reprinted from Fitness Business Canada magazine January 2018
By Kathryn Korchok
Carolyn Fetters wants her company to be the Über of the diet world.
“I’m intent on disrupting the diet industry,” says the 52-year-old CEO and founder of Balanced Habits, a California-based company that offers comprehensive nutrition coaching programs for fitness clubs and individual consumers. “I’m really intent on dismantling it, to be honest.”
Fetters and her husband Paul started Balanced Habits in 2012, building on their 25-plus years of fitness experience, their backgrounds in competitive athletics, and their grounding in nutrition and health.
The two met in the 1980s when Carolyn was a competitive cyclist and rower attending UCLA, and Paul was a bodybuilder and personal trainer at Gold’s Gym in Venice, California. They married, raised three children, and owned three fitness clubs.
They had informally been providing nutrition counselling to their fitness clients, which included a roster of professional athletes. The nutrition side of their operation started as many businesses do—one client at a time, one hand-written plan at a time—and it grew organically.
Over time, Fetters noticed a common thread that connected the casual workout enthusiast and the pro athlete.
“They really wanted the same thing, but they articulated it differently,” she says. “The professional athlete wants to decrease body fat and increase lean body mass, and the workout mom wants to do the same thing, but she says, ‘I want to lose weight and tone.’”
So Fetters applied the same philosophy to top-level athletes, fitness enthusiasts and dieters alike.
She developed a combination of exercises, macronutrient-based food choices (a balance of proteins, carbs and dietary fats that together create a balanced, metabolic response), recipes, nutrition information, and a system of measurement and accountability in a consumer-friendly program that could be tailored to individual goals, regardless of body shape, weight, age, gender or fitness level.
“I’m trying to give people a sustainable approach and teach them that you have to learn how to eat to support your body and achieve your goals,” she says. “Then you’ll forever know what to do.”
As their reputation as nutrition experts grew, more clients signed on.
When TV’s The Biggest Loser came calling in 2008, Carolyn developed a six-week, recipe-based program called the Take Down Challenge, which ran twice a year with 150 participants at a time.
Building on that success, the couple developed a scalable program that other fitness clubs could use to attract and retain more clients and create new revenue streams by offering a 100 percent solution that combined fitness, nutrition and weight loss in one package. They knew that fitness clubs could fill a need in the market and provide the opportunity for people’s transformation—if given the right tools and know-how.
They tested the concept at a gym in Windsor, Ontario and another gym in New York State to see if their program would translate to other communities.
“It worked, so I decided this was something I wanted to pursue,” says Fetters, branding the program as Balanced Habits five years ago. “I built a program where I could coach other businesses to use my program in their facilities so were all speaking the same language.”
To date, Balanced Habits has partnered with more than 132 fitness business owners across the United States and Canada (currently 89, including six in Ontario and Saskatchewan), serving more than 100,000 individual clients and generating more than $10 million for its licensees. She estimates that a small, boutique gym could generate an additional $20,000 a year in net profits by partnering with Balanced Habits, while a larger fitness facility could reap $100,000 annually.
The company’s goal is to have 300 partners, and Fetters believes the market is ready for the kind of change they’re offering.
“The diet industry is figuring out that they’re failing customers, so they’re morphing themselves into the fitness industry because they have no choice,” she says. “Their latest tactic is to include exercise and to try to get people to become more active because they don’t know what else to do. In my mind, that customer is sitting right in front of us.”
Balanced Habits offers several programs: Balanced Habits KICK START is offered three times a year, with different recipes and menus that reflect the seasons. Balanced Habits LIFE is offered in three-month, six-month and 12-month terms. Each comes with brand identity, marketing materials, business coaching, the company’s proprietary software which creates and delivers customized plans, and training for Food Coaches, who become accredited through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.
“They’re essentially buying a nutrition business, and we give them all the tools to be successful as a business,” says Fetters, who has been inspired by a book written by Jeff Olson called The Slight Edge, whose theme is that incremental changes can add up to meaningful transformations.
“The book is not nutrition related, but I’ve used it with my fitness business and my nutrition business to explain that neither has to be an all-or-nothing endeavor,” she says. “I want people to realize that they don’t have to wait until they’re broken to start taking care of themselves, and that small changes can add up to bigger ones.”
Fetters is driven not just by passion but by personal loss. Two of her three siblings died in their 50s, both from obesity-related diseases. She was unable to help them because, she says, they were unwilling to change. Now she is dedicated to educating and helping other people achieve their nutritional, fitness and lifestyle goals.
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