In our latest edition of WellSaid, Varley founder Lara Mead chats with registered nutritionist and naturopath Rhian Stephenson, whose inspiring approach to food and fitness led her to create Artah, an exciting supplement and nutrition brand.
As the former CEO of the incredibly successful Psycle London, you’re now putting your nutritionist experience to good use, with your new brand Artah. What sort of company do you hope to build, and what will you bring to it from past experience?
Before Psycle, I was in clinical practice for a decade and had an incredibly difficult time finding premium quality, truly efficacious supplements to recommend to clients. The right supplements in the right form can be transformative, but many of the brands on the market are packed with harmful fillers and aren't in the right form or at the right dosage to have a benefit. This left people confused about what to take, or if taking anything was actually worth it. The same goes for nutrition. With so many conflicting messages in the media and almost a sole focus on nutrition in relation to weight loss, it can be frustrating and demoralising to navigate it on your own. If you then fast forward to my time at Psycle, I was seeing people getting fitter, but so many of the people I spoke to were still suffering with their health and had a variety of symptoms. Gut issues, anxiety, low energy, poor immunity, headaches, eczema, acne, IBS, hormone problems, difficulty managing weight - the list went on - and this was in a generally healthy cohort of people who prioritised working out. I want Artah to help address these issues and give people a way to not only understand but optimise their health. We do this through targeted, practitioner grade supplements, functional nutrition programmes, and sharing knowledge through our community seminars and group programmes. Ultimately, it's about making health accessible, easy, and enjoyable, which means arming people with the knowledge they need but also providing beautiful recipes, effective supplements, and expert guidance so they can put it all together.
What aspect of work takes up most of your time in your working day? Are you good at delegating or someone who likes to be on top of everything, big or small?
Our team is still small which means I still have to do a lot of the 'doing.' I'm involved in everything right now, from formulations, new product development and fundraising to the minutia involved in the day-to-day content and running of the brand. I tend to do the bigger picture things at home in the evening or on weekends - true start up style! That being said, surrounding yourself with great people is so important and I am lucky to have a team I feel 100% comfortable with so I am comfortable with delegating, we’re just a small team.
I’m always curious about how other women do things. As a business founder, mum of two, wife, and fitness lover, things which I can relate to all too well, how do you achieve that elusive work-life balance, or indeed, any kind of life balance?
I don’t think there is such a thing as being in complete balance all of the time. For me right now, balance means understanding what is most important for me to feel good and achieve the things I need to, and then doing my best to prioritise it. Inevitably, there won’t be time for other things right now, but accepting that it’s just a phase helps remove the stress from it. A non-negotiable for me to stay balanced is taking care of my health and nutrition. When I fuel my body in the right way, I then have the energy and the headspace to be able to function in the way I’d like. When I don’t that, things can quickly fall apart.
How important is food to that?
Food and nutrient status are the most important factors. I always thought, food, sleep and exercise were on a par, but in fact the food we eat has the biggest impact and is most within our control. It provides the building blocks to make hormones, influences our gut (which then impacts energy, mood, and weight), fuels the metabolism - it governs everything. I have 2 kids under 2 and ½ – I can’t always exercise, and I’m definitely not sleeping enough right now, but food is a constant so I rely on good food and the right supplements to ensure my energy stays high. And it really works.
There is so much noise around what we eat, be it vegan, or paleo… the healthy diet debate is never ending. In your opinion should we follow a one size fits all approach, or is it important to be more individualised, according to our genetic makeup?
There are certain things that are fundamental to everyone. Everyone should eat a diet that’s low in sugar, high in fibre, rich in plant rich foods, with good quality fat and protein. There isn’t just one way to achieve this – you can be a healthy omnivore, a healthy carnivore, or a healthy vegan. It’s more important to focus on the quality and the variety of food that you eat, your nutrient status, and learning how to personalise your diet according to what your body needs in your particular life phase. Our genes dictate what we are predisposed to, but our epigenetics, or lifestyle and nutrition, will be greater determinants of health.
What do you cook at home?
Creating the programmes for Artah has really reignited my passion for cooking. I've always loved eating well, but even as an 'expert' it's so easy to get into the habit of cooking the same thing, ordering in or losing focus on what you're making. When I eat in line with our philosophy my energy skyrockets and I feel great, so I'm much better now at planning and being more organised with what I cook. I make lots of salads, traybakes, roasted veg with lentils or pulses, and lots of fish and lean protein. On the weekends I'll usually make one of our home-made loaves so it’s ready for the week. We've created grain free breads that are super convenient to have on and are great for anyone who is sensitive to grains or is looking for a more protein and nutrient rich option. I'll also make a batch of one of our sauces - I am obsessed with our Miso Caesar dressing and Tahini creams – so that I can throw it on top of a traybake or veggie dish to make it interesting.
Do you have a favourite recipe that you can’t live without, and what is it?
The dressings I mentioned above are definitely on my can't live without list. Other staples that I absolutely love are our spiced salmon, chermoula cauliflower steaks, and roasted sprouts & pumpkin with pine nut cream. These are all from our 28-Day Reset, which was our first and still most popular nutrition programme.
