunding route yet. It is really great to have people to bounce ideas off of and get feedback, and the Aikido dojo—a very supportive community—has been helpful.
What challenges did you encounter?
Each day I struggle with doubt. With reinvention comes doubt, I suppose. My father owned a small grocery store. I have memories of him working seven days a week, no vacations, and often having no money. He eventually sold it later in life and took a job working at someone else’s store—a huge step down for him. That fear is in the back of my mind. I don’t let it stop me, but it is certainly a challenge to push through the doubt.
Another challenge in a new business is having to do most everything ourselves. We can’t afford to hire anyone yet beyond a few freelancers, so it is incredibly labor intensive. And for many things, there is a steep learning curve. If the website develops problems, we have to fix it. My partner learned to code, for example (better him than me!). We have to continually work to maintain our place in the search engines. I had to learn social media, independent book publishing, video editing, lease negotiations, and sales, just to name a few things.
The actual field of weight loss is also a challenge. Just about everything in our modern food supply and lifestyle is geared toward weight gain. 85% of people who lose weight gain it back. We see people one or two times a week, but then they go back to offices with cookies and donuts, and continual advertising for hyper-palatable food. We live in a non-stop snacking culture. We have to find ways to keep them connected to our program every day because we are working against the tide.
But you know what? I find these challenges exciting. I actually wouldn’t have it any other way.
Were there times when you thought about giving up?
There were absolutely times when I thought about giving up! I think that feeling is natural, and helps to clarify things periodically. What kept me going was my partner Steve’s inspiration. He wakes up every day and thinks about how to best help people. He doesn’t care if one person or one hundred show up; he gives the same dedicated effort. Helping others is a spiritual discipline. It is something you do every day and it provides a wellspring of inspiration when you keep your intention in the right place.
I also rely on podcasts and You Tube videos of inspirational people such as George Kao of Our Highest Work and James Altucher, and Buddhist teachers such as Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Hanh. I draw inspiration from the yogic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita (The Living Gita: The Complete Bhagavad Gita – A Commentary for Modern Readers by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
and The Yoga Sutras (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
by Swami Satchidananda). I always have inspirational teachings playing from my phone or laptop.
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I learned that if things don’t go as planned, there is always another way to apply your creativity and dedication. When I closed the door on being a psychotherapist, one of my colleagues said with a trace of fear, “What will you do if you don’t get a license?” I said that I would either find a way or make one (a quote that I remembered from years back).
I learned that when life throws unexpected twists and turns, I am capable of twisting and turning right along with it. It is a valuable skill as an entrepreneur, as I am able to take feedback from customers and adjust accordingly. It gives me a lot of confidence to know that whatever comes my way, I can adapt and, even better, thrive.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Midlife is such an interesting time. It is the perfect intersection of wisdom and energy. My main piece of advice is to understand that reinvention is not a clean and linear path. It can be messy and circuitous, and that is okay. You may have to keep your day job, or develop alternate streams of income as a safety net, but trust in the process. You may reinvent, fail, reinvent again, and then do something totally unexpected. I envisioned my reinvention to be as a psychotherapist in an office with a wall full of books, but I ended up trying to transform weight loss as we know it. Who knew? That is how reinvention goes, so go with the flow.
What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing your path?
For anyone interested in pursuing the path of an entrepreneur, I would say find a partner (or partners). It is very hard to do alone. I don’t know if I would have chosen this path without a partner. Nourish yourself spiritually and physically. Draw from a spiritual wellspring to keep charged.
Also, I would advise getting out there with your product quickly, testing it with customers, and then refining as you go. Don’t risk your own savings or go into debt with a product that you don’t even know if anyone wants. There is a high failure rate of new businesses, so be conservative. You can get things up and running very quickly and test the waters inexpensively. That way, you can get the only data that matters: Do people actually want to pay money for your product? Once you know that, you can refine your offering and use revenue to invest in growth.
What resources doe you recommend?
Books about weight loss:
Mindful Life Weight Loss: Mindful Eating – Holistic, Sustainable Weight Loss by Kim Gold. This is the textbook for our program. It shows you how the five areas of weight loss fit together and how to lose weight mindfully and sustainably. A fresh perspective on weight loss.
Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease by Robert H. Lustig. Great book to understand common diets and how our food supply creates addiction and over-eating.
The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite by David Kessler is an excellent research-based book about how the food industry is making us sick and addicted. Eye opening.
Books about mindfulness and mindful eating:
Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink. A research psychologist turns the studies of the restaurant industry around to help us gain control of hte 200+ daily decisions we make about food.
Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life by Thich Nhat Hanh and Lilian Cheung is an excellent foundation in mindful eating and living. Written by a Zen Master and a Dr. of nutrition, this book provides a scientific and a spiritual foundation.
How to Eat (Mindful Essentials) by Thich Nhat Hanh contains short meditations that will transform how you eat every day.
Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food (Includes CD) by Jan Chozen Bays. A Zen priest and medical doctor offer very practical and insightful tools to transform your relationship with food.
Resources on entrepreneurship:
For initial inspiration I read The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms by Danielle LaPorte.
I watched videos from Marie Forleo’s You Tube channel, which helped me to become inspired to get things started.
For more detailed information I read Dan Norris’s The 7 Day Startup: You Don’t Learn Until You Launch and The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Ries.
And for creating a business that keeps the focus on helping others and improving the world, there is none better than George Kao.
What’s next for you?
Most immediately, I am trying to improve and grow my business. We are adding a meal delivery plan as an optional component of our program and expanding our center to include mind/body exercise programs (tai chi, yoga, qi gong). Longer-term goals are to train and license other group leaders to start their own Mindful Life Weight Loss groups as part of a home-based business.
This will keep me busy for quite some time, but I do know one thing for sure: I will absolutely have another next act. What that will be, I don’t know.
Contact Kim Gold at firstname.lastname@example.org
Still Mind Martial Arts website (home of our Aikido dojo)
Our nonprofit organization devoted to spreading peace, Integrated Peace Arts
Our program location is 305 Central Avenue, 2nd floor, White Plains, NY. Schedule can be found here.