Inspiring Stories – Dr Michelle Storfer

Dr Michelle Storfer

Dr Michelle Storfer has got an MBBS degree from UCL and a BSc in Nutrition from King’s College London.  She founded The Food Effect, an innovative nutrition consultancy service based in North-West London.  By combining her background in medicine, expertise in the science of nutrition, and passion for cooking and all things food, Dr Storfer promotes healthy eating and healthy living.

Website: thefoodeffect.co.uk


1. Hi Michelle, thank you very much for finding the time to talk about your unconventional career path. Can we start with you telling a little bit about what you used to do and what you do now.

food-effectMy “dream” during the last few years of medicine was to pursue a career to consultancy in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. I discussed my ambition with many different people, including those within the field, and surprisingly they were all either not very encouraging or positively discouraging! I won’t go into the detailed reasons they gave here, but the key issues raised were the insurance and professional liability risks, awful hours, and the difficulty of juggling this type of career with family life. They all told me I should be a GP instead! By that stage I was certain that being a GP was not for me – I never enjoyed my many GP placements and my preference has always been for a more active, busy, “non-stop” environment. I also far prefer specialising in one area in depth, as opposed to obtaining a less in-depth knowledge of a broad range of areas.

I had studied medicine at UCL, during which I completed an intercalated BSc in Nutrition, at King’s College London, and I therefore decided to take some time out from hospital medicine soon after graduating, to set up my own nutrition practice. I saw a niche where I could use my combined knowledge in the fields of medicine and nutrition to see patients that needed assistance with medical conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, Coeliac disease, PCOS and gout, to those simply looking for help to lose weight and improve their diet – which ultimately is one of the foundations of good health! In short, this “crazy” idea that I thought I would try out for a year, went on to become a hugely busy and successful nutrition practice and now online business as well, all of which I run myself.

2. How did you know you were making the right decision when leaving clinical practice? Did you ever seek a professional career advice? How did you know that nutrition was “your thing”?

I didn’t! Whilst I didn’t seek any formal professional career advice, I discussed my decision with many people before taking the leap. These included local nutritionists, several relatives who are prominent medical consultants, and friends and contacts of my parents who are doctors and/or professors in the medical field. They ALL thought that I was absolutely crazy, and were not afraid to tell me just that! Notwithstanding this, I “stuck to my guns” as I knew I had a very strong passion for nutrition, wellness and healthy living, and did not allow them to dissuade me (much to my Dad’s disappointment at the time!).

3. Were you worried about how your friends, family and colleagues would react when you told them you were leaving medicine? If there were critics, how did you manage their resentment/hostility?

Yes, I was worried and this definitely proved to be the hardest part in the whole “career switch” and probably the only real difficulty I have had with “leaving” medicine. People said things to me like: “It’s so sad…” “You’ve studied for 6 years, what a shame…” “You’ll regret it…” In my head, I knew this was a load of nonsense – it’s far sadder to be stuck in a career you don’t want to be in, being miserable for the rest of your life. I also didn’t consider that my knowledge would be wasted… it wasn’t going anywhere! I loved studying medicine and I would always be grateful for the in-depth knowledge and appreciation I have for every aspect of the human body. Besides, I knew that this knowledge would only benefit me in my new chosen career path, where very few (if any!?) nutritionists are qualified doctors! That being said, my convictions didn’t detract from the hard time I went through for a few months when making the switch. The initial process of having to tell people and EVERYONE talking about it was not easy at all – it’s never pleasant not to have the approval others’, especially those who you respect. But that’s life, and I just had to deal with it and keep telling myself it doesn’t matter what others think if I feel I’m making the right decision! It was HARD, but I can happily say now that many of my “disapprovers” are now my biggest fans and supporters, and think The Food Effect is great!

4. What things did you have to learn from scratch when starting out in business?

Everything! I’d spent all my years since school either as a medical student, or in an NHS hospital – I had absolutely NO idea about anything commercial or business related. I just gave it a go and learnt along the way (in hindsight I laugh now at how little I knew)! Whilst I have come along way in this respect, and thankfully am quite entrepreneurial by nature, there is still a great deal I don’t know enough about and I enlist the help of others (my husband and an accountant) when it comes to things like finances, etc.

5. On this journey, have you had any role models or mentors? What support did you get?

In terms of the line of work I myself do, I can’t say I’ve had any particular role models. It’s all been very much my own ideas. However business wise, I’m fortunate to have had some amazing mentors – two in particular, one an expert in branding and marketing who opened up my mind to a whole new world and way of thinking, and another, an experienced business man who kindly gives of his time to help those starting out in business and has been an invaluable source of support and advice to me on the business front.

6. How did you handle the finances during your career transition?

I budgeted more than usual and made some sacrifices in the beginning (such as forgoing holidays and luxuries, etc.) Thankfully my husband has a good job as a lawyer and I had savings of my own. Between the two there was sufficient to “keep us going” during the transition period until the business started taking off.

