Get To Know: Laura Pappas – Health Coach

Laura Pappas is a health coach serving the greater
Philadelphia area and a coach at CrossFit King of Prussia. She has completed a
half Ironman, several sprint triathlons, many 5k races, and competed on CrossFit
KoP’s team at the 2010 CrossFit Games in California. Laura’s specific focus is individualized nutrition and can work with clients ranging from your CrossFit firebreather
to your former couch potato just looking to be healthy. Check out the interview

Q: How long have you been CrossFitting?
How did you get into it?
Since July 2008 (sheesh!) a few
months after Tim and I got married.  Before CrossFit, I was an avid runner
but was always looking for new exercises to try to “tone up.”  I
found CrossFit at my “globo-gym” where Aimee Lyons was running a
class called “CrossFit”, advertised as a bootcamp like class – I
tried it and loved it, and have been hooked ever since 🙂
What was your athletic background before CrossFit?
I was an athlete in high school
playing softball and soccer during the school year, and travel softball
over the summers.  I didn’t start “going to the gym” until
college.  My gym routine included the elliptical, stair master, light
weight training that my high school trainer taught me, and stuff from
magazines like Shape.  When it was nice, (not humid or raining and
between the temperatures of 45 adn 80 degrees), I’d run outside – always about
4 – 5 miles same pace usually.  I didn’t have any idea about intervals or
really how to train for running.  Sometimes I’d time myself
and run to a specific landmark that I knew via driving was about 2 miles
away.  Sometimes I’d just run for 20 minutes and then turn
around.  Senior year of college I got more serious about running and
by serious I mean I signed up for my first race.  I did my first 5K
in May 2003 – The Breast Cancer Race for a Cure in Philly, and had a really
good experience.  I started doing more races after that, and started to
talk to my then boyfriend, now husband, about how to train for running.  I
have now done lots of races, 5Ks, 5-milers, 10-milers, and Half
Marathons.  In 2006 I completed my first Half Marathon, 2007 I
completed my first Sprint Tri without any technical equipment – e.g., I
rode my mountain bike, and 2010 I completed my first Olympic
Tri.  This year (2011) I tackled 2 Half Ironman 70.3 distance races –
the Pocono Mountains and Miami Ironman 70.3.  My training has really come
a long way and includes CrossFit twice a week to support a longer run, longer
ride, and some interval or tempo workouts running, riding, and swimming. 
I’m not sure what my goal is going to be for next year yet!

Q: What are some physical accomplishments that CrossFit has helped you
CrossFit has really helped me learn
what pain is and how to push myself harder.  I learned more about
intensity, how to reach it, how long I can push there, and what you can do when
you commit to training at those higher levels of intensity.  After really
committing to CrossFit in 2009 I’ve noticed that it has contributed
to improvements in my overall work capacity.  All of my
running races and tris are easier and my times are getting better with
less time spent training overall, and I’m continuing to get stronger and
Other things that CrossFit has
helped me with – being able to do a pull up (from a huge band to kipping and
even butterfly pull ups!), having the confidence to lift heavy stuff, knowing
that I can do things I thought were not possible before and having more
confidence in myself and my body.  Practically, CrossFit helped me
complete an AMAZING hike in Zion National Park a few summers ago.  I
am terrified of heights and the Angel’s Landing trail has a large vertical
drop on either side (think 1000ft on one side and 1200ft on the
other) of a pretty narrow cliff.  Knowing that I can do rope climbs and support
my body weight gave me the confidence to do the hike.  Rationally, I
knew if I slipped, or the chain broke… that I could hold my
bodyweight, that I had a strong grip, and that I could climb up the chain
to save myself.  On a related note, the combination of CrossFit and Paleo
has made dramatic improvements on my overall health and body composition too –
more on that later 🙂

2007 – As Mark Sisson would say, that’s a Big Ass Salad!
Q: What was your nutrition like before
CF? What is it like now?
Oh before CrossFit it was your
standard runners diet: high carb, low fat, no red meat, but still ate lots of
fruits and veggies too since that is how I’ve grown up eating.  After
going on vacation I distinctly remember coming home and asking for broccoli
because I was craving vegetables!  I ate LOTS of cereal, bread, pasta
a few times per week.  I would eat a loaf of bread a week on my own, lots
of yogurt, and fat free “desserts” like frozen yogurt which were
really easy to over-eat.  Compared to what I eat now, I was a completely
different person!  When I starting to do CrossFit, I started thinking
about adding more protein to my food, and I switched my toast with
jelly to toast with peanut butter, but not too much else.  I didn’t start
to tweak my food until Feb 2009 and that was motivated by CrossFit through the
first “No Sugar Challenge.” The only reason I did it was because I
didn’t think I ate lots of sugar and thought I might have a chance to win the
Now I’m pretty strict Paleo – I eat
whole foods, vegetables, fruits, nuts and some seeds – I still include things
like salt, vinegar, and wine in my diet and I don’t really believe in the
limiting of eggs either.  I am always working on tweaking something –
doing my n=1 experiments on myself to see how things affect my mood, energy,
performance, etc.  Right now I’m working on tweaking things
like fruit, dried fruit, nuts, alcohol, caffeine, intermittent
fasting, etc…  What I do eat as part of my “regular” diet (not
just an occasional treat) that may surprise some people is dark chocolate
(85% -90%) and wine – these aren’t everyday foods for me, I try to make
them weekend foods, but I do have them more often than the occasional Paleo
treat which I may have every 4 weeks or so.   I’ve been doing
a “Whole 30” program, which entails really strict, clean, Paleo eating
about 1 – 2x per year to stay on track and remind my body how it feels to
be super clean.  I am finding though that things like having some fruit,
keeping wine in moderation in my diet, doesn’t dramatically impact my body
composition or level of performance – these are things that I enjoy and keep in
my diet.