The world of supplementation can be overwhelming. Is there a top five of what we should all take?
I think we should all take a Vitamin D3/k2 and a high-quality Omega 3 supplement. From there you want to make sure you’re getting the correct nutrients that support your immune system, mood, and energy, so you can choose a synergistic blend based on your needs and lifestyle. There is the RDA (Recommended Daily Amount) which is the basic amount we need to not get ill, but the question should be, what do we need to thrive? That’s the conversation we need to be having with ourselves. In addition to the above, I take Enhanced Nootropics, which is our mood and stress support, and Skin Clinic, which is our award-winning pro-collagen, skin and hair support, and Cellular Hydration, which is an electrolyte for energy, recovery and mood. Between those, I get everything I need from an RDA perspective, but I also get some targeted botanicals and phytonutrients that are specific to my goals. Those are my top 5, but everyone should look what they want to optimise and go from there. If you have IBS for example, taking a skin supplement will only get you so far – it’s better to address the gut first and then layer in skin support afterwards.
I’m obsessed with your Cellular Hydration supplement. It has changed my life! I don’t need that mid-afternoon coffee anymore as I’m feeling less tired. It’s like an instant boost. Does everyone need it?
I think it’s important for everyone, but it’s especially helpful for women. It delivers a good amount of magnesium, which is something we generally don’t get enough of and use more rapidly when we are stressed, and potassium, which is essential for the nervous system. I wanted to make an electrolyte supplement that was female focused, so I’ve also added Maca, which is great for women’s hormone balance, especially if you’re active, chronically stressed, or in your reproductive years, and inulin, a prebiotic which helps with energy. Unlike many electrolyte supplements there are no artificial sweeteners, which aren’t great for gut health or appetite control. It’s also a fantastic supplement if you’re doing intermittent fasting. Most people fast first thing so already start the day with depleted hydration and electrolytes from the night. So, this is a great way to replenish your stores, boost energy, and improve focus and clarity.
Post-Psycle, how do you work out now? What time of day do you do it, and how do you carve out the time?
I've always loved running and now that I'm a mom I crave it even more because it gets me outside, is totally tech free and incredibly time efficient. I'm twelve weeks post-partum now so not running yet, but I usually do one interval run, one threshold run and one long, slow run per week. I still love all forms of working out, but my staples are running, Pilates and barre. I invested in a Lagree microformer and a good selection of weights for at home workouts because my schedule is so busy that getting to classes regularly takes up too much time in my day. After my first pregnancy, I got to the point where I felt like I needed to choose between working out or seeing my baby, which felt quite stressful, so purchasing kit for home use was a great decision. Finally, I do yoga regularly but mainly short, restorative sessions in the evening (think 10-15 minutes of yin before bed). I would love to do more classes but right now with the phase of business I'm in and with two young kids, getting to a class is more of a treat than a norm.
What is your favourite Varley ensemble for working out in?
I love the Let's Move leggings and the Let's Move Irena Bra for Pilates, barre and yoga. I also love the new Always set in Coffee Bean, such a great colour for Fall. For running I prefer shorts, so I go for the Kallin or Let's Go Short and the more supportive Let's Go Fay Bra.
What are your favourite Varley pieces for when you’re not working out, and how do you style them?
I love the Fall collection – the Roselle fleece with the Savona Pant and a chunky sandal would be my ideal. I also wear the knits with a basic black Always legging and sneakers. I also can’t resist a jumpsuit, the new Jessie style is my go-to look as it’s getting cooler in London.
Moving on to the subject of sleep, it’s very difficult when you have young kids, or you're stressed with work, what do you do to ensure a good night’s sleep?
I’m still breastfeeding throughout the night so sleep is not my focus right now, but how you structure your day has a big impact on how well you sleep at night. Whether or not your blood sugar is fluctuating, how much caffeine you drink, how you wind down when you come back from work, and of course, how much screen time you have at night – these are all things that have an impact. Supplements can also help – I take our Sleep Tonic on the days I am too wired and can’t to get out of my head, and people also love Enhanced Nootropics, which has magnesium for relaxation, Ashwagandha for stress and 5 HTP to help reduce anxiety.
And finally! I’ll be honest, I like to have a drink, not every night, but perhaps on a summer’s evening with my husband in the garden, or in social situations. Is there one type of alcohol that is better than others?
It’s totally possible to strike a healthy balance with alcohol. First, it’s important to evaluate the impact it has on you – so if you have alcohol and it makes you feel terrible, worsens anxiety, or makes you eat horribly and you don’t sleep well for five days, you should probably revaluate your relationship with it and what balance looks like. But if you have it like you’ve just mentioned, where you’re very healthy, you run, you take care of yourself and you have it on weekends and it doesn’t make you feel bad, then it’s not a problem. In terms of the kind of alcohol, an organic tequila or a white spirit is always the “cleanest” one you can have, mixed with soda and fresh lemon or lime. Biodynamic or organic red and white wines are also good - they have less sulphites, less additives, and those are the things that can exacerbate issues with people’s guts, mood and sleep.
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