7. What attributes of a doctor have helped you in your new career so far?

Empathy for others, being used to hard work and long hours, and appreciating the importance of patient confidentiality. I do not think for one second that all the years I spent studying medicine were a waste of time. Had I known 10 years ago that I would end up following a career path in nutrition, without a doubt I’d still choose to study medicine again!

8. What was the most difficult thing about the process of career transition and how did you overcome it?

Worrying what others thought of my decision, feeling I let my parents down, and having to explain to EVERYONE I saw that I was not carrying on with medicine. See answer to Question 3.

9. Have you changed in any way since leaving Medicine?

In countless ways! My confidence has soared, I’m far less afraid to take risks, I love what I do and I feel happier and more fulfilled every single day.

10. Do you miss anything about Medicine? How likely are you to be going back to clinical practice?

No! Thankfully, I get to see enough interesting cases – often clients come to me who have co-existent conditions and are on a range of medications – so the side I would potentially miss (using my knowledge), I don’t find lacking! As for going back to clinical practice, perhaps “never say never”, but as close to that…

11. Looking back at your career so far, what would you tell your 18-year-old self?

Work hard and give everything you do 100% effort because you only get out what you put in! Don’t sweat the small stuff… take studying medicine, and taking the exams in your stride. Confidence plays a huge role in success in any pursuit – you don’t need to be perfect or have life planned out at 18!

12. Doctors by nature tend to be very risk averse and tend to be perfectionists. Does this have an impact on what you do now?

Absolutely. I was very risk averse until I decided to “go for it”, break the mould and do what makes me happy! Once I made the leap, I have gradually learned to become less and less risk averse – it is necessary in business. Perfectionism however is still something I struggle with on a daily (hourly!) basis… but I’m working on it!

13. What keeps you motivated?

All my happy clients. I feel incredibly satisfied when clients report that The Food Effect way of eating has changed their lives on so many levels – improved health, energy, better relationships, looking and feeling better and loving life more! It’s a wonderful feeling, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to help so many people in a field that is so undervalued in our society and healthcare system.

14. What does fulfilment mean to you, and would you say you’re fulfilled in your new role?

For me it means satisfying the motto: “Work hard and be nice to people”… doing something that I love and enjoy, feel I am constantly developing in, and that enables me to help others in my own unique way, means that I have the drive and energy to work extremely hard, and in so doing, help others change their lives for the better. So in short, YES!

15. What new projects are you working on now and what’s the big vision for the future?

There are lots of exciting projects currently in the pipelines – several of which I’m working hard on at the moment and will come to fruition shortly, and others that are more for the longer term, but for which plans are being laid down now. The first project will be a series of e-guides that I’m due to launch over the next few months, which will be available to buy on my website (www.thefoodeffect.co.uk).

16. What are the best things about being a business-woman, and what might be the downsides?

There are so many positives… making my passion my profession, and therefore being able to do what I love every day, constantly using my creative side to come up with new ideas for the business, the ability to work in different venues, giving talks, the variety of exciting projects and opportunities, and getting to meet amazing and inspiring people (Elle Macpherson to name just one!). All of this ensures I never get bored with what I do! Being in control of my own hours, which in theory is an upside, is probably my only downside… I’m a complete workaholic and I find it hard to “switch off”, stop working and disconnect. At the moment I rarely do this, but I definitely need to work on it!

17. You are clearly very passionate about what you do. Many doctors – despite apparent professional successes - feel as though something is missing in life. How might they be able to connect with their talents and passion, like you did?

You don’t necessarily have to leave medicine and start your own business to connect with your passion. Think about what you really enjoy and try finding an angle within your work, or a side project you could get involved in on the weekends – if you put your mind to it the opportunities are endless!

18. What would you tell a medical student or a doctor who is thinking of starting a business or an entrepreneurial venture? Is there a formula for success?

I would say: “Go for it!” and “work very hard!” If you never try, you’ll never know! Nothing is set in stone, and if it doesn’t work out, you can always go back to traditional medicine or try something else. There is huge potential in business, especially in the current business climate. There is a huge rise in start-ups, online businesses are thriving and social media has become an enormous medium for entrepreneurial activity – the opportunities are endless, and there are so many amazing success stories! As I word of caution, I would say DON’T think it’s an easier option than medicine IN THE SLIGHTEST (or that it gets any easier over time)… I thought my final year of medicine was insane (being in hospital ALL DAY and studying ALL NIGHT), but without a doubt I work harder now! However, you only get out what you put in – it takes tremendous, relentless effort – but it can be so worth it!

Thank you very much Michelle!

Follow The Food Effect Founder Dr. Michelle Storfer on Twitter: @TheFoodEffectDR
LIKE The Food Effect on Facebook: www.facebook.com/foodeffect

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