2008 – just after starting CrossFit

Q: What are some goals for the future,
either athletically or nutritionally?
Future Goals – Athletically: To
get a muscle up and handstand push up, to confidently deadlift 200+. (For me, this may
not ever happen without my mystery back rounding); to clean my body weight; and
run a mile with a time of 6 something (in a 5K)
Future Goals – Nutritionally: This
may sound silly to some but to be less strict with my food sometimes and be
able to have a few bites of cake or whatever the celebratory food is at
events/family occasions. To keep eating higher quality foods –
grassfed, pastured, high quality eggs, etc.  To reduce nuts in my diet,
this is something I’m constantly working on! 
How did health coaching come about?
Once I started the Kick the Sugar
Challenge, I started to get really interested in nutrition.  Everything
that I thought I knew was being debunked by science in the Paleo world.  I
took a leap of faith and started changing my diet and started noticing GREAT
improvements and wanted to tell everyone about it.  Now I went from being that
person you didn’t want to get stuck to talking to at a party because I’d talk
your ear off about CrossFit to a person you REALLY didn’t want to get stuck
talking to at a party because I’d talk about CrossFit AND nutrition! 
However, people were asking me questions, wanting to know about my experiences,
etc so I decided to start a blog – one place I could share my story, ideas, and
perspective and could direct people to one spot instead of writing a million
different emails about my experience.  Once I started blogging, lots of
people started to ask me questions, I started doing more research, and I
wanted to really understand what I was doing to and for my health and make sure
that what I was recommending to my loved ones – family and friends – was sound.
I realized the health and nutrition
was my passion, my face lights up when I talk about this stuff, and I
“geek out” listening to podcasts on nutrition…you mean everyone
doesn’t do that??  I started attending workshops and reading tons of blogs
and books to learn more about Paleo eating, how to train smarter, how to
be healthy for real.  Through my explorations I found a few people that
were doing something that I thought was interesting and looked like something I
could do to help people.  I was fortunately supported by my company –
Vynamic – who wanted to help support my passion.  I was encouraged by Dan
Calista, the founder and CEO of my healthcare industry management consulting
company to enroll in the Integrative Institute for Nutrition (IIN) distance
learning program – with my goal to help build my expertise in the wellness
area.  I graduate from the program on December 9th and have
learned so much about a ton of nutritional theories as well as key information
on how to effectively help others and help them make positive choices to
optimize their health.
2011 CrossFit Open Sectionals – I think I took this pic..yep, yep I did
Who could use a health coach?
Well that’s tricky, really anyone
that wants to look and feel better.  You could have a specific goal in
mind, like losing 10 pounds, trying to prevent a chronic disease like Type 2
diabetes, or wanting to have more energy and enjoy life more.  The type of
health coaching I’m doing isn’t necessarily teaching you how to eat a Paleo
Diet – you can learn to do that on your own – it involves me working with
you to understand what works for you, using the concept of bioindividuality –
there is not one perfect diet that works for everyone, and what works for one
person will not work for everyone.  I do truly believe a whole foods and
minimally processed diet is ideal, there is so much uncertainty surrounding all
of this “franken-food” that we have -we are eating so many things
that are chemically altered.  Some foods, like margarine, are only a few
chemical bonds different than plastic!  For my clients we work step by
step to take a look at your food, workouts, stress, lifestyle, sleep, goals,
relationships, etc and work on all of those things to help make you the best
version of yourself.  My goal is that at the end of my program you are
empowered and self sufficient and know what you need to do to be healthy and be
the best version of you.

August 2011 – domination
Chris here: I might be biased, since Laura is a good friend of mine, but I have seen her journey from CrossFitter to CrossFit coach and health coach, and I can say that you won’t find a more understanding, good listener who works with her clients patiently and efficiently. As a high school counselor, I tell my students to follow their passions and Laura is doing just that: following her passion for nutrition, healthy living, and helping others. Be sure to hit up her website, Laura Pappas Health, and subscribe to her free emails and newsletters. She has recently teamed up with Larry Palazzolo of ScrawnyWOD and coach from CrossFit Delaware Valley to present various nutrition and health seminars around the Philadelphia area. If you are a gym owner or someone that wants these two to come in and do a presentation, don’t hesitate to get in touch. 

-If you have any questions for Laura, post them here or email her
-Do you want to see more interviews? Who else would you like to see or who can you recommend? 


2 thoughts on “Get To Know: Laura Pappas – Health Coach

  1. Great interview Chris – I especially liked your commentary at the end, since one of the reasons I felt so receptive to Laura’s ideas and advice when she was helping me with my nutrition was that her PASSION for learning and helping others improve was so strong and because of that she’d go far beyond the expected DETAIL in explaining why different ideas might help me!I love the idea of interviews and I’ll suggest Aimee Lyons and Kerry Smith as possible interviewees in the future. I also think it would be really cool if you had a guest columnist interview you Chris, as obviously we know you from reading the blog but I think it would be a great for your readers to let them get to know you in a different dimension…

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